Everyone knows the importance of the page title in the Google search results. A great title can result in higher click-throughs and more traffic to your site, while a poorly crafted title can cause people to skip over your sites and visit one of your competitors.
So how does Google determine exactly what they will use for the title of your page in search results? Is it influenced by schema? Is this influenced by certain headings (H1s or H2s)? Why won’t Google just show your title tag?
In his most recent webmaster help video, Google’s Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts explains why Google changes your titles.
Some webmasters don’t realize that Google doesn’t only show exactly what’s in the title tag for a particular webpage. Google changing titles isn’t new. There are a few reasons why Google will choose a title other than what the webmaster decides to put in the title tag.
“Whenever we try to choose the title or decide which title to show in the search results, we are looking for a concise description of the page that’s also relevant to the query,” Cutts explained.
Google looks for three things:
- Something relatively short.
- A good description of the page and ideally the site that the page is on.
- That it’s somehow relevant to the query.
“So if your existing HTML title fits those criteria, then often times the default will be to just use your title,” Cutts said. “So in an ideal world it will accurately describe the page and the site, it would be relevant to the query, and it would also be somewhat short.”
Not all webmasters write great titles for search engines though. Or sometimes you wonder why Google chose an odd – or even completely inaccurate – title for a webpage, when it isn’t in the title tag or the page’s title.
There are the other ways Google picks a title for a page in their search results, Cutts said.
“Now if your current title, as best as we can tell, doesn’t match that, then a user who types in something and doesn’t see something related to their query or doesn’t have a good idea about exactly what this page is going to be, is less likely to click on it. So in those kinds of cases we might dig a little bit deeper,” Cutts said.
“We might use content on your page,” he said. “We might look at the links that point to your page and incorporate some text from those links. We might even use the Open Directory Project to try to help figure out what a good title would be. … We’re looking for the best title that will help the user assess whether that’s what they’re looking for.”
Cutts also said how you can try and tailor your titles for those keywords you feel a searcher is going to search for.
“So if you want to control the title that’s being shown, you can’t completely control it, but you can try to anticipate what’s a user going to type,” Cutts said. “So make sure your title reflects not only something about that query or the page that you’re on, but also includes the site you’re on or tries to give some context to the user knows what they’re going to get whenever the clicking on it.”