Step 1: I created a page on our site with a nonsense title and quite a few nonsense words in the text.
Step 2: I gave it a really long description, with a good number of nonsense words that weren’t in the text of the page.
Step 3: I linked to it from within the site and waited until Google indexed it.
I searched for some of the keywords in the description. Trying the “main keyword” of our page – “Yarky Halli Hooskel” gave me:
Okay – that seems normal. It”s either coming from the page or the description tag (it’s in both), and it cuts it off at about 153 characters.
Next, “Midi Apri Pondor”:
147 characters over there, but – something interesting.
- The first two sentences are on-page: “Did you ever see a Midi Apri Pondor? Foraging in the deserts for some itsel quetzel quay?”
- The next sentence comes from the description tag: “No? Well maybe we’ll have more luck with other creatures“
- And that entire snippet, from “Did you ever…” to “…other creatures” is actually characters 85-231.
So Google is showing more than just those first 160 characters, possibly with the caveat/benefit that there’s a new sentence that it can start from prior to the keyword being searched for. Note how above the snippet starts from “Did you ever see a Midi Apri Pondor?” which is the third complete sentence in the description tag.
Onwards! Let’s try “ebilitansk”:
Curiouser and curiouser. “Ebilitansk,” which starts at character 255 of the description tag, triggers the snippet. In fact, the entire snippet is characters 231-380 of the description tag – well beyond the pale of our 160 character limit.
Yes! you cry. The sky’s the limit!
But not quite. More like 265 characters.
Let’s take a look at the word right after “ebilitansk”: “Fosaiedoff”.
And this was the result for any succeeding nonsense phrase in the description that I tried. It was also the result for a search for “ebilitansk fosaiedoff.”
But wait! In the last description, Google brought “Fosaiedoff” in the snippet. And “Jarivallsky Ridge.” It’s obviously reading them!
Must be. But it’s not returning them for search results.
So… the conclusions I draw from this little experiment (which is obviously one isolated experiment. Please check on your own, and I’d be happy if you updated me on any conflicting results):
- Google reads way more of the description than just 160 characters.
- If you use sentence breaks, you can have your snippet show for a keyword search if that keyword appears before the 265th character in your description.
- You can potentially have up to the 380th character in your description show in the snippet if the keyword searched for appears before the 265th character (my guess is that it would go up to character 410 or so – if your keyword starts a sentence and its last letter is just before that 265th character).
So write some long descriptions. Write them wisely. Use good English (no run-on sentences). Place keywords strategically – one compelling sentence for each one. And see what happens. Let me know. And if you see any Yarky Halli Hooskels, you can let me know that too.