Why Google won’t display the right page title

Lately we’ve been inundated, literally, with support requests for WordPress SEO and its premium add-ons, all asking one “simple” thing: why isn’t Google picking up my page title? People who changed their page title and see that the search results still show their old title are bound to think Google didn’t “get” the new title yet and of course they blame their SEO plugin (sigh).

Well, this time, it’s not our fault… Google does all sorts of things to your title. It sometimes replaces it with parts of your URL, but it’s also known to add the brand to the end of your title, or just completely rewrite it when it feels like it.

In its help doc about titles and descriptions, Google says the following:

If we’ve detected that a particular result has one of the above issues with its title, we may try to generate an improved title from anchors, on-page text, or other sources. However, sometimes even pages with well-formulated, concise, descriptive titles will end up with different titles in our search results to better indicate their relevance to the query. There’s a simple reason for this: the title tag as specified by a webmaster is limited to being static, fixed regardless of the query. Once we know the user’s query, we can often find alternative text from a page that better explains why that result is relevant. Using this alternative text as a title helps the user, and it also can help your site. Users are scanning for their query terms or other signs of relevance in the results, and a title that is tailored for the query can increase the chances that they will click through.

So… Basically, Google says: we know better, you can try and write a title we like, but we reserve to do whatever to make people click on your result.

There is no way to prevent this from happening right now. Which is annoying in many ways, but not something we can help, sorry. If you’re mad about it, or find it annoying, tweet to @mattcutts, maybe he’ll do something about it. In the past Google sometimes used the open directory projects title for a page instead of the page title, and there was a<meta name="robots" content="noodp"/> tag to prevent this from happening. I’d love to see something similar for this, but it’s not there yet.

But…. What we do learn from this.

Write proper page titles. Not overly optimized titles targeting a gazillion keywords. No. Proper, one sentence titles that contain your brand name and your focus keyword. It’s not hard, just do it. And for your homepage your title should probably start with your brand name, 50% of the emails we get is about homepages where people have ridiculously optimized titles instead of just the name of their company.

Which is probably also why we won’t get something similar to NOODP anymore. We’ve broken the usability of the web, Google is trying to fix it for its users.

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