Why Google Won’t Give Specific Meta Description Lengths

Ever since Google dropped the length of the descriptions in the search results last week, many SEOs have been freaking out about the fact they rewrote meta description tags to 300+ characters and now, Google has dropped that back down to about 160 characters in length.

The important thing to note is that Google has never given any specific character or word count for the meta description tags, even when they have increased the length in the past.  So it isn’t surprising they are continuing the same.

Also, even though the majority of descriptions have been reduced to ~160 characters, there are still many search results with longer descriptions.  These longer descriptions are showing up in many search results pages, with about two longer ones showing per query, especially for non-commercial queries.  So pages that earn the longer snippets could possibly end up showing a shorter one, if that was what was specified.

John Mueller reiterated this when he said that the search results are very dynamic, as we can easily see when we spot tests in the search results.  And he comments that it is important for Google to keep testing and seeing what works best for their users.  With this in mind, it is likely the shorter snippets was tested before being unleashed to everyone.

Also the lengths change based on whether it is on mobile or desktop, with mobile being slightly shorter.  So even if Google did give a shorter length, it would either be too long for desktop or too short for mobile search results.

Danny Sullivan commented on Twitter that one of the reasons Google does not want to give specific lengths is they don’t want people to focus on the character count, they want site owners to focus on what works for visitors.

Google recommending quality content is not new, and perhaps Google feels that site owners could better spend their SEO time on things such as improving or adding quality content, rather than changing meta description tags to some arbitrary number that could change at any time and that Google may not use anyway.

Not only that, he thinks being too short or too long in a meta description doesn’t matter either.

But as I noted yesterday, webmasters have received Google Search Console flags for meta descriptions that are too short, but I have not heard of any for descriptions that are too long.

They also said they do not want site owners to be worried about the exact length of the meta description tag when Google may not even use that when displaying the page description in the search results.  There are many cases of upset webmasters in the webmaster help forums where they have carefully crafted meta description tags but Google won’t use them.

Sullivan also says giving SEOs actual numbers isn’t helpful, as it “will get taken out of context, obsessed over, over-emphasized and optimized for in ways that are not helpful.”  And to be fair, SEOs to tend to microanalyze any SEO related information that comes from Google directly.

Sullivan also pointed out that while Google has never said specific counts, that some SEO publications have, and he calls out Yoast specifically for recommending a character count Google has never recommended.

And in fact, most of the search results for “Google meta description length“, including the featured snippet, still recommend the ~320 character length.

There is also a Google Webmaster Office Hours later today where I suspect this will be a hot topic.

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Jennifer Slegg is a longtime speaker and expert in search engine marketing, working in the industry for almost 20 years. When she isn’t sitting at her desk writing and working, she can be found grabbing a latte at her local Starbucks or planning her next trip to Disneyland. She regularly speaks at Pubcon, SMX, State of Search, Brighton SEO and more, and has been presenting at conferences for over a decade.

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