Google seems to be increasingly ignoring the title tag to define the title of webpages in the SERPs.
Preferred H1 as title in search results
Barry Schwartz points out in the Search Engine Roundtable that Google seems to be increasingly ignoring the title tag used to define the title of the pages in the results. It’s difficult to speak of a clear trend as it’s just an observation of complaints raised by SEOs on Twitter and in specialized forums.
In most cases, Google prefers H1 over Title; but he can also use other text like an H2 or even the anchor of a link on another page to define the title.
Why Google ignores the title to define a webpage’s title
Google decides not to use a webpage’s title if it feels that another element is more relevant to fulfilling a web user’s search intent. Google’s aim is to present the results better and also to avoid illegible title tags, as these are over-optimized with many keywords in order to position themselves well.
For the same page, Google can also show the title for a person A and favor an H2 for a person B using different keywords in their search query.
A title adapted to the search query has […] are more likely to grab the user’s attention and encourage them to click the link.
The principle also applies to the description displayed under the title, Google does not systematically use the content of the meta description tag.
Google says so “The aim of the title and excerpt is to best describe each result of a search and show how it responds to the query entered by the internet user”. Google makes it clear that multiple sources are used to define the title and description of pages in the SERPs. The title and meta description tags are not systematically taken over by the engine.
We use a variety of sources to collect this information, including the descriptions in the title and meta tags of each page.
Google also regularly uses other information such as H1 and structured data to define the title of press articles in certain areas such as News Carousel or Discover.
Best practices for designing a web page title
Want to put the odds on your page so Google honors your title tag? The search engine gives several clues.
- Check that every page on your website has a title in the title tag.
- Write meaningful titles. Specifically, Google suggests avoiding vague words like “home” to introduce your homepage.
- Write concise titles. Avoid titles that are too long as they can be truncated in search results, especially on desktop.
- Avoid including too many keywords in your titles. In particular, Google discourages using the same word twice in a page title.
- Avoid duplicate content, the pages of your website must offer very different titles so that Google (and internet users) can understand their specifics. Standardized titles are also discouraged, in favor of dynamic constructions to better match the content of the pages.
- You can put your title at the beginning or end of the title depending on the page, but rather succinctly. It can be delimited by a delimiter such as a hyphen, pipe, or colon.
- Be careful when using the robots.txt file: if you prohibit Google from crawling a page, but it finds a link to that page, the search engine may decide to index it with the content it can crawl. So it can index content it can’t crawl by anchoring the title to a link provided on another page that authorizes Google to crawl it.
For more information, see the official document on titles and quality excerpts.