Posts Tagged ‘search’

Longer Google Description Snippets

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Yesterday, Google rolled out a couple of changes to its results pages.  One of these changes was to increase the length of page snippets for longer search queries.  This is a big change and could have a significant effect for many websites.

The snippet that this refers to is the description under the blue heading title when a website is displayed in the results pages. More often than not, this is taken from the meta description tag.  Historically, the search engines have only displayed around 140 characters in this field although longer meta descriptions are perfectly acceptable.  Because of this, many SEOs and site owners have kept descriptions under the 140 character mark to ensure that all of the description is displayed.  After all, the description tag is effectively the ad text for your website.

The new change will mean that if a user types a long search query (eight words long for example), a longer description will be displayed.  The reasoning behind this is that longer descriptions are needed to provide enough context to relate the site to the search query.

One knock-on effect that may result from this is lower click through rates.  If a user is after a specific piece of information, this will now have more chance of being provided in the results pages without the need to visit the website that supplies the information.  Another point to consider is whether description tag lengths should be reviewed.  If Google will now display over 200 characters, perhaps description tags should be adjusted accordingly. Personally, I do not think that adjusting tags will be necessary. Long tail search queries are rare, and when they do occur, it is likely that page content will be used to supplement description tags.

Description tags play an important part in search engine optimisation and it will be interesting to see how this new change affects listings and traffic for websites. Even though this change only affects the minority of search queries, many larger sites receive a lot of traffic from these terms.  Anything that affects the layout of Google’s results pages is big news in the world of search, but the full significance of this latest change has yet to be revealed.