Anyone working in SEO or IT support will be familiar with the fact that Google Updates are a regular occurrence and can present certain challenges that require no small measure of preparation and action. It does not require an extraordinary amount of mental gymnastics to work out that the fact that this particular update has been given the moniker “Titlepocalypse” by SEO experts means dramatic ramifications for inaccurate or misleading title tags.
What are title tags?
Title tags are those little blue headlines that pop up in your search engine results, prior to clicking on any links. From the SEO/web designer’s perspective the specific copy in title tags is a vital determining factor on whether a specific website will attract enough clicks. Poor title tags can make for fewer clicks and a dramatic underperformance in website traffic.
How does this update impact on title tags?
In the light of how important we’ve established that title tags are to determine whether a user clicks on a given link, how likely do you think it is that some web owners and website managers are more than a little liberal with the truth when it comes to whether the copy accurately represents what can be found on a website? Well, the likelihood is that deliberate or not this is fairly common. You see, prior to this update it was up to the individual to determine the headlines or title tags and the emphasis was on them to make sure they accurately portrayed the brand and page content.
What this update does is hand over control to Google to determine how accurate these title tags are and change or ignore them should they be deemed to be open to misinterpretation or openly dishonest. Most commonly this will result in Google using the main headline (usually the H1 tag) as well as other headers on the main page as well as other text to carve out a revised title. It is easy to see why this has led to the update being called “Titlepocalypse” as this has led to around 20% of all website title tags being changed in a similar manner by Google!
How has this caused disruption?
As with any automated, algorithmic solution there are innocent casualties and misinterpretations. One prominent example has been in health care, which has been affected disproportionately due to the nuances in services. There has been one case of a page dedicated to flu symptoms having its title tag changed to suggest the company actually carries out flu vaccinations! Google’s title tag edits have also resulted in erroneous capitalisations, removal of key location information from the title tags of local pages and all manner of other less serious errors.
What can you do to avoid falling foul of the update
In 80% of cases the existing HTML tags will be used and not affected, but of course there are some key factors that go into whether you will be in that 80% and how to avoid being penalised. You should make sure that your title tag is made up of fewer than 65 characters and reflects your page’s content. Do not simply fill it with keywords either.
In addition you should place a greater emphasis on your header 1 tags, which will probably only grow in importance over the coming years. You should also place a great deal of emphasis on the quality of your page titles and ensure that local information is present and correct in titles, headers and body text where relevant.
The quantity and severity of errors reported has prompted many to suggest that this particular update has been rushed through and will certainly not serve to silence those who believe Google’s confidence in its own algorithms is somewhat misplaced.