How long can meta descriptions be

How often does Google rewrite meta descriptions? (New study)

Meta descriptions are not a ranking factor, but they can generate more clicks - and thus more traffic.

However, you will have probably already noticed that Google does not always use the hard-coded or originally specified meta description, but sometimes selects a different snippet from the website.

Of course, this is annoying, especially when you've spent a lot of time creating an appealing and convincing meta description.

But how often does that happen?

To find out, we compared the hard-coded meta descriptions with the actual Google Desktop snippets of 20,000 keywords.

But for now we don't want to withhold the following interesting fact from you:

25.02% of the top-ranked websites have no meta description

Crazy, right?!

Here is the breakdown according to their ranking placement:

For those of you wondering about this statistic, the Spearman correlation here is 0.28, which is considered weak.

Google rewrites the meta descriptions in 62.78% of the cases

Yes, you read that right - Google writes the meta descriptions for that most Search results at.

That says a lot, but it's always more revealing if you categorize the data and look at it in isolation:

That number drops to 59.65% for “fat-head” and rises to 65.62% for “long-tail” keywords.

That's why we came to the conclusion that Google creates its own descriptions for “long-tail” keywords far more often.

This assumption is based on the fact that the average first page result ranks for hundreds of keywords and the hard-coded descriptions are usually written around the primary "head" keyword.

For example, our primary target keyword for this blog post is “youtube keyword tools” - so we've written the meta description accordingly.

The result: Google shows our hard-coded description in the search results for the target keyword.

... but not for some of the "long-tail" keywords for which the article ranks:

This is because the hard-coded description is less relevant to the "long-tail" keywords. It makes more sense for Google to use its own snippet.

But the following surprised us:

Google tends to rewrite the meta descriptions for “long-tail” keywords, but only to a small extent.

I suspect that the differences will get bigger over time as Google gets better and better at understanding search intent and consequently also provides the most relevant snippets.

Google tends to rewrite the meta descriptions a little less often if they are cut off

Google is shortening meta descriptions that are too long.

But does that affect the likelihood that Google will rewrite the meta descriptions? In other words, is it more likely that Google will generate its own snippet if your meta description is too long?

Let's look at the following statistics:

The results here are pretty even. Google rewritten 61.46% of the meta descriptions that were too long and 63.69% of the remaining meta descriptions.

Surprisingly, it turns out that it doesn't make a significant difference if you stick to a certain length of meta descriptions - Google tends to rewrite them anyway.

Maybe that's because long meta descriptions are quite common. For a total of 192,656 websites we examined, 40.61% of the descriptions were too long.

Does it still pay to create meta descriptions?

Yes indeed. Relevant and meaningful meta descriptions generate more clicks. Therefore, it still pays off to create them - even if they are only displayed 37% of the time on average.

That means, if your website is very large, it's worth giving high priority to those pages that:

  • already get organic traffic
  • were created to rank on Google
  • likely to be disseminated via social media (where the meta description is used as a snippet when open graph tags are absent)

This approach allows the best result to be achieved with the least amount of work.

Write me on Twitter if you have any suggestions on this topic.