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Google SERP redesign cuts visible title to 55 characters

     
9:57 am on Mar 22, 2014 (gmt 0)

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An excellent piece of investigation by Moz's Dr Pete Meyers examines how the larger font in Google's SERP redesign effectively shortens the maximum displayed character count of title displays, which could well have an effect on SEO.

New Title Tag Guidelines & Preview Tool
March 20th, 2014 - Posted by Dr. Peter J. Meyers
http://moz.com/blog/new-title-tag-guidelines-preview-tool [moz.com]

In the post, Pete looks at the width of letters, upper vs lower case character width, and the space taken up "...", etc. Starting with a sample of 10,000 queries, he comes up with a table of title "cut-off lengths at five different levels of confidence," to give us a range of new title length guidelines.

Previously, I'd used 63 characters as my rough maximum length for Google titles. With Pete's new measurements, 55 seems to be "the reasonable title length limit under the new design"....

Put simply, if all of your title tags were exactly 55 characters long, then you could expect about 95% of them to be left alone (1 in 20 would be cut off).

Depending on Google's display format, query, and peculiarities of a given title, there are still many variables.

At the top of the article, there is also a new a tool to preview your display.

Comments after the post also indicate that Screaming Frog also has updated its spider tool to include a pixel width feature.

The change has clearly come about because of limited display space on mobile devices, where the larger font and shorter title display would work better. I don't think it's likely to be simply a matter of display, though. I've found that Google tends to unify its approaches, and serp display generally suggests how the Google algo is looking at things.

If so, it may be that, going forward, a more focused title (and perhaps, by implication, a more focused page) might do better in Google search. Questions arise also about what to do with old titles.

Thoughts?

(Thanks to several SEOs, including AJ Kohn, for spotting and sharing the article.)
4:59 pm on Mar 22, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Questions arise also about what to do with old titles.

This is an interesting one. One of pages I have that is affected resulted in branding falling off, and branding is quite important for this client.

On the other hand, the page ranks for three distinct queries, each of which are in title as keyword phrases. Shortening the title is impossible, other than dropping out one of keywords the page currently ranks for.

I might try to turn the title around and start with branding first. Since branding is a short 5 characters word, it may work. So currently I have (all phrases related):

keyword phrase - keyword phrase - keyword phrase - BRAND

I may try:

BRAND: keyword phrase - keyword phrase - keyword phrase
5:44 pm on Mar 22, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Has anyone done a study on the clickthrough rates of short, medium-length, and long titles?

I'd think that visual span and reading speed would have an impact on CTR when searchers are faced with a page of text-intensive search results.

Maybe Google is doing site owners a favor by encouraging them to avoid titles that are longer than 55 characters.

[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov...]
6:02 pm on Mar 22, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I may try:

BRAND: keyword phrase - keyword phrase - keyword phrase


I wouldn't if I were you, done it, tried it, rejected it.

It may be slightly different now but only test it on not so important pages.
6:54 pm on Mar 22, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I may try:
BRAND: keyword phrase - keyword phrase - keyword phrase


Or maybe just "BRAND: Keyword phrase" if you want to stand out and encourage a click.

FWIW, I always used "Topic - Site name" as my title format, but with a new site, I'm trying "Site name: Topic" because:

1) The new site's name communicates a strong message to the target audience; and...

2) I want to create awareness of that site name among searchers (even those who don't click during the current session).

Titles aren't only about keywords, and just being listen on the SERP isn't enough.
7:46 pm on Mar 22, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Worth noting that my use of the word "focused" above isn't saying it quite right, as shorter is in fact often more general, not more focused.

I'd written...
If so, it may be that, going forward, a more focused title (and perhaps, by implication, a more focused page) might do better in Google search. Questions arise also about what to do with old titles.

To put a finer point on it... a three word phrase, "big red widgets", is more specific than the two-word "red widgets". It isn't extremely longtail, though, and it's not multiple phrases targeting multiple variants or concepts.

But, for titles so long or varied that they are going to get rewritten (and, if that hasn't happened yet, I'm assuming it will happen), there are many questions about title length, authority, truncation, ranking, and rewriting, and how they might interact....

For long tail, I've been convinced for a long while now that Google is not favoring targeting variants of the same statement or question in the title. Google is looking more for authority for head phrases, and it's discarding multiple ways of saying the same thing. It's looking at titles more as concepts. You can see this for some queries as auto-complete suggests the same set of serps for four or five different variants.

With regard to multiple keyword phrases, though, up until recently we've seen reports that on pages with multiple keyword phrases... the pages that rank with those titles have gotten rewritten to the brand plus the one phrase that matches the query. I'm seeing rankings for such titles apparently drop off, though, at least on "multi-target" pages I follow... and it sounds here like RedBar is reporting this too....

I may try:
BRAND: keyword phrase - keyword phrase - keyword phrase

I wouldn't if I were you, done it, tried it, rejected it.

RedBar... am I reading you correctly?

I'm wondering also, now, about long Amazon type product titles, where all sorts of relevant specifications are included in a long title. While often much of the title wasn't displayed in the serp, the truncation had been manageable. I haven't done enough test searching to see how truncation affects these now, but a combination site/query search shows that many such titles don't present very useful click motivation.

The old question about whether title length has a diluting effect comes up again here. If there is a dilution effect, note that Amazon has enough inbound link authority that it can do things that smaller sites can't. Ability to rank on a long title may not matter, though, if the displayed title isn't clear enough to prompt a click.

I should note, btw, that the description still is 160 characters, and page specific descriptions may be a more critical part of the mix for prompting clicks.
6:45 pm on Mar 29, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I'm going to kick this thread up because I'm seeing questions about title length, where posters aren't aware of this effective shortening of title length. Am also changing the thread title ...

- from...
Google SERPs larger font effectively shortens title display
- to...
Google SERP redesign cuts visible title to 55 characters

Are members seeing changes in how pages previously targeted by long titles are now ranking?
9:05 pm on Mar 29, 2014 (gmt 0)

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...going forward, a more focused title (and perhaps, by implication, a more focused page) might do better in Google search.


This is just the display of the Title tag, not the consumption of it by the algorithm. So, as you already noted, a shorter title may be more general. I'm not changing anything for Google. If a slightly longer title makes sense then that's what's going in the title.

This doesn't really change anything for me, though. I don't do exact match longtail titles. Prefer to match it generally in the title and more exactly in the text of the content.

Site name in the Meta description
Another consideration is that usually the site name is at the end of the title so losing that won't really hurt anything. BUT, it may mean it's more important to put the site name in the meta description to call out those searchers who know and like your site.
1:24 am on Mar 30, 2014 (gmt 0)

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The 55 character discovery is of note; yet, it's not the end of the world. More targeted and properly formed titles is not a bad thing in and of itself, just means that out of the millions of websites out there doing the same thing the titles will end up being the same. Might come back to bite G and the next big thing will be descriptions and meta that will be "worked".

That said, this change makes no diff to me, I've always kept my titles (web or in print) at 49 characters or less (preferably less!). If I can't correctly title an article, story, page in that length then I'm not doing it right.

Eye scan on the line is the user interest hit and that is increased by the new look at G. And it also works at Bing (shorter) for the above reason.
1:13 am on Apr 10, 2014 (gmt 0)

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If the change is due to a different font, why doesn't it effect the description too?
Usually the description should be shorter too, but nobody says so?
2:08 pm on Apr 10, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Just a thought...

It looks like google still bolds the keywords and synonyms in the title that match the query, right?

So, in theory, would the more words in your title that appear in the query (and the more synonyms), then the more bold font characters will appear in the title, meaning there would be less total characters displayed for the title in the SERP?
3:16 pm on Apr 10, 2014 (gmt 0)

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So is this an attempt by Google to have a kind of "universal" length Title string for Desktop and mobile devices? (Has anyone checked the same query from multiple devices?) I noticed an uptick in Google spidering with smart/mobile device tags in its crawler UA over the last few months.

Regards...jmcc
6:54 pm on Apr 10, 2014 (gmt 0)

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So is this an attempt by Google to have a kind of "universal" length Title string for Desktop and mobile devices?

Top of my head reaction is that I'd rather write one set of titles for one anticipated display length than write different sets for each device. ymmv.
8:36 pm on Apr 10, 2014 (gmt 0)

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@Planet13:
Yes, the more words you use for searching the more Google will bold and the less words they will show, because it's a pixel width.

But this is nothing new, is it? I don't see the relationship to the new 55 cut.
 

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