A Guide to Google’s 2021 Title Tag Update

SEO

There’s been quite the shake up in the world of SEO over the last two weeks following a recent Google update to how title tags are being generated in search.

For those who might not know, title tags refer to the title of a web page. This is the text usually displayed on the search engine results page (SERPs) above the page description. 

Example of title tags in search results
Screenshot by Passion

Up to now, website managers have had the privilege of writing these themselves – and hopefully making them user-friendly and optimised for search!) However, Google has recently taken additional steps to make sure the user’s needs are being met as a priority when it comes to what is being displayed in title tags.

This is likely because, historically, title tags have been the victim of keyword stuffing, a term which refers to the overuse of keywords within a title tag. The practice is most often done in order to manipulate search engines into ranking a page higher up results pages for the target keywords.

In the early days of SEO, this was a relatively effective tactic, as search engines’ algorithms were less advanced. Nowadays this is far from the case, yet many websites are either still using these outdated tactics. Alternatively, they may not be taking notice of their title tags at all – leaving them blank, or with default text – or using too many characters, which can lead them to getting cut off in SERPs.

With this recent update, Google is opting to rewrite title tags itself in an effort to better describe what a page is about. Although many factors are taken into consideration when this occurs, Google has emphasised that it looks for the most visual title or headline which is already shown on the page itself. This often leads to snappier titles and, most importantly, written for humans, not search engines.

It’s also worth noting that although Google has been rewriting title tags since 2012, the rollout of this particular update has had the most visible impact across a range of industries.

We’ve been keeping a close eye on these changes for our clients, so reach out to us if you’re unsure of the impact this may have had on your website.

Google Indenting and Grouping Search Results

Automatically generating title tags isn’t the only thing that Google’s been doing more of in their results pages over the last fortnight.

If you look below, you’ll see how Google has resumed grouping relevant pages from the same domain in search results – here’s an example from Mailchimp:

Although this update may appear minor, it has sparked interest here at Passion and within the wider SEO community for a few reasons.

Firstly and most importantly, it’s great for user experience, as multiple results related to a query may appear higher up within the SERP, which saves users some serious scrolling time if the top results aren’t the most relevant to them.

It’s also interesting from an SEO perspective, as it may potentially help negate issues related to keyword cannibalisation. This can occur when a single website has multiple pages which rank for the same search query. On the face of it, many people think this is a good thing, effectively increasing the chances of their site as a whole making a splash. However, it actually makes it much more difficult to reach the top spot, as Google simply gets confused as to which is the best page to display.

Avoiding duplicate content on your website is always a must, but for sites which boast larger content clusters which cover similar topics in slightly different ways,  this new SERP update may actually be beneficial. as they may instead be grouped together and hold a higher spot.

These indented results are also useful for brand searches – queries containing a brand name – as multiple results from the brand’s website are more likely to be drawn higher up. For users trying to find what they’re looking for on a brand’s own website, this can only be a good thing.

We’ll be keeping an eye on this update and how it may affect keyword rankings across our clients’ accounts. If it’s something your website may have been affected by, our SEO team would love to help.