The last weeks of August were characterized by many controversies caused by a renewed Google interventionism on SERPs, in particular in modifying page titles to adapt them to what Google itself thought was right. This situation then resulted in a post with which Danny Sullivan officialized an update on how to generate the titles of the web pages, but the issue continues to hold sway in the international community. To try to put a point is again the search liaison of the US company, which tries to explain what Google has done, the reasons behind the choice and the numbers of changes in the titles.

Google title tags, what is changing among SERPs

Sullivan’s article, published on the Search Central blog, seeks to update SEOs and not only on Google’s work to further refine the title system for search results, which takes place using “HTML title elements (sometimes called title tags) as titles that we show in search results for the vast majority of web page results”.

Curiously, in the last two weeks the external intervention of Google has been reduced: before the changes, in fact, the HTML title tag set by the site was used 80 percent of the time, while now “the elements of the title are now used about 87% of the time” also thanks to feedbacks received.

Modification of title tags on Google

The most surprising fact of all, in this controversy, was probably the surprise (forgive the repetition) resulting from the fact that Google changes the titles of pages that indexes and ranks. We know for years, in fact, that the algorithm of the search engine can intervene in this sense, completely distorting the title we have set – and sometimes even the meta description can be modified – to adapt the preview snippets to what the user is looking for at that time, and then to increase the opportunities to click on the result.

Indeed, Sullivan also recalls that “since 2012 we have been using text in addition to title elements in cases where our systems determine that the title element may not describe a page as it should“, and there are a number of reasons that push Google to change title tags and not to use them in 100 percent of the cases.

Why does Google change titles in SERP?

“Some pages have empty titles; some sites use the same titles on each page regardless of the actual content of the page; some pages have no titles“: the one made by Danny Sullivan is a quick and partial list of errors with titles and cases in which Google needs to take control and insert an effective title for the page placed in SERP.

It is here that comes into play the new system of title generation, designed to address even more situations in which it might be useful to go beyond the title element entered manually in the HTML code. In particular, the article points out “some examples of things that [the algorithm] detects and for which it adjusts, which are based on real problems that we see in the trillions of pages that we list”, and clarifies that changes to titles “are largely designed to help compensate for problems that site owners might not realize they have with their titles”.

  • Half-empty titles

A half-empty title often occurs when large sites use templates to create titles for their Web pages, but something is missing. The template could first insert a summary of the page in the title, followed by the name of the site, but in semi-empty titles often lacks the initial part – the summary of the content – and this generates a situation like this:

| Name of site

The Google system is designed to detect half-empty titles and correct them by looking at “information in the header elements or other large and prominent text on the page”, creating a title in line with what the site itself probably intended to happen, such as this:

Product Name | Site Name

  • Obsolete titles

Google defines “obsolete titles” those that occur when the same page is used year after year for recurring information, but the title element has not been updated to reflect the most recent date. An example is the following for a page on admission to a university:

Admission criteria 2020 – University of Awesome

The online page has a large and visible H1 title that says “Admission criteria 2021” but, for some reason, the title item has not been updated to the current date: Google “detects this inconsistency and uses the correct date” inserted in the H1 field to modify the title tag in

Admission criteria 2021 – University of Awesome

  • Inaccurate titles

Sometimes the headlines “do not accurately reflect the topic of a page“. For example, the page could have a dynamic content with a title element like:

Giant stuffed animals, teddy bears, polar bears – Site name

It is reasonable, the article says, that people “expect to find on the page these products quoted”, but in reality “this is a static title for a page with content that changes dynamically“, and therefore “these products might appear sometimes, but in other cases not”.

The algorithm “tries to understand if the title does not accurately show what a page is about”, and in these cases could modify the title to give way to the user to better know what to expect, such as with the more generic

Stuffed Animals – Site Name

  • Micro-boilerplate titles

Boilerplate titles – which refer to the common practice now flown in the black hat SEO – are quite easy to detect, because they provide for the repetition of the same title on all or almost all pages within a site. The micro-boilerplate titles are those in which the elements of the boilerplate title appear within a subset of pages within a site. As Sullivan explains “Google detects and helps in such cases, just as it does with the standard title elements in general”.

For example, if we consider an online discussion forum on TV shows, there might be areas for different shows, and then again for each show, and then there might be areas for threads for individual seasons. The elements of the title microboilerplate appear in the pages of the season: they omit the numbers of the season, so it is not clear which page is for which season, and this produces duplicate titles like these:

My so-called amazing TV show

My so-called amazing TV show

My so-called amazing TV show

The Google system “is able to detect the number of the season used in the text of the main headline and insert it in the title”, thus generating more useful title tags such as:

Season 1 – My so-called amazing TV show

Season 2 – My so-called amazing TV show

Season 3 – My so-called amazing TV show

Google’s advice on title creation

Sullivan’s intervention also offers some cues to site owners and SEO operators to create title tags with more opportunities to be proposed without changes in SERP and “encourage Google to show HTML titles”.

The main advice remains to focus “on creating elements of the title HTML of great quality“, which are “by far the ones we use the most”.

Thanks to the examples provided in the post, it should then be easy to identify any erroneous patterns that may induce Google to change the title and form a new one through the analysis of other elements on the page: solve such situations and “making changes can help ensure that the title element is used again”, which is Google’s preference according to what it writes publicly.

In conclusion, Sullivan explains that “no system for the production of titles will be perfect“: on the one hand, Google can not rely 100% on the use of HTML elements inserted by sites, for the reasons set out, but is also aware that “not even our system of titles is perfect”, and for this reason the work to improve the generation of title tags on Google is still ongoing, with the aim of always providing users of the search engine a title that incentives to click on the ranked result.