Google descriptions drop back to two lines (aargh!)

A few short months ago, I wrote about the two-line description snippets in Google results having expanded into four lines. As this change had been slowly appearing for many months, and had now gone full-scale, it seemed like it was finally time to rewrite our description meta tags to take advantage of all those extra words.

Guess what? Google has changed its mind and gone back to two lines, or the old 155-160 character limit.

To say this is irritating is an understatement. Google says: “We were very clear there was no need for people to change meta description tags, when we were asked specifically about this”, but of course many of us tried to take advantage on our most important search and page combinations. When asked what the new character count is, a Google spokesman said: “The count can vary and isn’t helpful in this case to best advise site owners on how to craft meta description tags that might or might not be used for snippets. If we say any character count or any range, it causes obsession over what happens if you’re over or under this supposedly magical figure for a tag that we don’t even always use to craft a snippet. Any specific advice we give will get taken out of context, obsessed over, over-emphasized and optimized for in ways that are not helpful. So I totally get wanting something specific, but we aren’t doing that because it’s less helpful than it seems.”

I’ve held back for a couple of weeks on reporting this change, firstly to see if it’s going to stick, and secondly to see what the recommendations are going forward. It looks like for now we are indeed permanently back to descriptions of a maximum 155-160 characters, so if that’s what you’ve generally worked to with your description meta tags, it’s as you were. If you rewrote some or all of them to double that length, I wouldn’t rush to cut them down – it gives Google more to choose from, and I’ve noticed that if there’s a sentence break around halfway in the expanded description, it often uses that first part on its own, which is fine by me.