There’s a huge furore in the search community right now and it’s all about how people’s businesses are being shown in the SERPs (search engine results pages), Google have been quick to respond requesting feedback around specifics.
SEO and marketing types noticed that things were a little awry in terms of how results were being shown. Many recounted instances of poorly returned listings whereby Google had taken an aspect of a page; a heading, text stylised to be big and replaced the main title tag.
As Danny Sullivan of Google pointed out on Twitter, title rewriting is nothing new and Google have done this for years.
So why the big deal now? Well, some of the examples produced by the SEO community were little short of laughable. They’d had massive impacts on CTR (click through rates) and were therefore, really damaging to the businesses affected.
In a further tweet, Danny Sullivan said that the feedback was welcome and the comments and examples would be passed on to the team.
So why would they do this?
Danny posited various reasons on Twitter generally citing how some webmasters forget to update page title tags or produced titles full of keywords or other poorly written constructs.
“Stuffed” with keywords, because creators mistakenly think adding a bunch of words will increase the chances that a page will rank better.
Lack title tags entirely or contain repetitive “boilerplate” language. For instance, home pages might simply be called “Home”. In other cases, all pages in a site might be called “Untitled” or simply have the name of the site.
At the face of things you’d kind of understand if this were the case and due to our inability to see data from inside the black box, it’s difficult to determine if this is widespread. Lots of anecdotes flew about citing how page titles weren’t really an issue prior, especially in the mature SEO space whereby practitioners targeting competitive SERPs are very much on their “on page SEO” game, particularly around high volume queries and ensuring that opportunities for CTR are maximised.
Danny also mentioned that they no longer change titles based on queries either, saying that:
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.
Barry has a more in depth look at that piece here.
Personally, I am surprised by this aspect as I can certainly envisage a scenario whereby a text heavy page that contains a very specific piece of info is returned and yet the page title isn’t as relevant than it otherwise may be. A rewrite in this regard can often have a positive impact on CTR, especially if an adjunct relevant heading is used.
This is by no means easy of course as HTML and page structures differ radically across the web, but it’s potentially worth doing as it’s difficult to truly convey the subtleties of a large information page in a singular page title.
It’s inevitable too that when a big corporation that exists for shareholder value does something that disrupts business visibility so drastically, that people will wonder around the motives.
Some might think that this is really about actually damaging organic CTR so that users will be drawn to the higher visual relevancy of PPC results upon the page. This is further compounded by the fact that DKI (Dynamic Keyword Insertion) aside Google seldom if ever rewrite the page titles of their advertisers carefully crafted ad text.
So, it’ll be an interesting one to watch. The relationship between Google and webmasters is often a strained delicate balance between its desire to make even more money than it does, and the needs of businesses and publishers who make that all possible.
I don’t write about SEO stuff much anymore, (it’s been 4 years) as there’s people far better equipped to do so than I, but this IS important. Google have to step up and either stop doing this so juggernaut like or give webmasters and businesses the ability to opt out of decisions that affect their businesses. SEO is a valid part of how the web works and Google has a duty to behave responsibly towards all of their users and content producers. Businesses that aren’t taking proper care of their on page SEO will soon notice when their rankings or CTR’s plummet, so put the onus back on the webmasters.
This Poll below tells the tale…