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 doesnt 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.