Google confirms it changed how it creates titles for search result listings

Google has confirmed that the search engine has changed how it creates titles for the search result listings. Google said “last week, we introduced a new system of generating titles for web pages.”

What changed. Previously, Google often used the query the searcher entered into the search box when formulating the title of the search result snippets. But now, Google said “generally” Google “will no longer” use the query when making these titles. Instead, Google has a new system to generate these titles that the company says “describe what they are about, regardless of the particular query.”

Google said it is now “making use of text that humans can visually see when they arrive at a web page.” Specifically, Google is now considering “the main visual title or headline shown on a page.” This is 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, Google explained.

Title tags still primary. Google said for 80% of the results, the HTML title tags are still the primary way it produces titles. Google wrote “HTML title tags is still by far the most likely used, more than 80% of the time.”

Why the change. Google said this “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.”

Industry coverage. So far, this has been covered in our newsletter a couple of times, also both Brodie Clark and Lily Ray covered this in a lot of detail. I covered on my personal blog when this happened, which was on August 17, and how it is unrelated to passage-based ranking.

Google is making tweaks. Google wrote the search company is “already making refinements” to the new title system “based on feedback,” and Google promises to “keep working to make it even better over time.” Google has heard the feedback and is collecting examples of when these titles do not make sense. In fact, Danny Sullivan even said this might lead to more controls within Google Search Console for us to manage our titles in the Google search results better. 

Why we care. If you noticed changes to your click-through rate from the Google search results, it may be related to these changes. Hopefully those change are positive, Google did say the changes should be positive, the company wrote “our testing shows the change we’ve introduced produces titles that are more readable and preferred by searchers compared to our old system.” Although, we have seen some funny and weird examples of titles over the past week or so.

About The Author

Barry Schwartz a Contributing Editor to Search Engine Land and a member of the programming team for SMX events. He owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry’s personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here.

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