Imagine working on your page title for hours, only for it to be scrapped by the algos and replaced by something less creative, but maybe more relevant, to the search results page.
Google has been changing search titles for a while now, but this time around, it’s sourcing from other places you would not have expected.
Regarding the importance of page titles, here’s what John Mueller has to say (from Search Engine Journal):
Titles are important for SEO. They are used as a ranking factor, but it is not something where I’d say the time you spend on tweaking the title is really the best use of your time.
That said, it can be frustrating to have your titles changed. As SEO's and content marketers know, a change in title can cause a drop in search click rates.
Where does Google source alternative titles?
Lily Ray has compiled instances where titles on the search results page have been changed:
This coincides with Google’s latest post on how they generate web titles for search. Some of the places where Google can source your titles include:
- Your title tag. According to Google, the title tag is still used 80% of the time.
- Headlines placed within h1 tag
- Your category title
- Social media title
- Anchor text
- Image alt text
Google also sometimes creates rich results based on the page’s markup. That’s why you might be seeing added elements, like adding a date sourced from the URL:
We use a number of different sources for this information, including descriptive information in the title and meta tags for each page. We may also use publicly available information, or create rich results based on markup on the page.
Why the heck is Google changing your title!?
Google changes titles to make them clearer, shorter, and more readable. Titles that are unhelpful or vague are changed on the results page to be more relevant. Here are some instances when your titles might get changed:
- It’s too long and doesn’t fully show on the results page
- It’s stuffed with so many keywords that it becomes unreadable
- It lacks title tags or has unclear ones (e.g., the domain’s homepage is titled ‘Home’, which is too generic)
- It’s not relevant enough to user intent
- It’s not relevant enough to the page content
Snippet character and pixel limits
According to Moz, 90% of desktop and mobile devices will display your title if it is under 60 characters long. That said, Google actually defines a search result snippet by width in pixels:
Maximum width for title: 580 pixels (desktop) and 920 pixels (mobile) OR 60 characters
Maximum width for meta description: 990 pixels (desktop) and 1300 pixels (mobile).
If your title goes over this limit, Google displays the rest of the title with an ellipsis (...)
Why is this posing a problem?
If you use SEO to drive your marketing, this change in title can cause a decrease in search clicks:
Any change caused by an algo can provide massive issues in industries that justifiably require compliance at every step. This is especially important in YMYL industries, such as health, law and finance, where every piece of content needs to be approved before circulation.
In fact, this has already happened to some pages. Jenny Hearn on Twitter reported that a page about flu now appears on the search results page as ‘flu vaccinations’:
Uh-oh. Sometimes, this change may even contain incorrect/outdated information:
How to create winning titles google won’t change
- Add your target topic to the title(s). It’s no secret that search results with the target phrase get clicked more often than those that do not. This also indicates to Google that the phrase is relevant and important to understanding the page.
- Make sure your different titles satisfy user intent. For example, if a user searches for ‘best navigational devices for mountaineers’, they expect to find a page that could be (a) a product listicle or (2) an ecommerce landing page with different types of navigational devices for mountaineers. Create a title that mirrors this intent.
- Keep your titles short, understable and within the character/pixel limitations.
- Make sure that your title and h1 tags, social media title(s) and internal anchor text remain roughly similar to each other. This will discourage Google from changing your different titles into one streamlined title.
Where can you complain about title changes?
After backlash from the SEO community, Google has opened a thread where users can post instances where title changes were poorly executed. You can post your complaint, alongside some photos, here: Your feedback on titles shown in search results.
Kristine Schachinger has proposed a nice solution to combat these changes:
Whether you’ve been affected by the title changes, or you’re looking for ways to prevent that from happening, applying the techniques from above is the best way to prevent Google from changing your titles.