If you spend a lot of time tracking your webpages and search result rankings, you’re probably familiar with the ins and outs of search engine optimization. It’s complicated, to say the least – mostly because the rules of the game are changing constantly, and often, they’ll change without anyone even noticing for the first few hours.
Google, which constitutes the majority of search traffic on the internet (by far) makes thousands of changes to its search algorithm every year. And it isn’t like every single change log is documented for the world to see.
That being said, whenever Google makes a pretty big change, you can expect to see some kind of announcement, and at least a little bit of an explanation. One of those changes hit us just late last month, with Google’s new page title update. Google announced that they’ve gone from using about 80 percent of the title elements provided by you in your title tags, to 87 percent. The update is one piece of a continuing experiment on Google’s part to optimize title tags.
It might seem like a minor change – and it is – but it allows us to go deeper into why Google is making changes to the way you’re tagging your titles, and what that should mean for you and your website’s SEO.
What is Google’s Page Title Update?
First, a little explanation and backstory. Title tags, like meta descriptions, are important pieces of information for both search engine users, and the search engines themselves.
They’re what your users will typically see first when catching a glimpse of your site on Google’s search results page, and they’re really important for both getting ranked, and getting traffic.
Not only will better title tags help you catch more traffic, but by refining and improving your title tags, you can drastically improve the quality of your traffic, generate more leads, and help people find the kind of content they’re really looking for.
That’s what Google is after, as well – and it is why Google has a long history of altering title tags, or at least, not really using yours (Google does the same thing with meta descriptions – sometimes, it will just pick a phrase from your content that it feels better represents your page than the description you provided).
Back in 2014, a study of 111,000 search results found that 36 percent of results had their titles partially changed (minor changes, such as adding the company name or name of the city into the title), and over 25 percent had their titles completely changed (entirely different words or word orders compared to the specified title tags).
Now, the update: not only has Google revealed why they’re changing title tags, but they revealed to what degree (on average) title tags are being changed, as well (a change from 80 percent to 87 percent). They also released guidance on what makes a great title, and how to improve your titles for clarity and better search results.
Furthermore, Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller clarified that the changes Google makes to title tags do not affect ranking and are only meant to help convey better clarity and provide more accurate search results to users.
It’s important to note that not affecting ranking does not mean that your changed titles aren’t affecting click-through rates for pages and ads, because users are ultimately seeing a different title from what you may have intended.
Why Has Google Been Changing Title Tags?
To provide better context for why Google’s algorithm might sometimes partially or wholly change a page’s title tags, it’s important to understand Google’s main complaints with bad title tags. According to the company, the issues the algorithm looks for and tries to address the most are:
- Half-empty titles: “ | Site Name” would be detected by the system and changed into “Product Name | Site Name” if the page in question was a product page, for example.
- Obsolete titles: “2020 admissions criteria – University of Awesome” is changed into “2021 admissions criteria – University of Awesome” if the content was updated for the new year, yet the title tags weren’t.
- Inaccurate titles: “Giant stuffed animals, teddy bears, polar bears – Site Name” may be made more accurate in cases where the content doesn’t reflect all the elements of the title, instead becoming “Stuffed animals – Site Name”.
- Micro-boilerplate titles: If “My so-called amazing TV show,” is repeated for multiple different pages per season, then the system may change each page’s title to something along the lines of “Season 1 – My so-called amazing TV show”, “Season 2 – My so-called amazing TV show”, “Season 3 – My so-called amazing TV show”, and so on.
- And a lot more.
Google will make very minor changes to title tags that, generally, reflect the content on the page and provide the kind of information you expect to see in a title – such as the name of the company or blog, or the location if it’s relevant to the content being posted.
Again, these changes do not affect the way your pages rank. But title tags themselves do affect ranking. This means that your own title tags are still important! Even if Google will change them for you, they won’t change the way your original title tags affect your search result rankings.
How Google’s Title Tag Change Affects You
While ranking is still entirely up to you, Google’s changes can affect click-through rate as users will be seeing a different title than you might have intended for them to see, under certain circumstances.
This is something a lot of marketers and SEO experts are skeptical on. There is no data to really prove that Google’s changes are purely positive – and it’s something Google tacitly admits.
This is a system that is still being developed after all, as proven by the fact that they’ve gone from changing affected titles by 20 percent, to changing them by just 13 percent.
If you want to avoid having your title tags altered by Google, take some time to review what they’ve previously written on good title tags, and be sure to take the time to update your title tags, especially after making major changes to a page, or for pages with dynamic content.
Need help? Give us a call. We can help you make the most of your SEO and figure out exactly where Google might be holding you back.