meta-descriptions2016

If you don’t know by now, Google recently lengthened their cutoff guidelines for meta titles and meta descriptions. This means that the search results column for organic results is increased for both desktop and mobile.

For SEOs, this is great news. It means we have more room to pack targeted keywords and descriptive text into our meta tags!

According to The SEM Post, which broke the news in early May, 2016, displayed meta titles are now 10-15 characters longer than than before, which allows you to fit in 2-4 more words. Meta descriptions are widened on the first line to 100 characters, but the second line is getting truncated halfway through–which means that description length remains unchanged for now.

Here are the rough guidelines:

  • Titles: 600 pixels wide (comes in at roughly 70 characters including spaces), as opposed to the old 500 pixel cutoff
  • Descriptions: between 150 & 160 characters, including spaces

What About Search Results on Mobile Devices?

Mobile search is already huge, and it’s only going to get bigger. Here’s how mobile results are displayed:

  • Titles: 78 characters max
  • Descriptions: between 110 & 120 characters max

The main takeaway for mobile is that titles are even longer, yet descriptions are shorter. This creates a conundrum for SEO specialists–do you optimize for mobile or for desktop? Is it possible to optimize for both?

As far as meta titles go, as long as you aren’t going past 70 characters, then you’ll be optimized for both mobile and desktop. If the vast majority of your traffic is coming from mobile, then it might be beneficial to expand your titles if you really want to, but 8 characters isn’t more than a word or two, so it shouldn’t be a huge concern.

Descriptions, on the other hand, are a little more tricky. Some SEO experts recommend shortening all your descriptions to between 110 & 120 characters to accommodate mobile and desktop results. However, as we’ll discuss further down in this post, it’s recommended that you always have over 100 characters for all your descriptions.

Really, the best approach is to make sure your site is mobile responsive, since that’s going to have the biggest affect on your rankings right now.

To leverage Google’s new meta title and description guidelines to your advantage, consider these five tips:

1. Fit more keywords into your meta titles

Keywords are huge when it comes to adding SEO value to your meta titles, and this new change allows you to fit more targeted keywords into the search results. Particularly, if you’re going after a long-tailed keyword, you’ll have more room to fit in the precise verbiage you’re targeting.

For example, you’ll have more room to fit in keywords targeting your location, especially if it has lots of characters like “Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN.”

2. Get descriptive

More space gives you more opportunity to get descriptive in your meta titles. Sure, make sure your keywords are there–but don’t forget to write a title that incites a reader to actually click on it.

You’re not always going to be able to rank as the first result of a search query, or even fourth or fifth. A well-thought-out, descriptive meta title that nails the right keywords can still get decent click-through, even if it’s further down the page.

For some strategies for getting descriptive with your meta titles, check out our recent post, 4 Ways to Write a Killer Headline.

3. Use this Excel formula to automatically calculate the new meta title and description length in a spreadsheet:

So far, I haven’t been able to find an online tool that automatically calculates the new meta title and description lengths (I always used this handy tool from Moz, which they’ll be updating soon). However, if you work within Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, then this formula works just as good.

Type this formula into the cell next to where you’ll be writing your meta title or description:

=LEN(_)

Input the cell number where you’ll be typing your title or description (i.e. A2) into the parentheses.

Here’s how it looks in my spreadsheet:

meta1

 

Here’s what it looks like with a title and description filled in:

meta2

4. Don’t go fewer than 100 characters for descriptions

While the overall length of meta descriptions still gets cut off between 60 to 70 characters for most results, the character length for the first line of the description has been extended to 100 characters. If your meta description is under 100 characters, then it will be reduced to only one line of text. Basically, this means that the search result for that page will take up less space, and be less visible to searchers, ultimately lowering your click-through rate.

If you have any pages with meta descriptions under 100 characters, then lengthening them should be a priority.

5. Don’t be too quick to make changes, but if you’ve been waiting to optimize your meta titles, now’s the time

Google can change their search result display at any time (and they’ve been making all kinds of changes on an almost weekly basis). However, the previous guidelines for meta title length had been the same for 2 years, so maybe these new lengths are the new normal.

If your title tags are already optimized for the keywords you’re targeting, then updating them shouldn’t be a top priority right now. However, if you’ve been holding off on optimizing your meta titles, then these new changes present a good opportunity to do so and give your website an SEO boost.

We’ll let you know if Google makes any adjustments to meta title and description length in the near future, so stay tuned. Has your website been affected by these changes? Let us know in the comments section below, and join the conversation!

 

Adam Fifield
Content Marketing Manager
Adam Fifield is the Content Marketing Manager at Big Leap. His background is in journalism, and you'll find him playing jazz piano in various Salt Lake City saloons and speakeasies until closing time. Connect with Adam on Twitter: @adamonthekeys