“Oh no, Google is rewriting titles in the SERP. How can I check this?” – A desperate SEO specialist, tired after a long summer of Google algorithm updates.
“Don’t worry, my friend, I found four free SEO tools checking for titles changes in the Search” – Sam, a nice guy.
Before sharing my selection of free tools, let’s briefly discuss the Google way of changing our pages’ titles.
If you cannot wait, jump straight to the tools sections.
Table of Contents
Google is rewriting pages titles? Really!
It has made some noise in August and September 2021 in the SEO community.
Google confirmed that it rewrites titles in the SERP and in a new way.
Indeed in a new way.
Titles rewrite has been around for a while, and they were changed (sometimes) based on the query.
But now it’s slightly different.
On August 24th 2021, Google shared an update on how it generates web page titles: “Last week, we introduced a new system of generating titles for web pages. Before this, titles might change based on the query issued. This generally will no longer happen with our new system. This is because we think our new system is producing titles that work better for documents overall, to describe what they care about, regardless of the particular query.“
Google goes further and indicates that it could use the text from the H1 tag or other prominent text or headlines on the page for the title displayed in the SERP.
And wait, Google even add, “Other text contained in the page might be considered, as might be text within links that point at pages.” So Google can go quite far to find what it thinks is the best title for a page.
The SEO space is used to Google changing stuff here and there and displaying whatever it thinks is the best in the SERP.
But this change raises some concerns from the SEO community. Especially since Google stated that the new system is producing “better titles“.
SEO experts, website owners and content marketers don’t think so…
Can we blame the owners of the pages? We know how important are titles for CTR.
Lily Ray shares an interesting outcome from this update. See what happened for an eCommerce website.
Some of the titles of the website have been switched from title to H1. And here is the result.
- 0.7% decline in average CTR
- 32% decline in organic revenue
- 34% decline in transactions
Before sharing free SEO tools to check when Google rewrite titles, let’s look at some examples.
Some examples (and patterns) of Google changing titles
Google shared a few examples and patterns of how their system is designed and how it adjusts titles:
- Half-empty titles: When the system detects that a title is not complete, it will fetch data from the page by looking at information in header elements.
- Obsolete titles: A common example is when you add a year in the title. Google will automatically add the current year in the title. For instance “2020 admissions criteria – University of Awesome” becomes “2021 admissions criteria – University of Awesome”.
- Inaccurate title: If the title doesn’t refect whast the page is about, the system will adapt the title in the SERP.
- Micro-boilerplate titles: Google defines “Boilerplate titles” when they see the same title on many pages of a website (e.g Our Great Service). Again it will use prominent text on the page and replace the title.
Below a list of examples showing in “real life” how Google rewrites titles. The list is not exhaustive. It’s just a few examples found.
(The screenshots are from thruuu – the Free SEO tool I built).
Adding the brand name in the title
As you can see, the brand name is added after the page title as it is not the meta tag. In some cases, it’s added before.
Setting the location
The meta title indicates two locations: Sidney and Melbourne. Google decided to keep only Sidney. Brodie Clark identified similar examples in his article.
Using the H1
This is a classic. Google takes the H1 tag (the first one visible, to be precise) and displays it in the SERP. As you can see below, there is a slight variation as the brand name is added.
Filling the void
For this one, it is hard to blame Google. When there is not title tag, it won’t leave a blank title in the SERP. Fetching the first headline could make sense.
Removing the brand
In this case, Google removed the brand from the title. In fact, it took the H1.
What is interesting is that the result before (#6) still has its brand name in the SERP. Why not being consistent?
They are more ways Google changes titles, and you can find other examples here.
Finally, let’s move to the tools. You are here for this.
Selection of free tools checking title changes
Analyse any Google SERP and find when titles or a descriptions are changed
The awesome SERP Analyser thruuu offers this feature for a while:Checking if Google rewrites titles or meta descriptions of every page on any SERP.
Enter a keyword, select your country, search engine and other parameters, and then hit the “Scrape the SERP” button.
Behind the “Title” tab, you will see all the titles displayed on the SERP and a percentage of match.
It shows when Google changes titles.
Below each title is displayed the meta title (or the on-page title) and the H1 tag.
A similar feature is available under the “Description” tab and shows when Google rewrites SERP descriptions.
You can as well download the data in an Excel file.
Try thruuu for free, and create an account.
Google Sheets script to check how Google is changing title for any search queries
Andrew Charlton is the king of Google Sheet scripts, and you can find a lot of great scripts on his website Keywords In Sheets.
One script is particularly interesting as it checks Google page titles for all search queries across different countries and languages. As well it includes a meta description checker.
The GSheet will display per row the search query, the page title, the Google search title, and more information.
You need to sign up for a few services and get the correct API keys to run the script. The installation procedure is explained here.
Check if Google is rewriting the title of a list of URL
The SEO monitoring platform SEOWL offers a free tool to check if Google has changed your pages titles.
You can enter a list of URLs or even import them from a sitemap. Once the process is done, you get a table showing the URL, the page title, the title used in the SERP and the differences highlighted.
You can export everything as a CSV file.
Bookmarklet checking if the result title in the SERP is the same as on the page
The bookmarklet is easy to use. Once you search on Google, hit the bookmarklet, and it will display the title from the meta tag below each result.
Green indicates that Google didn’t change anything. Red, I let you guess…
You can find the bookmarklet here. To install it drag and drop the code to your bookmark bar.
Another SEO expert, Christian Haensel, did an update of the script.
With the updated version, it will show you as well the H1 of each page. You can as well download a JSON file including the SERP title, page title and H1.
Finally, what you should do?
One option is to go on Twitter and let go of your rage, but I don’t think it will be constructive.
The best approach might be to do your business as usual and ignore this update.
My recommendation will be to put the best title on your page—a title describing your page and informing your audience about what they will find on it.
Follow best practice about length, so around 60 characters. Google typically displays the first 50–60 characters of a title tag.
Don’t stuff keywords in your title. Please Don’t.
If you do this, I guess you are on a good way.
Google want to decide what is good or what is wrong for us! I’m scared about that. He does not ask us for our opinion. It was very intriguing.
Yes Frederic. This change is very disturbing… especially as it impact CTR, and from my opinion ranking. Because if nobody click on your page because the title is bad, you will move down the ranking.
Thank you so much for these insights Samuel! Ranting on Twitter does seem so appealing. Does this change mean I can no longer be creative?
Thanks for this post. I am using this tool to check title change in serp.
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