Robert_Charlton - 8:55 am on Aug 18, 2011 (gmt 0)
...the first three or four words of the page title and of the snippet are now of high importance...
I agree with this in general. Yes, it would be prudent to keep possible title shortening in mind when naming pages.
But I am also seeing cases where Google completely changes titles and includes the renamed versions in sitelinks. It doesn't matter what the first few words are if Google likes the page and can find a phrase it likes better either onpage or in the anchor text of a link to the page.
There's one page on a client site where Google has insisted on its renamed version for so long that I'm debating whether to go along with it and try changing the actual title element to match Google's name. (Maybe Google is sending me a message that would improve the page's rankings).
Google's modifications of sitelink titles, in general, are much better than its snippets. In the snippet area, we're suddenly confronted with handling twelve meta descriptions or snippets as an ensemble.