If you have not already heard, Google have made some pretty seismic changes to their search results recently. Talk has been rife since the 11th of May this year when webmasters started commenting on changes to the search column.
Every facet of the search result page will be impacted by these changes with Rich Snippets, Adwords and organic results all reacting to these changes.
Please note that at the time of writing it has yet to be officially confirmed as to whether these changes are here to stay or just some intermittent testing by Google.
So what exactly has changed?
Firstly, Google removed the right hand side ad’s which then facilitated more room on the page.
Subsequently, though not necessarily related, this change was then followed by expanding the main search results column to 600 pixels, prior to this change it was around 500 pixels.
More specifically, they have changed the width of the area which historically contains organic results. As above, this has expanded from 500 to around 600 pixels, resulting in the whitespace also decreasing.
There are Fundamental changes from a user perspective which result in on page changes; historically the length of the title tag was between 50-60 characters (pixels) with the width expansion this has now been changed to 70 characters.
In essence, whilst this is an increase of 2-4 words into your title and title space is like gold dust. So whilst 2-4 more words may not sound revolutionary, marketing managers and webmasters alike will appreciate this additional space in their quest to craft the perfect title tags. Prior to this change Google truncated the title tag to ellipses (…) when exceeding the 55 character limit, or 513 pixels to be exact.
Just to confuse matters, in bygone days prior to the 50-60 characters limit, search marketers did preach about title tags being near the 70 characters mark.
Before recent changes:
After recent changes:
The description tag has also received a revamp of sorts, these have increased by 16-20 characters per line, and been extended from two to three lines in some cases. This in itself is quite a significant change as it facilitates more space for webmasters to talk about their product/ service. The new description per line is now 100 characters.
Webmasters have commented on the changes and descriptions do tend to be quite varied, some search results are using the new three line format and other are not, so what exactly is the criteria to fully utilise this new format is not entirely crystal clear. Moreover, in some results, Google are now adding further snippets of relevant information too, further adding to the confusion over what is the norm.
As an example, below, Google is still truncating some descriptions to just two and these results are still subject to the 160 character limit despite there clearly being additional space available.
How is all of this likely to impact webmasters?
Fundamentally, this means that there is more space to play with and not necessarily having to shoe horn keywords in as has been the case previously. Where before there were tight constraints within titles and description lengths, these have been somewhat relaxed.
The biggest impacts are likely to be revisiting some of those older title tags in order to take advantage of the new expanded title tag limit. With respect to the Meta description tags, changes are likely to be all together more resounding. If the aforementioned description length is increased ‘en masse’, Google is then likely to want to populate the tag to its full limit in search results. If your site does not utilise the new limit then there is the possibility that Google may bypass this and use information from elsewhere on the page which it finds more useful. If this is then truncated it can potentially impact click through rate (CTR) in a negative manner. Although meta descriptions tags are not a ranking factor, it does encourage visitors to click through so remains important factor from a perspective of driving traffic by increasing click through rates.
Best practice and monitoring and what to potentially expect:
Though this has been noticed by eager webmasters and search engine guru’s, it is important to appreciate, as mentioned above, that this may be an A/B test of sorts by Google, therefore making wholesale changes prior to formal confirmation is not advised. It is important to monitor these changes to ensure and confirm that they are rolled out permanently.
Whilst adding to the title length for the sake of ‘filling in’ is not advised, there is room for trialling and testing the new length limit and how users engage with this, it is integral that these are monitored to identify any fluctuations in CTR.
Coupled with the aforementioned changes that apply to desktop platforms, variations have also been rife on mobile versions. On mobile platforms the title length has increased from 70 to 78 characters – this is a marked difference to the character limit of 70 for desktop. Ultimately this conjecture poses the massive conundrum: which limit is the ‘best’ to adhere to?
Whilst still awaiting official confirmation it really is a case of assessing each site and all the specific data individually before making the leap or not. Of course there are commercial related aspects that need to be considered – are your customers visiting your site predominantly on mobiles or desktops? How are these two platforms related in terms of assisted conversions? How do they engage on each device type and what contribution does each device type make along the buyers consideration process?