Google is always changing its algorithm.
If it’s not making formal changes then it’s testing out potential changes. At this point, the only thing that would be surprising is if Google didn’t have some surprises up its sleeve.
Recently, Google has started toying with some new changes. Some are only in the testing phase, and some have been established.
Here’s what we know about the Google SERP updates for 2016:
Longer Title Tags and Descriptions
Marketers may soon get more wiggle room in what they can include in title tags and descriptions.
Traditionally, the title tags that Google shows in its search results have been limited to only 50 or 60 characters. Yet, in early May, some astute observers noticed that search results were showing up to 70 or 71 characters in the title tags.
That might not seem like a lot, but it’s enough to fit in at least another word or two, which may be all you need to complete the headline you really wanted.
Additionally, Google has increased the characters it allows in the meta descriptions. Sites can now include about 100 more characters in the descriptions, which is about one more line of text. Instead of two lines of text, the descriptions now include three lines.
However, some results are still being shown cut off at two lines, even if Google is processing the additional line of text.
Longer Mobile Title Tags
The rules for mobile have always been a bit different than the rules for desktop.
With the latest changes, only the longer title tags are being applied to mobile search.
However, the changes don’t transfer directly. Actually, mobile search results get even longer title tags — 78 instead of 71. That’s a big improvement over the previous 50 or 60 characters that were displayed.
This creates more opportunities for marketing on mobile, but it also presents a bit of a conundrum. Marketers can’t just write the same content for both versions of the site and expect the responsive design to do the rest. They must create content specifically for mobile and specifically for desktop — which is something they should already be doing as mobile grows more and more separate from desktop.
Addition of Rich Cards
A while back, Google introduced rich snippets, which show just a little more than the basic title and description. Rich snippets include a thumbnail of the page picture or video, and the formatting is a bit larger and more noticeable.
Now, Google is introducing rich cards, which are small boxes that look just like the shopping results in search. The rich cards include a larger photo, a short title, a rating, and a time marker that shows recency.
The rich cards appear right at the top of search results, and users can scroll through them quickly to find what they need. The purpose of these rich cards is to make it easier for mobile users to search — again, showing the dominant position that mobile has taken.
Marketers will need to create content with these rich cards in mind. Specifically, they will need to choose great, eye-catching photos for their posts and write engaging headlines.
Right now, rich cards are being used to display recipes and movies, but industry experts are sure that their use will quickly grow to other categories. It is important that marketers start thinking about how to take advantage of these changes now, even if they are not immediately affected. Having that practice will help them be more competitive when the use of rich cards grows wider.
It’s still unclear whether the longer title tags and descriptions will be made permanent. Google often tests out new features before it introduces them, and it has made no announcement about these latest changes.
Therefore, the longer titles and descriptions could slip away just as discreetly as they were introduced.
In the meantime, it is a good idea for marketers to experiment with the longer tags to see what difference they make to their results. Marketers can look at their history to see if they have gotten different results since the changes were introduced at the beginning of May, or they can conduct A/B testing of their own to find out what impact the changes make — if any.
It also important for marketers to start creating content with rich cards in mind, as well as to find other ways to make search better for mobile users. Mobile is expected to continue growing, so mobile marketing will be more and more important.
Of course, Google could change anything at any time, so it is also important that marketers remain aware of the current algorithm and any minor tweaks as they occur. They shouldn’t wait until they notice a decline in traffic or search ranking before they start wondering why. A good offense is also better than a good defense.
Moving away from an over-reliance on keywords and focusing on intent-based search instead will also help you to remain relatively untouched by unexpected changes.