The Snippet Length Update

The Snippet Length Algorithm Update was implemented on May 15, 2018. In this update, Google cut the snippet as it appears in search results by almost half. What does this change mean exactly, and what are its implications for webmasters? Let’s dig in to this particular Google algorithm update.

What Is A Snippet Anyway?

You probably already know what a snippet is. Just to make sure we’re on the same page, though, a snippet is the brief description that appears in search results just under the heading and the url. See below for an example of a snippet as it appears on search engine results pages.

Snippets give a user a sneak peek into the content of the url, so that they can make an informed decision regarding whether or not to click on the link.Google likens it to the excerpt on the back of a hefty novel. That is, snippets allow the user to invest a little time reading about a web page in order to figure out if they want to invest more time to read the content of the actual web page. If they decide they do, they’ll click on the link. If not, they’ll keep scrolling to read more snippets.

What Was the Snippet Length Prior to the Google Algorithm Update?

The snippet length drop update came as a bit of a surprise just because the snippet length had been increasednot even six months prior. At that point, it had been lengthened to around 300 characters. This latest snippet length drop slashed it back down to just around 160 characters.

How Does Google Generate Snippets?

No, you don’t get to choose the text that will appear as your web page’s snippet. As usual, Google is in control here. The text Google chooses for a url’s snippet will usually come from one of two places: either the content of the page itself or the meta description. Specifically, Google will first attempt to use the content of the page as the source of the snippet. If it determines the page content to be less relevant to the user’s search, however, it will rely on the meta description instead. Of course, this process is automated and can change at any time—that’s just Google for you!

Why Did Google Roll Out the Snippet Length Drop Update?

In typical Google form, the search engine didn’t provide an exact explanation for why they dropped the snippet length in search results. In prior publications, though, they’ve explained that snippets are “truncated as needed, typically to fit the device width.” Therefore, we can only surmise that the update came as a result of smartphone saturation. Shorter snippets just fit better on mobile devices.

How To Optimize Your Snippets

Since the dawn of snippets, there have been theories on how to optimize them. While some of these may hold water, others are either completely off the mark or at best, good guesses. Luckily, there are some SEO best practices for snippets that stand up to just about any Google algorithm update you can imagine. Many of these are straight from the search engine’s mouth:

Don’t Overlook the Meta Description

Because meta descriptions are only visible to search engines and not site visitors, they are often overlooked. Don’t make this mistake. Google recommendsthat you include both a unique title and meta description for all of your web pages—on both mobile and desktop.The search giant also warns against spammy or low-quality meta descriptions—these are sure to be ignored.

Be Precise in Your Titling

The titles of your web page may be even more important than your meta description for optimizing snippets. Remember, Google will source your page content first for snippet-worthy material before resorting to the meta description. This means all of your titles must be specific and descriptive. In its own help article on snippets, Google gives the following tips for titling your web pages:

  • Use brief, yet descriptive titles. Avoid generic titles like “Home”, “About Us”, etc.
  • Don’t stuff titles with keywords (it’s tempting, we know, but just don’t!).
  • Make sure each and every web page has a unique title.

Google provides help on creating good titles and snippets in search results.

Use Structured Data to Trigger Rich Snippets

Structured data is a format for communicating information to Google about a page and its contents. In short, it’s a way to use code to classify the content on a web page and help Google determine the best way to show it to users.

Sounds technical, right? Don’t worry. Google has a new structured data codelabto help you use this format correctly.  Using structured data can help Google create a rich snippet for your website, which can ultimately improve your site’s ranking in search results.

You can also use Google’s structured data tool (shown above) to test your code or url.

When you create rich snippets for your website, you’ll also have a greater chance of appearing in featured snippets. A featured snippet—sometimes called an Answer Box) is a snippet that Google places at the top of SERPs because the search engine deems it the most relevant result for the user’s search terms. Featured snippets usually answer a question directly or provide highly useful information.

Featured snippets are primo real estate on search engine results pages. Clearly, this result is going to get a lot of clicks, and most users won’t even scroll past it to see the other results on the page. The only potential downside to a featured snippet is that it may deter clicks for some users because it answers their question right away, eliminating the need to click through to the actual web page. This is unavoidable, though. Google’s priority is to provide the most relevant information to users as quickly as possible.

What’s Next for Snippets in Search Results?

Snippets are an integral part of the search experience, so it’s reasonable to expect that Google algorithm updates in the future will include snippet length changes. While it’s important to stay on top of these modifications to the algorithm, it’s also wise to stay the course and continue implementing best practices for snippet optimization.