Google is rewriting title tags for a limited amount of pages in search results, often replacing the text with a page’s H1 tag.
It’s known that Google adjusts titles in SERPs by making small tweaks, such as appending a business’s name to the end. But now Google is overriding titles with different text.
SEOs started taking notice of this on August 16, as evidenced by tweets mentioning a “massive” title rewrite on Google.
The scale of title rewrites is unknown at this time, but it’s widespread enough for multiple SEOs to come across it already.
Evidence suggests Google is pulling in text from H1 tags for a majority of these rewrites. However, Lily Ray notes that’s she’s seen Google replace a page’s title with anchor text from an internal link.
This is interesting… I think someone posted about this earlier today:
For this article's title in the SERP, Google is not only *not* displaying the <title> tag, it's also not displaying the <h1>.
Instead, it's displaying the anchor text from an internal link to the article. pic.twitter.com/CmQS4Lvgf9
— Lily Ray 😏 (@lilyraynyc) August 17, 2021
Mayank Parmar adds that there are some instances where Google is inserting dates into titles:
For some keywords, Google updated our one article's title to include the date at the beginning. The date was picked from the URL.
It looked something like:
01/08/2021: Article title
I changed the title a bit and it seems to be okay now.
— Mayank Parmar (@mayank_jee) August 17, 2021
In theory, it sounds like Google may choose to grab any relevant text from a page and display it as the title in SERPs. That’s long been the case for meta descriptions, as Google can dynamically adjust the description in search snippets to better match a user’s query.
Brodie Clark suggests that this update isn’t limited to one or two factors. Rather, he hypothesizes Google can algorithmically create any text to use as a page’s title:
“From what I can see, there is no “one factor” involved with this change, with an algorithmic approach designed to create better titles in Google’s search results as a whole. Whether that be taking the new title from a header tag or effectively pulling it out of thin air.”
He goes on to present evidence of Google replacing a title with text found on another page of a website. There’s apparently no limit to where the search engine may pull in title text from.
In addition, Clark notes that when Google rewrites a title it tends to be shorter than the original. This suggests an effort to improve readability and enhance the relevance of a result.
If this is anything more than a live test spotted in the wild, Google should notify SEOs about it sooner than later. I wager there will be at least a few questions about this on Friday’s Q&A with Google’s John Mueller.
What Does This Mean For SEOs?
It’s impossible to draw any conclusions about Google rewriting title tags at this time.
Google is known to run A/B tests in live search results, so it’s possible what we’re seeing will go back to normal in the near future.
On the other hand, we may be seeing the initial stages of a permanent change. Assuming for a second this is how Google will handle titles in search snippets going forward, it could end up being a good thing for websites.
The apparent goal of replacing titles is to enhance the relevancy for searchers. If that’s the case, a more relevant title could be more compelling to click on.
With regards to how concerned you should be about this update, I’ll point to this guidance from Mueller. He states that titles are important, but suggests they’re not worth stressing over:
“Titles are important! They are important for SEO. They are used as a ranking factor. Of course, they are definitely used as a ranking factor, but it is not something where I’d say the time you spend on tweaking the title is really the best use of your time.”
For what it’s worth, I haven’t seen any reports of pages with rewritten titles dropping in rankings. So that’s a good indication this change won’t make SEOs’ jobs any more difficult.