Following industry buzz around why and how title tags were sometimes appearing differently than intended in search results, Google confirmed it is rewriting title tags.
In An update to how we generate web page titles, a recent post on the Google Search Central Blog, Google’s Search Liaison 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.”
So what does the Google title tags update mean for enterprise sites and the marketers who work with them?
How are Title Tags Generated?
Google’s practice of using more than the on-page title tag for the title in search isn’t new. Sullivan noted that Google has “gone beyond HTML to create titles” for over a decade now.
In 2012, Google explained:
“…for some pages, a single title might not be the best one to show for all queries, and so we have algorithms that generate alternative titles to make it easier for our users to recognize relevant pages.”
Back then, it was all about the user experience — and nothing has changed on that front. Google says that the following issues could cause the title in search results to differ from the one you used in the page’s <title> tag:
- Not specifying a <title> tag at all.
- Vague descriptors and/or unnecessarily long, verbose page titles.
- Keyword stuffing.
- Repetitive or boilerplate <title> tags.
- Branding that hurts readability or appears repetitive in <title> tags.
- Disallowing search engines from crawling the page.
If this has been Google’s position for some time, what’s new?
So Why the Title Tag Update?
With this update, Google has shifted from trying to match the title to specific queries to making better use of on-page content to determine a single, universal title that best describes that page.
“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 or other header tags, and content that’s large and prominent through the use of style treatments.”
He also noted that regular text and even anchor text for links may be used to inform the Google-generated page title.
Google’s goal with this update, he said, is to make the titles as they appear in search more accessible and readable.
Appreciate the examples you and others gathered. We said going beyond title tags wasn’t new because it wasn’t, as I know you know well. But many people stated it was. What IS new are the things we covered: making more use of non-title tag text and titles not changing by query….
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) August 25, 2021
Here’s What Brands Need to Know
The bottom line is that this update does not require any major change in strategy. Google promises that the title specified in the HTML title tag will still be used in the search results “more than 80% of the time.”
- Apply best practices to writing <title> tags. Google recommends that marketers visit its Help page about titles to learn more.
- Ensure that on-page content is focused and well optimized. Google may look at the visual title, header tag content (subheadings), large or bold stylized text, and other on-page content to determine the most relevant and accurate title for that page.
- Avoid issues that can trigger a title rewrite. This can include keyword stuffing, using vague/non-descriptive titles, and more as listed above.
- Put user experience first when branding <title> tags. Multi-location brands must consider what information will best help a searcher decide to visit your local landing page or physical location when they see your result in search.
It is possible to use a standardized title tag boilerplate without being repetitive to the extent that you trigger Google’s title rewrite. Google recommends:
“…consider including just your site name at the beginning or end of each page title, separated from the rest of the title with a delimiter such as a hyphen, colon, or pipe.”
To promote local businesses, you want to make clear where real-world visitors will find the location. This may include listing the town name, or in large cities, it could mean including the neighborhood, as well. Here’s an example of what that could look like:
<title>BigBrandSite: Neighborhood, City, State | Tagline</title>
Have additional questions? Reach out to your Account Director to discuss your title tag opportunities, or take advantage of a free enterprise local search audit to see how we can improve your local presence across the brand.