Is Google Rewriting Your Title Tags?

Ashley Scharber - October 5, 2021

Over the last several months there’s been a lot of talk in the SEO community about Google showing different title tags in the search engine results page than what website owners provide as their HTML title element.

For example, the HTML title element for a page may be “Content Marketing – MoreVisibility” but Google may choose to show a different title in the search results:

Many noticed H1 headings and other on-page content being used rather than the provided HTML title element.

Google Confirms Changes to How it Generates Title Tags

In August, Google confirmed they’ve made changes to how they generate webpage titles. They confirmed they go beyond the HTML title element and may use content from the page or other text to generate a title tag. They said they look to:

  • The main visual headline or title on the page (H1 heading)
  • Other large and prominent headlines and text on the page (H2 or H3 heading)
  • Other text on the page
  • Anchor text within links that point to the page

They noted they also may add site names, if relevant, and may pull out the most relevant portion of an extremely long title tag to make it more useful.

While this recent change made headlines, this is not a drastic change from how Google has historically generated title tags.

Since 2012 they have gone beyond the HTML title element to use the text on a page in order to provide searchers with a title relevant to their search query. For nearly a decade, Google has changed title tags depending on a searcher’s query if their system determined that the HTML title element didn’t describe the page as well as it could.

This is an update to that system, which Google believes is now better than before at being able to generate title tags that describe a page regardless of the query.

Why Google Might Generate a Different Title

Google shared that this new system is intended to address even more situations than before where an autogenerated title tag is helpful for searchers.

Some of the situations where Google is more likely to generate a title tag include:

  • Half-empty titles
  • Obsolete or outdated titles
  • Inaccurate titles
  • Duplicate or boilerplate titles
  • Very long titles
  • Titles that are stuffed with keywords
  • Missing or empty title tags

Why Should We Care?

In its announcement, Google noted “we are making use of text [to generate titles] that humans can visually see when they arrive at a web page.” They’ve reiterated that this update is intended to “produce more readable and accessible titles for pages.”

As site owners and content creators, it’s critical we keep these things in mind. Google’s goal is to provide the best experience for searchers. That too should be our goal. So long as we aim to provide an HTML title element that is relevant and descriptive of a page, we should hopefully continue to be able to maintain control of the title tags that show for our content within search.

In an update, Google shared that HTML title elements provided by site owners are shown 87% of the time. So, unless they are poorly written, HTML title elements still matter and still show within search more often than not.

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