Can longer meta descriptions benefit your website?

Cheryl Luzet - 11 March 2016

One of the things that we love about working in SEO is that it always keeps us on our toes! We are always looking out for changes to the way that Google perceives websites and how it ranks them. Recently we noticed something very interesting on the topic of longer meta descriptions when we were doing some work for our client James and James and we wanted to share it with you.

Meta descriptions provide the text that sits below your website name in the search engines. This snippet of information is actually really important as it is usually the first piece of information that a customer sees about your company when they search online, and is the information that they use when deciding whether to visit your website, or someone else’s.

How were meta descriptions traditionally used – and what has changed in recent months?

Traditionally we have always advised to keep their meta descriptions fairly short and sweet. The recommended limit is between 155-158 characters. This made writing a meta description a fine balancing act. If you made it too short it might not provide enough information to encourage potential customers to click through to your website. However if it was too long Google would cut it short – meaning that your customers might miss out on seeing vital information.

However during 2015 we have noticed that actually there are a number of longer meta descriptions out there that seem to break these rules, and which suggest that things are changing when it comes to the length of your meta description.  A recent survey by MOZ showed that a significant number of snippets now did in fact have more than the recommended amount of characters and, whilst doing a search for the term ‘fulfilment’ for our client, we noticed that the top searches had meta descriptions which exceeded the recommended amount.

Why is Google allowing longer meta descriptions?

So why is this happening? Google’s aim is to provide search engine users with the most relevant and useful experience and one way of helping customers to make their selection is to provide more detailed information about them on the search page – rather than risking customers spending time clicking onto sites that don’t meet their needs.

However this also means that webmasters may not have as much control over their meta descriptions as they used to have. As Google looks to match queries more accurately they are taking more liberties with snippets. This could mean that even if you make your meta description longer Google may still choose to pick out other information from your site that it feels is relevant and won’t necessarily display the text that you write in the meta description.

We think that these changes are definitely ‘one to watch’ in the SEO world in the early part of 2016. It will become increasingly important to make sure that your meta includes the right keyword themes for your site which may mean that longer meta descriptions become the norm. However we may also see Google retain more control over your website snippets as they move towards a fully user friendly experiences for searchers. We are a Google Partner so you can be confident that we will stay ahead of all the latest developments. Find out more about our Search Engine Optimisation service, tailor-made for all budgets.