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Google shorter SERP titles = lower CTR?

 1:28 pm on Apr 12, 2014 (gmt 0)

Recently I have seen several long titles chopped by Google down to one or two words in the SERPS. Google seems to only do this to long descriptive titles, comma separated or not. Fortunately, to date, Google is showing the page's description in the SERPs. This apparent change by Google stresses the importance of having a good "descriptive and accurate" meta tag description.

So first one must reference the webmaster guidelines:
Think about the words users would type to find your pages, and make sure that your site actually includes those words within it.
Make sure that your <title> elements and ALT attributes are descriptive and accurate.

I think the modified, extremely shortened, titles that Google now is displaying for these pages in the SERPs will not draw many click throughs at all. I'm sure this change is related to the new apparent 55 character limit mentioned in this thread:

To date this seems to only be occurring on a few pages, pages whose titles used to be truncated at whatever number of characters Google preferred. Google seems to be editing the title itself not extracting text from say an H1 tag on the page, or something from the description, it's probably choosing the most common one or two words in the language for the new abbreviated titles. The foreshortened title does not appear to be affected by the key words used in the search to reach the page.

I know Google recently discovered mobile, but these new altered titles are too short to attract any click through interest. Yet another way of throttling pages on a site, show them high in the SERPs but slap a title on that is totally useless. Or perhaps this is just a test to see how well web page descriptions produce click throughs on SERPs. Regardless, it would be nice to find Google's acceptable length to a title so it will only be truncated versus obliterated.

This always brings me back to Google's philosophy:
Ten things we know to be true [google.com]
"We first wrote these “10 things” when Google was just a few years old. From time to time we revisit this list to see if it still holds true. We hope it does—and you can hold us to that." "We do search. ...."
P.S. It never fails, when doing this kind of investigation, you find yet another website or blogger who's copied most the content of a page verbatim. (This site allows you to post comments, hmmm ..., what to say?)



 1:47 pm on Apr 13, 2014 (gmt 0)

Has the title been truncated to two words or rewritten? Google has been changing titles for quite some time and it does depend on the query too.

With regards to the new limit, it is not really 55 characters. It is to do with pixel count so having more capitals and more "wide" letters will result in less than 55 characters in the title (and opposite is true too).

From my own experience - in times where I suspected Google has rewritten the title for the query, the CTR was slightly lower. But I have no absolute proof that title was rewritten other than seeing whether it would be rewritten when I search for keywords. But this does not mean 100% that it was rewritten when a visitor searched.


 5:01 pm on Apr 13, 2014 (gmt 0)

Has the title been truncated to two words or rewritten? Google has been changing titles for quite some time and it does depend on the query too.

Definitely not truncated, but I just realized Google is using the anchor text of the primary inbound link to the page in question as the title shown in the SERPs for the page of interest. I have seen Google's reworded titles in the past and typically they weren't too bad. But substituting anchor text for a title?
The page above which contains this link and anchor text in the navigation menus, I would call an index page, a page that in addition to the link has significant descriptive text regarding the page below. Also peer pages would have the same one, two, or three word anchor text links.
Again this is only happening on pages with long descriptive titles that in the past Google simply truncated at ? 55 characters or so. And this has only occurred in the last few days.
Obviously navigation menu anchors can't have long descriptive sentences, so I don't know why Google is doing this.
I suspect this is all related to Google's migration to mobile, but this is happening in a desktop environment
More Google information on titles:
    1. Page titles should be descriptive and concise.
    2. It’s important to have distinct, descriptive titles for each page on your site.
    3. Brand your titles, but concisely.
    4. If we’ve detected that a particular result has one of the above issues with its title, we may try to generate an improved title from anchors, on-page text, or other sources.

Well the last item on the list above is probably the key!

My guess; Google, with its mobile development effort has unilaterally decided on a new max title length. I can't keep up with Googles flip flopping, spam hopping, algos.

On a normal snippet for this site Google tacks on the site's brand, making the titles even longer. The site ranks number one for its brand (which is a bit of a joke).
I really have no problem shortening the titles, but I call this just more SED (search engine degradation). And what length to shorten them to? Do I include the branding Google tacks on?

Finally I can't see any reason whatsoever that shortening these titles would improve my visitors experience on the site.
But my goal is to help my visitor, and invariably my visitor's primary means of locating the information the site provides is, BY FAR, Google, and frankly there is nothing I can do about it except pander to Google. Is that Panda pander?


 11:22 am on Apr 15, 2014 (gmt 0)

Here's an interesting tidbit:
With javascript off, Google is showing the full title.
With javascript on, Google is showing the anchor text of the inbound link to the page as the page's title.

Again this only appears to be happening on long titles, and with javascript on.

So Google is dynamically requesting the revised, drastically shortened title. I could see this structure facilitating Google's support for mobile.

I haven't looked into the details but clearly with javascript on there are many more requests to their servers.


 11:42 am on Apr 15, 2014 (gmt 0)

So Google is dynamically requesting the revised, drastically shortened title.

This is interesting. I thought that title change happens during building the SERPs and not afterwards using AJAX.

Again this only appears to be happening on long titles,

How long do you think the long is in this case?


 12:41 pm on Apr 15, 2014 (gmt 0)

It looks like about > 58 characters, but when I zoom in and out on the SERPS I actually see a slightly different number of maximum characters on many long titles. More or less terminating periods, "periods...", "periods..", to no periods at all.
One has to assume Google now is dynamically looking at the viewport and deciding what data to fetch.

I've always tried to move processing the webpage off the server and into javascript, so I have my visitors CPU's doing more of the work. Perhaps to some extent Google is doing the same.

Shhh,,, I was taking at look a G's javascript (oh oh TOS) and see "case 61: return 187", "case 59: return 186", etc.

Frankly I don't really want to get into that, but I would like to shorten my titles on the pages in question until Google tries to use the actual page's title. Of course I still have no idea what will happen on all the platforms out there.
Thought I'd repeat, I've only seen this happening in the last few days.

[edit] 9:32 EDT
It looks like the initial request to Google is different, depending upon javascript being on or off, so the source files Google returns for a search request do have different titles embedded in them.


 6:19 pm on Apr 15, 2014 (gmt 0)

Reading the above makes me think that Google is trying to get far too much out of the humble <title> element, especially as they may well have an algorithmic slap for those that dare tweak it too often!

Going forward, seems like a new Google-specific markup would be of real use here. Facebook will spider your pages and grab what they feel like, but you can suggest what you'd like them to use. Google might do well to adopt a similar approach.

Maybe something like:



 8:18 pm on Apr 15, 2014 (gmt 0)

Well I've revised quite a few titles, used GWT, fetch as Google and submited individual pages to the index, and many of the revised titles are showing up in the SERPs in place of the two word titles Google had grabbed from anchor text of inbound links. The critical length appears to be 57 to 58 characters.

I did leave one longer title (as a control) and it is still chopped down to two words in the SERPs.
Not every page's title is corrected but enough to say that Google has thrown in a new length limit where a title that used to just be truncated with a dot,dot,dot, is now replaced, perhaps with an inbound link's anchor text, assuming it is short enough?

And just to repeat this only started happening in the last few days, and it could just be a Google experiment, but frankly even if they're thinking about it, I can get the "fix" in now and not worry about it in the future.

I used to write good content for my visitors, now I spend most of my time tweaking the content just to reach my potential visitors. The joke is, Panda probably is just a revision change tweak detector with a bad "excess similarity filter", having little to do with quality.

Tweaks up, similarity up, RANKING DOWN (except if you get a "bye"). So the changes I just made will be "tweaks up".


 11:47 pm on Apr 15, 2014 (gmt 0)

All of this is definitely frustrating. You spend a lot of time trying to make your titles attractive, and they just get changed. I can maybe understand where there isn't anything near your keyword for a particular SERP, but it's being done otherwise.

In my case, I'm also trying to help the PPC folks with their quality score, so there really isn't much I can do to make the title shorter.


 1:20 pm on Apr 16, 2014 (gmt 0)

I regularly get the description substituted, usually from DMOZ. The only time that I see titles substituted is if I get the home page returned with some other pages indented underneath. Then I get the anchor text from teh home page rather than the titles. If a search goes direct to one of those pages the title is correct.


 10:30 am on Apr 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

Not sure why no one has picked up on this but I believe (opinion) the reason for the title character change was to bring organic title length inline with ad title length to:

A) level the playing field between ad and organic title length.

B) blend ad and organics results further, increasing ad clicks. (call me a cynic)

I have seen a drop in CTR across clients since the change rolled out, positions are unchanged.

From my experience, being on page one for a local service is no longer good enough, you need position #1, #2 to achieve more than 20-30 clicks per month these days, position #5? You might as well be on page 20, the only clicks you get is your competitors checking you out!


 3:34 pm on Apr 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

I've found the following:
Some titles can be longer than 57 characters, if they are sentence like, do not repeat any keywords, and avoid the word "home" used as a noun or verb, adjective and adverb usage is OK. If the title meets this criteria it appears it will just be truncated at 57 or characters and dotted ...
Also note Google see's fit to tack the brand it perceives for the site to the end of the title, which is fine, but it could leave this decision to the webmaster, allowing for even more useful titles for Google's, and the website's, visitors.

If titles are shorter than 58 characters, it appears in most cases they will be used, if not keyword stuffed? Mine never are so I can't truly say.
Google must have tweaked this max length number down from say 60 characters, affecting about 7% of my titles. After slightly trimming quite a few titles, avoiding the word "home" as a noun, I'm down to 3% of titles being CHOPPED to one, two, or three, words, usually to the anchor text of internal navigation links pointing to the pages.
For these pages I've gone ahead and changed the anchor text of the inbound links so it isn't as close to the filename and H1 tag (or equivalent) on the page in question. I assume I'll have to be patient to see if Google will finally use the actual title of the page.
Normally I wouldn't change titles like this, because there certainly appears to have been a transient penalty for doing this before Panda; with the advent of Panda, it would seem this kind of tweaking is quantified into a site wide penalty with a significant time constant.

Not sure why no one has picked up on this but I believe (opinion) the reason for the title character change was to bring organic title length inline with ad title length to:
A) level the playing field between ad and organic title length.
B) blend ad and organics results further, increasing ad clicks. (call me a cynic)
I agree with this assessment and cannot see how this increases the quality of Google's visitor's experience.
"Ten things we know to be true"
    1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.
    Since the beginning, we’ve focused on providing the best user experience possible.
    2. It’s best to do one thing really, really well.
    We do search...


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