Google’s New Snippets and Your SEO

Google has rocked the SEO world yet again — not with an algorithm update, this time, but with a major change to featured snippets.

In December 2017, Google confirmed it made a change to the way it displays snippets in search results. A snippet is the description of a page in an organic search result. It traditionally displays what’s in your meta description tags to show how the page relates to the search query.

Example of a Google search result that displays the value of the meta description tag.

Snippets appear on search engine results pages. They describe the content on the page and entice users to click.

Before this change, the average length of a snippet (and, therefore, meta descriptions) was 155 – 160 characters. With the change, these snippets now reach up to 320 characters.

What does this mean for us digital marketers? Do we tap rush to rewrite our meta descriptions?

Caveats to the New Meta Description Length

Before you make any big changes, there are a few things you need to know.

First, this change is still experimental. Google’s Danny Sullivan spoke out regarding the updated meta descriptions and advised members of the SEO community to not “go expanding your meta description tags.” I recommend following his advice for now.

Second, several experts have noted Google isn’t displaying what’s in the meta description tags.

In a December 2017 study, Moz discovered the snippet displayed in the search results perfectly matched the meta description tag or fully contained it in only 51.3% of cases. Translation: rather than choosing your meta description tag, half of the time Google will choose the featured snippet text for you based on what information it believes is most beneficial.

We’re not exactly sure why this is happening, although some experts believe Google’s algorithm is becoming increasingly reliant on machine learning and artificial intelligence.

How to Maximize 320 Characters

Despite the caveats, there are benefits to creating new meta descriptions that align with these expanded character limits. With more space, we can add more target keywords and language that will attract users. This also, however, opens the door to potential risks of cannibalization and information overload.

If you choose to be an early adopter of the new 160 – 320-character meta descriptions, follow this golden rule: always write content with the user in mind.

While it is important to continue working your priority keywords into your meta descriptions, readability will always outrank content that is written primarily for search engines. Writing high-quality content will ensure a strong snippet, regardless of whether Google pulls your meta description tag or on-page content.

Need help optimizing your site or writing that killer content? Get in touch with our crew of experienced digital marketers at Knucklepuck.

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash