Google has finally given an official response to the uproar in the SEO community following a change to how SERPs display title tags.
We’re used to seeing SERPs display search results a certain way – clickable ‘title tags’ representing the page displayed. However, on August 16, SEOs began to notice that Google was displaying alternate text in place of the title.
Barry Schwartz noted peculiar title display choices in a post on Search Engine Roundtable on August 17. Other SEOs shared their findings on Twitter.
This is interesting… I think someone posted about this earlier today:
For this article’s title in the SERP, Google is not only *not* displaying the <title> tag, it’s also not displaying the <h1>.
Instead, it’s displaying the anchor text from an internal link to the article. pic.twitter.com/CmQS4Lvgf9
— Lily Ray 😏 (@lilyraynyc) August 17, 2021
Anyone seeing massive title rewrite on Google? Been noticing it on multiple SERPs for multiple keywords that Google is either pulling H1 or H2 to use for title.@rustybrick #SEO #searchengineoptimization #Google
— Jackie Owen (@techjackie) August 17, 2021
SEOs noted that, rather than displaying the page’s title, SERPs would use a page’s H1, H2 or even seemingly random text from the page. One SEO even noticed that the date was displayed as a title:
For some keywords, Google updated our one article's title to include the date at the beginning. The date was picked from the URL.
It looked something like:
01/08/2021: Article title
I changed the title a bit and it seems to be okay now.
— Mayank Parmar (@mayank_jee) August 17, 2021
Google had been known to adjust meta descriptions to display what may be considered more relevant text, but it was a surprise for many SEOs to see titles being toyed with.
Danny Sullivan Responds
Google’s Danny Sullivan responded to criticism and confusion from the SEO community, first tweeting about the issue on August 19.
Specifically, he shared that he wants to see improvements to both how Google selects titles and how site owners can anticipate these selections.
It’s kind of surprising that I keep seeing so many SEOs who seem to believe title tags were always exactly used as titles. Not been the case for as long as I can remember. Explained on our help page: https://t.co/bDsZEq0sxH pic.twitter.com/Esv8H6MceX
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) August 19, 2021
“We’ve heard the feedback & looking into all this,” he said. “It was never the case that writing the ‘perfect title’ guaranteed that title would be used. We have long used more than title tags for creating page titles.”
Sullivan added that he hopes to see Google provide a tool in Search Console that can help point site owners in the right direction when their titles don’t seem to match Google’s standards for relevancy.
Google’s Official Statement
On August 24 – a week after changes were noticed by SEOs – Google finally published an official statement on its Search Central Blog.
The post, titled ‘An update to how we generate web page titles,’ confirms that Google did, in fact, implement changes to how SERPs display titles.
The new system prioritizes text that readers can actually see – possibly main titles or H1s, or any text that is styled to be large and prominent.
“We think our new system is producing titles that work better for documents overall, to describe what they are about, regardless of the particular query,” the post says.
The post also explains that HTML tags, while previously a popular option for page titles, do not always describe a page well.
“Overall, our update is designed to produce more readable and accessible titles for pages,” the post says.
Google ends the post by reminding readers that site owners should focus on producing good HTML title tags: “Of all the ways we generate titles, content from HTML title tags is still by far the most likely used, more than 80% of the time,” it says.
Has the change to title tags affected you or your site in any way? You can leave feedback in Google’s forums and share your experiences.