When Google Titles Don't Match Page Title

Jan 11, 2011 • 8:36 am | comments (5) by twitter | Filed Under SEO - Search Engine Optimization

Page titles are often cited as one of the most important elements to pay attention to for Search Engine Optimization. Beyond the strategic best practice of including popular and relevant keywords in the title tag, Webmasters also need to think about user experience when writing titles for pages - because Google certainly does. In fact, last year Google's John Mu provided some basic guidelines as to why Google may sometime adjust a page's title for the search results page.

In a recent question at Google Webmaster Central Help, a marketer for a legal firm proves that best intentions sometimes have negative consequences, depending on the point of view. The poster describes that a title was updated to include a popular keyword, which in his opinion tarnishes the listing when comparing to competitors:

While this seems like it may be a positive, i.e., matching the title snippet to the user's search phrase, in practice, it looks a little tacky and unprofessional. Listed against all of the other firms with their official sounding titles, ours looks amateurish and doesn't reflect our firm well.

The marketer would prefer if he had full control over the search engine displayed Title, which unfortunately is never 100% guaranteed. One commenter provides a good recommendation to "use Google against itself" by suggesting: "If that is what they think the title is relevant for - use it." He thinks that adding it to the end of the title could help from an algorithmic perspective, since one can assume the page is relevant for the keyword if Google used it within a title. Although this is certainly worth testing, I would personally use the information as evidence that Google has at least semantically associated my content with the theme I am looking for, and build from there beyond just the title tag.

We recently had a client that experienced a similar issue, and it was specifically related to a brand search. The problem was that Google was generating a very bland "brand.com" title to replace what we felt was a properly optimized title. Marios Alexandrou, a senior strategist on our team, noted that:

Two things to note about the title is that it is longer than what Google will display AND the first occurrence of the brand name is beyond the cut-off point.

We tested moving the brand name into the first 66 characters of the title, et voila, the title was updated to ours very quickly. This and the Google Webmaster Central discussion show that the key to effecting changes to search listings remains in testing, and should remind everyone that just because you have a page title you are comfortable with, that doesn't mean that Google is, and it certainly doesn’t mean that the particular title will be used for all search results that include the page.

Please share your thoughts and experiences at Google Webmaster Central Help or below.

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Sander Remie

01/11/2011 02:50 pm

google is too big for itself, bureacracy is killing it (and I hope fast)

Thomas Meyers

01/11/2011 03:11 pm

In my opinion it's a combination of titles, Meta tags, Meta Descriptions, content and the use of lsi techniques to achieve good placement. Always remember Google needs us more than we need it. The bigger they are the FASTER they fall.

Keri Morgret

01/12/2011 01:13 am

I just recently saw this for a re-designed site that messed up their title tags and put just a single word as the title tag, something similar to "Individual" that had little meaning and did not have the brand name. Google rewrites the title tag with the company name when someone searches on that company name. Bing and Yahoo show "Individual" when searching on that company name. In this case, it's good for user experience, but it'd be nice if there was a way Google could alert you in GWT that they have messed with stuff (I'm not involved with the site, so don't have any access or know if something like that does already happen, this error was just pointed out by a friend).

mark rushworth

01/12/2011 02:05 pm

Interesting ... i noticed this today, google was adding a keyword to the front of a title, which wasnt in the cache or written to the active title

Chris Boggs

01/13/2011 04:03 am

I think the big problem is that it is unique to each keyword. it would be very difficult to report on this for all the possible changes that could be made depending on the keyword used. maybe a single type of warning that Google has determined your title is not a fit for ALL possible search terms that could yield the page, though. or if your brand name search would be changed.

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