Google recently announced an increase in the number of characters allowed in Page Descriptions. The new limit is 230, a substantial increase over the 160 previously allowed.
In the past, an increase in character limits has immediate prompted website owners, or their SEO team, to rewrite the description to take advantage of the additional space and entice searchers to click on the page. However, this time, Google is suggesting this is not a good idea and that they will take text off the page to create a new and expanded description.
The big question is, will this be the start of the crafted page description disappearing altogether to be replaced with Google’s own version drawn from the page content?
There is already evidence to show that this has begun to happen. Several sites I work on are already displaying, for some pages, the longer 230 character page description taken from, in most cases, the opening sentences of the page content, replacing the original crafted page description.
So why do I think this is the first step in doing away with crafted meta page descriptions?
First, remember that Google has always made it clear that there is no guarantee that written page descriptions would be used. Google has always retained the right to use another description if it was considered more appropriate.
Second, Google has been vocal about their AI Rankbrain, and how it has become more accurate at matching searches to websites and page content to provide relevant answers to search queries. It is not a much greater step to believe they also think Rankbrain is more accurate in determining page content than the snippet provided in page descriptions.
Third, those of us who have been involved in SEO for a long time can remember the days of meta keywords and their ultimate demise. Google decided they were being exploited to misdirect searchers to pages with little relevance to the keywords in the tag and not only stated they were now ignored but hinted that continual use might be seen as spamming.
What if Rankbrain has suggested that the same exploitation is happening with page descriptions? That some, or possibly many, do not accurately describe the page content and are being manipulated. Attracting traffic to pages and sites that do not contain the content described in the tag?
Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe Google are offering an easy way out by suggesting that existing page descriptions are left unaltered and that new pages, with new descriptions, meeting the extended character limit will be shown. But I have been following Google for many years and the search engine does not make suggestions and changes without purpose and an eye to the future.
We shall see in due course, but I for one will be advising my clients to take action to write their opening sentences clearly setting out what the page content is. In addition, trying to keep them around the new limit, so that if selected as the snippet they make sense and provide an answer to a searchers question.
If you want to see if your website now shows some pages with the new snippet just type site:example.com into your browser. (example, being your site URL). This will bring up all the indexed pages for your website. You will easily see if the new length snippet has been used by Google on any of your pages