Yep, that’s right – with the new Google update, your website’s page titles can be automatically changed in the search results.
Page titles are one of the few SEO elements, where the website owner has control, and that are very influential in the page’s rankings.
That is why, even those who do nothing else regarding their website optimisation, usually fill in the page titles and descriptions on the main pages, maybe even adding some keywords here and there. This felt reassuring – we had control over how our website appeared to users in the search results pages, and could make sure the ‘right’ message was being passed.
However, Google’s most recent update has changed the rules of the game regarding this. Now, Google can completely ignore your page titles, if he ‘thinks’ he can come up with something better, something more ‘readable and accessible’.
“Now what?! Should we just give up on SEO all together and go do something more exciting with our time, since anything we do Google tends to undo?”
Well, let’s take a breath and try to understand together what this update really means for your website and how to go about it.
Yes, now Google might choose not to show your pre-prepared page title to the user and change it into something else. But there is no reason to panic, as it has been estimated that this may affect only 20% of all page titles on the internet. Moreover, Google expects this number to go down when more and more websites follow the best practices it has recently published.
As we know, the world of SEO consists mostly of guesses of professionals on ‘how this all works’ and, even though very educated, they are still guesses. Google rarely breaks the silence to ‘teach’ website owners about ‘his wishes’, but this time it made an exception to this rule. Yep, you heard it right! Google has recently published two new support pages – one regarding page titles’ best practices, and another on descriptions. You can see them for yourself here for titles and here for page descriptions.
But fear not, for those who are not in the mood to read the advanced SEO section documentation on Google Search Central portal (though we really recommend you do so for a better understanding of the issue) we have prepared a recap of ‘what Google has said about page titles’ to make your life easier.
First of all, Google has changed the name of the element, introducing a new term – ‘title links’ – which is the text that appears as a blue link in the search results. So now we have this: what you fill in on the website is a meta title, what appears in the search results is a title link, which can be the same as the meta title or different, and both meta titles and title links are page titles. Confusing much? Well, it is what it is. The most important thing is to understand that when you hear the term ‘title links’ we’re talking about those blue links that appear on Google’s search results.
Secondly, Google has given us insights from where he might pull information in order to create a title link for your website if he doesn’t like the existing one. Here is the list, so be sure you keep all of these elements ‘in order’ on your website:
- Content in <title> elements (your familiar page titles);
- Visual titles and headlines on the page’s content (these might be your h1, h2 elements, or just visually prominent titles on the content);
- Other content that’s large and prominent on your page (anything you style as big and eye-catching, Google thinks is important);
- Other text content on the page;
- Anchor texts on the page (text of links that you usually see as highlighted on the text);
- Text within links that point to the page.
As you can see, nothing revolutionarily new – your main Html elements, like page title, h1, h2, etc, are still important. The text content on the page is very important, and the links from the page and to the page are also significant. Again, all within the ‘classic’ SEO approach.
Thirdly, Google shared some best practices to follow, while creating your page titles:
- Make sure each page of the website has a title element filled in (was already a best practice since the ‘beginning of times’);
- Make the title descriptive and concise, avoid vague titles, like ‘Home’ (again, a recommendation that is in place since the early beginnings of Google);
- Avoid keyword stuffing. In other words, don’t write something like ‘Flower deliver, bouquet delivery in Faro, Flower service Algarve’. These are just ugly and annoying both to Google and to users, but, once more, nothing new here too;
- Avoid repeated or boilerplate text in <title> elements. The page titles should be distinct so that users can easily navigate around the pages of the website. Boilerplate text is usually ‘a sin’ of e-commerce websites, when they have one long title for a group of pages where only a small piece of text (usually one word) is different from one to the other. For example, ‘Shirts, T-shirts, Hoodies – Brand A’, ‘Shirts, T-shirts, Hoodies – Brand B’, etc. – you get the idea. While you may never have heard of ‘boilerplate text’ before, the logic of avoiding duplicate titles and keeping your titles unique and relevant to the content of each page is definitely not a new concept;
- Brand your titles. Google recommends, where it is reasonable, to add branding to your titles. Again, a very smart thing most websites are doing already.
And, last but not least, Google has shared with us the ‘bad’ practices that most likely will lead to your title links being different from what you wrote:
- Half-empty title elements (again the example of “Sitename” title or “Home”);
- Obsolete title elements (if your title is ‘The Best Algarve Restaurants in 2020’, but in the meantime you have updated the content and you added there a 2021 rating, forgetting to update your page title, this title will be a low-quality one, in Google’s opinion);
- Inaccurate title elements (your title should include only what later can be found on your page; again, not a new requirement for a title to coincide with the content);
- Micro-boilerplate text in title elements (see our comments about the boilerplate text in the recommendations above).
So, we’ve analysed with you each Google recommendation, one by one, and there is nothing new that you need to be doing – keep writing unique, informative titles that are really connected to the actual content of the page, and Google will keep using your titles, just as before.
There is no need to be afraid of this update or get annoyed by it as “Google wants to take away what little control still have”. It might actually be a very good thing for those websites with “Home” or “Our products” titles.
Google might do some work for you and create an automatic title that will better reflect the page’s content. The question is, do you trust a machine to choose how your business will appear to potential clients? And the fact that the page title is important for rankings is still very valid. So, if we were you, we would finally fill in those titles, at least on the most important pages.
Once again Google has proved that if you focus on improving your content and the whole user experience on your website, keeping your client in mind, more than an algorithm, you most likely will be on a winning path in terms of SEO.