May 2, 2014 | Sarah Danks
Yesterday morning while skimming our Twitterfeed I ran across this article. The fact Google can — and does — sometimes supply <title> tags for websites in SERPs isn’t news, but watching the video I got to thinking…can this be a bad thing?
Of course, all search engine optimizers know it’s uber-important to not only create good content, but imperative to label it correctly — <h> tags (especially <h1>) and the <title> tag (among many other factors) need to be descriptive and yet concise. Tell us what’s on the page we’re about to read.
But, what Google can do is choose to “insert” text from a web page — be it an <h> tag, text from the body copy or even (as Matt Cutts alludes to in the video) from incoming link data to that page or the DMOZ listing — to act as a “stand-in” <title> tag. Again, this’ll only show in the SERPs; it’s not as if Google rewrites the code on your website.
But if you write everything correctly and all your “meta data” describes the page really well…what then? Hopefully Google leaves everything the hell alone and doesn’t decide to take your carefully-thought-out <title> tag and replace it with something that “better” matches the search engine user’s query.
And if that happens? Well, the whole point of Google choosing a <title> tag to show in their SERPs is — according to Matt Cutts — to increase the overall search engine user’s experience. The Google doesn’t WANT its users NOT to find websites; they want users to not only find but CLICK on websites.
Because that means their search engine is super-efficient. People find what they’re looking for, will use the search engine and recommend it to all their friends. Set it as their default search engine, yadda yadda. Now, don’t get me wrong — I’m an AVID Google fan. I think the last time I searched on Bing was just for reference to something or because someone told me there was a cool picture of the day over there. And I think there’s another search engine a handful of dedicated people use called…Ya-something? But I digress.
I’m not saying don’t use Google. All I’m saying is, SHOULD Google be choosing a <title> tag to show in a SERP, versus assuming the webmaster is intelligent enough to have supplied one that describes the content on the page?
Now, you might think I’m being a little harsh on The Google. After all, they’re just trying to help. And, not everyone is a super-fantastic webmaster. What about the people who build their own websites on the cheap (think GoDaddy sites) and have no CLUE what a <title> tag even IS?
Well, for those people who haven’t written a descriptive <title> — or, even worse, haven’t put anything between <title> and </title> — this is where this little “service” of Google’s comes in handy. Didn’t write a good <title> tag? No worries — Google will supply one for you if you show up in a SERP. Perfect.
Okay. Now, what about sites that’re gaming this system? Think you can’t fool Google in this day and age? Well, you can, it seems. Why, just this morning while researching a different blog post topic (web design company or ad agency?) I ran across this (seemingly) perfect result in the SERP:
Bam! This result perfectly matched my search (and was worded better than my query, frankly) and so, naturally, I clicked upon it — after all, I trust what I’m being shown here.
Imagine my surprise when, upon landing on that web page, I saw nothing that led me to believe I’d landed upon the correct page…what was all THIS content about? Where’s the answer to my question?
I actually clicked BACK to the SERP to make sure I’d clicked on the correct link (I mean, you know…just in case my mouse slipped or something). Nope, I clicked the “right” link; the page I landed on just did NOT deliver the content I was promised (via the <title> tag, URL and meta description I was led to believe this was a good result).
So I dug a little further. What was the actual, webmaster-written <title> for this page? Turns out, it’s nothing like what showed up in the SERP:
Weird. What’s going on here? Obviously Google chose the <title> for that search. To test it out, I performed ANOTHER search, just to see what would appear:
Iiiiiiinteresting. So when I actually search for this specific company via this specific page (notice I searched for something they have bolded in their copy) along with the exact geographic area I get the actual, written <title> tag in my SERP snippet.
In one last effort to figure out why Google would choose such a non-related <title> to show in their SERP, I checked the DMOZ listing for this site:
As you can see, there’s nothing in the DMOZ listing about “web companies vs. ad agencies.”
In cases like these I don’t think Google choosing the text for the <title> tag is appropriate. In my first search, my query was “matched” in the <title> tag, and the meta description even pulled a relevant bit of text to present in the snippet…but it turns out the page wasn’t relevant to my search at all. In fact, that text only occurred on that page as an after-thought on the bottom with a “read more…” Did I click on the link presented to me? I sure did. Did the web copy fit what I was looking for? Sure didn’t.
Have you run across blatant examples of why Google shouldn’t be choosing their own <title> tags in a SERP snippet?