Last Tuesday, Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable broke some news: Many SEOs noticed Google displaying header tags (H1s and H2s) instead of meta and title tags for search snippets. Whether this was a bug or a test was unclear, but those stumbling across the issue were, in a word, confused. Why would Google be doing this?
The next day, Matt Southern of Search Engine Journal (SEJ) reported on the same issue, saying it’s not unlike Google to make changes to search engine results page (SERP) titles (for example, the search engine at one point added business names to the end of titles.) But this recent change is unusual in that Google seems to be overriding entire titles with different text.
Southern also noted that while most title rewrites seemed to make use of H1s, some SEOs – including Lily Ray – reported seeing page titles replaced with anchor text from an internal link. Another SEO even saw evidence of Google adding a date to the beginning of an article title. So, you could say there’s been a lot going on. And this is likely a case of Google running A/B tests on live search results, something it’s been known to do in the past, and that always causes a stir in the SEO community.
Case in point, conversations began to spread that these SERP tests were related to passage ranking. As a refresher, passage ranking, which went live in February, changes how Google looks at content and gives long web pages or those that touch on multiple topics a better chance of ranking if one part of the page is relevant to a user’s search query. So, you can understand why SEOs would think Google’s surprise title reworking could be related. The theory being tossed around is that maybe Google is looking for a specific passage that relates to a query and pulling the new header from that passage.
To get to the bottom of it, Barry Schwartz on Thursday flat out asked Google’s Danny Sullivan if the two were related. The answer? A hard no. But another vocal Google mouthpiece, John Mueller, basically confirmed that this is an intentional change on Google’s part. It’s looking, for the moment, like Google is grabbing at any relevant page text to display as the SERP title. This has long been the case for meta descriptions, which Google can adjust to match a user’s query.
But something about having your carefully crafted SERP title thrown out the window is a little more painful than a dynamic meta description. Here you are, having created your perfectly optimized title tag that you believed would entice readers to click, then in walks Google to mess it all up – annoying, but not surprising. And while this being a permanent feature down the road is possible, it’s worth pointing out that rewritten titles likely won’t affect rankings. Then again, this is Google we’re talking about, so what do we know? Watch this space for updates.
More SEO News You Can Use
Mueller Explained How 500 Error Codes Can Impact Indexing: In a recent Search Central office-hours hangout, a viewer asked John Mueller under what circumstances Googlebot would crawl content less often, specifically as a result of 500 error codes. In response, Mueller explained how Google responds to 500 error codes and how continued errors could cause pages to be dropped from Google’s index. According to Mueller, Google will continue to retry these errors, but crawling will eventually slow down if nothing seems to be changing. If these errors remain unfixed, Google will drop these page URLs from the index entirely. Additionally, if a significant percentage of a website has 500 errors, Google might assume that the problem is being caused by Google itself and will also slow down crawling and eventually drop pages. The bottom line? Keep an eye on Search Console for these errors because they could spell trouble down the line.
A “site:query” Search Does Not Reveal All of Your Indexed Pages: Mueller answered another SEO question, this time in an #AskGooglebot video. A viewer asked Mueller why the results of a site:query – a command that asks Google for results from one specific domain – did not return a comprehensive collection of their entire site’s pages. The answer? Contrary to popular belief, that’s not what a site:query does. While it limits the results to one website, this type of search does not return every page from the website. So, there’s no cause for alarm if your site has a certain number of pages indexed, but a site:query search only returns half of them. This type of search is not an indicator of the pages Google has indexed. As Mueller said, if it’s indexed pages you’re looking for, you’d be much better off using Search Console instead.
YouTube’s Search Results Have Been Overhauled: YouTube is, technically, the second-largest search engine after Google, so ignoring changes to its search results would be a big mistake. In a blog post released on Tuesday, YouTube outlined the future of its search algorithms, consisting of three major changes. Firstly, searches will become more visual: Thumbnail images are being replaced by a preview of each video when scrolled over, and some videos will display time-stamped images of video chapters directly on the search page. Secondly, YouTube is introducing automatic translation of captions, titles and descriptions, enabling users to consume content regardless of their language and creators to reach a global audience. Finally (and perhaps most exciting of all for SEO experts), YouTube may be further integrating with Google – the platform is experimenting with returning Google Search results when there’s not enough video content available on a subject.
Snapchat Introduces Snapchat Trends To Highlight Popular Keywords: Hot on YouTube’s heels, Snapchat is also giving marketers a reason to smile with its new tool, Snapchat Trends, which gives an overview of a keyword’s popularity on the platform. In a Snapchat For Business blog also published on Tuesday, the popular social media platform explained its new tool and how it can be applied. Snapchat Trends presents a search bar where you can search for a particular keyword as well as a list of the top trends from the past week. Typing in a keyword will return a graph displaying the keyword’s usage over time, and you can also see a carousel of snaps related to the keyword. This is helpful because the types of videos related to the keyword help to show why a keyword is trending. Let the keyword research commence!
Research Reveals How To Succeed at Local SEO: We all know the importance of local SEO – and now, new research from Milestone Internet, which analyzed millions of sessions and pageviews, is showing which traffic sources bring the most sales and engagement. The agency said it reviewed 500 location-based websites over 18 months, which covered 63 million sessions and 176 million pageviews. The results revealed organic search (46.5 percent) to be the top-performing channel, followed by local search (22.6 percent) and referral traffic (9.4 percent). For many, the referral traffic statistic might come as a surprise, but this highlights the importance of platforms like Yelp for location-based websites. The study really drives home the importance of optimizing for local search, and it’s worth a read for some insightful data and tips for local search optimization.
Editor’s Note: “SEO News You Can Use” is a weekly blog post posted every Monday morning only on SEOblog.com, rounding up all the top SEO news from around the world. Our goal is to make SEOblog.com a one-stop-shop for everyone looking for SEO news, education and for hiring an SEO expert with our comprehensive SEO agency directory.