Beware! Google is changing title tags at will

Posted by Karon Thackston on 8 May, 2012
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Beware! Google is changing title tags at will from Wordtracker, the leading keyword research tool

In all the years since Google became a player in the search engine optimization arena, we have seen countless changes. Some have been minor algorithm tweaks while others caused a major upheaval. Still, one thing remained constant: we controlled our title tags. But no longer. Karon Thackston explains ...

The recent occurrences have been multiplying, but Google's intrusion into our title tags began over a year ago. Quietly, they started substituting "more relevant" titles for the ones website owners provided. Why? Google's Webmaster Tools help center explains the reasons your title tag might be overruled.

"Make sure that each page on your site has a useful and descriptive page title (contained within the title tags). If a title tag is missing, or if the same title tag is used for many different pages, Google may use other text we find on the page."

In addition, Google employee John Mueller gave this advice in a post on one of Google's blogs:

"In general, when we run across titles that appear to be sub-optimal, we may choose to rewrite them in the search results. This could happen when the titles are particularly short, shared across large parts of your site or appear to be mostly a collection of keywords. One thing you can do to help prevent this is to make sure that your titles and descriptions are relevant, unique and compelling, without being "stuffed" with too much boilerplate text across your site."

In other words, you run the risk of having your title tag changed if it is:

  • too short
  • used on several other pages of your site
  • mostly filled with keywords
  • not unique or compelling

These are things I've been preaching for years simply because they make the most sense for your site visitors. You'll never see me voting in favor of SEO copywriting practices that don't also offer something useful to the people who come to your web pages. This is no exception.

Case in point

I can't say I agree with Google's replacement tags. I've seen cases in the past where they removed a perfectly good title tag (in my opinion) only to replace it with the company name. How is that more relevant?

More recently, I came across this example.

The SERPs showed a title tag of simply "Gatlinburg Cabins." When I clicked to the web page, the actual title tag revealed

Gatlinburg TN Cabins | Cabin Rentals Gatlinburg TN | Gatlinburg Cabins.

Considering the Smoky Mountains (USA) span two states how is it more relevant to remove the references to Tennessee? As I said, I question Google's replacements.

Ah … but I Digress …

Back to our topic.

The title tag is the first exposure searchers get to your site. When that space is simply filled with keywords, it offers little enticement for people to click to your page. With the other extreme (using only the company name or a single keyphrase), you get almost the same result. Balance is necessary.

You absolutely want keywords in your title tag and you should also have your company name. Those appease the Google monster. But, in addition, want something that sets you apart from all the other competition on the search engine results page (SERP). A short statement, an adjective, a mini-USP… something that will wake surfers up, catch their attention and make them think, Hmm … Let me see what this is all about.

After all, which would be more appealing to you if you were booking a honeymoon?

Romantic Honeymoon Cabins in Gatlinburg | Jacuzzi Packages Available


Gatlinburg Cabins | Pigeon Forge Cabins | Smoky Mountain Cabins

My point exactly.

Don't follow the crowd. Take time to perfect your title-writing skills. When you do, Google will be less likely to chop your titles in favor of a "more relevant" version created by a robot.

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