Over the past few months, you may have noticed slight changes to Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs). The effects of the redesign can be seen across several areas such as traditional web listings, site-links, images, news and more. As it relates to Google’s algorithm, the actual results being returned have not changed, but rather the visual nature such as font and layouts have.
While the larger fonts and design changes are subtle, they have altered the visual representation of search results (see above). Google is now truncating the all too familiar primary blue search result links using CSS. The revision is working off the base width of a desktop search result (currently 18px Arial in a 512-pixel wide <div>). The point of truncation for Title Tags is now much more variable because it is linked to the pixel length of individual characters, and not necessarily how many characters. For example, a “|” measures to 3px, while a “–“measures to 5px, a Capital S is 11px, while lowercase is 8px.
A long standing SEO best practice has been to use 55 to 65 characters as a guide for Title Tags, since they may be cut off at ~65 characters. Yet with this latest facelift to the SERPs, there exist good arguments in favor of revisiting this standard towards a more concise 50 to 60 character length. Marketers can adapt their approach to use pixel width limitations to back into typical character length guidelines. Studies have shown that keywords may now be cut off earlier, at ~58 character length (see below chart, via Meyers, 2014).
As an aside, the length of Meta Descriptions are still displaying up to 160 characters – the very same amount as before, and currently not switching to a pixel width based cut-off.
Shorter Title Tags are already a consideration for marketers, due to the limited space afforded by mobile search results, so this is not too radical of an adjustment. Main keyword targets should still be up front and left-justified, to ensure the greatest relevancy, and brands should still ensure that all pages are in-fact leading with the primary keyword targets (product names, article names, etc.).
When copywriting new title tags, marketers should give additional consideration to pixel widths, keeping in mind that this is not a major enough change to rethink the wheel. Furthermore, webshoptimizer offers a nifty tool for measuring character pixels (Burgerhout, 2014) The popular website crawler tool, Screaming Frog, now offers the ability to filter crawl results by pixel length, so you can easy identify Title Tags in danger of being truncated (Screaming Frog, 2014) and prioritize revisions accordingly.
The key takeaways for marketers should be to revisit primary page Title Tags and verify that the most important terms are falling between 50 to 60 characters or within 512 pixels wide, to be safe (e.g. homepages, category pages), and for new pages, they should move towards this 50 to 60 characters guideline. In the event that certain page title tags (e.g. category-level) go over this range, consider which characters may be cut off and their value in terms of messaging integrity; this should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
It is uncertain if this change will have clear effects on click-through-rates (“CTR”) given that keywords could be cut-off before completion (e.g. “entertainment” could be rendered as “entert” within this re-designed experience). In context, users may still understand what these keywords are and click-through as they would before. In addition, because they are cut-off it does not mean that Google is not assigning relevancy for those terms, nor have other search engines changed their search results format in a similarly variable way.
In summary, the suggested next steps for marketers are as follows:
- Current: Revisit primary page Title Tags and keyword targets; consider new length limitations (note: vet priority against other items that are in progress – e.g. content updates, technical issues).
- Future: Ensure that moving forward Title Tags for primary pages maintain 50 to 60 characters or within 512 pixels wide.