Google Starts Displaying Dynamic Descriptions For Some Queries
When presented with a longer, more complicated query, Google appears to be dynamically serving excerpts of content from a website page as the description.
I was looking over Google results recently while doing some research on the latest Google algorithm Pigeon update, and noticed something peculiar. The title to a page I was familiar with was shortened, and the description was way too long. I mean over three hundred characters long! The cutoff has always been 155. The title cutoff has been getting shorter for some time now, down from a previous maximum of 70. However, this description anomaly surprised me. Here is the long and short of it (pun intended):
Something piqued my interest about the results. I began to realize that not only was my title shortened (which I was not surprised by), but the description was made twice as long. And I started counting characters immediately after the date, so in reality, it was even longer.
I was looking around for where some of the extra words were coming from which made up the added parts of the description. The first part of the description that was presented was the H1 from the post. Ok, cool! As an SEO specialist, I can definitely see the benefit of that. The second line in the displayed description, however, was a little elusive. It was not one of the H2 tags I used as subheadings in the post. It was not anywhere in the text of the body of the article, nor was it in the title or meta description. It was…ready?…the Alt tag of the image on the page! Interesting! I wondered what else I was going to find.
Then I started to do some testing and found that when I searched for a short, exact keyword search type, more commonly the results would perform as expected. The descriptions would be in the 155 character range.
In contrast, when a longer search was performed, almost every time the results included lengthened descriptions in the 200 to 300+ characters range. See what happened when I added some fluff to the query:
Longer Query Example with the Search Term “Dog with Fluffy Ears and Wagging Tail”:
Shorter Query Example for the Search Term “Dog”
The Ellipses Variation in Meta Descriptions
I shared my observations with my SEO teammate Joe Norton, and he noticed a further difference to these lengthened descriptions. With a long tail search, not only were some descriptions lengthened, they were being compiled by excerpts divided by ellipses. If you notice in the following six-word query result, the third result includes a description that is a compilation of five different excerpts separated by ellipses. In some cases, the excerpts provided by Google in these “altered” descriptions are not even full sentences.
Further inspection of these lengthened descriptions which incorporate ellipses, I noticed that the individual excerpts had a word or two from the long-tail search I had performed. Looking at the previous example, you will see the words from the search performed highlighted in bold.
I hope it is clear by these examples that sometimes Google is incorporating excerpts that have been pulled from pages as the description. This appears to be giving the user a chance to view the some of the reasoning behind the page as a choice prior to the user clicking on the result. This gives the user a bit more control in deciding if the page is matching the intent of the search while still looking over the search results. Perhaps this means that Google has often found descriptions lacking or not providing enough information, so it is adopting this dynamic results method.
Google continues to push the envelope in the search world and rightly so. It is commonplace for components to be shifted, tested, and adopted in completely new ways, and, conversely, sometimes right where you might imagine they should. Keeping on top of changes in Google is part of the challenge of a strong SEO strategy and is one of the most-exciting parts of working in the digital marketing field.
Do you have any strange or unique experiences that have happened with Google results? We would love to hear them! Comment below and share them with us 🙂