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Google is testing altered page titles



6:11 am on Sep 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I just searched for a few phrases I watch and I see a very strange set of results: titles are altered for some pages showing extra info. It seems that Google is trying to add (part of) the answer someone is looking for in the page's title. This would be a major change. Can they do this? Also I see a ton of spam results even on the first page (Viagra widget etc). Definitely some intense testing is happening right now.


10:40 am on Sep 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

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This title altering in the SERPs has been going on for at least six months, and has been mentioned a few times in other threads, but I don't think we've had a detailed discussion of it.

Robert Charlton

7:03 pm on Sep 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

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It seems that Google is trying to add (part of) the answer someone is looking for in the page's title.

I'm assuming from the original post that this might simply be a more extended version of title (and description) changes that Google has been making for years. The query has been a key factor in all of the changes I've seen.

Chances are that a mismatch between the query and the page title element might trigger the change, and that the added vocabulary is then pulled either from your site or from a site linking to your site. It would be interesting to know if this is still the case, and how far afield Google is now going to find appropriate text.

Originally, when Google changed titles and descriptions, it substituted ODP (Open Directory, dmoz.org) titles where available, if the ODP title was more descriptive of the query than your title was. Google also sometimes pulls a title from inbound link anchor text, where that anchor text better describes the query. If your meta description doesn't match the query, descriptions are pulled from text on your site. But in the past, there's generally always been some onpage source, on your site or on a linking site.

If you don't like the ODP text, Google does obey the robots element content attribute value... content="noodp", as in

<meta name="robots" content="NOODP">

Google describes its treatment of titles and descriptions here...

Changing your site's title and description in search results

This is how Google suggests that you might track down the source of Google changes...

If you're concerned about content in your title or snippet, you may want to double-check that this content doesn't appear on your site. If it does, changing it may affect your Google snippet after we next crawl your site. If it doesn't, try searching Google.com for the title or snippet enclosed in quotation marks. This will display pages on the web that refer to your site using this text. If you contact these webmasters to request that they change their information about your site, any changes to their sites will be recognized by our crawler after we next crawl their pages.

Questions I'd asked now whose answers might be helpful...

- How extensive are the title changes?
- What kind of queries are they for?
- Where is the new text coming from?
- If from offpage, are they from your backlink pages only?


7:45 pm on Sep 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Thank you for this post Robert - it instantly helped me see where the new text was coming from. Google is apparently adding the anchor text used in inbound internal links. The change seems permanent and affects all queries returning a certain page.


1:05 am on Sep 26, 2010 (gmt 0)

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i can confirm vivlasvegas its changing the rankings for a lot of websites all over the web and yes it seems to be a permanent thing

Robert Charlton

8:22 am on Sep 26, 2010 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator robert_charlton is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

In the past, where I've seen changed titles displayed in the serps, the page returned was always appropriate to the query, and the title change didn't affect the rankings. It might reflect them, but it didn't change them.

As I understand it, in the past a title change was in fact done as an "overlay" (that's the word I've heard used by search engineers to describe it), after the rankings were determined... much as a snippet is returned or as highlighting is added, when the results page is returned.

So, I'm very skeptical that this would be "changing the rankings for a lot of websites all over the web", and I don't want to start any rumors. How do we know that rankings are being changed?

vivalasvegas... what are you seeing on your page? Sounds to me like the rankings in question are being driven by the inbound internal link, which is then also affecting the title returned.


8:14 pm on Sep 26, 2010 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Can't comment on rankings but; say my domain name/brand is 'Widgets', and the title of the main page is 'Widget News | Widgets'

If I search 'site:widgets.com widgets', results that don't have 'Widgets' on its title get 'Widget News | Widgets' added to its title (Google adds the title of main page) and it shows up as:

Green Stuff - Widget News | Widgets


6:49 am on Sep 27, 2010 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Not sure about rankings, but titles are definitely changed based on inbound internals. Basically, my inbound internal links use anchor text not used in the triggered pages' meta titles/descriptions, so Google is adding these words to the titles showed in the serps.


8:05 pm on Sep 28, 2010 (gmt 0)

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< moved from another location >

Suddenly I see that the SERPs listing's title and description varies depending on the search query and does not necessarily match the HTML title and meta description tags anymore.

When I search for a "blue widget" and the blue widget is in my homepage's HTML title then my homepage with my HTML title is displayed. When I search for a "red widget" and the "red widget" is not in my HTML title, then my homepage appears in the SERPs but "red widget" is used as the listing's title along with some awkward description. Looks like Google is trying to improve the CTR of the listing.

Is this a new thing or I have missed it when it came into effect? Any way to have more control over the title/description?

[edited by: Robert_Charlton at 9:03 pm (utc) on Sep 28, 2010]


3:55 am on Sep 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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If this is tru, then it is a dangerous trend...google should then make it visibly clear what alterations it has done to original content (title and/or description)

I am also hoping that google doesn't test auto-generated pages based on the query... lol

going by the number of tests it does these days, if that happens it is nothing to be surprised at...


6:47 pm on Oct 8, 2010 (gmt 0)

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When I search for my website by URL or brand my website title is "My Brand" (Google doesn't use my title tag). When I search for keywords that my home page ranks well for Google uses the title in my meta tags that I set.

I also noticed many of my URL's now have the title meta tag I set and "My Brand" at the end of it. Is this a sign that Google is starting to recognize my website as a brand more?


1:57 pm on Oct 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

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< moved from another location >

How can Google show my site with a wrong title in the serps?

In this one case, Google uses the words wich i use to search for my site ,as the title in the SERPS.
It is also the anchor in some links pointing to my site.
For other queries the results are ok.

[edited by: tedster at 4:36 pm (utc) on Oct 11, 2010]


10:03 am on Oct 27, 2010 (gmt 0)

This is becoming a mess:

example.com shows only example.us in the titlebar

example.co.uk shows only example.com in the titlebar

example.asia shows only example.com in the titlebar

I'm not at all impressed with this.


10:12 am on Oct 27, 2010 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

I've seen this recently on a site I manage. The site home page is optimised for Phrase A and Phrase B. When I search for Phrase C (which is closely related) that page is returned in the results with Phrase C substituted for the actual title tag. The site has a number of IBLs that contain Phrase C and it has always ranked for Phrase C.

I'm sure it helps CTR.

I would imagine that the rationale is that, as legitimate anchor text in IBLS is considered 'part of the page', why not reinforce that for the searcher and confirm that (according to Google) the page is indeed relevant to the search phrase?


10:49 am on Oct 27, 2010 (gmt 0)

I'm not seeing any phrases whatsoever, literally example.com only has example.us in the titlebar, nothing else at all and the same for the others.


4:03 pm on Oct 27, 2010 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

There seems to be a mix of factors. First, altered titles are definitely query related. That is, one query might trigger an altered title when another will not. My ideas - alterations seem to happen when titles 1) are overly short or 2) use multiple keyword strings rather than a grammatical title.


5:14 pm on Oct 27, 2010 (gmt 0)

Hi Tedster

But how and why would they change example.com into example.us solely in the titlebar?

If I search for the keyword string the correct site comes up with the correct titlebar yet when searching for example.com it delivers example.us in the titlebar.

That's utterly bizarre and made even more strange by the fact my eurasian.us name is actually on a url-forward from my server...no actual site exists for the .us site, there never has been from the first day I got the name in 2006.

I don't think this is affecting my SERPs at all, it's just annoying me as to why this is happening. I wonder from where they could be pulling this incorrect information?

I know I did have a problem with ODP a few years back with someone changing stuff in there without my permission, I wonder if it's happened again?

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