How Long Should My Meta Description Be?

Estimated Reading Time 8 minutes

In short, 160 characters for desktop and 130 for mobile. Although, it could be argued, do you even need to write these anymore?

Google shortens meta descriptions:

Back in December 2017 Google confirmed that they had increased the character count of meta descriptions from 160 to 320 characters. With most people seeing an average of 230 characters, the change was intended to make the snippet more descriptive for the user.

With this change of course everyone started wondering whether we should be updating our meta descriptions to the longer lengths. To which Google promptly suggested that we should not necessarily focus on expanding these descriptions, as the fundamentals to writing meta descriptions remained the same.

Here’s the official statement from Google:

The fact that our snippets have gotten longer doesn’t change the fundamentals of writing a description tag. They should generally inform and interest users with a short, relevant summary of what a particular page is about. We now display slightly longer snippets, which means we might display more of a meta description tag. However, we never had a limit on meta description tag length before, as we covered earlier this year. So, there’s no need for publishers to suddenly expand their meta description tags, if they feel their current ones are adequate. As a reminder, our snippets are dynamically generated. Sometimes, they use what’s in a meta description tag. More often, they are generated by showing content from the page itself and perhaps parts of the meta description tag, as is appropriate for individual queries. For more guidance on meta description tags and snippet generation, we recommend publishers read our recent blog post on the topic, our help page and the “Create good titles & snippets” section of our SEO starter guide that was just updated this week.

 

Now, in recent news Google has confirmed they have shortened meta descriptions…just 5 months after the increase:

shortened meta tweet

 

Thanks Danny. So to the people who have expanded these descriptions, should we go back and change them? Google’s advice is that we should not necessarily focus on expanding these descriptions as the fundamentals to writing meta descriptions is still the same… and they are dynamically generated anyway, does the first part sound familiar?

Should we even worry about meta descriptions?

From the statements and news above, I am starting to question, should we even care about meta descriptions?

Yoast actually an a test on the longer descriptions to see if they had an impact and what they found was that Google pulled content from the site to use in the description snippets. They noticed that the majority of the time, Google pulled the first couple of lines from the content on the page. This means maybe we need to start thinking more carefully on the intro of our articles with meta descriptions is mind?

So, if most the time Google are dynamically creating our meta descriptions from the content on our websites, why are we spending time writing and optimising these?

Yoast did make a good point that their test was run on their own site which is naturally content heavy, meaning Google has more rich content to choose from in order to match a users search. What if the website was more image rich and Google has little written content to go by? Will this create higher importance for that webmaster to write their own meta descriptions?

Google dynamically creates meta?

Ok, so the last section just created more questions than answering so let’s take a little step back, what is the point of a meta description?

The purpose of a meta description is to show a brief description explaining what your service, offering or USP is to encourage a user to click through from a search results page. Bearing in mind that meta descriptions do not play an active role in keyword rankings, they do however have an impact on your click through rate.

BUT, Google will adjust the description based on the user’s query, because Google will want to show the more useful and relative information to the user based on their search. There are three common places a meta description will be pulled from:

  • Trusted directories
  • Content within the page
  • Meta description tag

This means that while writing your meta is still important, think about the wider picture. Is the content on the page more relevant for this searcher? Are your directories up to date in case Google needs to use them?

Top tips when writing meta descriptions:

  1. Differentiate the descriptions for different pages
  2. Use programmatic generate descriptions, if needed
  3. Include clearly tagged facts in the descriptions
  4. Use quality descriptions
  5. Ensure every page has a meta description

Closing thoughts:

  • Write your meta descriptions, but keep it simple at 120 characters. That way if Google uses your meta it’s there and it’s also compatible for all devices.
  • When writing that meta, bear in mind you are writing these to win clicks not ranks!
  • Think, what does the user need to know from their search query?
Jenny Farnfield
Jenny Farnfield graduated from Southampton Solent University with a 2:1 Degree in Advertising, and brings extensive commercial, digital and marketing acumen to the team at Digital Clarity. Jenny has been recognised by both UK Search Awards and the Ecommerce Awards. Jenny is also IDM certified, and utilises a rigorous, granular approach to digital marketing. With over 6 years’ experience, Jenny digs deep to find solutions and uses an immersive approach in her accounts, turning numbers and data into actionable solutions for her clients.
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