Google doubles the character limit for meta description
Google’s meta description snippets have always been a bit of an arcane art. Prior to a few weeks ago, the character limit for a meta description was 165 characters, more or less. Sometimes Google would waive the limit a bit in one direction or the other, to allow for a full sentence or to avoid truncating a word. Sometimes they would happily cut you off mid-word.
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Google has now doubled the character limit for the snippet in their search results pretty much across the board. At 320 characters, it’s slightly longer than the new Tweet format. Interestingly, 165 characters was also slightly longer than the previous Tweet format. I wonder, actually, whether or not the Twitter character limit had any influence on this decision.
Essentially doubling the character limit for search result snippets is actually pretty important. That’s a lot of extra room to work in keywords and make human-readable descriptions. Some content will be pretty hard to describe while taking advantage of the space, but a lot of content could easily have used at least 250, so a bump up to 320 is very welcome.
Longer Limits Allow More Information
Perhaps the most immediately impactful consequence of the change is that longer snippets allow for more information in the snippet. This is both good and bad. On the one hand, it allows users to answer informational queries without ever visiting the site in question. On the one hand, this is likely to reduce traffic to your site from very basic informational queries. Anything that can be answered in a single sentence or short paragraph is likely to be answered without visiting your page. On the other hand, this is beneficial to your bounce rates. All of those satisfied users who bounce because their questions are answered never actually arrive, so they aren’t counted as bounces. I would anticipate this to have a negative effect on click-through rates from the search results pages, but at the same time, a positive effect on conversion rates. After all, the people with a conversion intent aren’t going to be satisfied with a snippet; they’ll be clicking on your page regardless. Those who would be fine reading a page and bouncing aren’t going to click through quite as often, so your conversion rates will increase implicitly.
Longer Limits Make the Search Results Longer, Hurting Lower Sites
Another interesting side effect of having longer snippets is just the physical space they take up. Longer snippets mean taller search results pages. It might not seem like much difference, but when each search result is an additional 1-2 lines, it pushes the bottom couple of results even lower on the page.
Longer Limits Allow for More Keywords Used Naturally
I’m sure we’ve all seen the snippets that are clearly trying and failing to use four or more keywords in a “natural” way. It’s pretty blatant when you see it, and it’s purely a problem because of the space limitation. When you want to use a bunch of keywords, it’s harder to use them organically. The more space you have, the more “filler” words you can include to make your sentences read more casually.
Longer Limits Let You Differentiate Similar Pages More Clearly
One of the side benefits of having a larger character limit is being able to more clearly differentiate similar pages in the search results.
Longer Limits Make Older Pages Stand Out Poorly
Any time Google makes a major change, it draws a dividing line in the sand. For a year or two afterwards, you will see a shift of the people who pay attention to things like SEO and Google changes, and the people who don’t. The people who adapt and change naturally have an advantage over the people who don’t.
Longer Limits Give You More Room for a CTA
The longer your description, the more room you have to add a call to action, something that will get your readers to actually click on your link and come through to your site.