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by SEO Mofo on Jan 19th, 2012

in SERP Experiments

<h2>Google Snippet Experiment No. 4</h2>

The purpose of this experiment is to see if Google has changed the (server-side) character limits of SERP titles and snippets. I’ve been seeing SERP titles with more than 70 characters (which has historically been the limit), and I suspect the new logic is tied to the overall width of the title’s block element (limit is set at 512px via CSS). The reason width has become more important than character count is because Google’s Instant Preview feature needs that screen real estate set aside for it.

The weird thing about width-based limits is that different browsers render certain text characters at different widths (including spacing between them). For example, look at the difference between how Firefox and Chrome display 100 pipes…

Firefox and Chrome display 100 pipes

It’s possible that Google completely ignores character counts now and only cares about the rendered width. To test whether or not this is true, I’ve used a title and meta description on this page that consist mostly of pipe characters. I’ve used Chrome to make them as long as possible–without exceeding 512px wide. (Note that in Firefox, they definitely do NOT fit inside 512px, for reasons shown in the image above.) The title of this page is 154 characters long, and the meta description is 478 characters long–but in Google Chrome, they both fit…

512px-wide SERP snippet and title in Google Chrome

↑ Click the pic, yo!

Okay, now let’s see what happens…

Google uses h1 for title content

booooooo!

Looks like Google deemed my title useless and used the first non-useless heading on the page, with my site name tacked onto the end. Pfffft. I’ll change my h2 tag slightly–to verify that this is indeed what Google is using–but other than that, I’m leaving this post as-is. I’ve realized that the best SEO experiments are ones that I can leave up and anyone can verify the results at any time. The next variation will get its own post. See you then…

UPDATE: Confirmed that Google is using <h2> tag for title. See image below.

Google using h2 for title content

SERP Experiment No. 5 »