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Title Rewrites: 3 Patterns to Avoid — Whiteboard Friday

Publisched on
April 15, 2022

Whiteboard Friday is back for another season of SEO tips, tricks, and insights! 

First up, Dr. Pete takes you through some of the new data we've collected on the ways in which Google rewrites title tags. In addition, he shares three titling patterns to avoid if you don’t want them rewritten. Enjoy! 

whiteboard with title tags to avoid

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Hey, everybody. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. I'm Dr. Pete, the marketing scientist for Moz, and I want to talk to you today about title rewrites. The new version, Google made a bunch of changes in the last 6 or 7 months, and the shortest answer is we don't like them. But as with many things with Google, us not liking them doesn't really change much. 

So I want to talk today a bit about what we've seen in the last six months, some new data that we collected, if things are different or the same, and some of the scenarios where maybe they don't seem that egregious, but Google is rewriting, and that we might want to avoid and that we might not expect to be a problem. I'm going to go through three of those scenarios.

New title rewrite data

Pie chart showing percentage of Google title rewrites.

So first of all, we did a re-up on our data from last August. Last August, we found that about 58% of the titles we measured across a set of 10,000 keywords were being rewritten. I'm going to define that in a minute. This time around, we found that number is down to 57%. Hooray, a whole percent! Recently, Cyrus Shepard, who used to be with us at Moz, found a very similar number. Google quotes a very different number. So I want to talk to you little bit about how we're defining things and how we're going to change that up a little bit on the Moz side.


So our 57% includes a lot of stuff. It includes, first of all, this blue section of the pie, this bluish green, I used too many blue greens here, which I call truncation. That really is when the title is too long and Google has to cut it off. This has been around forever in some form. What can you do? The box right now is 600-ish pixels long. You run out of space, you're out of space. Not really Google's fault. They did change things up a little bit six or seven months ago. Now, instead of just that cutting off and the "..." at the end, they might take a piece from the middle. They might take a complete segment from the middle and not even put the "...". But I'm going to call all of that truncation because they are using your title tag and it's just too long. So I pulled that out.


I've also pulled out what I called addition, and in this case that's where Google appends either your brand name or sometimes a location. So they're using your title or a segment of your title, sometimes they truncate and add, which is a little confusing, and then adding some additional information they think is useful. Again, I don't think it's really fair to call that a rewrite. So when we pull those out, we're seeing about 30% of the titles in this dataset being rewritten on high volume, competitive keywords.

What is a rewrite?

If you read what Google says, they're calling a rewrite a situation where they take text from somewhere else on the page, say an H1 or some body text, and are using that instead of the title tag. So they're not counting modifications. So we just have to be aware that their definition and ours are a little bit different, and there is a lot of gray area.

I don't want to talk today about kind of the obvious rewrites, where I think Google is doing a good job. If every single page on your website is called website and Google rewrites that, I think that's probably fine. That's good for users, right, and it's probably good for you and for your click-through rate and your engagement. If you take your entire laundry list of keywords and CSV dump them and put them in your title tag and Google rewrites that, I'm going to side with Google on that one too. Sorry, but that's not great. So I think there are situations where Google is doing a decent job. I think it is going to get better over time.

Three title tag patterns to avoid

But I want to talk about three scenarios that might surprise you little bit and that I want you to be careful of. So I'm going to use this fictional business, Bob's Boba. I'm a boba tea fan. The red for the delimiters is intentional.

One of the things we're finding is that Google is getting a little aggressive about commas and pipes and dashes and using them to break things up or seeing them as ways to just separate keywords. So we have to be a little cautious. I think they're overdoing that right now and may tone it down. They've toned it down a little bit, but not quite enough.

Scenario 1: Keyword stuffing light

So my first scenario is what I'll call "keyword stuffing light". It's not egregious, and it kind of makes sense, but Google might not see it that way. So this example, "Boba Tea, Milk Tea, Oolong," okay, three products, "27 Varieties of Boba | Cupertino, Fremont, Sunnyvale | Bob's Boba," all of those things are true in our fictional scenario. All of them are useful. I'm not really stuffing more than three things of the same type in a row.

But a couple things. One, it's too long. Google is going to cut that off. Two, they don't really separate these things conceptually very well yet. They do a little bit. So they might just still see this as a string of keywords, and we are seeing things like this getting rewritten. Now, in the past, they might just take the first part of this and "..." and cut it off, and you'd be okay. The challenge now is they could take something in the middle. So you could end up with Cupertino, Freemont, and Sunnyvale as your display title. Probably not. But you don't really have that control. Now there are more options, from Google's standpoint, which in a way means you have less control. It's a little more unpredictable what's going to happen.

So this is a scenario where are you doing anything terribly wrong? No, but shorten this. Be in control. That's going to be the message of all of these. Take more control over this process because Google is going to take more liberties and they're going to do more than just truncate. So I would suggest focusing on your critical keywords here and not trying to do so much in the title.

Scenario 2: Superlatives

The second example is superlatives, going heavy on marketing copy. This doesn't seem that bad. "The 11 BEST Boba Blends for Boba Lovers." Okay, I put "best" in all caps. It's a little much. But this isn't super spammy. I'm not loaded with marketing terms. But we are seeing Google do a fair amount of rewrites on this kind of title and even stuff that's not that over the top. I think the argument is that it's kind of empty. It doesn't really tell people much. I think you could argue that there are better, more informative titles that might be good for search users and for your engagement.

Again, the challenge here is Google isn't going to just truncate this. They're going to pick something different on your page to replace it with. What's weird right now is the thing on your page they replace it with might be even more superlative and have more marketing copy. So I'm seeing some weird stuff. Okay, maybe if they take that H1 or that header, it's going to be okay. But, again, you don't control that. So be aware of these things and maybe tone the language down a bit and be a little more descriptive. There is a happy medium.

Scenario 3: Site architecture

Finally, we have something that isn't keyword stuffing at all. It's long and it's text heavy, but this is really just a reflection of the site architecture, going from brand to category to subcategory to product. We see this all the time. So this example "Bob's Boba | Drinks Menu | Boba Tea | Popping Boba | Fruit-Flavored Popping Boba | Mango Popping Boba," okay, I've overdone it a little bit. But this is a perfectly acceptable site architecture if the site was fairly large. It's very common for people and for CMSes to try and reflect that in the title. The problem here, again, is Google isn't just going to truncate this. They might pick something like "Flavored-Popping Boba - Bob's Boba" and actually mix and match this in whatever way they want. It could be okay. But, again, you're not in control of it.

We used to advise flipping this. We used to say put the most unique part for the page first. So Mango Popping Boba | Flavored Popping Boba, on and on, and Bob's Boba at the end. In a simple truncation scenario, that was fine. But now that Google is potentially taking something in the middle, I don't think that's going to work so well anymore. So I do think you need to tighten this up and control it.

I know some people are going to argue, well, this is a perfectly valid reflection of our site architecture. Yes, it is. You're not doing anything wrong. But is this really good for users? People on search, they have short attention spans. You scan. I scan. The way we use search and the way we think as SEOs aren't always the same. So you're not going to read all this, even if it was displayed, and this is not really all useful for the visitor. It's perfectly fine in your site architecture to navigate this way and to have that structure. That's great. But you don't need all of this in your title tag. So pick that most unique thing. You can put the brand on the end if you want. Again, you control that, not Google.


So three scenarios here — keyword stuffing light, going a little too heavy on that marketing copy, and finally trying to stuff your entire site navigation into the title. None of these are terrible things, and you're not a bad person, but you're very likely to get rewritten and the rewrites might be a little more random than you'd like.

This data just from this past month, about 30% rewrites. It really hasn't changed that much since Google did the rollout back in August. So be careful. Be aware. Measure and adjust as you go. Thanks for joining us and we'll see you next time on Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

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