Your page titles are important. After all, they’re the first thing searchers see when they type something into a search engine like Google. When searchers are deciding between clicking on your content versus your competition, the very biggest factor that drives that decision are your page titles.
Additionally, how you describe your page in your title tag has a massive impact on which keywords you rank for and how well you rank for them. It’s actually one of the biggest SEO ranking factors.
So, as today’s SEOs reoptimize and update their content, they’ll likely go through a number of iterations on their page titles. Tweaking page titles and title tags is the name of the game when it comes to on-page SEO.
And each time an SEO updates their title tag it changes what searchers see in the SERP, right? To some degree that’s true. But we’ve noticed that Google has been taking a few liberties with the page titles they show in their blue links. It all depends on the query.
Why? And what’s an SEO to do about it?
Google Serves Searchers, Not SEOs
The number one thing to keep in mind when playing the game of SEO is that Google serves searchers first and foremost. In fact, every action Google takes, every algorithm update, every new universal search result type, is designed to make it easier for the searcher to get the information they’re looking for.
So it’s not all that surprising that Google alters your title tag based on the query. Depending on what you search, you could see two entirely different title tags for the same piece of content in the SERPs. A great example? We recently published a piece of content on how to win an answer box.
Now, when you type “how to win an answer box” into Google, you’ll see this result up top.
But when you type “how to target an answer box” into Google, you’ll see a different snippet and page title.
So why are we seeing different results? In this example, Google pulled one page title from our SEO title, and another from the page title in the html of our page itself.
As Google strives to provide the searcher with the content best aligned to their query, they might display any variation of your title tag in the SERP.
Hey, But the Metadescription Is Different Too!
Good catch! In those two images, you’ll see the metadescription is different. In the above result, Google has pulled an excerpt of the content on the page and input it as our metadescription. In the second image, you’ll see the metadescription we wrote.
Again, as Google processed the search query, it pulled different information for the rich snippet.
So what’s the point of optimizing at all? Are we powerless over how our content is represented in the SERP?
Well, yes. And, actually, no.
It’s Their Party, They’ll Rewrite Page Titles If They Want To
Yes, to some degree we have less control than we may have thought over how our content is portrayed in the SERP. What should we do about it?
Our advice is to create rich and well-optimized content for your keyword. While Google’s pulling different snippets to represent your content in the SERP, all of the content comes from your page. For that reason, it’s crucial that all the content on your page is well-optimized for both your primary and secondary keywords. Google will continue to play around with how content is represented in the SERP as they strive to serve the searcher first, last, and always. We must do the same.
As you do your keyword research, pay extra attention to the search intent of the keyword you’re going to target and write with that in mind. And if you’re optimizing or reoptimizing content, make sure your optimizations always get your content a little bit closer to the intent of the searcher.
The better optimized your entire piece of content is, not just for one keyword, but for secondary, tertiary keywords and the search intent behind them all, the more likely Google will serve up a great rich snippet from your content. And that’s a homerun, SEO nerd-style.