Google changes meta content and specifically page titles when it thinks it can do a better job usually because the creator hasn’t adhered to its guidelines. There are steps you can take to mitigate this problem which largely involve revising your page title to be more in line with the search engine’s way of thinking.
Where does a page title appear?
Just for clarity, when we talk about a page title, we mean the blue text in the search engine results page snippet (SERP) below:
Why does it matter?
As well as appearing in SERPs, the page title is also displayed at the top of the web browser window when the page is open, and social media platforms will often use the page title when a page is shared. Therefore, it’s an important tool in your SEO arsenal and maybe the first thing users read about a company.
As well as just being quite frankly plain annoying when Google changes your meta, it could be detrimental to your SEO efforts too. In some cases, it may not make sense, may not have adequate grammar, proper capitalisation, include your brand name, and can (strangely) still truncate so it doesn’t display in full.
It’s obviously hugely frustrating to spend time creating on-point page titles for a site to find that Google is largely ignoring your efforts. Don’t worry – you are not alone, this is a more common problem than you might expect.
How often are page titles changed by Google?
A recent study by Zyppy showed that the search engine rewrites page titles in over 60% of cases, leaving just 40% wholly unchanged. A surprisingly low success rate I thought?
So what can you do about it?
1. Check your title does actually exist.
Websites evolve, different people load content, and priorities change, which means that human error can play a part. If you think a page title looks a little odd, double-check that your page title has actually been retained by your CMS. More often than not, the wrong information has been uploaded or not properly saved.
Whilst Google looks at the content in the <title> elements on the page it also takes pretty big clues from elsewhere such as the main visual title, heading elements such as <H1>s, other content that’s prominent through use of style on the page, anchor text links that point to that page.
2. Check it’s unique
If you have a lot of content across your site all relating to a similar topic, it’s possible that you may have accidentally ended up with two or more identical page titles. It’s easy to rectify but Google may just be trying to differentiate the two pages for its users. Unique meta descriptions are essential to providing content that is useful for searchers.
3. Check the length of your page title.
Ideally, your page title needs to be under 60 characters to work across desktop and mobile. At this length, there is a pretty good chance that Google will use it in its entirety. There is no exact character limit because in reality, the length is more about pixels as different characters will vary in pixel width.
If your page title is much longer than this it may simply be cut off and if it’s too short, Google may decide to add to it.
4. Check it’s relevant
Step back from SEO goals for a moment and determine whether your page title is truly an accurate representation of the content. Perhaps you started with keyword research but the final piece of writing doesn’t completely match up with the intended title? Google might modify the title link to help users if it determines that the page title doesn’t reflect the page content.
5. Check it’s fair
Google isn’t a fan of clickbait tactics so don’t try to lure traffic to your site via false pretences. We all know how frustrating it is to click on a page and for that page not to deliver on what it promised, and Google is no different. If Google sees a site proffering advice or goods on which it can’t deliver, then it may change the meta or remove it from SERPs altogether.
6. Check use of modifiers
Although not directly clickbait, Google is not always a fan of modifiers that are used in search queries, for example, ‘UK’. This smacks of targeting specific keywords and if your on-page content doesn’t really reflect this modifier i.e. it doesn’t mention why this content is specific to the UK, then you may find Google takes against the page title. Whilst the rest of the title may be passable, it can choose to rewrite the entire thing.
7. Check use of brand and product names
With only a few characters to play with, it’s often the case that a long product or brand name in the title uses up quite a large proportion of the available space. Including a brand name in the page title can be a good idea – especially if it’s well known and adds authority to the title in SERPs. However, if that leaves very little space for an adequate description of the page as well, Google may choose, you guessed it, to rewrite the title.
8. Check it and rewrite it anyway
Sometimes Google will rewrite even the most well-formulated page titles as it believes that when it knows the user’s query, it can find an alternative text from the page that better explains why the result is relevant.
If you repeatedly find that your page titles are being rewritten in SERPS then something needs to give. It can sometimes pay to simply rewrite the page title or page titles to see if Google prefers the alternative approach.
9. Be patient
Google won’t immediately revisit an individual page just to check on your new page title. You can submit your site to be recrawled but it will usually be revisited at whatever the normal crawl rate is for your site or for that type of page. This may take days, weeks or even months for deeper pages.
In general, the idea is to limit Google’s need to introduce new page titles for your site. If you stick within its guidelines and best practices, you’re much more likely to create SERP-friendly meta which in turn is less likely to be written.