Google Replacing Page Titles in Search Results With On-Page Headings

When Bing launched, one of the interesting things they did to make the organic search results appear more relevant was to use link anchor text to augment page titles (where relevant). This would mean if people searched for a phrase that was mostly in your title (but maybe your page title was missing a word or 2 from the search) then Bing might insert those words into the page title area of your listing if they were in some of the link anchor text pointing into your page.

Before being switched over to Bing, Yahoo! would sometimes display the H1 heading as the clickable link to your site (rather than the page title). Bing also uses on page headings to augment page titles.

Historically if Google has thought it would appear more relevant to searchers, sometimes they have shown a relevant machine generated piece of your page displaying those keywords in context rather than the meta description in the snippet, but typically Google has been far more conservative with the page titles. Sometimes Google would list the ODP title for the title of a page, most until recently they have generally typically just listed the page title as the clickable link to your site.

Recently Google has grown more experimental on this front, being willing to use link anchor text and on-page headings as part of the listing. In addition, if the page title is short, Google may add the site's name at the end of the title.

Here is an example in Google of the page title being replaced by part of an on-page heading & also showing the site's name being added to the end of the link

And here is the associated on-page heading for the above

I have also seen a few examples of the link anchor text being added to the page title in Google, however it was on a client project & the client would prefer that I didn't share his new site on an SEO blog with 10's of thousands of readers. :D

Last November Matt Cutts recently did a video on the topic of Google editing the page titles for relevancy & how it was a fairly new thing for Google. Even back then Google was quite conservative in editing the clickable link ... I think they have only grown more aggressive on that front in the past month or so.

Published: November 1, 2010 by Aaron Wall in google


November 2, 2010 - 4:21pm

It's annoying that they do this because the whole point of the title tag is to show the title of the page and what it's about, but they go and change it to something they think might be better. Whenever this happens it sort of defeats the point of optimising the title at all.

But hey-ho, if it helps you find the site you're looking for, who am I to complain?

November 2, 2010 - 5:32pm

I can't help being a little hesitant about regarding the example given as typical. Couldn't the exclamation point after the word, Yahoo be a kind of stop sign for a search engine? It seems like the intended title could have been otherwise displayed in the SERP.

Dave Keys

November 3, 2010 - 1:10am

I think they interpreted that ! as a break between sentences.

I wasn't using the example as a perfect how to ... but mainly just to have an example to share, because it showed a couple different variations from 1 site in 1 search result.

Brian Valentine
November 3, 2010 - 5:55am

I read the post and got the essence of this. I would like to say that if its happening then nothing is wrong with avoiding the spammers as what they do generally create the landing pages with duplicating the content. Hence they just try to stuff there key phrases within their titles so this might be the case of blocking them but at the same time the best step of improvement in SERP's ranking could be top class deep back-linking.

November 3, 2010 - 4:17pm

If our Web site content and everything about it is super well and relevantly written, Googles title adjustment program will probably not effect our snip-it anyway.
And if Googles adjustment program does visit and adjust our title, consider it a free analynic tool.
Consider that perhaps your title isn't as relevant as it could be in relation to your site entire site content.

Actually if your the landing page from the snip-it isn't as relevant as it should be in relation to your product or service offer, then your less likely to convert the visitor to a sale.

So if you're hit with the snip-it bug, take a good, long, hard look at your landing page and the balance of your site. Is it "Super" relevant to the snip-it?

November 10, 2010 - 2:54pm

Maybe this is old news, but I just noticed yesterday that Google was also changing the text below the clickable title link.

Depending on the search term used, I saw it use the meta description, the first sentence of the body text, and even a relevant sentence in the middle of the body text. Actually, I kind of liked it, because in my examples it drew more attention to my keyword.

November 10, 2010 - 6:20pm

They have done that for a long long time. Keywords in context is probably something they have done for maybe even longer than I have been in the field of SEO.

December 7, 2010 - 12:15pm

Just had this happen today. Google changed the Title Tag on every keyword that ranks for the Homepage to the Alt Text on the banner at the top of the Homepage. I can optimize by just changing the Alt Text on that image, but that's odd. Even more odd -- every keyword that ranks for the Homepage returns NO DESCRIPTION. Nothing but the green URL below. Makes for a very thin listing. Anybody have any ideas as to how to get the description to show?

December 7, 2010 - 2:09pm

Are you using a meta description? Have you viewed the Google text cache version of your page?

December 7, 2010 - 9:15pm

Hi Aaron,

Yes I do have Meta Description Tags and 2 or 3 days ago Google was using them. The other thing that is odd is that the blue "Cached" link doesn't show. The only thing there is the blue "Similar" link.

When I run the site command, all of the interior pages show the "Cached" link, not the Homepage. They've all been cached within the last 10 - 14 days.

All of my keywords rank and are improving as intended.

Also, interior pages that rank are rendered fine.

We did disallow in Robots.txt Product Query Strings that are created by the product search function.

Maybe Googlebot is having trouble adjusting and this will work itself out.

December 8, 2010 - 9:01pm

There's no doubt in my mind that the roll out of the New Places Search is affecting Search Results and CTR or both Organic and PPC listings. This might be the culprit as to why my listings are being returned with no Description Tag.

I'm still searching for an answer.

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.