Google SERP Snippet Character Limit and ASCII Art

by SEO Mofo on Jul 15th, 2012

in SERP Experiments

A couple weeks ago, I published an article that suggested Google doesn’t care how many characters are in your SERP title–all it cares about is the pixel width. Today, I have similar news to report; this time regarding how Google truncates SERP snippets (aka, the meta description). Unfortunately, I don’t quite have the details nailed down. But I do have a couple pieces of the puzzle, which I’ll share with you now.

The Way Things Used to Be

Just as Google used to impose a 70-character limit on SERP titles, it also used to truncate SERP snippets after 156 characters. Unlike titles, however, snippets were permitted to wrap around to take up additional lines. It was this simple set of restrictions that allowed me to create the World’s greatest SERP snippet:

World's Greatest SERP Snippet

Something Changed

When Google updated its SERP display, my snippet started showing up like this:

World's Greatest Truncated SERP Snippet

The World’s Greatest SERP Snippet is Reborn

Using my SERP Snippet Optimizer Tool, I created a new snippet–this time limiting my ASCII art characters to 3 lines instead of 5. Also, instead of limiting my meta description to 156 characters, this time I used as many as I wanted (175 characters). See the result below or live in Google’s SERPs:

World's Greatest SERP Snippet Reborn

If you’re wondering what the actual meta tag HTML source looks like, here it is:

<meta name="description" content="__///\\\_//////_//////&#x002e;___&#x002e;//\_/\\&#x002e;_&#x002e;&#x002e;&#x002e;//////_//////_////// __\\\&#x002e;&#x002e;_////&#x002e;&#x002e;_//&#x002e;&#x002e;//&#x002e;___&#x002e;///\\//\\\__//&#x002e;&#x002e;//_////__//&#x002e;&#x002e;// \\\///&#x002e;&#x002e;&#x002e;//////_//////&#x002e;___&#x002e;///_&#x002e;&#x002e;&#x002e;_\\\&#x002e;//////_//___//////" />

I’m using &#x002e; instead of periods because WordPress was converting 3 consecutive periods into an ellipsis character, which throws off the spacing.

What Does It All Mean?

There’s not a whole lot we can deduce from these snippets, but here are some simple statements we can assume, based on what we’ve seen:

  • The 156-character limit no longer applies.
  • Google doesn’t allow snippets to wrap to more than 3 lines (at least not for simple / short queries).
  • Most queries result in 2-line snippets. Using a bunch of non-textual characters in my meta description has somehow caused Google to permit a 3-line snippet.
  • If a meta description begins with a period, Google SERPs will display a snippet that begins with the first alphanumeric character.
  • Google can show as many as 206 characters in SERP snippets (possibly more).
  • Google won’t show a meta description that consists only of numbers and underscores.
  • This entire article was basically an excuse to show off my latest SERP snippet ASCII art.

Update: It was pointed out to me in the comments that my snippet didn’t work in Firefox. After closer inspection, I realized it was because Firefox was treating slashes as acceptable breaking points for word wrap, whereas Chrome was not. So I’ve updated my home page meta description once again–this time using pipes instead of slashes. Now I’m waiting for it to be crawled again.

Update 7/20/2012: Below is my second ASCII art attempt. It appears a third attempt is necessary.

<meta name="description" content="&#x002e;_///\\\__|||||||||__||||||||||____||||\\_//||||__||||||||||__||||||||||__|||||||||| &#x002e;_\\\&#x002e;&#x002e;&#x002e;__||||||&#x002e;&#x002e;&#x002e;&#x002e;_|||&#x002e;&#x002e;&#x002e;|||____||||_V_||||__|||&#x002e;&#x002e;&#x002e;|||__||||||&#x002e;&#x002e;&#x002e;__|||&#x002e;&#x002e;&#x002e;||| \\\///&#x002e;___|||||||||__||||||||||____||||&#x002e;&#x002e;_&#x002e;&#x002e;||||__||||||||||__|||_____||||||||||" />

World's Greatest SERP Snippet Fail