For web developers and SEOs, the HTML title tags were the primary way they indicated which text they would like to be used in search queries. Google bots and spiders would look for the title tags, pick the text within it and use that as the title in search engine result pages. Now, Google has said that it is changing the way it generates the title of its search results. In this article, we are going to look at these changes as well as how they impact websites and SEO.
Before we look at what has changed and to understand it better, we need to first understand how Google search results worked in the past. Once a user entered a query, Google would use the content in the query to formulate the title of the search result snippet. This means that the user would see results that were as close to what they were searching for as possible.
Over the past few years, Google has experimented with generated result snippets where they would show some part of the content in a webpage as results for a search query. This applied mainly to searches that included questions. Google would find pages that had answered that question or have wording closely matching the words in the question asked. Then Google would show users meta descriptions of content from the body of the web pages that answered the question instead of the meta description of the web pages.
Google is now doing similar things with the titles on their search engine result pages (SERPs). Google is using a new dynamic system that will generate titles for web pages regardless of the query the user has entered. Google says that it is doing this to ensure the titles shown on result pages match the content of the web pages in questions as closely as possible.
Google says that in doing this, users will see titles that use text, which visitors will see once they land on a webpage. From the many online reports, it seems that Google is pulling most of the titles from the first <h1> tag on the page. There are also instances where Google is pulling the content for the title from other header tags, especially those it says have been visually altered to stand out.
Some SEOs have also reported that Google is not limiting where they can pull the titles from, as some have reported titles being pulled from the paragraphs within the content, from text found on other relevant or linked pages, and out of thin air.
Google also says that it will edit the titles shown to limit the length of the titles that users see. This can be through truncating longer titles or even selecting the most relevant part of the title and cutting off the rest of it. Many SEOs see this as an effort to make the titles more readable and relevant to the query. The addition of website and brand names at the end of these titles is another area that Google is exploring to ensure visitors know the website or brand name before they visit any link.
Understandably, this is causing a lot of confusion for SEOs who can no longer trust that those searching for their content on Google will see what they expect them to see but rather what Google deems to be most important for them and the quotes they do.
Another change coming to the way Google handles titles is the use of a dynamic system that reacts to changes on actual websites. Google says it will start putting more emphasis on changes made to the title element of web pages. This means that once you change the title on your web pages, Google will react accordingly and show visitors this updated title instead.
The question that arises is how often Google will check web pages to change the titles shown to visitors. This is a particular worry for news websites that change their titles all the time as more information comes in or when there is a need for clarification.
A Google representative has confirmed that Google will consider the relevance of the new title as well as how well it describes the content on the page. Again, this is done to ensure that the title points to relevant content and that it is an accurate representation of the actual content on the web page.
For both the replacement of the title tag and the acceptance of new title pages, any changes reflected in SERPs are a sign that the title did not previously accurately present the content on the webpage.
Although there is no knowing how or when Google will change your titles, there are a few things you can do to ensure users see what you want them to see. The first one is ensuring that the content on the pages accurately matches the title that you want to be displayed on the SERPs. Second, you can use <h1> tags that closely match what you want the title to be. This way, even when Google uses the information within these tags as the title, it will still match the title closely.
Third of all, you can change the title on your web page if Google changes the title for you. If you are not satisfied with the text that Google chooses for your title on SERPs, you can change the actual title and text on your web page to be more representative of what you want it to look like. Chances are that Google will pick up this new title if it is a better fit and display that instead.
Google makes so many changes to how it displays search engine results and SEOs, that businesses and brands have to keep up with the changes as they are rolled out. The title changes being implemented will be confusing for some time, but by taking the necessary actions, you can ensure that visitors see the title you want them to see or the most representative title as described by Google.