I'm seeing a large online retailer website getting an extreme makeover for a lot of it's pages.
before: blue widget products, buy blue widget products at example.com
after: keyword - example.com or keyword keyword - example.com
In search it ranks highly for that keyword and is benefiting from it's title makeover but on site (and in cache) those new titles don't exist and the keyword(s) is NOT in the old title at all. It's almost as if any sales speak has been removed and various titles assigned based on search terms. In all cases the keyword and/or keyword combination is written in text somewhere on the page but it's not in the title whatsoever.
I knew Google was tweaking some titles but this is creating a completely new one using words not in the old title at all. Are titles becoming irrelevant now too?
I've been seeing this for months now. I've got a bunch of SERPS where the title is completely ignored; they rank but they come up as "Domain.com" in the title - that string isn't even IN that particular title tag. Very obnoxious on Google's behalf, and I can't possibly see how it improves the likelihood of clickthrough. So why rank it at all if they're going to rewrite the title so poorly? It's a mystery to me.
I think this behavior goes part and parcel with panda. I think this is part of Google's crack down on content farms. I think Google the difference between good content sites and content farms something like this.
In depth site: /everything-you-need-to-know-about-widgets.html
The in depth site has a small number of good pages about widgets. The content farm has 1000 pages about widgets, each of which target a different phrase that people search for around widgets, but none of which has super in depth content.
At the same time that Google is penalizing the content farms, they are trying to make the "reputable" sites be able to rank a page for multiple phrases. This means replacing synonyms in titles in SERPs and shortening titles in SERPs so users don't just breeze past the good content.
If you are seeing your titles rewritten, I believe it means that you are not pandalized. Too bad Google messes the titles up fairly often.
One of my sites has a page like: /widget-service.html with a title "Widget Service - Brand" that ranks for "widget service" It also is now ranking for "synonym service". Google changes the title in the SERPs to match the phrase,even though we don't use that synonym prominently on the page. There are a couple external links that point into it with anchor text that includes "synonym".
This is a big change about the way I'm thinking about SEO. In the last four years, ranking for a phrase was mostly about having a page for that phrase with the phrase used in the title, then getting links into it. I think Google is now trying to feature less targeted pages at a wider variety of keywords. I'm thinking that anchor text variety and site focus (theme) are becoming more important for this.