When performing a search on Google, titles are the first thing considered by searchers when assessing how relevant a search result is to the query. And that’s why the Google Search team is constantly updating its algorithms, striving to provide the best titles for listings in search results.
Up until now, Google used the search query a user had entered to formulate the page title it would return with a given listing. This is not the case anymore. Google’s new title update is much more complex and dynamic, placing particular importance on what a visitor can visually see on the page.
As of August the 24th, the update to how it generates web page titles has been officially confirmed by Google. And this happened a week after SEOs and webmasters started to notice that their sites’ title tags had been replaced by H tags in the SERPs.
While Google rewriting titles was not something new, this time the impact resulted from changes to organic titles appeared to be significant.
According to Google, the update consists of a new system that determines the best title for a given page using a variety of factors and relevant on-page text. As Google is no longer using user’s queries to generate a title, it will now select only one title and that is the title that will be displayed, regardless of the query.
The new system is designed to produce titles that work better for web pages overall and to better describe the content they contain. Essentially, anything that is now included in the page content can be used to create the page title that Google will show in the SERP.
Google has announced that it will change the title only in cases when a page’s HTML title tag doesn’t adequately describe what the page is about. Subsequently, it intends to use other text for this purpose only when it believes it can create a more readable title for searchers. The main aspect of this Google update is a greater emphasis on the text that “humans can visually see when they arrive at a web page.”
In his announcement Sullivan mentioned a few examples when title tags are rewritten by Google:
The changes to titles’ appearance made by Google include but are not limited to:
The fact that Google is taking a different approach to how it displays page titles doesn’t make optimizing HTML title tags any less important. On the contrary, it is suggested to focus more on creating great HTML title tags that offer the best description to your web pages.
The good news is that the time invested in creating unique titles for your web pages is still worth it. Sullivan reinforced this message stating that original HTML title tags will still be used over 80% of the time.
On August 28, John Mueller was asked by the SEO community on Twitter to clarify whether the new update will affect how Google ranks pages now. Mueller reassured us that rankings were not affected by this change. He also mentioned that changes will only affect how titles are displayed without changing the rankings or anything else.
What this essentially means is that the HTML title that we provide will always be used to rank the page, regardless of the title generated by Google in the search results.
In the case when the original title contains a certain keyword that you are ranking for, and that keyword isn’t displayed in the new title, rest assured as Google’s search ranking algorithms will consider it regardless.
It’s worth noting that this update is not completely new. The case of page meta descriptions is of a similar nature. When it comes to SERP display, Google sometimes disregards the prescribed metas by electing to use other content on the page that is algorithmically determined to be more relevant to the searcher.
As John Mueller shared on his Twitter account, this new update ”is purely a display change”. Subsequently, it may have little to no impact, depending on whether or not your site is in the 20% of cases when titles are rewritten.
While Google reassures us that this new approach produces better page titles, we still have to be vigilant as in some cases the new titles may perform worse than the ones the author specified.
The best way to verify if your titles have been rewritten is by performing searches on Google with specific keywords your pages are ranking for, like in the example below.
For what it’s worth, we haven’t seen any reports of pages with rewritten titles dropping in rankings considerably. We have noticed some fluctuations which is a normal activity when updates are introduced. You can see below an example of how Google has changed the title of one of our pages by replacing it with the H1.
You can also monitor the potential impact of the title change by continually reviewing the click-through rate of specific search terms and pages within Google Search Console, as shown in our example. If you notice any changes to your click-through rate from the Google search results, it may be because of the new update.
As Sullivan suggested, Google’s new titles update is dynamic and will react to on-site changes, meaning that the new page titles are not set in stone.
If Google starts replacing your page titles, it’s a good indication that your titles didn’t adequately reflect the page content. We know that Google’s main criteria for determining when to rewrite a page title is based on how accurately it represents what a user will find when visiting the URL.
The apparent goal of replacing titles is to enhance the relevancy for searchers. By that recipe, when you create more relevant and specific titles you are making them more compelling for the searcher to click on.
Still, if you’re not satisfied with Google’s choice of text, you can write a new title tag and possibly have that text displayed instead. Given its reactive nature, after you modify the HTML title tag, Google will evaluate the updated text and react accordingly.
The chances of Google displaying your revised title tag in SERPs will depend on its assessment of the text and how well it describes what the page is about.
As Google emphasized, this update was introduced to make search results more accessible and readable for its users, and hopefully it won’t make the job of SEOs any more difficult than it already is.
In short, no. Websites cannot opt-out of having their page titles rewritten by Google. Although Sullivan has stated via Twitter that he would like SEOs to have a say when it comes to preserving page titles when they really feel it is important, possibly via a feature in Search Console.
Google hasn’t come out with any info on whether such a feature is being considered at this time.
As with any algorithm update, it is not recommended to start making changes to your pages and optimize for that particular update. Google search team advises site owners to stick to all the old SEO guidelines on how to create good titles, as the update is aimed at searchers only and doesn’t come with additional optimization features for content creators.
The advice remains the same, to focus on creating great HTML title tags while keeping an eye on the quality and relevancy of the content as a whole. As we now know, Google’s motivation for replacing titles is to offer better relevancy for searches.
A good practice is to pay attention to your traffic and click-through rate. This is the best way to monitor if there are any fixes or optimizations you need to make. As history shows, Google doesn’t always get it right when they try to better your work!
This content was originally published here.