UPDATE ON 5/25/2016: Google has announced the extended search results, titles, and meta descriptions are an experiment at this time (Source). Title and meta description length is still critical to the in-results user experience. Ensure these tags are accurate and descriptive of the page, and use the meta tag lengths for the top 10 ranking websites to find the optimal characters for each tag.
Google recently made big changes to search results pages by increasing both the length of title tags (mobile and desktop) and meta descriptions in search results, and the width of search results themselves.
- Title tags: Google increased the length of title tags from 50–60 to 70–78 characters. For mobile search results, marketers have seen the mobile title tags increase to about 78 characters. On desktop searches, title tags increased to about 70 characters.
- Meta descriptions: Google has reported increased meta descriptions by approximately 100 characters per line, and reportedly increased some descriptions from two to three lines. That is a significant increase, and presents a greater opportunity to tell searchers what the page is about.
- Search results width: Google has increased the column for organic search results from 500 pixels to about 600 pixels. The amount of whitespace between the results and features in the right sidebar has decreased by 5 pixels, from 65 pixels to only 60.
WHAT MARKETERS NEED TO KNOW
- More up-front information is good for users and good for Google. Google’s motive for changing anything within non-paid search results is to improve user experience and engagement. Google has determined that more information within meta tags will increase the chances that users will find an answer to their question. Additionally, more information on the SERP keeps more people in Google’s search results.
- The search real estate gets smaller and more competitive. Two-line titles and meta descriptions will undoubtedly influence the page and ranking layout within Google’s results. The search page’s layout influences engagement, which makes a descriptive title and meta description necessary to entice clicks.
- Optimized titles and meta descriptions are necessary for organic success. It has always been a best practice to write meta tags that align the user’s search with on-page content. Meta tags have always influenced a user’s willingness to click, but a descriptive title (not just “keyword + brand”) will become more important if there is more text on each results page.
WHAT MARKETERS NEED TO DO
- This is not an immediate “must fix.” Take time to plan your approach. Changing a page title and meta description is recommended, but only if there is a strategic reason beyond “filling” out the tag to Google’s limit. Make sure there is a testing plan in place before extending each page’s meta tags. In some cases, shorter meta tags are preferred by Google and users.
- Accuracy is more important than length. Write titles and meta descriptions that are accurate and engaging. Filling them with characters or filler words just to hit 70-78 or 160-280 characters could actually prevent clicks and dilute the value of your page.
- Be aware of how each page displays in search results. Do all top 10 ranking pages feature titles with 70 characters? What percentage of traffic to this page is mobile vs. desktop? Does the two-line format break up the title’s intended message? Paying attention to Google’s search layout ensures each meta tag is optimized for the right search result format.
- Test meta tag language and track clickthrough rates in Search Console. Organic clickthrough rate has a growing influence over rankings on both mobile and desktop devices. Test various wording within titles and meta descriptions, and track results and progress at the keyword and page level within Google Search Console.