Navigating Google’s Title Changes

Perhaps navigating Google’s title changes seems like your business is headed for scary territory? In case you’ve been living under a rock (or in a gutter), in August, Google introduced a new system for generating title links (the title of a search result in Google Search). This is because they believe the new system is creating titles that work better for documents overall to describe what they are about, irrespective of the particular query.

Nevertheless, when the new system rolled out, SEOs gave example after example after example of titles that not only failed to describe what the page was about, but may also confuse users and deter them from clicking through. Luckily, the situation has since improved, but placing blind faith in Google’s new system can mean that you’re relinquishing control over a crucial aspect of your content, which could ultimately affect your business. Below, you’ll find a synopsis of how Google’s title changes have evolved, how you can verify whether your titles have been changed and what you can do to regain control over them.

Title changes: Past and Future

Trick or treat title changes. Google has been tweaking title links for a long time. In 2014, the company explained that it might change a title to match the query (to a certain extent). It’s important to note because Google would later refer to these historical practices as precedent for its new system — a rationalization that some SEOs found misleading as the scope and impact of the changes contrast sharply.

“[More recently,] I’m rarely seeing examples in the wild of noticeably worse rewrites for large-scale sites that I’ve done in-depth audits for,” said Brodie Clark, Australian SEO consultant, “This was definitely not the case initially (for about a month post-update), but Google seems to have since turned down the dial and made the update work as intended.” The other SEOs that spoke up had comparable experiences.

The initial weeks of the title change rollout. When the new title change system rolled out in August, SEOs took to Twitter to share examples of poorly rewritten titles in the search results. “While many of the title overwrites made sense and were unlikely to negatively affect performance, there were many (too many) examples of title overwrites gone awry,” said Lily Ray, senior director, SEO and head of organic research at Amsive Digital.

SEOs feared that rewritten titles might be imprecise or simply worse than what was in the title tag. While the title changes do not affect rankings, the title itself can influence clickthrough rates (CTR), thus also potentially impacting business KPIs such as revenue. Consequently, Google’s botched rollout of title changes fueled a movement among some SEOs who demanded a way to opt-out of the changes.

Site owners want Google to use whatever page title they give it. Google argues that it has to be creative, especially in cases where people have failed to provide titles. It’s been argued that as a solution Google should provide site owners with some type of ‘yes, I’m really really sure’ meta tag to declare that they absolutely want their page titles to be used.

What you can do if you suspect Google is changing your titles

If you’ve noticed variations in your CTRs, it may be worthwhile to investigate whether Google has changed your title link. SEOs and tool providers have come up with numerous ways to do this.

You’ll need a process to start tracking and trending titles. You should collect your site’s popular search terms and then gather the Google SERPs title and compare it to the actual title.

If you’re unhappy with how Google changed your titles, unfortunately, there is little you can do to directly change Google’s title links, but embracing a more holistic view of the issue can help you craft more informative titles and avoid bad rewrites from Google.

Completely inaccurate title changes should be reported to Google as feedback: Google created a form where you can submit your feedback for incorrect or egregious titles. Google may offer some inspiration about how to adjust them. They also offer clear examples about the types of titles it intended to overwrite, and you can determine whether your titles fall into any of those categories.

For the industry. We depend on Google for traffic and Google relies on us for content to show users. When the title changes rolled out in August, Google said it wasn’t new, but this has been proven to be only half-true as the search engine has been known to replace titles, but not to the extent that we’ve recently faced. Even worse, it can display title links that confuse users and deter them from visiting our pages. Search marketers will likely have to continue to review title changes in order to promote businesses and the audiences they serve.