google search page

Optimizing Meta Descriptions for Google’s Longer Search Results Snippets

Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) have got a new look—again. This time, however, website owners stand to benefit because the latest format gives more real estate to the organic results.

On December 1, 2017, search industry vet and current public liaison for search at Google Danny Sullivan confirmed via Twitter that the company has officially increased the length of its search results snippets from 160 characters to 320. Search snippets are the lines of text that appear under the clickable titles and URLs of websites on the SERPs. They’re meant to help people understand how the pages Google serves are relevant to their search queries. 1 Google often uses a webpage’s meta description to create its snippet, so the longer format left many SEOs wondering, “Should we rewrite our meta descriptions?”

As is often the case when communicating directly with Google, the answer wasn’t a simple “yes” or “no.” At first Sullivan advised not to update meta description tags because Google automatically generates snippets based on the specific search query and content of the page, sometimes excerpting the page content instead of using the meta description. About a week later, John Mueller, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst, offered a more nuanced recommendation during a Google Webmaster Central hangout. It turns out there are some advantages to optimizing meta tags for the extended snippet format.

Google’s Advice on Updating Meta Descriptions

To update or not? Optimizing your meta descriptions for Google’s longer snippets could give you greater control of how people preview your site in the SERPs, which could prove to be a competitive advantage, was Mueller’s overarching message during the Google Hangout. Ultimately, even if you update your meta description, Google may not choose to use it. Since the search query and the content of the page determine Google’s selection of text for the snippet, it might excerpt content from the page instead. However, if you leave your meta description at the old, shorter length, Google might add to it with page content to make a longer, more informative and contextual snippet. Giving Google the meta description you would want them to show is a better bet for potentially controlling the message you send searchers about your page.

When considering updating your meta descriptions, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does your meta description clearly and accurately explain the goods, services, or information offered on the full page?
  • Does your meta description convey your unique value proposition in an appealing way?
  • Is someone else more capable of best describing your page’s offerings than you?

If you answered “no” to these questions, then you may want to consider updating your meta descriptions—taking advantage of the longer character limit this time around. While adding more information to your meta description won’t impact rankings, it could help better inform users of your offerings and sway them to choose you over competitors.

Tips for Optimizing Your Meta Descriptions

More space—that’s the key thing to remember when updating your meta descriptions. All the same rules for writing meta descriptions still apply, but now you have more characters with which to compose a compelling preview of your page and hopefully attract users to click through to your site. That said, here are some old and new tips to keep in mind as you optimize your meta tags to seize this SEO opportunity.


Make a list of the landing pages on your website that receive the most search traffic. Re-optimize the meta descriptions on those pages first.


View your site and meta descriptions in the SERPs as users would see them. Use the search console or search analytics to find the top queries that are sending searchers to your pages. Search those queries to view how your site’s meta descriptions appear in the results. Do you see ways you could make them more relevant to the intent of these queries or other opportunities for improvement?


Again, you might want to check out the meta descriptions for the pages that are ranking well for the query you’re optimizing for. How many characters are they using to summarize their pages’ content in an appealing and relevant way?


Meta descriptions should clearly summarize to searchers what the content of the page they’re considering clicking on is about. They should be descriptive and unique to each specific page.


If your content management system (CMS) has rules set for the character length of meta descriptions, you’ll want to modify them to accommodate the longer snippets.


One of the main goals of search results snippets is to help users determine whether a page is relevant to their query. Google bolds keywords in meta descriptions that were used in the searcher’s query. Having keywords in your meta tags can suggest greater relevancy to users and possibly entice them to click through to your page. They can also help you stand out from the competition.

General guidelines on writing meta descriptions can be found on this recent Google blog post, on the company’s help page, and in its SEO starter guide.

Why Optimize Meta Descriptions

Optimizing meta tags can have immediate and long-term benefits for sites.

In early December, only around 51 percent of the search results had at least one longer snippet in the top 10. This could be because many SEOs have yet to optimize their meta tags for the longer search results snippets. Those who update their meta tags sooner stand the chance of occupying more real estate in the SERPs and standing out from competitors. For now, there is a competitive advantage in the sheer space alone. As more sites catch up and longer snippets become standard, the message of the meta tags will become increasingly important in helping sites to stand out.

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