Google results page looks different: Digging into the SEO implications

Title tags and meta descriptions are important players in the world of natural search. Beyond keyword matching as a ranking factor, these two elements combine to form the SEO “ad copy” for a given page. A page’s title tag is used by search engines as the ‘headline’ portion of the result, and its meta description forms the paragraph or ‘snippet’ portion.

For years the golden standard of SEO best practices has always been a 70 character title tag and 160 characters maximum for meta descriptions. The week of March 17th, 2014 Google changed that “golden standard” by rolling out a visual update to its search engine results page (SERP). A number of page design elements were changed, including the addition of a yellow ‘Ad’ tag next to paid search results, and an increase of font size to make natural search results larger.

The change in font size, however, affected more than the appearance and readability of search results: By increasing font size of the snippet, it also changed how long title tags and meta descriptions could be before Google cuts them off. This update requires a change in best practices related toTitle and Description lengths. Advertisers must shift from relying solely on character length to now also consider the width of the characters.

This means that characters are no longer a reliable measurement for Title and Description Lengths. A title can be only 45 characters and still be truncated, or more than 80 and show up cleanly – depending on the characters involved. Looking at character width we suggest advertisers stick to around 480 pixels for the Title Length and 920 pixels for the descriptions.

How should SEO’s now calculate Title and Description lengths?

The solution is simple and just requires some creative thinking.  By utilizing width rules in excel you can set the ideal pixel width for your cell and use that to tell you if your titles are long enough to be properly displayed. Please keep in mind that your title and description text will bold and become larger depending on a search users query. If you have a primary query term make sure to bold those keywords in excel to see if they still fit within the pixel width requirements for Google’s search results.

Can we still use characters as a best practice?

Characters can be used as general guideline but we strongly recommended that you check the pixel width separately as characters are not a reliable indicator of what will be shown in the SERP. If using Character guidelines you will need to develop individual ones for every language to account for differences in character width.

General US Title and Description Character Guidelines

Desktop Title: 55 Characters

Mobile Title: 55 Characters

Desktop Description: 150 Characters

Mobile Description: 115 Characters

Was this a US only update?

No, this update was made globally so it’s important to update best practices for all non-US specific websites. Using excel width as opposed to counting characters  is a more accurate way of developing  Title and Description recommendations as it takes into account the width of unique characters for different languages.

Using the above example; translating this title into another language (like Russian) makes it way too long. It’s necessary to look at global implications of titles and descriptions to make sure that they fit into Google’s new design.

Does this affect both Desktop and Mobile Search?

Yes, the changes make search results more touch screen friendly and create a uniform look across desktop/tablet/mobile Google search experiences.

What you need to do after reading this:

  1. Update Global Title and Description Best Practices Globally: Don’t just rely on character count. All of your character length requirements need to be re-evaluated. Do a little bit of QA in Excel and see what size fits the languages you work with.  Save those templates for future recommendations.
  2. Change Existing Titles and Descriptions (if they are being cut off): Nothing is more embarrassing than seeing your carefully crafted title or description cut off. Make sure to update them as soon as possible. You might be missing out on key intent phrases.