What to know about Google’s search title changes

“Meet the new boss — same as the old boss.” — Roger Daltrey

Google is making even more changes to title tags in search results.

For many years, Google has rewritten varying percentages of both title tags and meta descriptions.  The company turned up the dial on their rewrites again in mid-August. Depending on whose numbers you look at, Google uses title elements in up to 87% of titles displayed in search results.

Why is Google making this change? Some SEO professionals believe the company is trying to improve the relevance of the text shown to users in search results.

“…we are making use of text that humans can visually see when they arrive at a web page.”
— Danny Sullivan, Public Liaison of Search at Google

SEO-written title tags are often geared towards ranking for a particular keyword or phrase. It appears Google is changing titles in search results based on what they think the page is supposed to be about.

What exactly is Google doing that’s different from before?

Google has published a best practices document, and here is a summary:

  • Removing the site or brand name at the end of a title tag:
    • “Sell Your Cellphone Fast for Cash | We Buy Old Cellphones” could become “Sell Your Cellphone Fast”
  • Location and H1/H2 mashups
  • Obsolete titles with previous years in them may be rewritten
  • Shorter titles than the originals, based around “visible text on the page” such as page headers

We’ve seen Google pull their rewritten titles from actual title tags, H1/H2s, and paragraph tags. Allegedly even internal links or image alt text have been incorporated in rare cases. Google assures us that a webpage’s original title will still be used for ranking purposes even when it’s replaced in SERPs.

Google has described this recent adjustment as a “new system” and independent of the query being searched. Previously, Google might have substantially rewritten the titles for some searches, but less so for others.

Google tends to roll out features and either kill them off (RIP Google Reader) or make them much more critical. Google’s references to its newest changes as a “new system,” could mean this change is here to stay.

We don’t yet know how often Google is pulling the new titles from each on-page element.

If we could say “80% of the time Google is using webpages’ H1s as their new titles,” that would make our attempts to adapt to the new system easier. However, we only have a small sample size of changed titles to use for guidance right now.

We also do not have a clear grasp on key performance indicator (KPI) impact yet. There have been some rumblings about click-through rates (CTR) dropping even though the average position has not changed.

What are we doing about this change at Imaginuity?

  1. We are auditing all client sites for changes in title tags in results. SEMrush tools make scanning sites and finding changed title tags easier.
  2. We are making all clients aware of this change during reporting or touch-base calls.
  3. We are adjusting on-page elements when we do not like the new title tag Google has created. Google has said that title-tag adjustments are “dynamic,” therefore we should be able to quickly adjust impacted title tags and make them work to our advantage.

A famous band once sang, we gotta “roll with the changes.” At Imaginuity we do.

If your business would like help navigating these changes, contact us today!


“Meet the new boss — same as the old boss.” — Roger Daltrey

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About the author:

Jason Channell

SEO Manager Jason Channell brings over a decade of marketing and advertising experience to his role at Imaginuity. Over his career, he’s held leadership positions at several advertising agencies, worked with national and regional brands, and been a guest lecturer on marketing at both SMU and UTA. Combining agency, SEO, and PPC marketing experience allows him to craft insight driven digital marketing strategies that impact organizations in measurable, meaningful and exciting ways.