Google has remained at the top of the search engine world for nearly two decades - an eternity in technology years. The giant has done so not by adapting to the needs of consumers, but by shaping them. From autocomplete to semantic search, the minds at Google have given searchers what they need - before they knew they needed it. It’s not surprising, then, that a new change was recently rolled out. The world’s biggest search engine extended the length of titles and descriptions.
Why is this significant, and does it impact your search engine optimization strategies?
Screen shot showing Google’s extended titles and descriptions
In mid-2016, sharp-eyed observers noticed a difference in the search engine results: titles were longer and meta descriptions more… well, descriptive.
In May of this year, Google launched a search engine results page redesign - a significant event in the digital marketing world. They increased the width of the main organic search results column from 512 pixels to 600 pixels. At the same time, they decreased the width of the right sidebar (which formerly housed paid ads but which now provides Knowledge Panels) from 65 pixels to 60 pixels.
This move enabled them to extend the length of title tags and descriptions. The additional 17% is enough to get in an extra word or two to your title and add a more detailed description of your products/services/website. When optimized with keywords, the tags help search engines understand your site and deliver it to relevant searches. On the consumer side, they give people the information they need to decide whether they should click through.
The extended length helps you convey more in the critical fractions of a second it takes for searchers to make decisions. The more information you offer - and the more relevant it is to them - the better.
A Few Things to Know
Google is notoriously tight-lipped about their “secret sauce.” Updates and changes are typically not announced; rather, it’s a case of noticing differences in the search engine results pages or in your search ranking. This is another reason engaging a firm specializing in SEO marketing services is essential; these professionals are trained, and paid, to notice. The rest is observing trends.
What SEOs, digital marketing agencies, and savvy businesses have discovered is that while the tags are extended, the change is not universal. That is, some titles are 50-60 characters, while others are 70. This title, captured by Moz, for example, has 77 characters:
But, as Moz points out, the title features slimmer letters and punctuation - lots of I’s, T’s, and L’s. A title featuring “fuller figure” characters may be truncated by Google. Truncating, or cutting off, your title or description can be a turn-off for searchers. Best to fit within Google’s parameters - even if those parameters are not clearly disclosed.
That’s one consideration. Another is that Google, in some cases, appends the brand name to the result - regardless of whether the brand name is in the title tag. While brand mentions are generally positive, this addition takes away from your character “allotment” and may cause your original optimized title be truncated.
Fortunately, Google does not cut off in the middle of words any longer, so some of the confusion caused by truncation is eliminated.
Despite the extended lengths, it is still considered best practice to keep your title tags under 60 characters and your meta descriptions between 150 and 160.
Another layer of confusion is added when you consider that the extended lengths may just be a test. Google is always testing whether elements work to enhance search experiences for their users. This could be a flash in the pan if the search engine determines it did not improve relevance or add value to searchers.
The lesson: it is important that your search engine optimization strategies take into consideration the latest changes in the industry. At the same time, creating a stable foundation on tried and true tactics (e.g. quality content, site speed, keyword optimization, etc.) will ensure that you can weather and adapt to the trends without losing vital traffic or your search ranking.
Your SEO marketing services provider can help you build a strong strategy that empowers you to achieve your business-building goals and adjust to changes in the search industry as they happen.