Is Google Changing the Search (Meta) Title of Your Web Page?
Perform a random Google search, and your first impression of any search listing that pops up is determined by what you see in the title tag. for this reason alone, marketing agencies, content writers, and SEO specialists spend countless hours and resources formulating and optimizing title tags that grab your attention and rank well in Google search results.
However, recent events suggest that Google may be rethinking what Google searchers actually see in the title tag. Lately, there have been numerous reports of people seeing the page heading (title of the page) instead of the title tag. You may be asking yourself, What’s the difference between the page heading (title) and the title tag? More importantly, why does it matter which appears first in a Google search.
What is a Title Tag?
Also known as a meta title, the title tag is a web page title that writers and developers place in key areas on your page, such as an HTML code, browser title bar, or search engine result page (SERP). In terms of Google searches, the title tag is usually the first title of any kind on the page that searchers notice.
For example, let’s say you typed in ‘Ford Dealership in Terre Haute, Indiana.’ This listing may end up in your Google search results:
Which part of this listing sticks out the most? Naturally, the title tag, ‘Mace Ford: New and used Ford dealership in Terre Haute.’ That same title may appear in multiple places on the web page. However, it makes a powerful first impression as a title tag.
What is the Page Heading?
It is important to understand the distinction between the title tag and the page heading. We’ll cover why in a minute. In the meantime, the page heading (formerly known as ‘H1’) is the title at the top of the page that you read after you click on the listing link that redirects you to the page. Let’s use the same example above. What happens when you click on the Mace Ford listing? It redirects you to this page:
Once again, what is the first text you notice on the page - the title, ‘Want to Sell Your Vehicle? We Want to Buy It!’
Assuming that the words are actually written content and not part of the image, those words are your page heading or H1.
What Would Happen If You Switched the Title Tag and the Heading?
The current issue with Google is that searchers see the page heading instead of the title tag in the search results. This may not seem like a big deal at first. However, you would eventually notice the problem. Once again, consider the example above with Mace Ford. There are several reasons why the Title Tag is worded one way and the heading is worded another.
From a content perspective, one of the most important elements in optimizing your web page is making sure you have keyword-rich titles. Second, you may want to add your target location, which is often part of the keyphrase, in your title. Third, you may want to consider adding the name of your company or another keyword-rich phrase. All three of these are in the title tag, which makes it ideal for Google rankings. Notice that NONE of them are in the heading.
Google only allows so much space in your title tag before the word disappears. Ideally, you want 50 to 60 characters in the tag, so that the entire title fits in the search listing. This is especially important in your main website pages (home page, problem pages, main menu pages, etc.). Looking at the example above, the title tag is 54 characters long (including spaces). Surprisingly, the heading only takes up 45 characters (including spaces). So, it would fit nicely in the title tag. However, there’s another issue here.
The heading ‘Want to Sell Your Vehicle? We Want to Buy It!’ is both exciting and engaging. It creates a lot of energy and makes the reader want to scroll down. However, the phrase says very little about the company, its name, its location, and its location. By contrast, the title tag compacts all of this information into less than 60 characters.
So, Why is Google Switching the Title Tag and H1?
Google released a statement last week (click HERE to read it) on how they will begin generating web page titles. This part is a bit confusing, so we’ll simplify as best as we can.
In the past, Google has been known to alter both title tags and meta descriptions for various reasons. Research has suggested that up to 25 percent of title tags and descriptions are completely changed for reasons such as length, duplication, errors, false descriptions, clickbait, and keyword stuffing. Google saw the need to change this system.
With that in mind, Google has also gone beyond crawling a page for just keywords. Now they are crawling the entire page, matching the perceived searcher’s intent with the overall message of the page within the relevant context. This approach, which was focused more on the on-page content, has now spilled over into title tags. To quote Google,
“...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.”
This means that Google is now considering all page elements to formulate a final title for the page: HTML text, meta title, meta description, heading, and the page content. However, with all those elements, Google may prioritize the heading when creating the title tag simply because it is the most visual title or headline shown on a page.
That is why you may see your page heading in the title tag instead of seeing the original title tag in the title tag.
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