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Should you increase the length of your meta descriptions?

At the end of last year, Google updated the length of meta descriptions from 160 to 320 characters. This caused a big stir among the SEO community who wanted to know if they should extend the length of their existing, carefully worded meta descriptions.

If you’re concerned about the meta descriptions on your own websites, in the blog, we take you through exactly how meta descriptions work on websites and whether you should consider updating yours.

Introduction to meta descriptions

Meta descriptions are HTML attributes that are used to give a description of what searchers will find on a webpage. They appear on the search engine results page, below the title tag and webpage URL, and encourage users to click through to a webpage.

Meta descriptions are very important for increasing click through rate, however, Google announced in September 2009 that they do not affect your SEO campaign and will not help you rank. Google also has the power to ignore your carefully crafted descriptions and replace it with their own. Google has been known to pull sections of text that best match the user’s query from your webpage.

What do longer meta descriptions mean for SEO?

The updates don’t necessarily mean you have to rush to change all your existing meta descriptions. Not updating them won’t affect your SEO campaign, but the extra limit allows you more room to sell your webpage and encourage searchers to visit your website. The best solution would be to look at your most popular, highest ranking pages and edit these descriptions so they are more in depth.

The new limit doesn’t appear to be strict. Some have noted seeing longer snippets occasionally, while other results do not show the full 320 characters. The average length of snippet showing is around 230 characters, according to SEO blog. It appears these results might be the ones created by Google. This means your new longer descriptions might not be used, so updating them should perhaps not be a priority, but is something that can be done over time.

The longer descriptions might also hinder those further down the results page, because the longer description will already be causing searchers to scroll further to read more results. This could mean as they’ve already scrolled considerably to read a few results and so have spent longer on these, they won’t read as many results as they once did.

Focusing on the first paragraph of your web pages is also something you should consider. This is because, where Google writes its own meta descriptions, it tends to use content from the first paragraph. This is not always the case, but it is very common.

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