Google explains why it made the title change to the search results

Google has confirmed that it not only made a change to what title it shows in the search results but also disclosed how much of a change it actually was. For the past few weeks, Google said it was using your chosen HTML title tag 80% of the time. Now Google said it is using as-is title tags 87% of the time, a seven-point increase: “Title elements are now used around 87% of the time, rather than around 80% before,” Google wrote.

Why the change. “We’ve used text beyond title elements in cases where our systems determine the title element might not describe a page as well as it could. Some pages have empty titles. Some use the same titles on every page regardless of the page’s actual content. Some pages have no title elements at all,” said Google. The company then listed off other reasons why it won’t use your HTML title tag:

  • Half-empty titles (” | Site Name”)
  • Obsolete titles (“2020 admissions criteria – University of Awesome”)
  • Inaccurate titles (“Giant stuffed animals, teddy bears, polar bears – Site Name”)
  • Micro-boilerplate titles (“My so-called amazing TV show,” where the same title is used for multiple pages about different seasons)
  • and more.

Guidance. Google also gave some guidance on how to encourage the search engine to show your HTML titles: “Focus on creating great HTML title elements. Those are by far what we use the most.” Google reshared the help document on titles, that it recommended SEOs read. “Consider the examples in this post to understand if you might have similar patterns that could cause our systems to look beyond your title elements. The changes we’ve made are largely designed to help compensate for issues that creators might not realize their titles are having. Making changes may help ensure your title element is again used. That’s really our preference, as well,” the company also added.

But Google is not done and said, “Our work to improve titles will continue.”

Are titles getting better? Time will tell if these changes Google made actually made things better. We saw some SEOs earlier this week saying the titles were starting to look better. Dr. Pete Meyers from Moz recently published a large case study on the title rewrites as well, but it is hard to say when Google made the changes and when the case study data was pulled from.

Many SEOs are still not pleased with Google making such wide-sweeping changes, even if it was only 20% of the time (and is now 13% of the time). And, this explanation doesn’t cut it for them:

It’d “be great if this is what [Google] was doing but it’s not what they are doing. They need to stop or give us a way to opt out. They take out brand names, move brand names, remove pipes make dashes, take out key terms from several of our good titles etc. Let us opt out,” tweeted Kristine Schachinger, digital strategist and SEO consultant. “Here we go…again,” added Tess Voecks, director of SEO project management at Local SEO Guide.

Others are more optimistic that Google took SEO feedback into consideration: “Wow, this is exactly what I asked for in yesterday’s post: (1) a more conservative approach, and (2) more transparency on the reasons for rewrites. Kudos to Google for listening and adjusting,” said Dr. Pete Meyers. “Interesting clarification of Title Tag ‘Update’ stating Google are trying to improve badly constructed or misleading Titles rather than update all your Title tags. Plenty of evidence to suggest that it has not rolled out perfectly (E.g. below) but I’m sure it’ll improve,” added Dan Nutter, head of SEO at Clarity At Speed.

Why we care. If you noticed changes to your click-through rate from the Google search results, it may be related to these changes. Hopefully, those changes are positive since it is a win-win for Google to provide titles that its searchers want to click on. If not, Google said it will keep making improvements. It’s critical that SEOs continue to provide feedback on the adjustments to the title tag system as well as any changes that play out in real-time.


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About The Author

Barry Schwartz a Contributing Editor to Search Engine Land and a member of the programming team for SMX events. He owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry’s personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here.