Is Google Changing it’s Rules on SERP Descriptions?

Probably the most important requirement of SEO’s is that we remain observant to slight changes in search results and algorithm changes. As an industry, we rely on the content producers and top agencies to stay on the cutting edge and inform the rest of us of what is happening on the front lines. I for one, have loads of RSS feeds that I follow on a daily basis to stay on top of the emerging trends. It is pretty rare that I find myself ahead of the curve, but I found myself in this situation recently and wanted to share my findings.

As we all know, Google likes to change their algorithm daily with around 500 changes just last year. One of the recent changes that I noticed was that the descriptions in the SERP have gotten much longer. It seems that in certain cases, Google is no longer abiding by the 160 character limit and have begun to show much more on the results page.

Below is a screenshot of a results page that points out the changes that I have seen in the last week or so.

Google SERP Changes

This doesn’t happen for every result, but the common denominator in these three cases is a blog. So it seems that Google is now treating SERP descriptions for these types of sites differently than other websites. In each case, the page had a Meta description that was ignored by Google and replaced by content within the page. This includes headers, blog content and even the comments section of the blog or forum. The description was even showing ellipses in the middle of the text where it skips to a different section to pull relevant keywords. As you can see in the picture above, this wasn’t unique to the blog results as these ellipses were showing in shorter descriptions as well.

I dug a little further to find that the same thing was happening with forums, article sites and even select Wikipedia pages. These sites are most likely built on a content management system, so is it possible that Google is now treating CMS websites differently than sites built in HTML, PHP or ASP?

Possible, yes. However, this has only occurred in a small percentage of SERPs and I have yet to notice the results creeping into every results page. The other point of contention is the fact that there are plenty of results from blogs that do not show the same lengthy descriptions, so it seems to be happening in certain situations.

What conclusions can we draw from this new development? I see two different scenarios:

  1. This is the direction that the SERP’s are moving towards and they are testing it on CMS platforms first. They will slowly begin to ignore meta descriptions and craft their own version based on keywords in the content. In a way, this is already happening since Google will replace the meta description for your page if it does not contain keywords relevant to the users search.
  2. Google will only treat CMS SERP’s differently

Either way, this will certainly be something to monitor in the next few months to see if this change will roll out to all results pages.

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