2018 Meta Description Guidelines for WordPress

What changed about meta description length and when?

In late November 2017, Google began to display longer meta descriptions ranging from 280-320 characters in the search engine results pages (SERPs). For several weeks thereafter, the SEO industry kept a close watch on the SERPs to anticipate if this change was here to stay. In mid-December 2017, Google officially confirmed the increased real estate being given to meta descriptions and updated their guidelines accordingly.

Example of Longer Meta Descriptions
The SEO industry has followed suit. For example, in Yoast SEO 6.0, the meta description character count limit is now 320 character. And Moz suggests 300 characters as being the target length for meta descriptions.

Friendly reminder, what are meta descriptions and why are they important?

A meta description is an HTML element that provides a concise summary of a web page. Meta descriptions are commonly shown beneath the page title and URL in the search engine results page.

Meta descriptions are also included in the header of each page and look like this in the HTML:
<meta name=”description” content=”Meta description goes here.”/>

And in the search engine results page, it looks like this:

Meta Description ExampleMeta descriptions do not impact the rank of a page in the search engine results. Instead, they impact how likely a person is to click on the result for your website (click-through rate) and contribute to brand authority.

How will longer meta descriptions impact SEO?

The updated meta description character count changes how we write meta descriptions. The longer length allows marketers to include more information about the page in the SERPs. A few best practices for meta descriptions:

  • Sentence format.
  • Unique for every page on your website.
  • Up to 320 characters.

The longer format may impact click-through rates. If a person finds the answer directly in the snippet in the search engine results page, they may not click through to your website. So, does that mean we should make the meta descriptions vague or short to encourage the website visit by intentionally not answering the query in the meta description? No, our goal is to provide prospective website visitors with the best experience. Sometimes that experience is a quick answer.

The increased meta description length means we can better position each page to include what it is about and what we would like the website visitor to do. For example, if a page is for a product, we can include relevant product information and a call to action to shop online or receive free shipping, steering the visitor to buy and not just browse before they ever reach our website.

What should I do?

We recommend updating meta descriptions for top organic landing pages to meet the new length. If you have a large website, it is a large undertaking to update all meta descriptions. Instead, focus on those pages that are most likely to display in the search engine results – the homepage, main navigation and cornerstone content, for example.

  1. Identify the pages to update. A good resource is Google Analytics. Login and update the date range to provide an adequate sample size. In the left navigation go to Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages. Then, add a segment and view organic search traffic. Prioritize the top 10 or 20 organic landing pages as a good starting point. If you have a larger website with 100s of pages receiving significant traffic, then you may consider investing more time and attention to update more pages.
    Google Analytics Organic Landing Page Example
  2. Draft the meta descriptions in a spreadsheet. Target 300 characters in length.
  3. Implement the updated meta descriptions on your WordPress website.
  4. Monitor the results. In Google Analytics, navigate via the left navigation to Acquisition > Search Console. Review the Queries and Landing Pages results for before and after results.

We’re excited about this update to the search engine results page and are happy to help you make the needed changes to your WordPress website. Sign up for WP SEO Hub and schedule for a coaching session for personalized WordPress SEO advice.