Google has quietly shaken up the search engine results page, with an increase in width of the main search results column from roughly 500 to just under 600 pixels. Perhaps this is a page design change in response to the recent removal of sidebar ads, capitalizing on the extra whitespace on the page.
A widening of the main results column seems to have been the foundation for related changes that Google has started implementing, namely to title and description text on the search results page.
For years various industry players such as Moz, the inbound marketing software company, have confirmed that title tags are an important ranking factor for search engine optimization (SEO). With this in mind, SEOs have consistently focused on optimization of a website’s title tags, typically striving to limit their length to 50-60 characters.
According to Search Engine Journal and The SEM Post, it now appears that Google has extended the length of the organic listing title to 70-71 characters. This is helpful to marketers, as it potentially allows the inclusion of one, two, or even three additional words into the text your prospect is most likely to see on the search results page.
Search Engine Journal and The SEM Post also report lengthened descriptions. For various search engine results, the length of the description text (displayed below the title) being displayed by Google has been increased by 16-20 characters per line, and extended from two to three lines. However, the display of the description appears to be quite varied, some with two rows, others with three rows, some cut off with an ellipsis in the second row, some with sitelinks listed below the description, some without.
Depending on the search, Google is now also adding snippets of related information below the description text. For example, if you search for “Marvel movies” Google displays the release date, budget, box office revenue, and production company at the bottom of the Wikipedia listing on the page.
Remember, meta description tags are not a ranking factor. Even so, the description text in a search results listing helps to determine click-through rates, and is therefore still important from a traffic-driving perspective.
Our guess is that Google is testing the description display to determine the format that will result in the greatest clickthroughs. We’ll just need to see where it all shakes out.
With the recent changes, you should review your title and meta description tags. First, make sure you have the basics covered, with effective language for each. Treat the title and descriptions on the search results page as an ad. And make sure the “ad” is differentiated on the page. After all, what someone sees in the search engine results needs to compel them to select your listing over everything else on the page. Otherwise, no matter how optimized your listing may be, if it’s not driving people to your website, it’s lacking in business value.
Test longer title tag text, extending the length to 70-71 characters. Don’t force the length. But where it makes sense and where the language is more compelling with the longer text, it’s worth testing. And be sure to compare your clickthrough rates prior to the change vs. after implementation of your new, longer titles. You can find this information in Google Search Console.
As for the descriptions, you can run targeted tests with your meta description tags and monitor the situation. The wide variation in listing formats is an indication, though, that you’ll have less control over how your description is ultimately displayed by Google, and therefore it’s something to monitor closely in the weeks and months ahead.
Photo Credit: Caio