Google's snippets and the length of your meta description

You might have noticed: Google has made search results snippets longer. In the past it showed up to ~160 characters, now it can be much, much longer. We’re currently researching what this means for site owners. We’ve also changed the Yoast SEO recommendations for meta description length in expectation of the results of that research. In this article, I’ll go over what this change means for you and for us.

Update May 2018: Google decided to shorten the length of the meta description again, read what – not – to do. 

TL;DR: Snippets can now be up to 320 characters or even longer in some rare cases. We’re researching new best practices. In the meantime, Yoast SEO’s green bullets will work differently. As of today, Yoast SEO will only give you an orange bullet if your meta description length exceeds 320 characters.

What changed in the search results?

Search result snippets are now much, much longer. This change came pretty much out of the blue, but it’s undeniable, a search for [what is a meta description] looks like this now:

Google search results for [meta description]

As you can see the featured snippet is exactly the same as the “normal” snippet for the blog post is now. The post has a meta description, which is much shorter, but Google grabs a “random” paragraph from the page and shows that instead.

Our hypothesis on a new snippet reality

Of course, this snippet isn’t “random” at all. This paragraph had explicitly been optimized for ranking in that featured snippet. In fact, it was optimized for that particular query and some very similar ones. Almost all the pages we’ve optimized for featured snippets now have those featured snippets showing as snippets in the normal search results too.

Our hypothesis is simple: Google grabs the “core paragraph” for a particular search query within an article. It then displays that paragraph as the snippet. Not entirely to our surprise, this would strengthen all our efforts on readability and better writing even more. We’ve been saying for a while: readability ranks.

The question is: can you still get your meta descriptions to show up? Our thinking here is that you probably can do that quite reliably if the meta description contains the searched-for keyword. Of course, your meta description length should also fit within Google’s new boundaries. But it seemed in preliminary searches, as though Google would favor slightly more keyword dense paragraphs from within the copy over a meta description which contained the keyword only once.

Another hypothesis we want to test in our research is whether deleting the meta description leads to better snippets.

The impact of this change

With longer snippets, you would expect the overall CTR of search results to drop slightly. People might find their answer in the search results; they might not need to click onward. So far we’ve not seen our own CTR go down, but we will monitor this closely for multiple sites.

Whether a CTR that goes down is bad for you depends on your key goals. For us, if people find an answer to their query in the search results, but associate it with the brand Yoast, we’re good. The branding value, in the long run, exceeds the possibility of you converting to a customer on the click. If your company relies on ad revenue though, you would probably look at this with a completely different perspective.

Our research

Here at Yoast, we feel a profound responsibility to give you the best feedback we can on your writing. And that includes feedback on your meta descriptions. Of course, this feedback has to be fact-based, which is why we are researching this change in-depth. We are currently researching with four equally sized groups of posts:

  1. A group of posts that will get a longer meta description, in which we’ll use the keyword only once.
  2. A set of posts that will get a longer meta description. We’ll use the keyword multiple times, evenly distributed across the meta description.
  3. A group of posts for which we’ll delete the meta description completely.
  4. Posts that will keep their old, handcrafted, shorter, meta description and will act as our control group.

You can read about the findings of our research team here. We’ll probably do another test, with more sites, to try and corroborate our findings. At the same time, we are of course keeping up with posts by other SEO companies on the topic.

Changes to Yoast SEO

While we will have to determine new best practices, we know we have to change things as well. Our character limit for the meta description was just plain wrong. Today’s release of Yoast SEO fixes that and puts it at 320 characters. As our research continues, we might make further changes to our advice about meta descriptions.

Read more: SEO Copywriting: the ultimate guide »

Coming up next!

47 Responses to Google’s snippets and the length of your meta description

  1. Murat Dilek - AjansAD
    Murat Dilek - AjansAD  • 6 years ago

    Do you recommend to change old posts’ meta description to 320 characters?

  2. Wallace
    Wallace  • 6 years ago

    Thanks for the great article! I noticed the change in the meta immediately. Good old google loves switching things up out of the blue! I’m noticing that the organic search results are creeping further and further down the first page too. I wonder if they are creeping towards making the whole first page for paid advertisers.

    Thanks again,

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 6 years ago

      Hi Wallace. I don’t know if Google will ever get rid of organic search results on the first pages, but they are sure looking for ways to please more advertisers. In 2018, they’ll continue to focus on offering new ways of presenting rich results.

  3. nexvan
    nexvan  • 6 years ago

    Do you suggest changing the meta description of the old content?

  4. Michael LaRocca, Technical Editor
    Michael LaRocca, Technical Editor  • 7 years ago

    Every time Google changes its algorithm, I remember Eddie Murphy talking about the ice cream man telling his friend, “Watch how fast I can make these little kids run.”

  5. vishal
    vishal  • 7 years ago

    google new update really very bad because i have many micro niche sites but when it happend my many sites goes unrank:(

  6. sandi
    sandi  • 7 years ago

    Waiting for the result of your research. I was thinking to delete the meta description so that Google can choose what it wants.

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 6 years ago

      Hi Sandi. Yeah, we’re looking into that. In the end, that might be the best solution. We hope to give a definitive advice on this next month.

  7. karthik
    karthik  • 7 years ago

    after update Yoast SEO 5.9, Meta boxes disappear. kindly give the solution to solve this problem

  8. USA Jacket
    USA Jacket  • 7 years ago

    First of all, Thank you so much for sharing this information as I was working on it as well. I saw some of the post with extended meta-description but I thought it was due to the high CTR rate. However, my post with low CTR rate and ranking on low density keyword are showing the default characters in the snippet.

    I will look forward for updates on it and I will be glad if Yoast can also bring a tool along with the updates of character to easily edit all the previous meta-descriptions.

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 7 years ago

      Hi. Yeah, most of the meta descriptions now seem to be around 320 characters long. There are still some instances where the default, shorter meta description shows up. Our research will hopefully uncover what Google’s aiming for here ;)

  9. Gracious Store
    Gracious Store  • 7 years ago

    So all it all means that longer meta description gives room for more keywords in the meta description. And what is the limit for keyword density in the meta description?

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 7 years ago

      Hi! Well, I wouldn’t start keyword stuffing your meta description. Before we change our advice, we would like to analyze the results of our research. Until then, our advice does not change. If, however, you want to experiment with longer meta descriptions yourself, you’re welcome to do so of course.

  10. Godwin Akpan
    Godwin Akpan  • 7 years ago

    thank you for Exstaining my Meta description
    pleas can you also help me to do so in my SEO title???

  11.  • 7 years ago

    I was wondering if you ever thought of changing the structure of your blog?
    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could
    connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having
    one or 2 pictures. Maybe you could space it out better?

  12. Pranav
    Pranav  • 7 years ago

    I have been waiting for this update.
    Thanks for updating Meta Description size from 160 to 320. This will help us in better promoting

  13. Steve Karr
    Steve Karr  • 7 years ago

    RE: longer snippets, a question that comes to mind is will the larger footprint of these new snippets cause a reduction in the number of organic results delivered to page one? Google does everything for a reason, almost always in order to make more money. My guess is this is a subtle play to remove one more organic result from page one, thereby getting more paid clicks to increase paid ad revenue. We all know how few people go to page two of search results. They’ve already done this in effect with all of the extensions, callouts, etc. Page one is getting tougher all the time! :-(

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 7 years ago

      Hi Steve. That might well be the case, but we have no evidence that they’ll change that anytime soon. What we do know, is that Google is betting on the rich results game. Powered by a vastly expanded support for structured data, we’ll see a lot of that happening in the coming year.

  14. miguel valero seo
    miguel valero seo  • 7 years ago

    I would like your seo plugin to be able to write titles and descriptions for desktop and mobile computers instead of a single title and a single description

  15. Pradeep Singh
    Pradeep Singh  • 7 years ago

    Love how responsive Yoast SEO is to the changes. Thank you for the latest update for 320 characters in 6.0. Look forward to the research results :)

  16. SSC
    SSC  • 7 years ago

    Thanks Joost. I really wonder whether this is going to help sites based on education or job related domains. Most of them never write much under meta description other than important dates to apply for.

  17. Rahul
    Rahul  • 7 years ago

    Yoast SEO is the best SEO plugin for WordPress. Thanks for making such an awesome plugin.

  18. nexvan
    nexvan  • 7 years ago

    Hi, quite right, I saw more than 200 characters in Google results
    But my question
    Do I need to change the description of the old material meta?

  19. Haris
    Haris  • 7 years ago

    Hello Joost,
    Does it mean we need to change all meta descriptions on our posts and pages?

    By the way, thank you for the article.

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 7 years ago

      Hi Haris. In the end, that’s up to you. If your content ranks well and the meta description Google generates is adequate, you may not even need to do anything. But if you think you can write a better meta description, please do so! Experminent and find out what works in your specific situation.

  20. Kashiefah Chetty
    Kashiefah Chetty  • 7 years ago

    Meta description is very important factor for website, it easily describe the services that you provides in website. Thanks for sharing some useful information on Meta description.

  21. Michael Horbal
    Michael Horbal  • 7 years ago

    Awesome! Thanks for being a great part of my expanding and growing business. Yoast has helped reach a record number of people this year!

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 7 years ago

      Thanks, Michael. That’s awesome to hear, congratulations!

  22. Ray
    Ray  • 7 years ago

    Definitely sounds interesting. Thanks for updating the plugin so quickly. Will need to test out the longer meta descriptions and see what this does over the next few months.

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 7 years ago

      It certainly is interesting, Ray. We’re keeping our eyes peeled for any patterns and changing search results, so we can give you the best possible advice in the near future.

  23. propertyconciergeph
    propertyconciergeph  • 7 years ago

    Hi Joost
    Many thanks, I’m pretty new to this world of SEO but saw my competitions meta description on searches and didn’t know why; had got longer so this now makes sense.
    Question : before my webmaster upgrades me to the latest version – when I make a longer meta description the bubble turns red (I get this) – but even if red and known why, does this cause any problems from an SEO perspective or just a warning for me ?
    Tnx in advance and Happy Holidays

  24. Dan Charles
    Dan Charles  • 7 years ago

    Thanks for the update.

    I’m looking forward to testing the changes out.

    I rarely get my meta descriptions rewritten by Google (that I know of) so I’m interested to see what happens when I optimise for different scenarios.


    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 7 years ago

      Hi Dan. Google must deem your meta descriptions very worthy then. Great work! Keep it up.

  25. Jane
    Jane  • 7 years ago

    I updated Yoast plugin on my WordPress blog but still, it turns read when I write my meta description I don’t know what is wrong with the plugin, and also when I click on the eye where it shows which portion of the text has problem, that is also not working.

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 7 years ago

      Hi Jane. Are you sure you are running 6.0? Try to deactive and reactive the plugin. You find many solutions to common problems in our knowledge base:

  26. James Peppan
    James Peppan  • 7 years ago

    Thank you for the info on the Google snippet change. I’m in the process of updating my company’s website right now, so I look forward to seeing the results of your research.

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 7 years ago

      Hi James. You’re welcome and we’re looking forward to the results too.

  27. Suresh Dubey
    Suresh Dubey  • 7 years ago

    Hi Joost,
    Thank you for the very informative article. One question, do we need to increase meta description length for each post manually?

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 7 years ago

      Hi Suresh. At the moment, our advice would be to take it easy. Don’t go change everything right away. We are testing what all of this means so we can give you the best possible advice. You’re welcome to do your own testing of course. See what works best for you!

  28. Dhruvi Ladani
    Dhruvi Ladani  • 7 years ago

    good information about Snippets. Yoast SEO is great tool for any website. love this article.

  29. JD Arbuckle
    JD Arbuckle  • 7 years ago

    This is great information, thanks you guys. When do you think we can expect some preliminary results of this test? Doing a big SEO update now and maybe I should wait off on my snippet changes.

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 7 years ago

      Hi JD. We hope to publish the findings sometime in January.

  30. Maurice
    Maurice  • 7 years ago

    Very interesting article.
    I have seen text of our website below the link with 308 characters. All taken from the tekst on the website.
    Nothing from the snippets below the link. Snippet title still does show above the link.

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 7 years ago

      Hi Maurice. I’m not sure what you mean. Are you referring to featured snippets or regular results?

  31. Martijn
    Martijn  • 7 years ago

    Will you be testing the differences between desktop and mobile as well? So far I’ve seen different lengths and different snippets for the same queries between desktop and mobile in several cases.

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 7 years ago

      Hi Martijn. We’ll try to test as much as we can. And if the preliminary test results say we should test some more, we will :)