From Monday 16th August, the SEO community found a number of their page titles across various websites being rewritten by Google. We have known for a long time that Google will often change a page title based on a query but not to the current scale that’s happening at the moment.
How are page titles being changed?
From early findings, Google appears to be writing page titles to match the H1 tag of the page and appending the brand name to the end. However further research has found that the page titles can also be influenced by image alt tags used on the page, internal linking anchor text and in extreme cases completely made up by Google’s algorithm.
What are the effects so far?
From other reports online, the page title rewrites do not have a direct impact on rankings. The change is more for display purposes as outlined by Google’s John Mueller. Whilst it doesn’t affect rankings, WordStream have seen a 37% decrease in click through rate to their ‘free keyword tool’ landing page following the rewrite update. They found that the title had been rewritten to ‘Learn More About the FREE Keyword Tool’ which displayed the incorrect intent for users searching for a free keyword research tool, this was being taken from the H1 tag used on the page. To rectify this they renamed the H1 to ‘Try WordStream’s FREE Keyword Tool’ which matches the user search intent, after submitting the page to be recrawled through Google Search Console the page title then reflected the change and click through rate again improved.
What does this mean for SEO?
We can’t draw any conclusions about this update, this could just be one of Google’s usual A/B tests being run in search results with the intention of scaling the functionality back in the future depending on the results, or it could be an update that remains permanent. For now and as part of any other SEO campaign it’s highly recommended that the header tags (mainly H1) are relevant to the page content and optimised with a focus keyword, alt tags for images correlate to the content of the page and the internal linking used to pages again holds relevancy. As the update doesn’t affect rankings directly but does affect click through rate, it is recommended to keep a close eye on click through rates and general traffic levels to pages following from the update.