We all know the importance of meta data.
After all, great meta data is what makes you stand out on a search engine results page (SERP), encouraging users to click through to your article, ultimately leading to more traffic to your site and another sales opportunity.
Higher click through rates often lead to higher conversions.
In fact, studies have shown that just getting your title tags right can improve your click through rate anywhere between 20% and 100% (source).
And, as with everything Google does, Google wants to ensure that the searcher’s needs are met in the most efficient and effective way possible. Therefore, meta titles that accurately reflect the content of the article will, in turn, lead the user to the best result for them.
So what’s new? In short, it has come to light that Google does not always take the text that you have painstakingly created in the html title tags. SEOs have recently spotted that Google has been generating title tags from other sources instead.
Should this come as a shock? Not really. The fact is that Google has been rewriting meta titles for years.
However, it would appear that during the latter half of 2021, Google has updated the way that meta titles are generated, to ensure that the titles work best for the articles behind them, regardless of the query that was issued.
So what are the implications for you, when it comes to creating content and completing meta data?
What is a meta title?
Firstly, let’s go back to basics. Remind me, what is a meta title?
A meta title (or title tag as they are sometimes known) is the text which is displayed on the search engine results page (SERP), to let the user know a little more about what is contained within the page. It is the text that appears larger and links through to the page.
The title tag is also followed by a meta description, a snippet of text which you can also edit.
Together, these are known as a meta tags.
Meta tags do not appear on the web page itself, just in search results.
They also automatically appear when you share that page on some social media platforms, such as Facebook.
Title tags also appear in the browser tab and they help users to identify different pages on your website.
What is the 2021 Google meta title update?
SEOs have spotted that Google sometimes generates different titles to those used in the title text. And the way that they are doing this has also recently been updated.
You may wonder why they do not just use the title tag each time. After all, isn’t that what it is there for?
Well, the truth is that these titles do not always describe the page that they relate to particularly well. Sometimes they are far too long. Or they have been stuffed with keywords. Or else they are simply missing altogether.
Previously, Google generated page titles based on the search queries that were entered. Google looked at your page title and if any other text elements on the page better suited the user’s query then the title would often be updated to reflect this.
So, what has changed with the new update?
Well, for starters, Google is now considering the main visual title on the page. This is usually the text which is placed with <h1> tags or other header tags. It could also be anything on the page which is large and prominent or styled.
Other text within the page might also be considered, as well as text within links that point at this page.
This highlights the importance of all of the content and elements on your page, when it comes to user experience.
Google will no longer dynamically change the page title based on the search query. One title will be selected and this will be what is displayed on the search results, regardless of the search query.
The good news for SEOs is that the content within HTML title tags is still more likely to be used than any other content.
How to create the best title tags in 2021
Google’s advice for creating meta titles remains the same as it has been for a while.
In short, you should create title tags which best describe what the article is about.
Avoid keyword stuffing
Quality is better than quantity when it comes to keywords.
For example, including “fashion”, “style” and “trend” all in the same title might be overkill.
Also avoid using ‘boilerplate’ (i.e. standardised) language, such as “home” for the homepage.
Make sure you have different titles for different pages
Make sure you create a different title for each page and blog post.
This helps users to distinguish between different pages.
You should also avoid having several title tags where all the text is the same but it varies by just one word or phrase.
Keep your branding concise
If you are big on branding, then it is recommended that you use the title of the site or your business either at the beginning or end of the title.
But feel free to leave it out, if there is not enough space for it alongside the title of the page.
Pay attention to the length of your meta title
Search engines typically limit the amount of text they display.
And so, if your meta title is too long, then Google is likely to choose some alternative content, or else truncate your title.
Keep it between 50 and 60 characters.
There are plenty of free SEO tools available which can help you to generate the perfect length meta data.
Look closely at other page elements
You should also consider the other elements to your article.
Headers and anchor texts may also be used by Google, so ensure that these are succinct while being descriptive.
Make sure that your image alt tags and file names are appropriately descriptive too.
Remember that Google always thinks about the user first. And so, if your title tag is unlikely to help the user, then it is equally unlikely to be shown on the results pages.
How to find out if you have been affected by the 2021 Google meta title update
By now, you might be wondering whether Google is using the title tag you have set in its SERPs or whether Google has chosen to draw from some other content else on the page instead.
Of course, you could try Googling one of your search terms and see if your page comes up. But if you have hundreds of web pages, this could take hours – no one has time for that!
Luckily, the helpful people at Substrakt has put together a handy guide to check whether or not Google is showing your own meta title or one from elsewhere on your page.