Last week, we asked if Google was picking titles from Google Maps? It turned out to not be the case. In fact, there has been a surprising number of people complaining about the titles Google is showing for a specific page in the search results.
A newer thread at Google Webmaster Help brings up a new case where a search for http://www.animationarena.com/best-animation-schools.html returned a title that read "Schools that teach Flash - Best Animation Schools" as opposed to just "Best Animation Schools." It seems to be fixed for me now, but JohnMu of Google did chime in.
There are certain situations where we'd replace a title in search results (as is happening here), for example if we find that the same title is used on a number of pages or if the title is otherwise not that good (eg "Home"). It looks like in this case we chose a weird title -- I've passed it on to the team so that they can take a look and adjust things if possible.
Now, John replied with a similar message to several other threads or blog posts. Google must have done something recently which caused many titles to be overwritten by what Google thinks would be a more appropriate title.
Let's explore what John said a bit more. A different title may be used in the Google search results if:
(1) "The same title is used on a number of pages," a duplicate content title adjustment?
(2) "The title is otherwise not that good (eg "Home")", which we knew for a while now.
The first one is most interesting to me and I personally have never seen Google admit before.
Forum discussion at Google Webmaster Help.