Google updated the Search Central guidelines for controlling how it displays title tags in search. The update didn’t change the guidance itself, but it did make it substantially more straightforward and removed multiple ambiguities in the wording that made it difficult to understand.
Google Changes Title Tags
Title tags are meta elements whose purpose is to describe what a web page is about. They are also ranking factors.
For that reason, many publishers use the title tag to indicate what keyword phrases they want the webpage to be relevant for.
Google shows title tags in the search results pages (SERPs), which makes using keyword phrases in the title tags even more important.
Google rewrote title tags for years if its algorithms identified more descriptive text than the publisher provided.
The title tag rewrite feature in the search results dramatically increased in the summer of 2021, causing anguish in the publisher and search marketing communities. Many reported decreases in search traffic attributed to Google having rewritten their title tags.
One study reported that more than 61 percent of the search results featured rewritten title tags.
Changes To Guidance On Title Tags
On October 08, 2021, Google published unique guidance on controlling title tags, titled, Control your title links in search results (Archive.org snapshot of original guidance here).
The updated title tag guidance changes clarify what they meant when using the word “headline.”
The word “headline” is ambiguous because it could mean either the title at the top of the webpage or a reference to the HTML heading element (H1, H2, H3).
As it turns out, the original version of the guidance used the word “headline” to mean both the title at the top of the webpage and as a reference to the HTML heading element (H1, H2, H3, etc.).
While the title at the top of the page is usually a heading element, the new version of the guidance is more precise, as shown below.
Here is the original version:
“Make it clear which headline is the main headline for the page.”
This is the updated version of the guidance:
“Make it clear which text is the main title for the page.”
Here’s a section from the following sentence of the original version:
“…and it can be confusing if multiple headlines carry the same visual weight and prominence.”
The newly clarified version:
“…and it can be confusing if multiple headings carry the same visual weight and prominence.”
The original version of the third updated sentence:
“Consider ensuring that your main headline is distinctive from other text on a page and stands out as being the most prominent on the page (for example, using a larger font, putting the headline in the first visible <h1> element on the page, etc).”
The updated version of the same sentence:
“Consider ensuring that your main title is distinctive from other text on a page and stands out as being the most prominent on the page (for example, using a larger font, putting the title text in the first visible <h1> element on the page, etc).”
As you can see, the clarification makes a big difference in making the intent of the guidance easier to understand.
The last change is to the part that describes what Google uses to determine the wording in a title link displayed in the search results.
This is the original:
“Main visual title or headline shown on a page”
The updated version:
“Main visual title shown on the page”