Google likes to keep the SEO industry on its toes and around the 16th of August they released a new update which has seen many SEOs up in arms about it.
This new update is focused not on changing the rankings of pages but instead on changing the title in the search result snippet that the user sees when searching:
Historically, but not always, Google has used the HTML title tag text as the wording for the title of the search snippet. Following the introduction of this new update, Google is now choosing to change it to make it more appealing to the user and in line with that they have searched for.
HTML title tags are mainly used for SEO purposes to define the subject of the page. Sometimes these can be quite long or appear to be ‘unnatural’ because they have been written in a way that makes them better from an SEO perspective instead of from a user perspective.
Therefore, it makes sense that Google would want to show the user a more friendly title to click on. For example, let’s search for “removals company Manchester”:
We can see that the title is shown as “Removals Company Manchester | Pickfords”. This is exactly what we are looking for and the brand name is also included.
However, the actual title tag for the page is this:
Removals Manchester | Removals Company Manchester | Pickfords
Google has chosen to remove the initial part assuming that the middle part is more applicable to the search query and more useful to the user. It’s interesting to note, however, that when searching for “removals Manchester” Google is still choosing to show “Removals Company Manchester” in the title snippet:
Does Google now deem it unnecessary to have “Removals Manchester” in the title tag in this particular case?
In most cases, however, Google is choosing to display the main H1 heading tag as the title in the snippet. Take this search as an example:
The actual title tag of the page is this:
Plumbing and Domestic Heating qualifications and training courses | City & Guilds
Google has taken the main heading of the page to display as the title in the search result:
In this case, it is strange that this heading has been used as it doesn’t actually mention “training courses” which is what we searched for. Possibly the actual title tag would have been better in this case?
What’s the big deal?
If this doesn’t alter the rankings of pages then what’s all the fuss about?
The reality is that this change can have an impact on the click-through rates from search results. Users typically scan search results quite quickly, looking for the result that will give them the best answer to their query.
If the text snippet has changed then it means that the link displaying the title may attract less or more clicks to it.
There are many SEOs posting screenshots of the negative impact of this update but, as with any update, there are always winners and losers.
Google will keep tweaking this update as it’s not yet working quite as it should do in all cases, but the important thing is not to panic.
We’ve seen SEOs frantically changing titles and headings, which is a big mistake. Pages generally have multiple queries that they can rank for and the snippet title may change relative to the search query. This update may positively impact some search results and negatively impact others.
We will be reviewing the rewriting of title tags for all of our clients once there is enough data to make a reasonable judgement on click-through rates as a result of the update.
Could this be the start of Google’s move away from focusing on HTML title tags for ranking purposes? Title tags do make a difference in page rankings but users rarely see them. Change doesn’t happen fast in this industry but perhaps this is the start of the decline of the title tag….
If there’s one good thing that’s come out of this update it’s that it stopped most SEOs from talking about Core Web Vitals for a change!