Webmasters have recently noticed that the length of the descriptions that appear in search results, known as search snippets, have decreased in length. It was hypothesised by said Webmasters that Google had reduced the length of the snippets by about half. This was following the increase of some search snippets last year to about 300 characters.
Google has confirmed through representative Danny Sullivan that “Our search snippets are now shorter on average than in recent weeks, though slightly longer than before a change we made last December.”
Webmasters are up in arms because many had spent a lot of time rewriting their meta descriptions which often pull through to the search snippets to make use of this extended character length and now they’re having to go back through and change them all.
It has to be pointed out though that the character limit of 300 was never a definitive number. As always, Google has said that search snippets are variable in length and when you perform a search you might get character limits that are around 300 or it could be less than that. That’s still the case, the character limit probably won’t be exceeding 300 but actually there’s still not a definitive number of how long a meta description should be to pull through to the snippets.
Google’s Danny Sullivan has reiterated this through Twitter saying, “There is no fixed length for snippets. Length varies based on what our systems deem to be most useful”
My advice is to remember that search snippets are governed by Google. You can specify your preferred length of a search snippet by setting it as a meta description in the code of the webpage. However, Google can choose to use whatever it thinks is most relevant to the search a user has just done.
I personally think it’s a good idea to set your own meta descriptions because Google may well use them but don’t get too hung up when character lengths change. You don’t need to go back through and rewrite all of your meta descriptions and it’s probably the best idea to use that time more widely for stuff that’s actually going to help you with your rankings.