Google Doesn’t Think Your Title Tags are Good Enough

For several years now, Google has been changing some title tags in the SERPs. Some of these changes are to be expected, such as when a title tag is longer than what can be displayed in the results. Other changes are a result of differences in how Google views the page content vs. title tag, links pointing at the page, and the query they are displaying the result for. Something I get asked on a regular basis is “How many are actually being changed?” I decided to use our Partner API to find out.

Mining Search Results & Title Tags

I started with a list of a few random keywords, pulled the top 100-120 results for each, and looked over the data. Tori dropped the results into Excel and built a few charts to show what the initial set looked like so we could decide whether to go bigger. We continued this process a couple times to confirm that results looked the same as we added more keywords and results into the mix. The final data set for this ended up being a little over 111,000 results.

As the search result data came in, I would run each URL through our web insights queue, which can be used to crawl pages and parse them into clean, structured data. This allowed me to quickly grab title tags off each page without having to deal with potential slowness of loading each page myself through my own crawler. Our web insights queue can grab thousands of pages in parallel if needed.

Comparing Overall Title Lengths

The first thing I did after collecting the data was to look at the length of the on page title tags versus the title showing in the search results. There are clearly still a huge number of people that don't keep their titles under 70 characters. SEO 101 folks...shorten those titles and make them interesting for users.

When looking at the length of titles being shown in Google, it starts becoming apparent that the sweet spot may actually be between 50 and 59 characters. This has been the case since Google changed the font used for titles and Moz even narrowed it to likely being about 55 characters.

Google Changing Title Tags

Based on the above charts, we can assume that Google is making changes to titles when they display the SERPs. I wanted to find out just how many have been changed and how different they are from the on page title. 36% of titles were partially changed where the title displayed in Google was extracted from the on page title or they were the on page title with something minor appended to it such as the site name. 25.4% of the titles were completely changed where there were different words or a different word order in the SERPs than in the on page titles.

For those titles that were left unchanged, their lengths match up pretty well with the overall combined lengths noted above. The largest range is still between 50 and 59 characters.

The majority of partially changed titles were longer than 59 characters and many were over the old 70 character limit when looking at the length of the on page title tag.

Once Google made their changes, they fall in line with the unchanged titles. Again, the 50-59 character range appears to be ideal as far as Google is concerned.

When it came to the completely changed title tags, there wasn't as big of a spike in the 60+ character on page titles. These were likely more of a situation where Google decided to change because of the query, links pointing at the page, or a mismatch between the title and content.

Once again though, the lengths have been shifted to prefer the 50-59 character window.

Did Rank Position Matter for When Titles Were Changed?

Before running all of this data, I had wondered if changes happened more often on the first page vs. the tenth page of results. It might make sense to put processing effort into tweaking the pages that are seen more than others. It turned out that the changes were evenly distributed across all positions and there was no weighting to prefer changing the top results over results buried where almost nobody sees them.

Revisit Your Own Title Tags

It is pretty clear that if you want your title tag to remain unchanged, it's worth making sure that you're staying within the 50-59 character window and that your titles fit with the content of the page. That's not necessarily going to guarantee that it never gets changed in the SERPs but at least you'll have more control over how you're represented in the SERPs.

49 Comments

Ricky

I ran an experiment on this a while ago, the results were that Google doesn’t actually limit the title by character count but instead by actual length i.e. pixels. So if your title contains smaller characters (in size like i and j) you can have more than 50 -59 characters.

But Google only indexes 12 words from your title so this would get indexed:

iii iii iii iii iii iii iii iii iii iii iii iii

But this wouldn’t:

iii iii iii iii iii iii iii iii iii iii iii iii iii iii

Brian LaFrance

Yup. That’s what we’ve seen and heard as well. There were a few titles that we found to be over 70 characters. Many of them made heavy use of the pipe character. Overall though, an average based on typical titles and grammar seem to be in that 50-59 range more often than other ranges.

Vadim Mialik

I would wonder why the pipe character would not become the standard separator for title tags? Is it because this is still a fairly new discovery?

PS Great research and write up btw

Brian LaFrance

Thank you Vadim. It seems like the pipe character is fairly common. Looking at the data I used, 24% of all the titles showing in the SERPs contain at least one pipe character. A little more than half of those are titles that Google changed.

Catfish

Completely not true. Consider the following page:
http://www.workday.com/applications.php

The phrase Alternative to ERP occurs in the title after the 155th character. The only time this phrase appears on the page is in the title and the description, yet the page ranks #6 in Google for that phrase. Google indexes a lot more than 12 words from your title tag.

Brian LaFrance

Yeah. The 12 words is probably outdated at this point. Likely similar to when there was a hard limit on the number of links they would crawl on a page before stopping. Maybe I’ll look into a way to extract some data on that πŸ™‚

Joefox

Hello everyone.
Actually, the 12 word thing was different. Google treats as TITLE 12 words but indexes all of it (what’s beyond the first 12 words seems to be treated as body text).
If you run this query you see the mentioned page doesn’t show up in the SERP.

But if you run this one it does.

By the way, great post here, thanks a lot for the interesting research.

Garry Egan

What a great piece. Very helpful.

If you think about it from a user’s perspective, which result looks better? “This is my long title tag and it’s over 70 characters but what I really want to say is….”
OR

“This is my title tag. It’s concise, on topic, and has no ellipses.”

The above look is what I like to see. You have to always put yourself in the user’s shoes to determine the best cause of action.

great article, brian.

Hannah

Great insights, Brian, although I find a benefit in having a slightly longer title for a page (as long as it’s appropriate) and letting Google tweak it a bit to match the searcher’s query better. 70 characters is definitely not a hard and fast rule for me if it’s the difference between getting an important word in that puts me at 73 characters versus not having that word at all. One thing Google does (sorta) right is refining the information you’ve given it to match the searcher’s query better – and really, isn’t that better for SEOs if it gets us more traffic? I’d rather have them choose the last 70 characters of my longer title if it’s more relevant and may give me a better CTR than force them to use a title that may not be best for the situation.

Switching to 50-59 characters might be a good move for those who REALLY want their page title in the SERPs to stay exactly as they set it, but I’d rather it risk being changed a little to be more relevant to the searcher. Of course, I don’t think this applies to keyword stuffing – in fact in my experience, that’s usually when I see Google completely rewrite a site’s title – when they are keyword stuffed with too many characters. But like I said, if one non-spammy word is going to put it a few characters over 70 for me and that word is relevant and helpful to the user, I will use it to catch a larger variety of searches with that page. πŸ™‚

Brian LaFrance

I think it’s difficult to let Google automate it and rely on that as being good. In mining this data out, I saw some pretty crazy changes that seemed like they would be bad for CTR compared to what could be done with a well written title.

Bruce

Great use of data to clearly make a point – thanks Brian.

I’ve read about the changes in title length via Moz, but just put it in the “nice to know” basket.
Seeing the data presented like this, especially with the (believable) conclusion that using a shorter title will give us more chance of keeping our carefully crafted titles will actually lead me to change my tactics.

Thanks!

Jim Rudnick

In our testing, Brian…it’s 512 pixels….for the title tag – and just over 900 or so for META desc tag….

Seems to also be the consensus out there in the SEO world too….i.e. # of chars doesn’t matter a hoot…
it’s the pixels that google is measuring….

Brian LaFrance

Thanks for the feedback Jim. When the newer layout is shown to users, that does seem to be the common pixel width. There are still a fair number of older layouts shown too that have a different font and that isn’t necessarily the case. It’s also a bit easier for users to base decisions on characters versus pixels but worth keeping both in mind. I think my goal and point of this post was to show that regardless of pixel width or character limits, a lot of people are doing it wrong and need to revisit their titles. πŸ™‚

Gyorgy

I prefer using the character count metric, because it’s easier to manage (e.g. in Excel). You need a tool like Screaming Frog or an online tool to test pixel width. My goal is to keep the title around 55 character long. It’s time to remove the boilerplate | brandname endings.

Jacob WorsΓΈe

Very interesting read. I would like to see you dive deeper into the 50-59 range to find the true sweet spot. I know it’s not as accurate as measuring pixels, buts its just easier to manage and serves as a great guide for editors.

Oussama

Well, we are experiencing that too. We have started working on it since the last weekend. These changes have influenced our position and we have lost some traffic. As far as we are concerned, the number of characters vary to get the right title tag that we want it to appear on the SERPs vary between 42 characters and 54 characters if it goes beyond that google changes nearly the whole title, and if it is less google adds the name of the web site.
I think that this update does concerns only netlinking but has something to do with semantics and correlation between content and titles.
I think that in the future google won’t land more importance to title and descriptions as far as the spammers use that criterion to rank (and others). So, the will rely more on the content of the page and content structure because we have notice that sometimes it ignore totally the description and get parts of the content to respond to a specific search or use words from h1 and h2 to create the title.
That’s all till know and still working on the web site to find the right combination to get back our positions.

Alain Parcan

Theoretical question about the “Length of Title in SERPs” chart.

With more and more articles advocating for optimal title tag lengths of 50-59 characters, won’t that lead to a cause and effect where top optimizers (who are paying a lot of attention to this stuff) are now defaulting to title tags of that length?

That would, in effect, lead to more SERP results having title tags of 50-59 characters, because those folks ALREADY on page one are trying to stay ahead of the curve by being consistent with “trends”.

Then, another group would run a study and see page one results have shorter title tags, and push for more and more companies to do the same. This would, again, in theory, perpetuate the cycle.

My point is… While this is an excellent study, I would like to see one that examines changes in search ranking based on title tag length tweaks, and nothing else.

That said, I’d like to reemphasize that this was a great read, my thinking is purely theoretical, and I look forward to reading more.

Brian LaFrance

If tweaks are done right and the title tag was written at the old length standards (70 characters), I doubt there will be much fluctuation in rankings. Ultimately, the point of making these changes is to get more people to click on your listing in the results rather than it improving rankings. More clicks may lead to an indirect effect on rankings but not necessarily the length specifically.

Ellie Elliott

This is a very interesting topic. I just recently started working at a company where I am learning SEO and it’s additional elements. This is something that is really good to keep in mind! Thanks for sharing!

Ben Wright

Very interesting. Great to see this data, but I will most likely still just try to keep them under 70 characters. If Google wants to change the title tag, have at it.

Norm

Did you check the sites that had page titles being changed by Google? I have noticed when a site does not have unique page titles (ie: all pages have the same page title), Google will use the H1 title of the page. Just curious if you checked because site that don’t have unique page titles, also tend to be over 70 characters.

Brian LaFrance

We didn’t check for duplication of titles within a site. Not a bad idea for a follow up post though…at least to see if the H1 is what gets picked up or not.

Owili Godgift

Thanks Brian. I’ve been looking forward to this day that I would come across this great piece. I’m not into SEO but I’ve noticed that whenever I publish an article with Long Tittle, the indexing will take time (like 10 minutes ). Is there any specific reason fro this?

Brian LaFrance

Title length shouldn’t have any bearing on a site being indexed.

Adam

This was an excellent post. Thank you.

In your research, did you also find 50-59 to have any correlation with ranking position?

Brian LaFrance

There didn’t appear to be any correlation between length of title and rankings.

paul

very nice blog. most of my titles are not more then 60 words and i have not seen any changes in my title tag from google as well

Greg Beddor

Thanks Brian, I was wondering why this kept happening with my website. Awesome research and thank you for creating this brilliant post!

Eric Rudolphe

It certainly is pixel count over character count. There are a number of tools out there to test your title tags length. What I have noticed more than anything is google placing the branded term at the beginning of the title. Especially when it is included at the end of your actual title tag.
Good article.

Sukh

Very interesting post Brian, I have been using Titles with length less than 60 characters and it helps.

Jens O. Meiert

As a site owner * I don’t welcome these title changes very much for they appear mostly sloppy (and then also inconsistent with other site titles). Here it seems these changes are taken fairly neutrally?

* Disclaimer: and Ex-Googler, but emphasis is on ex, for I’m just curious.

Brian LaFrance

I think people have just become used to Google making the rules and people having to modify their sites accordingly. Not ideal, but part of the game.

Hugh

I noticed a while ago that a page title over 100 characters got completely ignored by Google. It was not just that the SERP title was generated from the page content, but also keywords that only occurred in the title were ignored. Reducing the title length changed that, and from my limited experiments it seemed to be an exact 100 character limit.

I’m not sure whether this is still the case, but even if you’re fine with long titles being rewritten, keep in mind that there may be hidden penalties.

Philip

As a writer, I’m always agitating for “shorter is better.” It’s been mostly on feel or personal prejudice (or short attention span), so it’s nice to have something to back it up for those people who don’t just automatically trust my clearly brilliant instincts.

Eli Schwartz

Great post Brian! We had some title tags that were changed and I was able to have the original title tag show up in the SERP by reducing the character count/pixel width. Interestingly, while rankings did not change our traffic still improved – a likely result of a better tailored title tag.

Brian LaFrance

Yup. You guys probably create more clickable titles with the changes. If anything, revisiting them once in a while and just making sure they’re up to par is a good thing.

Fred

Very interesting post Brian. I usually keep my page titles to below 60 and do quite well. Thanks for sharing!

Lee Kennedy

This is great research, and confirms what I’m sure a lot of us have thought.

I’d be curious if your keyword selection included both branded and non-branded keywords, and if there were any significant differences in what was replaced for each. We’ve seen brand names being injected into TTs pretty aggressively for branded searches even if the TT and content contained it anyways. Google will move the brand name from the end of the TT to the very beginning–a minor change but a significant one, and one that reinforces the idea that brand names are important to Google and therefore probably send higher quality signals if they’re used instead of keyword-only TTs.

Brian LaFrance

There is a mix of both used in the data. I may look into a follow up post that looks at how branded vs. non-branded are handled specifically πŸ™‚

Kim

Brian LaFrance and Tori, thank you for providing the evidence for the theory and solidifying the reality with the hard data (numbers) and presenting the results with dynamic visual appeal. Kudos to you both! I appreciate having a simple yet thorough explanation to provide to my clients when insisting upon the character limitations in meta tags. I’ve been experimenting with the font and width of characters for a couple of months now and have personally seen the frequent changes by Google in the search query displays as they’ve implemented this determining factor on how to present a website to users.
Any updates to other changes are equally appreciated and anticipated.
Sharing shows caring and Following demonstrates belief. I’ve done both. Thanks again.

Richard

Well, I do welcome the research and its results. It is very instructive. nonetheless I am of a different point of view about the length of a title tag. First we must make a distinction between what Google displays and what Google indexes and its subsequent impacts.

Google does display a certain number of pixels within its SERP. Like others have mentioned, you can use screaming frog (free) to find out about the length of your current title and description tags. Based on this you will know whether, 1. they are too long, 2. they are too long, 3, there are duplicates.

I do not believe that the length of your title tag influences directly rankings but I do believe that, in some instances, having a length beyond the accepted length can be beneficial to how your site is being found.

We know that Google indexes the entire length of the title tag. Through the title tag, we can inform Google about latitude and longitude on the location page, for example. This will help with appearing in results on mobile devices using GPS. The same is true by adding the full address in the title tag. Both of those actions require the title tag to be longer than the accepted length, which is in fact the length of what is being displayed.

Yes, Google will modify, at times, the title tag based on its own crawling and ranking factors, but, in my experience, it has never been a contributor to an irrelevant set of information.

The question at hand here is about the right balance between providing information to search engines and displaying the correct information to searchers. While I differ in my point of view from yours in terms of keeping the length at below 60 characters, I still do strive to shorten my title tags when relevant and lengthen them where applicable.

Nonetheless, a great read.

albert mania

This is exactly what i m looking for , thank you very much for informative tips you have provided . In my case Google not only hide my Title tag , but also the meta descreption came with it .When i type my web site name, google shown only my web site domain name as Title Tag and Took a text content in my page body as meta descreption, and i think may this is a penalty signal from google .Any ideas or suggestion about that.
Thank you

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