Google has confirmed that it is sometimes replacing page titles in search results with other copy it finds more relevant. As public liaison for Google Search, Danny Sullivan, explains:

“Last week, we introduced a new system of generating titles for web pages. Before this, titles might change based on the query issued. This generally will no longer happen with our new system. This is because we think our new system is producing titles that work better for documents overall, to describe what they are about, regardless of the particular query.”

In plain English, this means that Google is rewriting the title tags accompanying web pages in some search results – often replacing it with other text from your page. This is not the first time Google has made adjustments to title tags being shown in search results, but it is definitely the most extensive rewriting the search engine has done. 

According to Sullivan, the goal of this is to highlight the most relevant content for users and focus on content that users can “visually see”: 

“Also, while we’ve gone beyond HTML text to create titles for over a decade, our new system is making even more use of such text. In particular, we are making use of text that humans can visually see when they arrive at a web page. We consider the main visual title or headline shown on a page, content that site owners often place within <H1> tags, within other header tags, or which is made large and prominent through the use of style treatments.”

Does This Mean HTML Title Tags Don’t Matter?

If Google is going to just replace the tags put on pages, why should we even bother? The answer is for a few reasons. 

Firstly, the title tags will still provide their traditional SEO value by helping the search engine understand your page.

Secondly, Google is not rewriting the majority of search results titles. According to Sullivan, Google will show the original HTML title tags in more than 80% of cases. The system will only revise title tags if it believes the current tags are either too long, stuffed with irrelevant keywords, or a generic boilerplate.

“In some cases, we may add site names where that is seen as helpful. In other instances, when encountering an extremely long title, we might select the most relevant portion rather than starting at the beginning and truncating more useful parts.”

What This Means For You

Since there is no way of opting out of this system, there is nothing for brands to change moving forward. 

The biggest changes from this will instead be in reporting, where some pages may see increased or decreased click-through rates due to changed titles in search results. 

For more, read the full statement from Google and Danny Sullivan here.

Source: Search Engine Roundtable

Source: Search Engine Roundtable

Chances are you are just beginning to get adjusted to Google’s widely-talked about search engine result pages (SERPs), but you may not have noticed the smaller details that have been tweaked to make the page look clean and coherent. For example, several eagle-eyed members of the SEO community have noticed that the redesign appears to have affected the visible title tag length for results.

The title tag, or the blue clickable link in the Google search results, doesn’t really have a defined number of characters allowed. It isn’t like Twitter, where you have a hard character limit. Instead, Google uses an algorithm to determine exactly how many characters are shown.

Obviously, Google hasn’t disclosed the details of their algorithm, but Pete Meyers from Moz says the title lengths range from 42 to 68 characters allowed, with most showing 57 to 58 characters.

Most importantly, this change has no direct impact on rankings. Google still reads your entire title and uses everything to helped determine rankings. However, this could make some titles less click friendly or attractive as they used to be.

You won’t be punished directly by Google for using the same strategy you previously have for titles tags, but you might refine your technique slightly to keep future titles as appealing to readers as possible.

When you write about SEO regularly, it is easy to get caught up on the things that are changing and shifting, but we often forget about the old standards of SEO and how they might fit into the new climate.

If you take a look, you will see there aren’t many articles about the importance of quality title tags in the past months or even year, even though it is one of the most powerful elements on a page. Just the title tag alone can tell a search engine your relevance to a topic of search term, distinguish yourself to searchers, and even draw in visitors, all in a single line.

Crafting a great title is deceptively difficult. It would seem creating a single line statement of the purpose of your page should be quick and simple, but crafting one that will make your page alluring to both search engines and customers alike is a complicated trick.

First, you need to match the recommended guidelines, and good luck finding a consistent set. I have seen anywhere from 50 to 70 characters suggested as the maximum you should include in a title, but so long as you are around 60 characters there shouldn’t be much of a concern. Going over risks having the terrible ellipsis trailing your truncated title.

Of course, there is no evidence Google doesn’t see all the text in your title, even when it is obscured by the “…”, but why waste the text? Searchers won’t get the entire topic you are addressing, and the extra 15 characters a search engine sees likely won’t help you. Doing something like trying to stuff keywords in after the ellipsis would actually hurt you.

Once you’ve met the common guidelines, there becomes a problem. Everyone wants a simply formula that will work every time, and one simply doesn’t exist. Every website is different, and making a title tag that is correct for your brand depends on your message and what you want to emphasize.

An amazing amount of information can be coded into 60 characters. You can tell searchers the product of brand name, descriptors, price, and many other aspects of your page simply in one sentence with very careful word choice. For products, you want to fit in as many hard facts about the products as you can in that small space. Search Engine Journal suggests product name, number, size, color, and unique features could all be included in the title, while with blog posts you want to tell searchers what question or topic you will be addressing clearly.

Just because there isn’t a magic formula for titles, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be concerned with them. A weak title tag will get your pages ignored by everyone that sees your listing, while a quality one will stop casual browsers and show them exactly what they were looking for. Stand out and make your titles fantastic.