Google Now Rewriting Titles in SERPS (with Title Tag SEO Best Practice)

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New System of Generating Titles for Web Pages


If you’re a site owner, you may be very interested (and surprised) to hear that Google can replace title tags in SERPs where it sees fit. Of course, it’s possible that you already knew that Google would rewrite meta descriptions, but this latest news on titles means you need to take extra care when writing a title tag unless you want Google to redo it!


We’re going to explore what a title tag is and why they are so important, especially when it comes to organic ranking. Then we’ll share the best practices for title tags and finally explain how and when Google’s new system will generate a new title. 


What is the title tag?


The title tag is the HTML code tag that gives a web page its title. This is the title that will appear on the search engine results page (SERP) enticing readers to click through to a webpage. Title tags have a limit of 512 pixels (70 characters long, including spaces), so optimising them is crucial. Here is what a title tag looks like:

<title>Linktree vs Flow Page - See Who Comes Out on Top in #linkinbio | DEANLONG.io</title>

A Google Search Result with Highlight In A TItile Tag | DEANLONG.io
What a title looks like in SERP

Here is how to find your title tag by using the Chrome's dev tool:

Why the title tag is important


A CTR Influencer & A Ranking Signal


The title tag is essential for two reasons: it lets searchers know what content they will get if they click through to a page from the SERP, and it also helps Google rank a page and determine what pages are relevant in relation to a user’s search.


Search engine optimisation (SEO) is key to driving organic traffic to your website. After clickable content, the title tag is considered the 2nd most crucial factor in getting those prized click-throughs. You may have the best content in the world, but if you can’t attract people to view it, you’ll never boost your website traffic organically. 


It is one of the main components that a reader will use to decide which page or site to visit. When presented with so many search results (usually millions), a user will most likely choose one from the 1st page so you need to rank high by pleasing Google and draw the users in.


Show The Title of Your Social Sharing 

When a page/post is shared on social media, the system often picks out the title tag as the title of your sharing card. However, keep in mind that this is fully customisable if you use meta tag property="og:title". Take my article Refine Your Organic Search Using Google Search Operators as an example, it's using 

<meta content="Refine Your Organic Search Using Google Search Operators (Advanced SEO) | DEANLONG.io" property="og:title">


And you can see what it looks like when shared to Linkedin.

A screenshot from Linkedin to show what a title looks like when sharing article in Linkedin | DEANLONG.io
What a title looks like when you share to social media (Linkedin)


What are the best practices for title tags?


Title Tag SEO best practice remains the same - be descriptive, be consistent with the main content, and have a brand name at the end. Keyword stuffing title tags won’t necessarily help either unless it’s relevant to your page content and headings. 


Best Practice #1 - Keep It Around 70 Characters Long


The trick is to make it accurately describe your page content in (70 characters long, including spaces (512 pixels or less). If your title tag is longer than this, Google will add an ellipsis (...). You don’t want to have important words left off that could have attracted users. It’s all about readability now for Google and helping searchers.


Best Practice #2 - Title Case


Capitalise the first letter of most words. Instead of using Google confirms rewriting title in SERPs (with title tag SEO best practice)  


Try to use Google Confirms Rewriting Title in SERPs (with Title Tag SEO Best Practice)  


Best Practice #3 - Include Your Brand Name At The End


I recommend using pipeline ("|") to connect your brand name at the end of the title. And using a dash ("-") to connect different topics. However, the latest Google's update uses a dash ("-") to connect your brand name. 


Best Practice #4 #5....


Here are a few other things to keep in mind when crafting title tags:

  1. Write for humans, not search engines.
  2. Be descriptive, be unique and be consistent with the main content.
  3. Make sure a title tag exists on all pages.
  4. Put important keywords first.
  5. Match your meta description.

Google Starts Using The New System to Generate New Titles When Necessary


The news that “Google rewrites title tag” isn’t actually new. Google’s old system used to do this too, although many site owners and searchers were unaware. So why is Google changing now, and when will the new system decide to step in and make its own amendments?


The old system used to change titles (where necessary) based on queries issued by users. The new system won’t follow this structure. Instead, where it needs to change a title, it will focus on matching the overall document and describe what it is about. 


Google will rewrite titles based on a number of factors; it considers the main headline on pages, content in other header tags, and content that features prominently. However, testing has already shown that the new system produces more readable titles that searchers prefer compared to before (Highly debatable, I found many weird cases). 


TL;DR version

  1. Google does change the title in SERP just like meta description.
  2. Google considers the main visual title or headline shown on a page, content that site owners often place within <H1> tags, within other header tags, or which is made large and prominent through the use of style treatments.
  3. The best practice remains the same - be descriptive, be consistent with the main content, have a brand name at the end.


As part of this new move to further improve the user experience, Google recommends focusing on creating a good HTML title tag. This is still where it mostly takes content from, so if you implement Title Tag SEO best practice — getting it right the first time —  you’re more likely to keep the title you created. 

BowtiedWookie did a small sample size research (10 sites with 500 keywords) to quickly understand some patterns of this new update:

  • The shorter the title the less likely Google is to change it.
  • Google will change the title ~95% of the time if emojis or weird characters are included.
  • High DA sites are not being forced to include the brand name.
  • If Google changes the title it is pulling in the H1 >50% of the time.
  • The average character count of Google’s title changes were 52 characters


The Title Tag Update Casualties Lose Search Traffic


Google describes this update as follows:


The new system is producing titles that work better for documents overall, to describe what they are about, regardless of the particular query.

 

However, many SEOers are unsatisfied with this update. It's causing so much disruption that some have started calling it Titlepocalypse. I found this weird title when I search my Covid vaccination site:


The NSW Health official site shows ”than 500k Pfizer doses for those aged16-39 in LGAs of concern“ as the title | DEANLONG.io
The NSW Health official site shows ”than 500k Pfizer doses for those aged16-39 in LGAs of concern“ as the title

It turns out "More than 500k Pfizer doses for those aged16-39 in LGAs of concern" is the <h1> heading tag in this support article (See the image below). While we are "amazed" with the search result presented above, there's something we can conclude in this case:


  1. Even AU government site makes grammar/spelling mistakes. 
  2. Google's machine-generated title is unreadable. Moreover, it creates confusion for critical information.
  3. Google's machine-generated title does not consider grammar and spelling. 
NSW Health News Page

We can see similar cases flood in Twitter:

References

Google(1, 2)

Others(1, 2, 3)


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Dean Long | Expert in Growth MarketingDean Long

Dean Long is a Sydney-based creative marketing and communication professional with expertise in paid search, paid social, affiliate and e-commerce advertising. He's also a distinct MBA Graduate from Western Sydney University.