Yet, the meta description is still very important today.
Many platforms use the description with a link. This gives the user more information about the content of a page so the user can decide if it is useful.
Writing a catchy description can have a huge impact on the Click Through Rate (CTR). Increasing your CTR will get more users visiting your site.
So make sure you take the time to write a great description.
Where is it Used?
We have already seen how Google shows the description. Bing, Facebook, Twitter, and many other places also display your description.
Let's take a closer look at Twitter and Facebook.
Earlier we used a meta tag that Google and Bing use to display the description. The meta tag had the name “Description” like this:
Facebook and Twitter descriptions use a different meta name.
For the Twitter description, change the name value to “twitter:description”, like this:
Facebook's meta description tag has a property instead of the name and og: in front of the word description, like this:
Most websites are set up to use the same description in the content for all three tags. And they are all added to the HEAD of your webpage.
What is the Best Character Limit?
To work out the best length let's take a look at some Google search queries.
To start with let's look at a search for “Cats” and then count the characters found in the description.
Looking at the top 4 results we can see that there is a range from 150 to 271 characters.
We see the dreaded dots “…” on the results at 162 and 165.
Doing the same search again for “Dogs”:
We can see that some descriptions are being cut off at 149 characters.
We repeated the same searches for cats and dogs on Bing.
We found that the shortest length before cut off was 155 characters.
All these searches were on a laptop browser. Does the length change on Mobile?
Does the Character Limit Change on Mobile?
Once we ran the same searches on mobile we got the following results:
We found that there was much more space for descriptions on mobile. With the average length before cut off around 200 characters.
How Does it Look on Social Media
To see how the description looks on social media we will use an article from the New York Times.
For the Facebook meta tag we would have:
<metaproperty="og:description"content="Scientists devised a better way to calculate land elevations and their findings are dire: Far more cities will be inundated by climate change than previously thought.">
Once this is set up you can use the sharing tool to check how it will look. Here is what the New York Times URL looks like on Facebook:
The description length is 81 characters before it was is cut off, the shortest yet!
The meta tag for Twitter would look like this:
<metaname="twitter:description"content="Scientists devised a better way to calculate land elevations and their findings are dire: Far more cities will be inundated by climate change than previously thought.">
They also have a link validator tool. This allows you to enter a URL and see how the link will appear on Twitter. Here is how the New York Times URL looks like as a Twitter card:
There are 130 characters in the description on the Twitter card. 50 more than Facebook. But, still quite short.
You may be wondering why it varies so much.
The reason is that the space to fit the description is not a character length but a pixel width.
Google, Bing, Facebook, etc these platforms give the description an area in pixels. If the description is longer than this area then it cuts off the text.
Google on the desktop will give an area of 920px to display the description.
Because characters vary in width, for example, a “w” is wider than an “i”. This causes variation in character length.
The Perfect Length of a Meta Description
Based on the data we have found we can say that the perfect length of a meta description is between 60 and 130 characters.
This will allow the full text on all the platforms we have tested.
We would recommend:
60 to 130 characters to display in full on all platforms
130 to 160 will appear complete in most places
over 160 and it will not display the full description
Wrapping Up, Meta Description Character Limit
To get the average length of a meta description we used a few sources of data:
Facebook Open Graph
Using this information we were able to check the range of character length displayed.
As the displays are pixels and not characters there was quite a range on each platform.
To guarantee the display of the full description use a character range of between 60 and 130.
You can create a larger description but the chances are this will get cut off.
Remember to use the tools from Facebook and Twitter to check what the link will look like.