Google’s Title-Tag Update Shakes Up Rankings

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Google has officially confirmed it has updated the way it generates web titles in search results.

“Last week, we introduced a new system of generating titles for web pages. Before this, titles might change based on the query issued. This generally will no longer happen with our new system. This is because 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.”

Danny Sullivan, Google’s public search liaison

Since the change, Google has documented the new system of generating web page titles, emphasising the focus on user experience and directing users with targeted searches to specific answers quicker, without the need to scan through pages.

This will be done by replacing web page titles with other on-page text:

“Also, while we’ve gone beyond HTML text to create titles for over a decade, our new system is making even more use of such text. In particular, we are making use of text that humans can visually see when they arrive at a web page. We consider the main visual title or headline shown on a page, content that site owners often place within <H1> tags, within other header tags, or which is made large and prominent through the use of style treatments.”

Danny Sullivan, Google’s public search liaison

When deciding if the web page title is the best fit for the searcher, other text contained in the page may now be considered by Google. This will be displayed by using text within links pointing at pages.

This will happen in cases when Google decides that other text on the page describes what a page is about better than a page’s HTML title tag. This comes just months following the June Google core algorithm update, that put content quality at the very centre of user page experience.

Google’s public search liaison, Danny Sullivan, claimed that title tags don’t always describe a page well because they can either be:

  • Too long
  • Stuffed with keywords
  • Contain no text or boilerplate text (copy that can be reused in new contexts or applications without significant changes to the original)

“Overall, our update is designed to produce more readable and accessible titles for pages. In some cases, we may add site names where that is seen as helpful. In other instances, when encountering an extremely long title, we might select the most relevant portion rather than starting at the beginning and truncating more useful parts.”

Danny Sullivan, Google’s public search liaison

Does this mean that title tags are no longer important in SEO?

Just because Google is taking a different approach to generating web page titles, does not mean optimising HTML title tags is any less important in terms of SEO.

Sullivan has said original HTML title tags will still be used over 80% of the time and has prompted that his advice following the update is still to ‘focus on creating great HTML title tags.’

Despite the recommended continued SEO focus on title tags, will there be an option that will give us control over keeping our title tags? Not yet, but potentially there will be soon.

Sullivan has stated that he wants page owners to have options available to preserve page titles. He suggests there should be a feature in Search Console where you can tell Google not to replace the HTML title tag of specific pages, however, there’s no confirmation as of yet that this feature will be applied.

What can you do to keep your SERP rankings following the title tag update?

As discussed, title tags should still remain a key factor to the SEO maintenance of your site and since there is presently no way to opt-out of the title-tag update, the best thing to do is to make sure all title tags on your site accurately represent what the page is about.

Aside from this, you can also focus on your site content.

Since the content of your web page is the other factor in what Google chooses to present the searcher first on the results page, ensure your content provides clear answers and information to fit any queries around your topic. Remember, question-related searches are a significant part of the overall searches Google receives every day.

These questions can come in all kinds of forms. Whether it’s long-answer questions, short-answer questions or direct-answer questions, so be sure to do your research on what searchers are asking around your topics. You can research this by looking through Google predictive search options, SEO tools such as Answer The Public or SEMRush.

Headlines, introductions and content quality should also be taken into account, such as word count, value, originality, user experience across devices and including links to authoritative sites to support your information.

If you need a hand in improving your organic rankings, read more about our SEO services or get in touch with the team to discuss further.