Are your Meta Descriptions too short?
Are your Meta Descriptions too short? It seems like just a year or two ago that everyone was worried about Meta Descriptions exceeding 155 characters. Oh wait; that is exactly what was happening. Like many things on the internet, what once was is no more and suddenly those of us in website design are faced with an issue of wondering if we are using less than we should when it comes to our Meta Descriptions.
Let’s dive into that topic and help clarify what you need to do with your Meta Descriptions.
What the heck is a Meta Description?
First things first, what exactly is a Meta Description? When you are coding in HTML there are a number of tags that you use. One of those tags is called the Meta Description. Basically it is used to summarize the content found on that page.
Search engines crawl web pages and one area they look at is this description to help clarify exactly what this page is supposed to be about. Often people spend time optimizing the description field for on-page SEO. Sometimes search engines will use this description, or snippet, in the actual search results so that viewers can better understand what a page will be about before clicking on the link and jumping down the rabbit hole.
How does length play into it?
It’s all about the readability baby. Up until late last year the rule of thumb was to not exceed 160 characters in your description. The reason had to do with what was actually being read and used by search engines.
Therefore if search engines weren’t going to display more than 160 characters in a snippet or use more than that when considering on-page SEO, what was the point in using more? Instead the focus was on being as concise as possible in that limited space.
However things changed when in December of 2017 a Google spokesperson told the website Search Engine Land that they had made a change. Of course Google being Google, the details provided were a bit bare.
In a nutshell they said snippets have become slightly longer on average to provide more descriptive and useful snippets. That way people will better understand how a page may be relevant to their search.
While not directly related, it is similar to how Twitter increased their character limit which allows for more descriptive messages.
While Google has not stated exactly how far we can or should go in regards to the length of our Meta Descriptions, research indicates that it has effectively doubled now allowing up to 320 characters which is a huge boost.
Does that mean we need to change anything?
Now we come to the crux of the matter; does this change mean you actually need to do anything? The simple answer is no. You really do not need to make any changes to your Meta Descriptions because whatever you have been doing will still reflect in the same manner.
However, that doesn’t mean your competitors will stand pat on what they are doing. If they decide to revamp their descriptions to improve them, it could mean that they will move past you in some search results. It also depends on the type of content you have on your pages.
- Video Content – Video content is still a bit limited in total character length that can be used effectively. Currently this appears to be based around page layout on search result screens. The thumbnail for a video appears in the snippet which greatly reduces the space allotted which means your characters are limited to two lines of text. You see this a lot with YouTube video search results which often end in “…” letting you know there is more in the description, but they did not display it.
- Text Content – This is an area where you should look to fully explore the increased space. The concept behind increasing the length seems rather straightforward; Google wants to ensure people are going to where they want to be. That means taking the time to write slightly longer, clear, and concise descriptions will help if the information on your page is what they are looking for. You should also look to increase the keyword density slightly in this longer space when it is appropriate.
What makes up a good description?
Here are some basic guidelines you can follow for writing Meta descriptions:
- Use an active voice – Using the Active Voice allows you to communicate more effectively while using a passive voice ends up sounding very stuffy and boring.
- Match the content – Google wants a description that matches the content on the page. They do not want to be people to be tricked into clicking on a page that is not what people are expecting. Doing that could lead to penalties and high bounce rates.
- Use the primary keyword – The primary keyword that your page is focused on absolutely needs to be in the description along with any secondary focus keywords. Google will be more likely to highlight it in the search results when it occurs.
- It should be unique – Using duplicate descriptions is lazy and it ends up lowering the user experience. If you don’t have the time to create something unique it is a better idea to leave the description blank which then results in Google picking a snippet off the page based on the keyword. Of course, better to do it yourself then let Google decide which snippet is the best.
- Include a CTA – For sales pages including a call to action can be helpful to initiate clicks. For example, “Try for free,” is always a good hook.
- Include specific data – For certain types of pages, especially those that have products that people will search for; make sure to include that information in the snippet. An example would be a page that showcases all of your Whirlpool refrigerators. The name Whirlpool should be in there so people looking specifically for that brand will click.
The bottom line
The bottom line is that most likely your Meta Descriptions are too short. With the increased space Google and other browsers are now allowing, it makes sense to revisit your most important pages and peek out your current descriptions. If you can improve upon them, you most definitely should as it will increase your chances of people clicking on your snippet if you are offering what they are looking for.
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