Why Is Google Changing Your Page Titles?

Over the past couple months we’ve gotten a lot of emails from clients, non-clients and what I can only assume are very confused innocent bystanders in regards to their title tags showing up oddly in SERPs. After many years of Google showing exactly what you put in your title tag, suddenly things were changing.

What Exactly Are We Seeing?

Historically, putting your primary keywords at the front of your title tag was seen as the smart way to signal to Google what the primary keyword were for that page. At Netvantage, we’ve always favored adding the brand name to the end of the page title to raise brand awareness, but it seems Google even thinks that’s not good enough. Why? Well, we’ve seen a rash of page titles rewritten by Google. Most recently we’ve seen two main variations.

1. The DMOZ rewrite. If you’re not familiar with DMOZ, it’s the largest and best directory on the web and Google owns it. I had a web development company contact me the other day trying to figure out why their law firm client’s page title was showing up in Google with several names that haven’t been attached to the firm (or were in the page title) for several years. My first thought – Google was pulling it from DMOZ. If you’re listed in the internet’s largest hand edited directory, Google tends to trust the information there. If, for whatever reason, Google decides that your page title’s not up to snuff or seems spammy, they may just replace yours with information from the directory. Obviously, if you’re in a situation such as this law firm this is less than ideal.

So now you’re asking, “How do I get Google to stop using DMOZ’s description?”

There’s an easy fix for this issue, however. You just need to add a line of code to your home page to tell Google not to pull your site’s data from DMOZ. Just add the code below above your </head> tag:

<meta name=”robots” content=”NOODP” />

That tells Google’s crawler that you don’t want information pulled from the directory and the next time you get crawled that title will be gone.

2. The other issue here is more recent and more difficult to understand. As I said earlier, we like to put the brand name on the tail end of our page titles, but more recently we’ve seen Google taking the brand name and putting it in the front of their title in the search results. So, for example, if your title is “Widget Manufacturer Springfield USA | Bob’s Builders”, Google is likely to start displaying it as “Bob’s Builders: Widget Manufacturer Springfield USA”.

It would appear that Google is using various signals to decide what your brand name is and once they’ve determined it they want users to know that up front – and that’s why they’re sticking it at the beginning of your search results.

“So how do I fix it?” 

From what we’ve seen so far, you don’t. In fact, in VERY limited experience thus far it seems that moving your brand name to the front of your page titles can actually be beneficial to your rankings rather than having Google do it for you. At least that’s what our own Mike Hall seems to have seen thus far. Hopefully he’ll update us with more data soon.

“What does it all mean?”

To be honest? We don’t know yet. This wouldn’t be the first time that Google has thrown a curveball at the SEO world and then retracted it out of nowhere. All we can really do at this point is keep measuring and learning from the research of everyone else who takes the time to experiment and measure. Oh…it’s a crazy time to be an SEO.

Adam Henige

Adam Henige is Managing Partner of Netvantage Marketing. Adam heads the SEO and link building efforts for Netvantage and has been a contributing blogger for industry publications like Search Engine Journal and Moz.

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