Google has recently made official a shift in the way snippets are displayed in search results. A snippet is the page description shown below a site’s URL in an organic search and helps show how the site is relevant to the query.
According to a Google spokesperson, the change was made to allow for longer, more descriptive snippets, so searchers get a better understanding of how a page relates to their search. This makes it easier for users to get to the information they’re looking for, with less clicking around or following unrelated links.
In some cases, the longer snippets have already been made available, and Google users may have noticed an increase in snippet length in recent weeks.
Rank Ranger, a custom SEO tracking platform, has been keeping tabs on the changes. Based on their analytics, Google snippet length has increased from a maximum of 160 characters to nearly 230 characters on average, representing a fairly significant jump.
The expanded snippet length may prove tempting for some webmasters and SEO professionals hoping to improve their Google rankings or make their sites stand out with searchers. Though revising and updating a site’s meta description in order to take advantage of this new opportunity seems a natural response, in most instances it’s not actually necessary.
In fact, according to Google’s Danny Sullivan, spending time editing meta descriptions would be a largely wasted effort.
“Don’t go expanding your meta description tags,” said Sullivan. “It’s more a dynamic process.”
Snippets are typically generated based on a user’s search terms and content found both in the site’s meta description and within its pages. Even though Google now allows more characters in a snippet, the process of generating that description remains the same and will be dependent on the search. The longer snippets will usually apply to searches longer than three words with very specific intent.
If a user’s search warrants a longer snippet, Google will simply pull more information from a site’s existing content to generate the expanded description.
Google frequently tests longer search descriptions and has been experimenting with snippet length for quite some time.