Google Extends Search Result Snippets

First impressions are important. This is even more so in the world of technology. When searching for a company online, your first results appear in a small 160-character snippet. Now Google has officially extended the search results snippets to a maximum character length of 320 characters.

What is a snippet?

Snippets, also known as meta descriptions, refer to the HTML attribute that explains the contents of a given webpage. It’s a small description you see under the link on the search results page. Not only is this your first chance to snag your audience, but you are also being presented alongside other websites, and possibly competitors. This means you need to create and polish your snippet to ensure you make the best first impression possible.

How long should snippets be?

Danny Sullivan from Google explains in a tweet:

Google Extends Search Result Snippets

So, while your meta description is important, it doesn’t mean that Google will use it. Google is telling webmasters not to change their meta descriptions. Danny Sullivan from Google wrote,

“don’t go expanding your meta description tags.” He said the longer snippets are “more a dynamic process” Google automatically makes decisions based on the content on your page and the query.

Another Google spokesperson explains:

“We recently made a change to provide more descriptive and useful snippets to help people better understand how pages are relevant to their searches. This resulted in snippets becoming slightly longer, on average.”

What’s the average character and word length for various websites?

A survey of Canadian media consumption by Microsoft concluded that “the average attention span had fallen to eight seconds, down from 12 in the year 2000.” It appears that we now have a shorter attention span than goldfish. Another study, done by Hubspot, found that “headlines between 8–12 words in length got the most Twitter shares on average, while headlines with either 12 or 14 words got the most Facebook Likes.” What does this mean for our snippets? If you only have 8 seconds to impress a reader, what should you 320-character snippet say?

The benefits of the newly extended snippet according to Google:

  1. It will help people instantly find out more about your products and services: Structured snippets give visitors a preview of the nature and range of your products and services before they click on your ad.
  2. It will improve your return on investment: The additional information that appears with your ads can increase your ads’ relevance and click-through rates. This may help you improve your return on investment by attracting clicks from visitors who are more likely to be interested in what you have to offer.
  3. Customizability: You can add structured snippets to the account, campaign, or ad group levels. Specify the dates, days of the week, or times of day your structured snippets are eligible to show.

What information does Google use to make snippets?

Google wants to provide each searcher a tailored list of results. This means that if the website’s meta description is well written, includes important keyword terms or phrases, and falls into the snippets new length of 320 characters, then Google could use that website’s meta description as the snippet. However, this is not always the case. In other situations, Google will sometimes pull content from the web page to display for the searcher.

Stephan Spencer writes in the article “Anatomy of a Google Snippet that “rather than leaving your snippet to chance, try to ‘convince’ the Google algorithm to use your meta description instead (assuming it’s well-written and compels the click-through, of course!) by incorporating the popular search terms in the meta description.”

How can you make the most of your first impression with snippets?

Previously, Google would cut off most meta descriptions or snippets after roughly two lines of text. Now, while the character count might be 320 characters you should keep it under that limit. This is important because snippets are similar to title tags and may be based on pixel count and cut off. Due to this, you might lose some of your characters. When each character counts towards a first impression, you want to ensure that none are cut off.

What Google does recommend is that you keep these best practices in mind when creating or optimizing structured snippets:

  1. Provide enough information. Aim to include at least four values per header. Optimize for mobile users. Create shorter snippets to appeal to customers on-the-go.
  2. Increase your options. Add more than one header-value set. Having multiple sets of structured snippets provides more options and increases the likelihood that a relevant extension will show with your ad.
  3. Pick the right format. Unlike callout extensions, which can highlight a single unique aspect of your business in a few words, structured snippets should provide a complete group of products or services that your business provides.

Will Google do the same for Meta Descriptions?

While Google hasn’t officially provided a statement about making similar changes to meta descriptions, Danny Sullivan did reference a previous tweet from Google’s John Mueller. He states: “We’re always working on search, there’s not really anything specific to say there. I don’t think we ever had a limit on description meta tag content length.”