Worried about Google rewriting your titles?

~65%. That’s the percentage of web page titles my research shows as rewritten by Google since September.

To put it into perspective, that's a nearly 3x increase relative to the results of the same analysis I conducted a year ago.

This is not just Google shortening long titles with an ellipsis (I specifically excluded those cases). The research looked at every instance where Google changed the title vs. what was found on the page itself. 

Why should SEO's care? Whether you are running click-through rate tests or simply trying to better match searcher intent – there is a 65% chance you’re drawing the wrong conclusions from your data.

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So, What Are SEOs to Do?

I am a firm believer in controlling one’s own destiny. As much as Google’s intentions may be good, ceding control over what is displayed for my pages is not something I am comfortable with – I’m guessing you are not either. 

Dr. Pete has written an excellent post outlining the different types of rewrites. Combined with the observations from my title rewrite analysis last year, there is enough written on WHAT and HOW rewrites happen. 

The question I wanted to answer was whether the data showed patterns on WHY and WHEN this was happening – and if it could lead to some direction on things we could take action on. 

To answer this, I dug into data on the Top 5 ranking URLs across 1 million keywords.  

Since seoClarity crawls a TON of data, it was easy to get both the SERP titles and also the actual titles on the page (also available to all clients from the UI directly). More on the data and methodology at the end of this study. 

NOTE: This is a large-scale analysis. As a result the findings are an average across a broad swath of industries and keywords. Use this analysis as a benchmark and run your own title rewrite analysis to understand how this impacts you.

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

#1. Title length affects rewrite probability 

This was true last year, and it's still true today. 

Titles between 11 and 60 characters have a significantly lower chance of being rewritten than those under or above that threshold. 

Title Rewrite Likliehood
Below is the same chart from last year – note how rewrite percentages have increased across the board but the pattern is identical.

Title Rewrite Length Chart 2020

Takeaway: Running a CTR test? Stay within 20 to 60 character titles to reduce the chance of rewrites.

#2. Truncated titles are rewritten too 

I had a chance to dig into truncated titles in this analysis. Not surprisingly, titles that are truncated are also rewritten.  

While we excluded truncated titles in this analysis, adding those cases where the titles were truncated AND rewritten would move the percentage of rewrite up above the 70% mark.

Takeaway: Keep the most important message in your title within the first 70 characters.

#3. Certain words (and characters) can act as triggers

Many rewrites are minor adjustments of the title, where certain words or characters are simply dropped.

I found this especially true in the case of the following words and characters where the likelihood of this type of rewrite was over 90%.

  • Words: These presumably are adding little value to the title and are being removed:
    • Home, Homepage, FAQ, Reviews Login, Sign in, About
  • Characters: A lot has been written about using emojis in titles to improve CTR. Google may be onto this tactic and making efforts to strip out unnecessary "decorations" from the title:
    • 🥇✅▷ ❤️ 🏆 :: |
  • The character removal is not perfect by any means. There are a number of characters that did not seem to get removed:
    • ≡ ⋆ •✴️✔️→

Takeaway: Consider replacing "generic" words from titles to differentiate them, and when it comes to emojis – test, test, and test. Tactics that don't add value for end users may have short lived benefits.

#4. Rank position makes a difference – but only for position 1 

Position 1 titles were rewritten less percent of times than other rank positions – 59.78% vs. ~66%.  

There was no significant difference in the title rewrites between positions 2 through 5.  

Takeaway: Web pages in position 1 may be either doing more things right as outlined above (which is not always the case as any SEO can attest) or Google may be granting them some leniency.

Regardless, run the analysis for your own web pages in position 1 vs. other positions to confirm. Take it up another notch and run it for your competitors.

#5. Title rewrites serve a purpose

There are multiple types of of rewrites. 

At a higher level, title rewrites appear to target a few end goals:

#6. Title rewrites are not a new issue – and are not going away 

I wrote about conducting a page title rewrite analysis just a little over a year ago, noting how the incidents of rewrites were growing.  

Title rewrites are not going away. If you want to control your destiny, you will need to conduct this same analysis and determine when and why Google rewrites titles and build your own strategy for how to overcome it.

Taking Action: seoClarity Client? 

seoClarity clients can research, analyze, and uncover the impact of title rewrites with a couple of clicks. 

1. Actionable Insights already has a built-in insight to highlight each title and meta rewrite. It essentially runs the analysis for you. 

2. Rank Intelligence provides you the raw SERP title and meta downloads for both your own domain and also any competitor domain.

3. Trended click-through rate curves within the seoClarity's Search Analytics report helps quickly uncover the actual impact. Here's a quick video showing how to do that CTR analysis.

Actionable Insight Title Rewrite Analysis

Need help running the analysis? Contact seoClarity’s Data team.

Not an seoClarity Client? 

Get free access to our Research Grid data set and tap into the titles and metas we have captured for your web pages across the 330+ million keywords we track on a monthly basis.  

Or, contact us to learn how you can load your historical Search Analytics data and get insights quickly.

Data and Methodology 

For the purpose of this analysis I took: 

  • 5 million URLs, each ranking in Top 5 positions  
  • The actual page titles for each page  
  • For the date of August 22, 2021 
  • Titles that were simply truncated (by adding an ellipsis) but otherwise matched the webpage title were not counted as rewritten for the purpose of this analysis 
  • Since the data is based on keywords tracked in seoClarity, it is skewed higher towards a transactional and navigational intent vs pure informational queries. If you are a publisher or news site, these results may not apply to you. I recommend everyone run their own analysis based on their target keywords to get a sense of the rewrite and use this analysis as a benchmark.
  • When comparing the page titles, our awesome Data Analyst team helped separate out the different ways in which titles were rewritten.