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Meta Title and Meta Description Length: SEO Best Practices

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Dileep Thekkethil

December 7, 2021

Have you recently optimized the meta title and meta description of your website as part of the on-page optimization effort?

Did the words truncate when Google displayed the same in the search results?

If yes, you are not alone!

A majority of the meta titles and meta descriptions that SEOs write get truncated due to the lack of understanding about how Google SERP works.

Even the SEO experts tend to make this mistake, which stemmed from an age-old belief that Google considers 70 and 160 as the character limit for the title and description, respectively.

Let us drive right into the pertinent fact that can debug this misconception.

There is no official document from Google that says you must consider 70 as the character limit of title and 160 as the limit for the meta description.

Google cares little about the characters that you use but is more watchful of the number of pixels used by each character.

However, popular WordPress plugins use this benchmark, especially the Yoast plugin, creating a misperception about optimizing meta title and description.

Meta Title And Description Length

What is a Meta Title Tag?Meta title on SERP

A meta title tag is an HTML element on a webpage that specifies the title of the page to search engines.

The title tag is supposed to accurately describe the content of the page and Google displays it on SERPs as a clickable headline while displaying the results. 

If you have been watchful of what has been happening in the last two years, Google has been testing a lot with different ways to showcase titles for its users in SERPs. 

They have every right to do so because the text within the title and description is what opens the door way for people to the endless possibilities of search. 

Google, for long, has been using its discretion to decide whether to choose the meta title or the H1s in SERPs.  It has to be also noted that Google has been tweaking the meta title since 2012 to make it easier for users to recognize relevant pages.

Such changes were inevitable as SEOs tried to over-optimize the meta titles by stuffing it with a lot of keywords. As a result, users were left with text that failed to reveal what’s within the content. 

Now, Google is making a drastic change in the way it fetches the titles for the search results page. According to the latest announcement from Google officials, 13% of time, it’s using the text within the heading tags instead of HTML titles to display the SERP titles. 

The search engine giant has confirmed that it wants to use the titles that a user can see within a page rather than titles that only bots can read. 

The official announcement says, “We consider the main visual title or headline shown on a page, content that site owners often place within <H1> tags or other header tags, and content that’s large and prominent through the use of style treatments.” 

Why Has Google Decided to Ignore Your Meta Titles?

Google is always leaning towards the satisfaction of the users visiting the sites listed on the SERPs. In fact, that’s what runs all their associated businesses and they don’t want users to leave with a bad impression. 

For long, SEOs have been manipulating Meta titles to alter the search results on Google. Most of the time, keywords were stuffed to get the immediate attention of the users but when they actually visited the page the content failed to meet their actual intent. 

Since the title displayed on the search results page is the primary factor that aids users to decide which website to visit, Google wants only the most relevant titles to appear. 

The solution they found to this pressing issue is to fetch the titles from the content so that there is less chance of irrelevant titles being generated. 

According to Google, the title tags have major flaws. Some include: 

  • Long character length that’s hard to decipher
  • “Stuffed” with keywords to trick the users into clicking the page
  • Templated titles with no worthwhile meaning such as “untitled”, “home” etc..

How is Google Generating Titles Now? 

On August 24, 2021 Google made its mind clear about how it’s going to generate titles for web pages with poor HTML titles. 

According to the announcement, the search engine giant launched a new system into its algorithm to generate titles from text within a page that people can visually see once they land on it. 

Earlier, Google used to change the title based on the search query entered by the users. However, with the launch of this new system, Google said it will no longer change titles based on queries as the new system is capable of generating better titles. 

According to Google, any text that is marked within a Heading tag, especially the H1s have the more probability to show up on SERPs even though the other headings and even the text within the body may feature if that’s what conveys the intent of the page better.

All that Google is trying to achieve with this new update is to generate titles that are readable and informative to the users in cases where the Meta titles are less useful. 

Also, when it comes to titles that are longer than what Google can display, it will take just the relevant part and show it to the users instead of moving it to the beginning and truncating the title.

How Long Should a Meta Title Be?

According to the study conducted by Moz, Google’s display titles max out (currently) at 600 pixels.

Research done by the internal team at Stan Ventures found that titles start truncating between 525- 535 pixels on Desktop, but when it came to smartphones, the results were surprising!

Meta Title Length Example – Desktop

Meta Title Length Example - Desktop

Meta Title Length Example – Mobile

Meta Title Length Example – Mobile
We found that the titles that were cut short in the desktop search appeared fully in the mobile search.

A deeper dive into the mobile search results revealed that Google displays titles that go beyond two lines.

It was also noticed the title displayed in the mobile search included the company name as a default suffix for all the results.

This holds true even for those pages that have force-removed the brand name from the Meta Title.

We found that only one in twenty mobile search results had the title truncated despite flouting the age-old character limit dogma that SEOs have been adhering to for so many years.

There are a few handy websites that provide free Meta Title and Description length checker.

One of the tools that I use is Serpsim, which checks the length of the meta title and description based on the pixel

Importance of Meta title in SEO for any Blog or Business Site

Title tags are the first thing that your visitors interact with before visiting your site from SERP.

Title tags are primarily used in three main places: SERPs, web browsers, and social networks. 

1. SERP

Even if your site ranks well on SERP, your title tag plays a vital role in determining whether a person will click to visit your page or not. 

The title tag should convey the information present on your web page clearly and concisely.

2. Web Browsers

Your title tag is displayed at the top of your web browser and helps you recognize the associated web page easily when you have multiple tabs open.  

3. Social Networks

Social network sites use your title tag and meta description to display when you share your web page. 

Unless you write an attractive and meaningful meta title for the web page you want to share socially, people won’t be drawn to click on it. 

Tips to Optimize for Meta Title

  • A title tag is an important on-page SEO signal. Ensure to add the focus keyword in the title tag for SEO benefits.
  • A title tag that starts with the keyword performs better than title tags with keywords towards the end.
  • Your Meta Title and H1 can be different. Google considers the H1 tag as a secondary signal to measure topic relevancy.
  • Adding LSI keywords in the meta tag helps Google understand the context of words that could possibly have multiple meanings. 
  • Google gives additional weightage to links from pages containing your focus keyword in their title. 
  • Remember not to stuff your meta title with keywords; if found by Google, it may penalize your page.

SEO Best Practice to Write Good Headline for Blog or any Website

Here are some useful recommendations to write good headlines for your web pages.

Watch the Length of Your Meta Title:

To ensure that your meta description appears in the SERP without any word or character being cut off, it is essential to keep the meta title length under 600 pixels.

It should also be kept in mind that search engines may choose to display a separate title tag from the one specified by you. This happens when the title fails to convey the message within a page.

Don’t Stuff Keywords in the Title Tag:

If you deliberately try stuffing keywords in the SEO title, it will result in poor user experience and your page may not show up on the search at all.

Try to write meta titles that are meaningful and has the focus keyword placed very strategically in it, preferably in the beginning. 

Use Unique Meta Titles for Every Page:

When you add unique meta titles for your web page, it attracts people to click on them and also gives an idea to the users about the content inside the page. Additionally, unique meta titles can help to avoid keyword cannibalization.

Insert Essential Keywords in the Beginning:

Keywords added at the beginning of the meta title have more value than others. That’s why it is recommended to begin your meta title with the focus keyword.

Utilize Your Brand:

If you have a well-known brand, you can add it towards the end of the meta title. In some cases, especially on Mobile devices, Google may automatically pick up brand names to be displayed after the meta title.

Keep Your Customers in Mind:

It is essential to keep your customers in mind while framing meta titles for your web pages. It is the first thing they interact with when they come across your web page on the SERP.

Therefore, you need to ensure that it is written accurately and is attractive enough for them to click.

Why Google Rewrites Meta Title?

You were wondering why Google just rewrote your well-optimized meta title and decided to display your H1 instead?

Google’s algorithm has been rewriting meta titles for quite some time now, but lately, it has gone a step further and started overwriting the meta title with the H1 tags.

Discussion about this is ripe on forums SEOs complaining that the title was picked up directly from one of the H1s within the page.

Google’s John Mueller had earlier confirmed that using multiple H1 tags is not in violation of Google’s guidelines, and it’s ok to do so.

Looking at this trend, it seems like Google is trying to provide the best meta title using the H1s so that the results displayed closely match the search query entered by the users.

What is a Meta Description Tag?

Meta Description on SERPs

The meta description is an HTML element of a web page that summarizes the content of the page. The meta description appears in SERP along with the meta title.
A proper meta description attracts more click-through rates, which is a way for Google to determine whether you are displaying a good result.

What Should Be the Lenght of Meta Description?

Google has tested a few different meta description lengths in the last few years.

At one point, Google even decided to buff up the character limit of the Meta Description to 320 characters, which made a significant change in the overall aesthetics of the search engine results page.

The increase in character length of the Meta Description made the SERP text-heavy and less pleasing to the eyes (this could be a very personal opinion).

However, after a few months, Google reverted to its old meta description length of 160 characters, and this could be an indication of Google taking into cognizance of the popular sentiments.

All this said, there still exists a fair bit of confusion among SEOs regarding the character length of the Meta Description. Google has categorically stated that the Meta Description is not part of its ranking factors.

So, what is the purpose of the Meta Description if Google doesn’t consider it as a ranking factor?

SEOs must now consider Meta Description as a message sent across to the users.

It must highlight why they should consider clicking on your site instead of the other competitors that are featured in the SERP. It’s time that SEOs put in the effort to make Meta Descriptions compelling and informative, rather than simply stuffing in the keywords.

Unlike what we found with the Meta Titles, Google’s search algorithm seems to be following the same rules when it comes to displaying Meta Description on desktop and mobile devices.

We found that the Meta Descriptions for desktop and mobile search results tend to truncate after 930px.

However, SEOs should also consider the Date and other Rich Snippet elements that they have enabled while writing the Meta Description as these features take up some real estate.

Another interesting find was that the descriptions that Google generated on its own based on the intent of the search query have more characters displayed.

Meta Description for Question-Based Search Queries

Meta Description for Question-Based Search Queries

We found the descriptions that Google self-generates for high-authority websites based on the context and intent of the search query may be as large as 1500 px.

This is the same for both smartphone and desktop results. In addition to this, most of the question-based search queries featured results that have a Meta Description of 1500 px in the first three positions.

Importance of Meta Description

  • Meta descriptions act as an overview of your page content.
  • A compelling meta description can improve the CTR of your site and boost its organic rankings.
  • Refreshing the meta description for pages with outdated content can bring more traction to them.
  • A well-written meta description that is optimized for user intent can increase conversations significantly.

SEO Best Practice to Write Good Descriptions for Blog or any Websites

Write a Compelling Copy

A compelling and accurate meta description can help users understand the contents of the page and make sound decisions on whether or not they should be clicking on the link. 

Use Target and Secondary Keywords

Include your target and secondary keywords within your meta descriptions to appear for related searches on SERP.

Avoid Duplicate Meta Descriptions

Writing similar meta descriptions for multiple web pages is very misleading and a wrong practice to follow. 

Try writing unique descriptions for all your web pages and ensure to optimize them with target keywords for improved online visibility

Nobody wants to read poorly written meta descriptions that fail to satisfy user intent. Nowadays, Google fetches the meta description from within the content to match the user intent. But still, it is essential to have a meta description so Google can understand more about the page and the content.

How to write Meta Description and Title for SEO?

Google is in a transition stage, and a lot of incremental changes are expected to happen concerning the User Experience in the coming years.

With the recent Google algorithm updates focused on content, context, and relevance, Google is reiterating the importance of quality content as the benchmark for ranking.

Meta Title and Description were the two SERP features that SEOs misused. Adding keywords to the title and description may not yield the same results that SEOs got a few years back.

This is because Google search results are more focused on context, relevancy, and user interaction. This is why it’s important to optimize the title and description based on the content within the page.

Even though keywords matter, they are now weaved together with context and relevance. Ensuring that the Meta Title and Description provide the best answer to the search query will give a boost to the page’s visibility on the SERP.

If you’re wondering what character length to follow while writing the Meta Title and Description, it’s ideal to follow the mobile standards.

Since users who access the web through smartphones are soon to overtake the ones using the desktop, it’s ideal to optimize the title and description for mobile devices and adapt it to the desktop.

When does Google Re-write Meta Title and Description?

Are you see an increasing number of pages displayed in Google SERP with different titles and descriptions? This could be an indication that your existing meta title and description are not fulfilling the real intent of the page.

Gary Illyes from Google during the recently concluded Webmaster Summit said that Google is forced to re-write the meta title only during the worst-case scenarios and the number of times Google does it is less.

Google re-writes the Titles and descriptions only when the website tries to tell Google users a totally different story than what they have inside the webpage. Google is conscious not to take their users to a misguided page, hence, the search engine giant takes the text within the content inside the page and create titles and descriptions.

However, if you see Google doing the same to some of your webpages, it could be an indication to rewrite the existing Meta Title and Description. Over-optimization of the title and description is the usual culprit that forces Google to re-write.

Author

Dileep Thekkethil

Dileep Thekkethil, a Journalism Postgraduate, was formerly with a US-based online magazine, is the Associate Director, Digital Content at Stan Ventures. A He is a frequent blogger who keeps a tab on the latest updates in SEO and technology arena. Reach me @Mail | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook or View all posts by Dileep

Comments

11 thoughts on “Meta Title and Meta Description Length: SEO Best Practices

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