You may have noticed over the past year that the amount of real estate available beneath a standard Google SERP has expanded. For example, if you do a search for “reverse mortgages” you’ll see that one of the first results has a whopping four line description.
Now, the interesting thing about these results is how Google determines the text to use. The HUD page, or first listing in the image above, doesn’t include a meta description, so Google just grabs a couple of relevant sentences from the page copy and calls it good. The FTC site does have a meta description and it reads “Reverse mortgages let you cash in on the equity in your home: these mortgages can have serious implications.” Google says “screw it” and pulls out 300ish characters from the page copy and gives it a huge amount of real estate along with some sitelinks. Wikipedia has no meta description either, so they get two short sentences and sitelinks.
What the hell is going on here?
That’s a great question. Dr. Pete over at Moz did a boatload of research on this subject and concluded the ideal length of a meta description in 2018 should be 300. I’d rehash all of that data, but you can just go read it there. He’s much smarter than I am. However, if you’re pressed for time, here are some things to think about with your meta descriptions.
You’ve got more real estate – use it or lose it.
Seriously, if you have short meta descriptions, either lengthen them or throw them out. In my experience, you shouldn’t give Google an excuse to mess up your SERP. If you have a short meta description, Google may default to it. If you’re not sure what to write to replace it or won’t have time in the near future to think through writing a bunch of meta descriptions for internal pages – just delete them. Rewrite them for a few of your most important page to be persuasive and sprinkled with target keywords and shooting for that 300 character maximum. For the rest of the pages? Delete them. Google may choose short snippets, but they might not. Check out my last blog post, which has no meta description:
In summary, my position on meta descriptions is go big or leave them blank. Writing short descriptions, or leaving short descriptions live won’t do you much good, with the one exception being if your page has little or no copy for Google to pull from.