How to Write Meta Descriptions in a Constantly Changing World (AKA Google Giveth, Google Taketh Away)
Posted by Dr-Pete
Summary: As of mid-May 2018, Google has reverted back to shorter display snippets. Our data suggests these changes are widespread and that most meta descriptions are being cut off in the previous range of about 155–160 characters.
Back in December, Google made a significant shift in how they displayed search snippets, with our research showing many snippets over 300 characters. Over the weekend, they seem to have rolled back that change (Danny Sullivan partially confirmed this on Twitter on May 14). Besides the obvious question — What are the new limits? — it may leave you wondering how to cope when the rules keep changing. None of us have a crystal ball, but I’m going to attempt to answer both questions based on what we know today.
Lies, dirty lies, and statistics…
I pulled all available search snippets from the MozCast 10K (page-1 Google results for 10,000 keywords), since that’s a data set we collect daily and that has a rich history. There were 89,383 display snippets across that data set on the morning of May 15.
I could tell you that, across the entire data set, the minimum length was 6 characters, the maximum was 386, and the mean was about 159. That’s not very useful, for a couple of reasons. First, telling you to write meta descriptions between 6–386 characters isn’t exactly helpful advice. Second, we’re dealing with a lot of extremes. For example, here’s a snippet on a search for “USMC”:
Marine Corps Community Services may be a wonderful organization, but I’m sorry to report that their meta description is, in fact, “apple” (Google appends the period out of, I assume, desperation). Here’s a snippet for a search on the department store “Younkers”:
Putting aside their serious multi-brand confusion, I think we can all agree that “BER Meta TAG1” is not optimal. If these cases teach you anything, it’s only about what not to do. What about on the opposite extreme? Here’s a snippet with 386 characters, from a search for “non-compete agreement”:
Notice the “Jump to Exceptions” and links at the beginning. Those have been added by Google, so it’s tough to say what counts against the character count and what doesn’t. Here’s one without those add-ons that clocks in at 370 characters, from a search for “the Hunger Games books”:
So, we know that longer snippets do still exist. Note, though, that both of these snippets come from Wikipedia, which is an exception to many SEO rules. Are these long descriptions only fringe cases? Looking at the mean (or even the median, in this case) doesn’t really tell us.
The big picture, part 1
Sometimes, you have to let the data try to speak for itself, with a minimum of coaxing. Let’s look at all of the snippets that were cut off (ending in “…”) and remove video results (we know from previous research that these skew a bit shorter). This leaves 42,863 snippets (just under half of our data set). Here’s a graph of all of the cut-off lengths, gathered into 25 character bins (0–25, 26–50, etc.):
<img src="http://d1avok0lzls2w.cloudfront.net/uploads/blog/meta-desc-2018-5-4779.png" …
You can read the full article at Moz Bloghttp://seopti.com/how-to-write-meta-descriptions-in-a-constantly-changing-world-aka-google-giveth-google-taketh-away/http://seopti.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/moz-logo.pnghttp://seopti.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/moz-logo.pngSEOMOZ