Ever spent time crafting meta descriptions only to find Google displays something completely different? You’re not alone.
Although they aren’t a ranking factor, meta descriptions are important for SEO. They allow you to write a short description of each page and embed appropriate calls to action. This means that when somebody searches Google and spots one of your pages, they know what that page is about and will have sufficient reason to click through to your site.
There have been various recommendations over the years for writing good meta descriptions that fit within the search results. A few years ago, 160 characters appeared to be the recommended character limit, more recently this dropped and then moved over to a pixel width instead. Now, it appears Google has started to write your descriptions for you.
The image above shows a Google search result with a description that is clearly beyond the 160-character limit. Although the width looks the same, the height has increased by an extra row.
The page does contain a meta description although, as you can see, this differs from the text Google has opted to use:
<meta property=”al:android:url” content=”fb://page/146214266618″ /><meta name=”description” content=”BBC Strictly Come Dancing. 745,337 likes · 58,652 talking about this. This is the official page for BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing and It Takes Two.” />
A little research shows we’re not the only people to spot this, and it appears Google has been testing this throughout the year. We carried out our own tests, this time searching for the waterfront location within which our offices are housed.
Google hasn’t simply used the first couple of sentences, instead opting to skip past the first block of text (a price list) before taking one sentence from the top of the body text and one from mid-way through the page:
During our tests, the longer descriptions commonly appeared when a brand term was included in the search term – but not exclusively. The result below appeared without referencing a brand.
There are many reasons why Google may have started to do this, ranging from improving the user experience to wresting some control back from the SEO industry as to who can choose what displays in the organic results – however the exact motivation remains unclear for the moment.
Have you spotted any long search results in Google? Tweet me -I’d love to hear from you!
Stu is Head of CRO at Vertical Leap. Stuart has been a part of the Vertical Leap family since 2010 and enjoys helping people with great ideas find their audience. Outside of his obsessions with organic SEO, data visualisation and spreadsheets, his favourite away-from-work activities include lazing on beaches, country walks and - most importantly - country pubs.
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