It appears that Google is now updating your page titles in their search results if they don't think the original is descriptive enough. But what does this mean? And how does this affect us?
I came across this the other day when checking the blog was appearing correctly in a Google search. Currently the page title for the blog page is 'Blog - I am Bacon'. 'I am Blog' is the name of the page and 'I am Bacon' is the name of the website. This is what was returned in the search results.
As you can see it displays 'Blog - I am Bacon - Colin Bacon - Web Developer'. This suggests that Google feels the intended page title was not descriptive enough to be effective.
The first thing to note is Google has used the same delimiter, a hyphen, as the original title. Using a delimiter such as a hyphen, colon, or pipe, is a common and recommended practice.
So how did Google decide to use 'Colin Bacon - Web Developer'? The first guess would be in the meta description, as this is the description for the page. We can see that the description does contain 'Colin Bacon - Web Developer'. So it is possible the Google has looked through the page description to be able to better describe the page.
That sounds plausible but I think if we look at the search result for root page of the site (www.iambacon.co.uk), it will make more sense.
Here we can see 'Colin Bacon - Web Developer' is the title. Google sees this as the brand identity for the site, and feels that this should be represented on all page titles.
Money for nothing and your page titles for free
Great! I don't need to worry about my page titles; Google will sort it out for me! Whilst it would seem that way, it does raise a few questions. Google clearly thinks that the page title would be better represented this way to users. The decision to do this would not have been taken on a whim, so there must be real value in it.
Is it me? I can change
The message here is clear, page titles should be consistently branded across all pages. It's a little reminder that we need to put thought into our titles and present a consistent, clearly branded title to users. In fact there is an excellent article on Google on the subject of Site title and description. Under page titles it states,
Brand your titles, but concisely.
The examples display the brand name at the start of each title, but suggest the beginning or the end. I'm not sure how comfortable I am about putting the brand name at the start; I feel that information about the individual page should be first. Although it may be that when a user scans the page, they can see a brand name they trust easier and then invest in reading the title and description.
Should I change?
If Google are changing the page titles for me is there any need to change them myself? Well it doesn't appear to effect search rankings but it might do in the future, is it worth the risk? I would much prefer to have total control over my title's content, rather than leaving it up to an algorithm to get it right. You wouldn't want your page content changed so why should the title be any different.
So what should I do? First step, get out there and see what search results for your site look like. Are they being changed at all? If so what to?
Branding is very important, and there's no reason why it should be any different for the page titles on your site. For example I often don't click a result until it says Stackoverflow, because I trust that brand for a reliable answer to my development woes.
Keep your page titles clear and consistent and I don't think you'll go far wrong. I'm off to change mine!