Why Google Rewrites Your Titles and How to Stop It
<title>Hey Google, Don't Rewrite This (Please)</title>
Title tags are what we call an outsized Google ranking factor.
Like most Google ranking signals, titles play only a small part in the overall algorithm. But because they are typically the first things users see in Google results, titles can greatly impact click-through rates (CTR) and the number of visits your site ultimately receives.
Indeed, nearly all of our top SEO consultants we talk with consistently cite title tags as one of the first things they look at one auditing a website.
Traditionally, Google used title tags to generate the page title in its search results. Over the years, it wasn’t uncommon to see Google make small changes to the title—typically because of length or relevancy—but these changes were mostly minor.
More recently, Google became much more aggressive with title rewriting, incorporating additional HTML tags and generally rewriting far more titles than previously.
Many site owners find that the titles they carefully craft almost all get rewritten.
Fortunately, here at Zyppy, we have a large database of titles thanks to our title tag analysis tool. Armed with this data, we set out to determine how often Google rewrites titles and the scenarios that trigger this behavior.
Google Rewriting Many of Your Page Titles
For this research, we examined a total of 80,959 title tags across 2370 sites in early 2022 from across the globe and compared them against desktop Google results.
In our analysis, we found that Google rewrote 61.6% of the titles.
This number agrees with an earlier study by Dr. Pete Meyers and another by Alexis Rylko using slightly different methodologies. To be fair, many of these Google rewrites are minor (while many aren’t), but 61% is still a very large number.
If Google rewrites a significant number of your titles, it can be helpful to understand why they do this because Google’s algorithm believes it can write better titles than you.
Looking at individual results, we found many common scenarios in which it became more likely for Google to rewrite titles. These scenarios include:
- Length: overly long titles and short titles
- Using the same keyword more than once
- Use of title separators, such as dashes “-” or pipes “|”
- Titles with [brackets] or (parentheses)
- Identical “boilerplate” used across many titles
- Missing or superfluous brand names
… and more.
Let’s dive into 3 of the most common scenarios that trigger Google rewrites that haven’t yet been explored in depth: length, brackets/parenthesis, and separators.
How Character Length Impacts Google Title Rewriting
On desktop search, Google typically limits titles to 600 pixels (often a bit more for mobile results.) Titles longer than this are almost always truncated with ellipses (…).
But Google also rewrites very short titles.
We mapped all 80,959 titles by the number of characters in each to determine the likelihood of Google rewriting each one. As you can see in the graph below, Google rewrites both long titles and extremely short titles over 95% of the time.
Short titles between 1-5 characters (e.g., “Home” or “IBM”) were rewritten 96.6% of the time, typically by adding more words and information. Any title with 20 characters or less had a better than 50% chance of getting rewritten.
On the other hand, long titles with over 70 characters were rewritten a whopping 99.9% of the time. Any title over 60 characters had a greater than 76% chance of getting rewritten.
The “sweet spot” seemed to be between 51-60 characters. These titles had the lowest percentage of rewrites, ranging between 39% to 42%.
Note: Simply because Google doesn’t display certain words from your title tag in search results doesn’t always mean that those words aren’t helping you to rank. These are two separate processes.
Does Google Favor [Brackets] or (Parentheses)?
You’ve likely seen titles utilize both brackets and/or parentheses, e.g.
- Top TVs Reviewed by Experts [Updated for 2022]
- 6 Ways to Solve Wordle (+2 That Don’t Work)
It’s a common method to help make key ideas and terms stand out in a cluttered sea of search results.
Brackets and parentheses may seem interchangeable, but our analysis shows that Google is far more likely to one differently than the other.
For pages that contained brackets , Google rewrote 77.6% of titles. Not only that, Google completely removed the bracketed portion of text 32.9% of the time.
So a title that looked like this…
How to Fix a Broken iPhone Screen [Tested by Experts] - Phone Fixer
… might now look like this in Google search 32.9% of the time:
How to Fix a Broken iPhone Screen - Phone Fixer
On the other hand, the text contained in parentheses fared far better. Google only rewrote these titles 61.9% of the time – nearly equal to all other titles. Google completely removed the parenthesis section of text only 19.7% of the time, far less often than the 32.9% seen with brackets.
In other words, if you want to emphasize text in titles, it’s far better to use parentheses, as Google seems less likely to remove these portions of text.
Which Title Separator Does Google Prefer?
Title separators are bits of common punctuation used to break titles into parts, such as arrows “>” or colons “:”.
For years, the title separator you used was largely a matter of personal preference.
Today, two of the most common separators in use are the dash and its many variations “- – —” and the pipe “|”.
Does Google care which separator you use? According to our analysis, the answer is almost certainly yes.
For titles that use dashes as separators, Google rewrote and completely removed the dashes 19.7% of the time – and presumably the content in between.
By comparison, titles that used pipes saw Google remove and/or replace the pipes 41.0% of the time – more than double.
Often, Google replaced pipes with a different separator, typically a dash. It doesn’t seem like using a pipe will hurt you in any way, but dashes are definitely less susceptible to rewriting.
Fighting Google Title Rewrites With H1 Tags
As mentioned earlier, Google now considers other HTML elements when crafting page tiles beyond title tags. Chief among these are H1 tags.
Indeed, we found that using H1 tags strategically could limit the amount of title rewriting Google might perform on your site.
We found that matching your H1 to your title typically dropped the degree of rewriting across the board, often dramatically.
For example, pages that contained at least one number (1-9, 2022, 7a, etc.) in the title tag, but no numbers in the H1, saw their titles rewritten to contain no numbers 25.8% of the time.
By contrast, on pages where both the title and the H1 contained a number, Google included a number in the title a shocking 97.3% of the time. In other words, when numbers were also included in the H1, Google only rewrote titles not to include a number a meager 2.3% of the time.
Takeaway: To dramatically decrease the chance of Google rewriting your title, matching the H1 to the title tag seems to be an effective strategy.
A sample of title tags from 2370 sites of various sizes, age, search visibility, geotargeting, and topics were examined. A total of 80,959 URLs were included for study. Page title elements were extracted from URLs using a proprietary crawler. Missing or malformed title elements were not included in the study. Google titles were obtained by performing “site:” operator searches that included the target URL. Finally, all data was stored in a database and analysis performed using SQL. All data was current as of Q1 2022.
It’s important to note that—at least observationally—Google may display different titles based on the query, user device, and possibly other factors. For this reason, the actual number of rewritten titles is likely higher than represented in this study.