Google is testing one of the biggest visible changes to the SERPs that we have seen in many years – page titles and descriptions are being extended. This change follows the removal of the right-hand side adverts, which has freed up an extra 100px in the main search results.
For many years it was recommended to keep META title lengths to under 55 characters to give the best chance of the full title appearing in the results. Anything over 55 characters would risk being truncated, and this might mean ruining a specific message. The ideal META description has always been between 150 and 160 characters.
This update sees the title tag increase to 70 characters. In fact, it could extend to 71 characters, depending on the letters that are used – because i and l are smaller characters, titles that use more of these letters may stretch to an extra letter. This change may sound unimportant, but it represents an extra two to four words, which is a huge change when you consider the billions of web pages that could potentially benefit from a new, longer title.
How To Benefit From This Change
If you have a large site you may have a big task ahead of you if you want to optimise all your title tags. One quick change you can make is to add your business name or brand to your titles, if you have not done so already. If your website is built on a flexible CMS you should be able to easily make this change just by editing one line of html. For example, if you run WordPress, you should be able to accomplish this by editing the Meta Title field in an SEO plugin. If this is not an option, then you need to schedule in some SEO content optimisation.
Less May Be More
A word of caution – just because there is space for a longer title, this does not mean you must use it. If your titles were already optimised to be engaging for readers and provide the search engines with keyword help, then adding some extra words could negatively affect your search engine rankings.
It is also worth considering that any major change to a website can result in Google carrying out a review of your site – if hundreds or thousands of titles are suddenly changed overnight, this may look suspicious.
Avoid Keyword Stuffing
Some SEOs might suggest using this extra space to throw in some more keywords, but Google advises against this and is known to penalise websites for “keyword stuffing”.
However, it is possible to add a keyword in a more natural looking way. Again, if you run a CMS, you might consider adding the category name to page titles. This is a logical change to make that will provide more useful information to searchers and might improve rankings too.
Ideally, you should make a few small changes to your website and then monitor the effect of these changes over the next few weeks. If there is a positive movement, plan to optimise more titles. If the website takes a bit of a nosedive, you can be safe in the knowledge that you have not (hopefully) damaged the entire site and quickly revert the changes to recover a loss in rankings.
Descriptions are very different to titles in terms of SEO. The META description on a web page does not directly affect Google rankings – it is only used to provide searchers with more information about the results. The best way to use it is to consider a sales pitch for your page – people only read descriptions if they are unsure whether or not to click your link, so give them a reason to want to visit your page, instead of your competitors’ pages.
The extra 16-20 characters in descriptions is probably not going to give you a huge amount of room to radically change your message. It is also worth remembering that Google does not always show the META description that you provide (this is also true of META titles) as it will sometimes replace your description with some text from the page that it feels is more relevant to the searcher.
Because descriptions do not affect where your site appears in search, there will be no huge benefit to changing all your page descriptions. However, if you want to increase the chances of people choosing your site in Google search results, you should improve the description of each page so that it closely matches the most common search phrases that people use to find your page. If your description closely matches what a person is searching for, Google is less likely to pick an alternative sentence from your page, so optimising your descriptions can help you to get your sales copy on Google.
Of course, to optimise your descriptions you need to have an in-depth understanding of your market – if you know exactly what people want you can tailor your pages to perfectly match their needs and this should greatly increase click-throughs and conversions.
This change was first reported in America by Jennifer Slegg on TheSEMPost. Searches in the UK are still showing results with under 60 characters in the titles and around 160 characters in descriptions. Google has made no announcement if this change is going to be universally rolled out – it could even just be a test.
To avoid wasting hours of hard work for nothing, it might be best to hold off making any changes right now. If Google does make these changes in the UK too, then we’ll publish an update – so subscribe to the blog or follow us on social media to stay up to date with the latest SEO changes in the UK.