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Trying to stay in control of titles

There’s been anguish in professional SEO circles for a long time about the way in which Google unilaterally rewrites web page titles for its results. What’s the point, they say, in crafting smart, intriguing, on-point titles for a page if Google is going to display something it’s made up?

The reason Google has been doing this is of course data-driven. It believes that it can show a ‘better’ (presumably more clicked-on) title for certain searches than the one we’ve provided. So as owners of the website being displayed, we should be pleased.

The problem is that we don’t like uncertainty. How are our pages being presented in the Google results? We just don’t know. We can only find samples. And that’s unsettling.

However, one pressing question has been answered, and it’s good news. When asked if Google ranks pages on the titles we’ve provided or the ones it shows, the answer is the former. So if we write a page titled ‘Why The Blue Widget Company’s blue widgets are better than red ones’, and Google decides to display a title of ‘Blue widgets from The Blue Widget Company’, the key bit about ‘red widgets’ still gets fed into the algorithm. So that’s something.

As ever, if we keep our titles short and containing good keywords, Google is more likely to use them. The rewriting occurs far more often with titles that are too long to display (i.e. more than 60–65 characters).