What you write in the meta description tag is very important. It’s a great opportunity to ‘advertise’ your page in the search results, attract clicks to your snippet and traffic to your website.
But sometimes it gets confusing, especially when it comes to the ideal length of the meta description tag.
As you work in optimizing your meta tags, you’ll come up with questions like:
- How many characters should I write so that it looks good on Google?
- Is there a difference in meta description length between desktop and mobile?
- What about other search engines like Bing, how do they handle meta descriptions?
- What should I write in the meta description so that it gets more clicks?
We had the same questions and that’s why we decided to run a small study and find out the answers.
As you will read below, the typical advice “the optimum length of a meta description is 160 around characters” doesn’t always apply, especially when optimizing your meta tags for mobile.
For those of you that don’t know what a meta description is, here is a quick introduction and then we’ll go straight to the findings of the study.
What is a meta description?
The meta description is text that describes a page and it is usually shown as a snippet in the search results.
The meta description tag is hidden on the page so normal users cannot see it while browsing a webpage but search engine crawlers can read the value and might use it for creating the search snippets.
Here is an example of a meta description in Google search results:
Here is how it looks if you view the HTML of the page:
<meta name="description" content="The
difference between SEO and SEM is simply that Search Engine
Optimization is a subset of Search engine marketing or Search marketing
as it is widely known."/>
What is the ideal length of a meta description on Google?
We analyzed a number of Google search results on both desktop and mobile and we found out that there is a difference in the meta description length on desktop and mobile.
Someone might have expected that the desktop meta description is longer than mobile, but it is actually the opposite.
While the mobile screen is smaller in width, Google is allocating more height for each search snippet and as a result it allows for longer meta descriptions.
Meta description length for Google Desktop search results
The meta description length for Google desktop search results is between 154-160 characters.
As you can see below, most search snippets have 154 – 161 characters with the exception of our snippet which goes up to 206 characters!
The screenshot below is representative for different types of searches we have performed.
Meta description length for Google Mobile search results
The ideal meta description length for Google mobile search results is between 180 and 220 characters.
For exactly the same results on mobile, Google shows longer descriptions. As you can see below, the length is between 183 and 217 characters.
Why is this finding important? Since the majority of the traffic is coming from mobile devices, you should optimize your meta descriptions for mobile.
This means you should write meta descriptions that are between 180 and 220 characters and not up-to 160 characters that was the standard until now for desktop.
How long should a meta description be on Bing?
Optimizing the meta description length for Bing, is a totally different story. For some queries it does not show the meta description at all but it shows parts of the page content and for others it shows too short or too long descriptions.
The length varies from 110 to 260 characters for desktop and mobile.
My recommendation is not to worry about Bing not only because it doesn’t have the traffic of Google but also because they seem not to have a clear long term vision on how they want to present their search results.
So, is there a character limit for meta descriptions?
Although Google officially states that “There’s no limit on how long a meta description can be, but the search result snippets are truncated as needed, typically to fit the device width”, we found out that the maximum characters shown in a search snippet for both desktop and mobile is 300 characters.
For all the tests we performed, 300 was the maximum characters that was shown.
I’m confused! How long should I make my meta descriptions?
I did mention above that once you start taking a closer look at this it gets confusing but let’s simplify things.
What we found out after making several tests (and you can do the same), is that the meta description length varies depending on the search terms used, device, location and search history.
One thing is certain though, search engines and in particular Google do show more than 160 characters in the meta description field, especially in the case of rich snippets.
So, to take advantage of all the available real estate and make your snippets stand out, my recommendation is to write meta descriptions that are between 180 and 220 characters.
Another thing you can do (highly recommended) is to search for your target keywords on Google and examine the first page of the results.
If you notice that Google is showing long descriptions for most of the results then go for the 220 characters, if it shows shorter results stick to around 180.
What to write in the meta description tag?
To best utilize meta descriptions first make sure that each and every page on your website has a unique meta description.
Second, you need to know that meta description is NOT an SEO ranking factor. This means that it does not directly affect your SEO but it can indirectly help in a number of ways.
If you write compelling meta descriptions that encourages users to click your snippet and not the snippets that are in a higher position, this will eventually lead to higher rankings.
Google will spot that users prefer your search snippet and it will move it up in the results.
Some tips to have in mind:
Write your most important message at the beginning of the description. This way, you increase your chances of getting show in both desktop and mobile.
If you decide to write long descriptions, try to have a full stop (.) around 160 characters. This way you help search engines ‘cut’ your description without breaking your sentences.
Add SEO keywords to your description text. Although as mentioned above, it does not directly help SEO, search engines tend to highlight the text that matches the search terms, and this makes your snippet more relevant to users.
Important: Search engines do not always use your meta description in their search snippets
You should know that it’s up to search engines to decide whether to use the text you provide or create a custom description from the content found on the page.
Neither Google or Bing specify exactly how they make the decision but if you provide accurate descriptions, you increase your chances of picking up your version.
Most tools encourage you to limit the description length to 160 characters but as you can see in the examples and findings above, that’s not the case.
The meta description length has increased over time. We’ve seen cases where Google shows up to 300 characters on their search results (both desktop and mobile).
When writing your descriptions, always think of the user and how you can ‘convince’ them to click on your snippet. This will not only increase your organic traffic but it can positively affect your SEO.
Finally, have in mind that Google is continuously testing new changes and the meta description length is one of them so keep an eye for changes.