I’ve spent many years encouraging readers to spend time creating really good titles for every page on their websites, because these appear in the search engine results exactly as we write them.
Or at least, that used to be the case.
Google has frequently been rewriting them on the fly for a while now, but it’s becoming increasingly common. One study claims to have found that Google rewrote 61.6% of the titles!
I can’t see anything like that number of changes, but my tests have been very limited.
The first thing to recognise is that Google would only set its algorithms to rewrite titles if it thought they’d get more clickthroughs, so in that sense we shouldn’t worry. However, if we’ve spent a lot of time creating great titles, it’s our competitors who haven’t made any effort who will be getting the rewriting ‘benefit’.
We’d probably prefer to have the Google results showing our own titles though. Most of us like that control. So how can we give our titles the best chance?
I’d suggest the main technique is to write titles of a perfect length: more than 50 characters, but no more than 60.
Indeed, ‘too-short’ titles may be the case where Google rewrites them most often. I found the shortest one on this blog, a page with the title “So What?”, and Google just padded it out in the results with the website name:
I’d also expect Google to be (at last!) rewriting titles which use excess capitalisation, non-standard characters and the like. I’ve long found its acceptance of these to be irritating. Finally, I believe that a lot of the ‘rewriting’ only involves cleaning up non-alphanumeric characters. There are claims that the ‘pipe’ symbol (‘|’) so beloved of titles auto-generated by content management systems is frequently being changed to something more normal, such as a dash.
We’ll all have to do our own research on what’s happening to our sites, but the advice remains as ever: if we write nice, explanatory and attractive 50–60 character titles, created specifically for each page, we should be alright.