Google search users have noticed that the length of the descriptive snippet text found under search results has grown significantly over the past few weeks. Search queries now tend to yield results with descriptions going much longer than the ~160 character cap used for meta descriptions. These expanded snippets have been around the 230 character mark, on average.
A spokesperson from Google confirmed the change to Search Engine Land, stating that it was made recently.
Having a longer description makes a search result listing stand out compared to others on the page, potentially increasing CTR. It also provides more information to the user, helping them decide if the listing is relevant to their search intent. In turn, pages with longer descriptions could earn better behavior signals for content that boost ranking.
The only snag is that the longer descriptions seem to appear at the whim of Google’s algorithms. Site owners therefore have little control over whether or not their listing gets the big snippet. Additionally, the snippet text is more likely to be populated from page content rather than the assigned meta description, which can lead to descriptions that may not be what the author intended.
We’ve noticed this with at least one of our own blogs:
That’s the entire development in brief, but here are a few smaller details we at EverSpark were able to suss out.
The Change to Bigger Descriptive Snippets Seems Pretty Wide Ranging
Since around November 14th, these larger description snippets have appeared more often than not. Typical lengths are all over 200 characters, with some descriptions scraping the 270 character mark or even higher. For instance, the blog we mentioned above has a description with 315 characters.
This consistent use of big snippets makes the few shorter listings stand out in a negative way.
Snippet Text Gets Pulled From On-Page Content
The snippet of text chosen varies greatly according to the query. Some content pages have a large portion of their introductions quoted, whereas others have excerpts taken from body text found in the middle of the page, as we mentioned above.
Still other pages have snippets taken from descriptive elements, or summaries like bullets. A few pages even have formatting elements included, such as list items, user names, and copyright footers, making the description rather hard to parse.
You May Still Want to Stick to a Meta That’s 160 Characters or Shorter
So far, there’s no indication that the expanded descriptive snippet will pull from the page’s meta description. In turn, no one should be going out and overzealously doubling the size of their metas. For the time being, keep them short, concise, and descriptive of the actual content.
Write Better Content to Increase Your Chances of Getting a Bigger Snippet
We can’t say for sure what prompts Google’s algorithms to populate some listings with content over others, but we can make one big guess. Namely, if your page is lean on sentence-style content, you have a much slimmer chance of earning an expanded snippet.
Take a look at our cherry-picked SERP listings from a query above. The only result on page #1 of the SERP that had a standard-sized snippet (seen on the bottom) reads like a meta description.
Presumably, the page linked to has very little in the way of paragraphs. Google must have pulled content from the meta description since it had nothing else to glean from.
If you want a big snippet, you therefore may have to write enough text to give every single page some meat. You can aim to use around 200 words no matter what type of content is hosted. Ensure the text is readable and adds value to the user experience, as well. People will be able to tell how much thought and quality you put into it, so make the effort count.
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There are many ways to earn different, non-standard SERP formatting that helps your listing stand out and earn more clicks. We recommend that read our article on how rich snippets work as a starting point.
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