Google’s New Meta Description Parameters Leave A Lot Of Questions

Google recently changed the allowable length for meta descriptions from 160 characters to 320 characters. It may not seem like all that big of a deal, but, in the SEO world, the extra space is like jumping from a rain puddle into a pond. Thus, there’s a lot of buzz in the SEO community about how it translates and if they should be making an effort to change all their existing and future meta descriptions to the longer length.

Yoast has announced that they’ve already changed their SEO plugin, but they also did some research to help others figure out if changing the tried and true meta description standard of 160 characters is worth the time and effort.



Yoast’s Meta Description Research Groups

They picked the top 100 most frequently visited pages on the Yoast site. A baseline was established using data from Yoast’s Google Search Console account. This showed how each page ranked using previous meta descriptions in comparison to how they ranked after initiating the meta changes with Yoast SEO.

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Pages were grouped according to the type of meta changes made by Yoast. The four different kinds of metas were as follows:

Group One

  • Long meta description of up to 320 characters
  • The description only mentioned the focus keyword once

Group Two

  • Long meta description of up to 320 characters
  • The description contained a focus keyword user more than once

Group Three

  • Control group
  • No changes to the description, meaning the meta remained 160 character or less
  • Keywords were left as they appeared

Group Four

  • Meta description was completely eliminated and not replaced

Yoast’s Meta Description Research Findings

The data, from all four groups prior to initiating meta changes, was compared to results from two weeks after the changes. Here’s what they found:

  • Despite changes Yoast made, Google created a lot of meta descriptions on their own for all the groups
  • There wasn’t any measurable, clear difference in the meta descriptions Google created based on any particular length of a group’s meta description, nor its keyword density
  • In looking at the precise part of copy Google used in creating their own meta descriptions, over 67% of the pages showed that Google used the first paragraph (or select sentences from the first paragraph) of the page’s copy

How Does The Research Translate?

One of the biggest takeaways for the SEO community is the remaining importance of relevant content, particularly leading with rich, powerful, concise, relevant content. While not a guarantee by any means that Google will create a meta on their own or use the intro as the meta if they do, the fact that they created metas from the opening sentences of two-thirds of the research pages is a good reminder of why it’s so important to always write intros with meta descriptions in mind.

There’s also a lot of caveats to consider in the Yoast research, such as:

  • How would the findings be impacted by research across multiple sites, not just Yoast’s pages?
  • Yoast has a relatively high domain authority, high rankings, and extensive collection of content; how would the research stack for lesser sites?
  • As a general rule Yoast has a reputation for quality content, with metas that match the content and reflect search intent; how often would Google create metas concerning lesser sites?

The research is good, but it’s also incomplete since it really doesn’t paint a broad picture of the impact metas have on various types of sites with less content, less authority and reputation, and just overall not as versatile as Yoast. For example, does Google still grab a meta description from a site with the majority of digital content?

Bottom Line: Should Longer Meta Descriptions Be Used?

Yes and no. There’s not a justification just yet to expend the time and energy to go back and revise all existing meta descriptions. The yes part is in taking the best advantage possible of the new length based on the known factors, which includes actions like:

  • Use the longer meta descriptions on your best ranking articles to boost meaningfulness.
  • Focus on the content of your articles to ensure they’re relevant to search.
  • Ensure the first paragraph clearly states the gist of the article so that you’ll have a quality meta if Google does grab a description.

If you like this article, please check out Search Ranking Algorithm Updates Confirmed 2018 or Changes in SEO and Google To Expect This 2018

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