Google’s Title Tag Update: An SEO Power Struggle
For years, page titles have been one of the primary ways for people to determine what website best matches their initial search query. Page titles, an HTML element that defines the title of a webpage, are used to populate search result listings within Google and have been a primary focus for many search engine optimizers. In general, the more relevant a page title is to a specific search query, the more likely someone searching will click through to the page. But what happens when Google takes control and changes these elements? In August, Google announced changes to the way it was generating web page titles in organic search, creating a backlash of worried SEOs. So, what exactly is going on?
Does Google Use Title Tags in the Results?
Optimizers began noticing title tags were being replaced by header tags and, in some cases, even anchor text from various pages throughout the website. Google may choose to pull the title tag from random pages and page elements if Google’s algorithm has identified the copy as more representative of the page content. While this change is certainly significant and something marketers need to be aware of and monitor, it will not be the new normal at this point. Of all the ways Google generates titles, content from HTML title tags is still by far the most likely to be used to populate the SERP listing (more than 80% of the time).
How Do I Make Sure Title Tags Show?
To make sure title tags are appearing in search, you should follow the industry best practices and some of the tips Google created to help title tags stand out:
• Write descriptive and concise page titles.
• Avoid stuffing title tags with keywords.
• Do not use boilerplate titles for all pages.
• Brand titles and include a delimiter to separate the brand from copy.
Google created a list of title tag situations that its new system identifies and adjusts for. Here is a list of what Google is correcting:
• Half-empty titles: Titles with only the website name and no context to what the page is about
• Obsolete titles: Outdated titles featuring the previous year
• Micro-boilerplate titles: Titles on a subset of pages are all the same and can’t be distinguished
Where Do We Go From Here?
While some optimizers feared a potential drop in organic rankings as a result of this update, there is no need to panic because Google will always use title tags for ranking, regardless of any changes in the SERP. But advertisers do need to pay particular attention to organic click-through rates and closely monitor them to ensure any changes made by Google to organic listings have not negatively impacted click-through performance.
All in all, the page title update has shown the constant tug-of-war between those who optimize for search and those who control it. While this update isn’t as significant as the page experience update that finished rolling out in August, it still highlights the need to understand industry best practices and the necessity to stay up to date with the latest changes in organic search.