What did Google change when generating titles for SERP listings?
It’s not news that Google has historically rewritten a page’s meta title in the SERPs when it was missing or vague. However, with recent changes to how these title rewrites are being generated, SEOs have been noticing a difference.
The change that Google has just announced is that they will (caveat: “generally”) stop rewriting title tags based on the specific Query of a given SERP, in favor of generating “titles that work better for documents overall”.
When did Google make the change to how they generate page titles?
Mid-August 2021. The SEO community first started to notice a change around August 18th, with Google’s announcement coming on August 24th (and stating that this change was made in the previous week).
Any listing in Google SERPs where a <title> is not present in HTML or is otherwise considered irrelevant or inappropriate to the query searched. For instance, titles which Google considers to be too long, keyword stuffed, or containing “repetitive, boilerplate” language like “Untitled” or “Home”.
Why does this matter?
Meta titles have always been considered valuable for SEO, both for keyword targeting and for improving clickthrough rate (CTR) from SERPs to your website. Historically, when Google has rewritten a missing or unhelpful page title, it was doing so in response to the query being searched. Theoretically this would support better CTR and lower bounce rate since the titles are offering a better description of the page’s contents in terms which are relevant for searchers.
However, with the new approach focusing more on describing the content of the page overall (and some clunky or even inaccurate wording appearing due to AI-powered rewrites), some SEOs are concerned about the impact on CTR and even rankings.
The impact from poorly optimized title tags can be significant. We had a client recently experience a bug with their site, causing all long tail page titles to be updated to a general, default page title.
Traffic was impacted immediately, with average rank and number of ranking keywords decreasing (due to the decreased long tail targeting).
Once page titles were properly updated after two iterations (green vertical dotted lines in the graph below), our client saw their long tail traffic return as Google recrawled pages with the restored long tail targeted titles.
To avoid Google rewriting your page titles and ensure that your titles are driving optimal benefit, it is important to continue optimizing, maintaining and monitoring your site’s page titles. And while Google may generate their own title for your site’s URLs, they state that they utilize content from the HTML title tags more than 80% of the time.
At Tight Ship we’ve created our own alerting technology and leverage custom data visualization to let us know when page titles have changed significantly and easily see the scale and page types they happened on.
Drop us a line if you’d like to learn more about how we can help you monitor and fix issues like this!