A recent study conducted by Zyppy.com discovered that 61% of title tags were rewritten by Google in organic search results. My first reaction to that finding was, “Holy Switch-a-roo Batman!” My second reaction was to read the rest of the article and determine the best way forward.
Thankfully, a few themes did emerge, so let’s discuss them first. Then we’ll dive into the fun part, which is learning how to examine your website’s title tags to see the extent to which Google’s been meddling with your own SEO efforts.
Common Reasons Google Rewrites Title Tags
Zyppy.com reviewed a total of 80,959 title tags, so obviously there were a myriad of reasons for Google to intervene with what was written; however, the following elements or tactics seemed to trigger rewrites the most often:
- Title length: too long or too short
- Repetitive use of a keyword
- The use of (parentheses) or [brackets]
- Title tag separators like | and –
- The use of templated or boilerplate title tags
- An exclusion of or an excessive use of a brand name
So like just Goldilocks, Google is really looking for your title tags to be just right.
How to See Your Website's Current Title Tags
There’s a handful of ways you can check the title tags for each page of your website, here’s three of them:
- Log into your website’s backend editor and check the title tag field for each page.
- Right click on a page, select “View Page Source,” then do Ctrl+F (on a PC) or Command F (on a Mac) to find the title tag field among the code. (It’ll be towards the top.) Repeat for each page.
- Use a Chrome extension like SEO META in 1-CLICK to easily see a page’s title tag in literally one click. *This is our favorite method, especially if you plan to review title tags in bulk.
Of course, seeing what’s been set as the title tag for any given page is only half the story, now it’s time to cross check it with what’s being shown in Google’s search results.
How to See What Your Website's Title Tags Look Like in Search
Use the site: command trick to see what Google is actually displaying in search for each page by Googling “site:[URL]” just like that, no space between the colon and the web address. (See example below.) Repeat the search for each page of interest.
As you can see in the case above, Google opted to swap out our | with a – and then replaced the back half of the title tag with a brand name mention.
What to Do if Google’s Rewritten Your Title Tags
My first suggestion is to take emotions out of it and really consider whether or not their rewrites improved your title tags. (I know, I know, but you worked so hard on them!) This doesn’t have to be a gut decision though. Use Google Search Console to examine a page’s CTR. And if it’s both bringing traffic to the site and ranking for the keywords you’re after, think about updating the actual title tag to match what Google went with.
However, if it’s not, well then run through the list of reasons Google may have made some edits. And if that’s still not providing any enlightening insights as to why the changes occurred, then check the page’s current title / H1.
According to Zyppy.com’s findings, “…matching your H1 to your title typically dropped the degree of rewriting across the board, often dramatically.”
So there you have it, the best way to safeguard your pages’ title tags from unwanted rewrites is to not only follow the best practices identified above, but also to craft a consistent H1.