Search engine optimization is known for its constant development. Changes are nothing unusual, but rather an integral part of SEO and the search engines themselves. A quick look into the past is enough to remind you of some things about search engines that used to be the most normal thing in the world and are now handled very differently. With digitalization, new possibilities are constantly being added and the Internet is growing and evolving.

As if in symbiosis, search engines follow these developments and also try to offer their users an optimal experience on the Internet. The best-known search engine of these is without doubt Google. Almost everyone uses them or has at least heard the name. According to current information, Google is in the process of modifying the snippets in the SERPs so that they are provided with a fold-out function.

This may not mean much to some laypeople, which is why in this article we will briefly explain what snippets are, what changes have already been made in the past, exactly how collapsible descriptions work and what significance all of this ultimately has for SEO.

A little digression – these are snippets

If you’re already familiar with SEM (search engine marketing), then you’re no stranger to the term snippet; but many people don’t realize that you encounter snippets every time you use a search engine. Imagine you enter the term SEO agencies into the Google search engine.

You will now see several titles on the first page with URLs that will take you to the website. This is only part of the search results list ( SERP for short). Since a title is often not meaningful enough to make it clear to you as a user that this is exactly the answer to your search query, search engines like Google have a solution – meta descriptions.

They are characterized by short texts that promote the content of the website with relevant information. Everything you see in the search (title, meta description, URL) is a snippet automatically generated by the search engine.

These are snippets

Descriptions today

It is important to know that meta descriptions are subject to certain rules. For example, there is a character limit. If the description is longer than this limit (170 characters), it is abbreviated with the familiar “…” at the end. This can sometimes happen in the middle of a sentence and deprive you of important information. Therefore, the golden rule of thumb for an optimal description is about 150 to 155 characters. Ideally, these two lines should contain a call to action with compelling content and important keywords. After all, a well-written snippet gives you a clear advantage in the search engine rankings. It is the first point of contact between you and the user and opens up the opportunity to win them as a customer (conversion). Those who have many customers (traffic) on their website are seen as more relevant by the search engine. So you understand why a well-written description is a big factor in the success of your website.

Google’s idea – Longer descriptions (2017)

So now you know about the validity of a meta description and can surely imagine that it is often a challenge to advertise your own website in 155 characters with detailed information. At the same time, it is difficult for the user to recognize how relevant the website actually is for their own search query based on usually two concise sentences.

Google saw it the same way in 2017. The search engine increased the maximum limit from 170 to 320 characters. An enormous increase that left significantly more room for input in the description. Instead of the usual two lines, there were now descriptions that extended over four lines. Google’s RankRanger showed an average change from 155 to now 222 characters. Users should be able to better understand how valid the result of the search query is.

One year later – back to the short descriptions

With a duration of less than a year, the length of characters fell rapidly again in 2018. We now know that Google has shortened the length of the snippets. When checking the search results at the time, it quickly became clear that the meta descriptions were again on two lines instead of four. Only a marginal proportion of the descriptions were displayed over three lines. A quick look at the RankRanger also confirmed the visual change. The average value of 230 characters had fallen to around 162 characters.

Developments from google

2020 now fold-out descriptions?

We can only speculate as to why the snippets were first extended and then shortened again. Whether the overview has suffered as a result of the extension or whether the user has perhaps been overwhelmed with too much information is just a guess. However, one thing is certain: Google always strives to be and remain a high-quality search engine. It is therefore not surprising that the SERPs are constantly changing and you always have to be prepared for new changes.

This time – it seems – Google is trying to find a compromise between snippets that are too long (at 300 characters), but too little information density (at 162 characters). Fold-out meta descriptions are the solution.

Google is currently carrying out tests with various variants of search results. But what kind of tests are these and what do the search results look like? The descriptions are displayed in two lines, as usual for Google search results, but with a twist: a small icon at the top left adorns the beginning of the meta description. After the two lines of the description, it is abbreviated with “…” to symbolize that the text is longer – as you know it from descriptions that are too long. However, the user can now simply click on this icon to expand this description and the rest is now displayed in full. If the description has been unfolded, it then appears in about four lines, as we saw for a short time in 2017.

It is still unclear whether the limit of four lines or 300 characters will remain and how long the descriptions can actually be. In a snippet, we were able to observe that the characters of the description increased from 142 to over 250 characters after unfolding.

Can we expect fold-out descriptions?

Google has already shown in the past that the SERPs are changed as required and that this can also happen over a short period of time (see 2017 and 2018). A complete look back from the beginning of the search engine to the present day also shows us how much has changed and will probably still change. Therefore, we cannot give a clear “yes” or “no” answer to the question “Will Google enforce this measure?” – ultimately, the decision is up to Google itself. But despite the uncertainty, we tend to believe that it is quite possible.

Conclusion: What do fold-out descriptions mean for SEO?

But what does this mean for search engine optimization? A legitimate question. A well-written meta description is and remains an important ranking factor. The user will first come into contact with your website via the search engine and therefore the snippet. A convincing description ensures conversions and traffic – and conversions are your revenue.

So what can we take away from the possible changes? The first sentences decide! Keep trying to integrate the most important information into the first sentences or characters. Ultimately, you should be aware that the user wants to get their information quickly – without much effort. So whether a user is willing to expand your description (and how many users on average are ultimately willing to do so) cannot be said one hundred percent before the potential change. But you can be sure that the first part of your description will be read. So carry on as usual and use the extra space for less relevant but still important information.

In this way, you can continue to convince with a good meta description, generate traffic and customers and maintain your Google ranking.

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