Why Google's Meta Description Expansion Matters

Search engine optimization professionals watch any and every new development at Google that may positively or negatively influence the placement of their listings. An announcement from the company this week, however, shows why fundamental SEO practices remain important.  

Google has expanded the length allowed in the meta description tag from 160 allowable characters to 320, providing SEOs an opportunity to use additional text to promote their websites on the search results page. Google is also reportedly increasing the size of the search snippet as well. 

The meta description tag, for the unfamiliar, is an HTML tag that appears in the section of an HTML Web page; it usually looks like this:

< meta name="description" content="This is a description of my web page."/ >

In the past, the meta description tag gave search engines and visitors more information about the contents of a page, but Google has repeatedly stated they don't use the description for ranking purposes. Instead, they opt to use a snippet from the page that is most relevant to the user's query. 

That raises an important question: If Google just uses a snippet from the page anyway why would they care about expanding the description?  

Perhaps Google is simply using the expanded meta data as a form of confirmation that their algorithms for detecting and selecting the most important snippet of the page for the user query are correct by checking what has been defined in the HTML by its producer (i.e., the website's manager/owner). 

That would certainly be a logical course of action for Google, but what happens when there is no "fallback" description for their system to use as confirmation, validation or verification? If Google can't find a meta description on a page and can't determine on its own the most appropriate and relevant snippet it may not show a description or a snippet at all. And that's a problem. 

If there is a meta description available, however, Google could potentially use that data to analyze for use within a snippet. 

So, maybe Google is just using this expansion of the meta description as a way to signal to webmasters and SEOs that they remain an integral part in the search engine's ability to index, analyze, rank and turn pages for users. 

The takeaway in either case should be that meta descriptions still matter. Moving forward, consider taking advantage of the expanded meta descriptions while keeping an eye on its relevance and suitability to the user's query. You never know, it could end up as a featured snippet or as part of your page's description.