How Long Should Your Meta Description Be? (2018 Edition)

How Long Should Your Meta Description Be? (2018 Edition)

Our data suggests that many snippets are exceeding 300 characters, and going into 2018 we recommend a new meta description limit of 300 characters. The trouble with averages In our 10K tracking data for December 15th, which consisted of 89,909 page-one organic results, the average display snippet (stripped of HTML, of course) was 215 characters long, slightly below RankRanger's numbers, but well above historical trends. In our data set, a full 88% of video snippets were cut off (ended in " ..."). What about the snippets over 350 characters? These characters don't seem to count against the limit, but it's a bit hard to tell, because we don't have a lot of data points. Across the data set, we were able to successfully capture 70,059 original Meta Description tags (in many of the remaining cases, the sites simply didn't define one). In 15.4% of cases, Google used the original meta description tag, but added some text. It's interesting to note that, in some cases, Google rewrote a meta description because the original description was too short or not descriptive enough. Take this result, for example: Now, let's check out the original meta description tag... In this case, the original meta description was actually too short for Google's tastes.

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Summary: The end of November saw a spike in the average length of SERP snippets. Across 10K keywords (90K results), we found a definite increase but many oddities, such as video snippets. Our data suggests that many snippets are exceeding 300 characters, and going into 2018 we recommend a new meta description limit of 300 characters.

Back in spring of 2015, we reported that Google search snippets seemed to be breaking the 155-character limit, but our data suggested that these cases were fairly rare. At the end of November, RankRanger’s tools reported a sizable jump in the average search snippet length (to around 230 characters). Anecdotally, we’re seeing many long snippets in the wild, such as this 386-character one on a search for “non compete agreement”:

Search Engine Land was able to get confirmation from Google of a change to how they handle search snippets, although we don’t have specifics or official numbers. Is it time to revisit our guidelines on meta descriptions limits heading into 2018? We dug into our daily 10,000-keyword tracking data to find out…

The trouble with averages

In our 10K tracking data for December 15th, which consisted of 89,909 page-one organic results, the average display snippet (stripped of HTML, of course) was 215 characters long, slightly below RankRanger’s numbers, but well above historical trends.

This number is certainly interesting, but it leaves out quite a bit. First of all, the median character length is 186, suggesting that some big numbers are potentially skewing the average. On the other hand, some snippets are very short because their meta Ddescriptions are very short. Take this snippet for Vail.com:

Sure enough, this is Vail.com’s meta description tag (I’m not gonna ask):

Do we really care that a lot of people just write ridiculously short meta descriptions? No, what we really want to know is at what point Google is cutting off long descriptions. So, let’s just look at the snippets that were cut (determined by the ” …” at the end). In our data set, this leaves just about 3.6% (3,213), so we can already see that the vast majority of descriptions aren’t getting cut off.

Coincidentally, the average is still 215, but let’s look at the frequency distribution of the lengths of just the cut snippets. The graph below shows cut-snippet lengths in bins of 25 (0-25, 25-50, etc.):

If we’re trying to pin down a maximum length for meta descriptions, this is where things get a bit weird (and frustrating). There seems to be a chunk of snippets cut off at the 100–125 character range and another chunk at the 275–300 range. Digging in deeper, we discovered that two things were going on here…

Oddity #1: Video snippets

Spot-checking some of the descriptions cut off in the 100–125 character range, we realized that a number of them were video snippets, which seem to have shorter limits:

These snippets seem to generally max out at two lines, and they’re further restricted by the space the video thumbnail occupies. In our data set, a full 88% of video snippets were cut off (ended in ” …”). Separating out video, only 2.1% of organic snippets were cut off.

Oddity #2: Pre-cut metas

A second oddity was that some meta description tags seem to be pre-truncated (possibly by CMS systems). So, the “…” in those cases is an unreliable indicator. Take this snippet, for example:

This clocks in at 150 characters, right around the old limit. Now, let’s look at the meta description:

This Goodreads snippet is being pre-truncated. This was true for almost all of the Goodreads meta descriptions in our data set, and may be a CMS setting or a conscious…

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