Evidence Google is Ignoring the Title Tag

_____ UPDATE _____
So it has been shown to me by my personal mentor, D-Patt, that Matt Cutts discusses this in a video a little while back. The last 30 Seconds of the video speaks to me (obviously), and I would assume to many, since I showed my examples to a number of people who hadn’t seen this before. It talks about how everyone is familiar with Google changing the snippet, or description, but not many webmasters are familiar with the fact that Google will change the Title when necessary.

However, not to be distraught about it, this post leads into a great followup I plan on writing today. Because even though the concept is not new, I think it may be happening more often.

So with that, I leave you with the Matt Cutts’ video, and my own “discovery” of Google changing the Title tags.

____________________


What if Google treated the page title like a meta-description within their results pages? What if they changed it, used content or a header as the title that appeared in the results?

This would be game changing.

And I believe they are already testing the idea.

Is There Another Explanation for This?

I have noticed (more then once and with multiple websites) that Google is NOT displaying the title tag in the SERPs. They are ignoring the page title and providing their own title that they may deem to be more relevant.

I’m not sure why this is happening, I think Google may be just testing the idea. But if it is happening, it could be a scary thought.

Don’t Believe Me? See For Yourself:

Try searching for “Forex Strategy”.

Look at the third result: www.forexstrategysecrets.com

Notice the title in the SERPs: “Forex Trading Strategy.”

Now look at the actual title of the page: “Forex Trading Strategies | Forex System | Forex Trading Course”.

Further insight

When this was first brought to my attention in November, this page didn’t have a title tag and was still ranking on the first page for “Forex Strategy.” When you performed the above search you would get the same results (same title, nearly the same position).

At the same time the results for the term “Forex Trading” had the exact same page but with a different title: “Forex Trading.”

Do you see the problem? Same page, no “meta-title,” but the search results for different keywords returned different titles.

Later that week a title tag was added, but after nearly 2 months Google is still not using the new title in the search results for “Forex Strategy”.

Where did they get that title?

The term “Forex Trading Strategy” is the first part of the H1 heading, and it may be helping to dictate the title. The funny thing is, the term “forex strategy” is not used at all in any of the content of the page. So where is Google getting the title? That, I can’t really answer, and all other examples are completely random as well.

This isn’t the Only Occurrence

I have seen this with multiple sites, in many situations, and in different Google search engines (France, and Malaysia). I’ve noticed it with pages of global eCommerce sites, small tile stores. It’s happened with home pages and deep pages. I have seen the source of the title vary from the URL, an H1 header, or something else where I can’t make the connection.

How would SEO change?

If Google started ignoring our optimized title tags –- the #1 element of on-page optimization –- and treated it like the meta-description, how would that change the way we work? It might be worth thinking about, because the day may be coming.

More than anything else, I think this will increase the importance of on-page relevance, and optimization. I have a second post coming out with more detail on this thought.

What do you think? Anyone else notice this? Does anyone else have an example they would like to share? Please comment.

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32 Comments

    • David Malmborg says

      Yeah, I failed to mention that the Title is showing up in most results with other keywords. In this example it is only the keyword “Forex Strategy” that the title is different.

  1. Ron Ariens says

    We just changed the title tag on our site yesterday and google picked it up just fine. I have a feeling there’s something else going on with the site you were looking at. It could just be a random occurrence.

  2. Scott Smoot says

    This is certainly worth keeping an eye on. I’ve also noticed some interesting results in relation to the title, but it doesn’t seem to be tested or implemented wide spread yet.

  3. Stuart says

    Hi David – this is a very interesting subject that I have been pondering on recently!

    I believe I have a small insight to this from analysis of a few websites that are displaying the attributes you mention…

    A quick summary of my findings: There seems to be a correlation between exact similarities in H1 tag, Page Title and internal anchor text on the page in question AND also the difference in the page Title in relation to the other factors, from what I have seen this is even maybe influenced the external backlink anchor text that is followed to find a new page for the first time!

    I had created a new page that was both internally linked, using the exact same phrase within the H1 tag and also the page was discovered by Google from following an external backlink with the exact same phrase to my new page, the Page Title was missing one of the words from the exact phrase in question and what I found was that when this exact phrase was searched for my ‘optimized’ Title tag was replaced in the SERP with the exact phrase used in all of the above :-)

    Since then I changed the title tag to include the missing word and now the title tag is used in the SERP when searching for the exact phrase!

    I have more points noticed and validated on this but don’t want to swamp the comments area here!

    Would be interesting to hear your thoughts on what I have seen.

  4. Waqas Tasneem says

    i dont think so that google ignore titles, i had seen a tutorial of lynda.com on seo and the instructor was telling that title tag is the most competitive side among all the search results

  5. Fless says

    I am seeing this happen a lot. If you search for “indianapolis colts apparel”, one of my pages shows up in the 3rd spot with the Title “Indianapolis Costs Apparel for Men – FansEdge”.

    If you click through to the actual page on our site, you will see the actual page Title Tag is nothing like that – at all. They are either using our breadcrumb or H1 tag, not sure which… but not the Title Tag.

  6. Christopher Skyi says

    Not a bug and not random. It appears Google is constructing the SERP on the fly as a combined function of the user’s specific search query and what’s on a ranking page.

    For example, one of my pages has these tags:

    Title: Keyword Analysis Service | Increase Online Web Site Traffic | How I work

    Description: “How I work to increase online web site traffic by using keywords with high search usage, KEI & Commercial Intent to bring you qualified visitors.”

    If I use this search query (which is copied from the page’s H1 tag): “How I Find Keywords & Use Copywriting to Create Page Titles & Descriptions”

    I see this title & description in the SERP:

    How I find & use keywords – Words Words SEO Words
    Well, you found this page and you clicked through didn’t you? smiley smile How I Find Keywords & Use Copywriting to Create Page Titles & Descriptions …

    If I use this search query: “Keyword Analysis Service brooklyn,” I get this in the SERP:

    Keyword Analysis Service | Increase Online Web Site Traffic | How …
    A Detailed Real World Example of my Keyword Analysis Service (For One Page) In 4 …. Located in the Fort Green area of Brooklyn, New York

    Finally if I just grab text right off that page and use it as a query, e.g., “I find the best keywords that have high search usage,” I see this:

    How I find & use keywords – Words Words SEO Words
    I use several tools, some free, provided by Google & Microsoft, and some paid, to find keywords. I find the best keywords that have high search usage.

    While a searcher is unlikely to use these queries to find my page, it does give some insight into Google’s long-tail matching algorithm.

    Speculating here, but Google seems to be trying to implement what could be called a ‘cognitive match’ between what the user types and what’s most expected (by what standard, I’m not sure). Google is somehow trying to put on the results page information that is in some kind of cognitive alignment with what the user specifically typed.

    In short,they’re trying to build a “smart” on-fly, highly user query contextualized SERP.

  7. Daniel White says

    Google has never ignored my title tags to know knowledge, but I know some of the titles for websites I visit have been altered from their original.

  8. Christopher Skyi says

    Possibly relevant:

    “Google researcher Steven Baker published a blog post at the Official Google Blog titled Helping computers understand language, where he announced that Google would start including synonyms for query terms in search results when the search engine thought that the synonym was a good match for a query term.”

    see: seobythesea.com/?p=5142 for more details
    and also see: googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/01/helping-computers-understand-language.html

  9. Sean says

    Google works in odd ways and the only response from their side is “wait it out, our bots will crawl your site – takes time” which is truly a pain in the ass.

    I started a blog (with a custom domain) using Blogger in 2010, and while taking the time to set it up, I instructed search engines “not to index”. When it was all complete (early 2011), I instructed for search engines to begin indexing…which almost all have thus far.

    Everything has been crawled/indexed, but on some pages which are fixed (i.e. “About Us”, “FAQ” etc.) Google has put its own title in SERP – despite messing with the Meta-junk forever. For example, the about us page will show up in searches on Google with the title “About Us – Sean” similarly with the FAQ (“FAQ – Sean”)….where Google got my first name from, I have NO idea. It’s no where in the HTML code etc. Meanwhile, every new post I display, the title is picked up fine. At the same time, when I try using online meta analyzers, everything is said to be fine!

    Anyone know whats going on? Or have any advice?

    I’ve tried searching through Google’s forums, FAQs, and blogs; asked for help from their snobbish ‘experts’ as well to no avail. The answer has mostly been the same “uhh….just wait it out.”

  10. says

    I noticed this a few weeks back when I was searching for Internet marketing degree in Google. You will see that the top result (Rasmussen College) Has a completely different title tag than what Google is displaying in the search results.

    Google might be changing things to try to show titles that are more optimal, but I have not seen anything about this change impacting the weight of the Title Tag for on-page optimization. It is something to watch for.

  11. Ant says

    Ok I’ve just re-listen to the vid and now I’ve changed my opinion on weather G uses Title tag for Ranking I think…Not

    Why?

    Well in the vid matts say “we still may use your title for scoring(read ranking)”

    and if you follow the logic of changing the title tag because its poor or uninformative in G eye then how can it be a part of your ranking if G this its poor you would rank poorly, but if the site ranks well and G changed the tag cause it thinks is poor then G hasn’t used it for your ranking.

    ant

  12. mike says

    Im having the same problem with my site. I have h1 tag, and notice that all search engines are using the h1 for page title in serps. I wonder if you change the h1 and put the page title as h1 tag, and leave the page name the same, if it would make a difference in the serps?

  13. Josh says

    Google overrides the homepage title element when people try to stuff it with keywords. Put the site’s real name first, and the keywords after.

    If your site is called “Bob’s Widget Store” and Google knows that, but you make the homepage title element something like this:
    <title>Green Widgets, Blue Widgets, Buy Widgets Online, Cheap Widgets</title>

    Google will override your keywords with what they think the real name of your site is.

    To fix it, put the site’s name first:
    <title>Bob’s Widget Store: Green Widgets, Blue Widgets, Buy Widgets Online, Cheap Widgets</title>

    It has been going on since at least November 2010.

  14. Don Dingee says

    I’ve been looking at this phenomenon for a client and crosschecked page source of everyone who says they have this problem, and there’s one thing in common with all of them. The tag order is:

    While it’s valid HTML, it appears the title is being ignored/replaced by Google if it’s NOT immediately after the – in other words, it needs to be in front of the tags.

    Can anyone confirm or counter?

  15. Jeff R says

    This has been happening to my site for about 3 weeks. Its pretty concerning. Most of my title tags are showing up incorrectly in the SERPS. The weird thing is all of the title tags end with the same phase which is not relavant to the search itself.

    The click through conversion rates is what Im really worried about.

  16. Terrie says

    I have noticed this on pages that I have redundencies. Search "home storage racks" i'm on page 1 but google put "storage products" as second part of the title. My title is…… home storage racks | shop home storage racks and they have changed it to home storage racks | storage products in the SERP. Storage products appears infrequently throughout my site but is the second part of title for my home page. I guess they got it from there? You can see this example at http://www.stacksofracks.com/home-storage-racks-s/23.htm

  17. Chris Maddaloni says

    i noticed this on several clients sites, i notice google sometimes pulled title tags from dmoz, but does anyone know where else they can be pulling them from? I would love to know! i have yet to find out if they are infact pulling it from somewhere , or just changing it to where they see fit.

  18. Robbeh says

    This post and title are very misleading…almost inaccurate. Google isn’t ignoring the title tag, they are simply changing it IF required. Watching the video, Matt is clearly focusing on the fact that Google is paying MORE attention to the Title tag.

    It’s Google simply stating…if you either try and FORCE a misleading title on a user or have no title…chances are we will change it. I am willing to bet, if you don’t keyword stuff the title, repeat the title on multiple pages, and have a lot of relevance throughout the page about the title you use…Google will never change it.

  19. says

    I am having the same thing with a client we are doing SEO for. The results page shows the H1 tag of the page. @Robbeh You make a good point. The multiple usage of this exact keyword phrase on a couple of pages and even blog articles is perhaps causing google to select the most applicable title.

    In addition to this most of the internal linking structure to this page is THAT exact title showing up on the Google results page.

    Food for thought. We are going to test a few changes and see how it pans out.

  20. Tom says

    I’m having the same issue with the search result title is different from my title tag. When I search a keyword phrase such as “granite cleaner” on google, a different title comes up on the results. However, when searching other keywords, the actual title tags shows up.

  21. Mark says

    I have altered some of my title tage recently, just to make them look neater and have more relevant keywords. I have noticed a general shift up in organic rank for these, and most importantly, Google is still dispplaying the title tag in full, as I placed them.

    I guess that relevant tags, that are not too over optimised, will still be used by Google.

  22. Julie Johnson says

    Same thing was happened for one of my website too… I used to make website with all good seo strategies… Title, Description, keywords, h1 tags, h2 tags, h3 tags, alt tags, proper keyword density etc. but i am not able to find solutions for this title changing issue from google. I also tried noodp, noydir tags also, still it is not working. Google was considering my h1 tags as page title so i removed h1 tags from my pages. Because of that, i lost my keyword rankings. As google is now taking title what he wants to show. I am bit confused what to do now.

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