Lily Bowron, SEO Executive at ClickThrough, offers up some thoughts on changes affecting page title tag optimisation for search engines.

You may have noticed recently that Google seems to be altering title tags for branded pages – or rather, it is altering the way that a title tag is displayed, depending on the user’s search query relating to brand searches. This is frustrating when SEOs like us spend a long time writing and optimising TDK’s (Meta Titles, Meta Descriptions and Meta Keywords) to improve search rankings and maximise clickthrough rate.

For example, let’s say that your client sells unicorns (let’s keep it simple), and their page title is a simple, straightforward brand name:

Unicorn Corp

When users search for this brand, the page title would be displayed ‘verbatim’ – using exactly the same text as the search query.

Let’s suppose that your strategy is to show that your client’s website specialises in other mythical creatures, as well as unicorns, and you want to attract a user’s attention with additional title information. In this case, if Google decides to display the text in a different way to your carefully optimised, keyword-rich title, it would be very frustrating. For example, Google may not display the title below as originally optimised:

Unicorns Corp | High Quality Mythical Creatures | Fairy Tale Animals

The question therefore is, to what level do we spend time deliberating over our titles, if Google then decides to veto titles for the best interests of its users relating to brand names? In some cases, I can understand how it could be beneficial if the user was looking for something very specific such as:

Rangemaster Toledo 110 Duel Fuel Stainless Steel Chrome

In this instance, displaying exactly what the user had typed could increase clickthrough rate. But at what point does Google decide to change the Meta Title of a site? If the top 3 search results are all similar selling the same brand or product, would it display the same ‘Google-edited’ title for each of them?

At the moment Google seems to be experimenting with this idea of ‘Title Tailoring’, stating that changes are more common with sites that have left their titles blank – or pages with the title ‘Home Page’, which is not descriptive or useful to the user.

But does this present an unfair advantage to those sites that have not taken the time to optimise specific titles to specific page… ?

Will Google now add search-query influenced titles to these pages if the title tag is left blank… ?

Will this increase the popularity of these sites and result in competitive disadvantages to those sites that have taken the time to submit their own TDK’s…?

THEREFORE… Should we all delete our TDK’s relating to our brands and let Google do the hard work for us…?

Unfortunately – for the moment, at least – there seems to be no clear guide as to if and when Google may change Titles. Despite the efforts of many bloggers, the lack of clear information means that we’re in a ‘blind leading the blind’ situation. In our opinion, Google is experimenting with title tailoring to examine the change in clickthrough rate (CTR) if a branded page’s title tag is changed.

It would, after all, be a logical experiment to examine the CTR of a brand-only title for a home page, versus a title tag edited by Google. We just wish Google would make it clear when it is altering site search results in this way, so we could also measure it too. Otherwise Google is affecting our CTR without informing us, leaving us faltering in the dark, trying to justify any unusual activity. We can only hope that Google’s testing is reaping interesting CTR results, and that – hopefully – they will share these Title-editing gems with us in future.

We will keep you posted on how this testing should alter your search engine optimisation strategy

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About the author:

John Newton has 14 years of strategic marketing experience across Online Display, Search Marketing and TV and Outdoor Advertising, in companies which include Yahoo!, ITV and TNS Global. John has written on blog monetisation for Web Designer magazine and was the editor of ClickThrough’s two books. John is a CIM Chartered Marketer.