When Google Gets It Wrong By Changing The Titles Of Web Pages

Google doesn’t always use the HTML title tag of a web page, choosing instead to make its own title for a page, if it thinks it can do a better job. Here’s an example of it getting this completely wrong.

I was searching for Dana Point Jet Ski, which is a real business in Dana Point. Google instead listed the official page for Dana Point Harbor first:

dana point jet ski - Google Search-1

Listing the wrong site first is a relevancy problem. But changing the title of the page to “Dana Point Jet Ski & Kayak Center” is a double-fail. That’s Google reinforcing its error, because it’s so sure that it’s right.

See, Google has long operated under the assumption that despite whatever the official title of a page is, Google knows better about how to describe that page. To be fair, there are good reasons for this. Sometimes people fail to properly indicate titles for their pages, so the rewriting can be useful.

Still, Google makes mistakes. That’s one reason why I’ve wished for years that Google would let site owners have something like a “Yes, I’m really sure I want you to use my title tag” tag. That would let publishers encountering this type of problem finally solve it.

This business, apparently, has long been suffering. After talking to them about a kayak, I asked if they knew about this problem that was happening on Google. “Oh, yes.” The woman I was talking with said she does all their marketing, and that they’d talked to Google several times about it. And that it would get fixed, then come back. She said they’d “given up” at this point despite it being “really annoying.”

Whom had she talked with? Their Google rep — in other words, apparently someone at Google who helps with their advertising.

The ad department, of course, can’t solve a listing problem. They’re disconnected with that, since ads and non-paid search listings are separate from each other. An ad person could, however, raise an issue like this for the listing team to explore.

Maybe that happened. Maybe it didn’t. But Google not allowing a publisher to say definitively that they want their title tag used certainly left this business without any real recourse.

To understand more about how title tags work,  see the articles below. The first goes into depth about the subject:

Postscript: Local search expert Andrew Shotland has a nice piece trying to diagnose how Google may have gotten this wrong.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: Analysis | Google: SEO | SEO: Titles & Descriptions | Top News

Sponsored


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



SearchCap:

Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  

Share

Other ways to share:
 

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • http://www.radicalmustache.com/ Mikel Zaremba

    Thanks for the post, Danny.

    I understand that you want to educate the users of SEL but the real winner here is the small, local business you just helped out immensely. Great to see.

    Imagine how many other tag overrides are happening to the little guys around the world.

  • http://www.nicefishfilms.com/ nicefishfilms

    Local is the hardest. + will play a higher role in fixing than previously thought. As a local in Dana Point, will try to remedy this instance – nice looking out Danny.

  • davidquaid

    Great point Danny – because Google doesn’t (struggles) to differentiate (or give special treatment to brands) its inadvertently passed off Dana Point Jet Ski’s competitor as them!

  • RyanMJones

    I had a past client that was legally required to change the name of one of their products. 2 months after the change, a search for the old product name brought up the current product’s homepage, but Google was changing the title tag to the old product name. It was almost a huge legal issue. It eventually fixed itself but it was a huge pain.

  • Andrew Shotland

    Hey Danny, I did a tear down on what I thinks going on http://www.localseoguide.com/google-dana-point/

  • Angel CH

    Did you notice that the G+ page for this has the info for the jet ski business but with the wrong web page address?

    It seems to me that Dana Point Jet Ski should claim the G+ page and fix the address, which should fix the association of the Dana Point Harbor page away from “Dana Point Jet Ski”?

  • http://www.seoskeptic.com/ Aaron Bradley

    Great analysis Andrew. As I’m sure you’re well aware this happens outside of the realm of local search as well. My recurring beef is with Google’s interpretation of brand as it relates to sub-brands or related brands.

    My title on widgetworld.com:
    Blue Widgets – Blue WidgetMania

    Google’s “helpful” modifications include:
    Blue Widgets – Blue WidgetMania – Widget World
    Blue Widgets – Widget World

    Grr. :)

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    I do see that, and others have pointed it out. I agree, they should claim it and change the URL. That, perhaps, may help solve one or both problems, the harbor out ranking them and the title being changed. Or, it might not — the text may be coming from the page that’s listed first itself. I think the broader point is that Google is relying on an unclaimed, unverified listing to perhaps change the title of another page — it needs to be smarter than that.

  • Andrew Shotland

    Aaron, I think the difference with DPJS is that Google is not necessarily rewriting the title to eliminate whatever it feels are less useful words. It is rewriting the title because it sees that the domain is associated with the business’ G+ Local page and because it may be getting signals from other citation sources and on-page elements.

  • http://www.seoskeptic.com/ Aaron Bradley

    Agreed Andrew. But I’d argue that – while still different – there’s a relationship between domain and brand in the rewritten titles I’ve encountered as well, even in the absence of local factors. In short, if you append a brand that’s at odd with – or even simply omits – the brand as suggested by the domain name, and backed up by other signals (e.g. the home page of widgetworld.com clearly being associated with the brand “Widget World”). In other words, I think some title rewrites are analogous to the DPJS situation, even if quite different from them (and certainly normally less severe than that example).

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    Of course, if you visit the harbor’s Website they do talk about jet skiing and kayaking.

  • Alan

    Google is doing this all the time I have one client who not only has his own phone number listed by google in local but has his competitors number also. So he is getting a lot of his competitors business. The competitor has even phoned my client demanding we remove the number. Unfortunately for the competitor there is nothing we can do about it he has to take it up with Google. This was 6 months ago and the number is still there!

  • Neil Pursey

    Is the bigger picture here not BRAND? Google is trying hard to associate a brand to specific keywords. If you are able to help Google understand (via title tags, content etc) what your brand is about then you are helping Google make better decisions about your website.

  • GMR Website Maintenance

    Yes, this always happens when I look for something on Google. It would be really nice if Google upgrades itself and solve this issue.

  • http://twitter.com/CrackMarketing Crack Marketing

    This is not a new issue with Google, they sometimes think they’re too smart and I personally think they overdo it sometimes.

  • Brendan Mc Coy

    Well done Andrew, definitely seems to be a cross over from the Places/Local data!

  • http://twitter.com/AdWebSpark {AdWebSpark}

    Great Point and Danny and this is not something new. We are all sulking about this. However can this tag solve this issue and stop Google from meddling with the title tag?: ?

  • John_Heard

    ^^^ This – Google needs away to opt out of them changing your content.

  • http://www.facebook.com/heaven.jelo Heaven Jelo

    Great post Danny!! Thanks for sharing..

  • John Ellis

    I wonder why the google rep did not catch this or recooend that they claim it? Seems like a no brainer.

  • http://idrinkinthemorning.com Rick Omen

    Google’s title rewriting is completely out of control. I’ve noticed instances with some sites that I work on where they will rewrite page titles completely differently based on weather I’m signed in or not, and they’ll also different from time to time depending on the country I’m searching from.

    Another annoying “feature” i’ve noticed is that if you have the same page title across several pages, due to pagination, they’ll often drop the title completely and just replace the entire title with the page #, which seems to me that it wouldn’t help anybody.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Probably because, sorry to say, they only care about or know about ads.

  • John Algar

    I’ve spent time looking at both websites mentioned, as well as one for just Dana Point. By looking at the Page Source for each, not only am I mindful of the different way each was created (HTML/CSS) but that the Dana Point Jet Ski site needs to ‘tweak’ its (i.e. starting with Dana Point rather than Jet Ski menas that the site starts with a disadvantage!) Also, the definitely needs some words to be inserted between the “”s of content=”" />, otherwise Google doesn’t really know what to show for a would-be searcher.
    Yes, I expect we all checked the situation on Google, but entering just dana point ski or dana point jet, endsured that the Dana Point Jet Ski site was the first to appear! On the other hand, only entering dana point, resulted in the Dana Point Harbor site appearing on the first:page, but the Dana Point Jet Ski site was on page 33!
    Best solutions? 1. Amend the 2. Add words within the “” of content=”" /> (e.g. “jet, ski, jet ski sales, watercraft dealership, rent, dana point, “) 3. Ensure that the website is submitted to all search Engines.
    To get to number one (or be on the first page) does need the right wording, so best to get it right the first time (or be prepared to ‘tweak’ ‘tweak’ ‘tweak’!)

  • http://www.spiderinfomedia.com/ spiderinfomedia

    If Google itself do like this then this will surely affect out site’s ranking position

  • Angel CH

    I went in and put a request to change the URL for the G+ page (I’m sure others might have as well). Looks like it’s been updated now, and the business is showing up first for me now (not a personalized serp).

  • Kaj Kandler

    Danny, which title is original and which one is Google’s?

    Also, Who says that if I search for “Dana Point Jet Ski” I am looking for the business and not for any business or facility that allows me to do that activity in that location or some event related to that activity?

  • http://www.pogostick.co.nz Jas

    dont bother asking your google rep to do anything, theyre only interested in increasing your spend or converting all your campaigns to enhanced. theyre not there to actually help you…

  • Andrew Shotland

    Hey Danny, looks like they updated the link in their G+ Local page and the problem has been solved.
    https://www.google.com/search?aq=f&oq=dana+point+jet+ski&q=dana+point+jet+ski&pws=0

    Not sure I buy that they have “talked to Google several times about it”. Even a no-nothing Adwords rep should have been able to tell them to just update the damn G+ Local page. That said, if the correct link was getting overwritten algorithmically and since this kerfuffle someone at G has pushed a button to fix the problem, that’s another story.

  • Chris

    This is almost more of a reputation management issue. They would be best to do these two things – FIRE YOUR CURRENT MARKETING PERSON
    Then build proper citations and local business listings to help outrank the other site or maybe move a town south down to San Clemente lol

  • http://www.facebook.com/mirahsan2 Mir Ahsan

    Go home Google! You’re drunk! XD

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mary-Gammel/100002286861174 Mary Gammel

    I’ve noticed title tag rewriting on many websites in Google search results for my clients and others. Sometimes H1 or H2 tags will be used instead. So, don’t forget to use those tags as a hint to Google as to what your page is about.

  • getspread

    this is something very interesting must watch it annular solar eclipse on getspread.com

  • Blogger Spice

    thanks great article

  • Kathy Long

    You hit on one my hot buttons. I spend a lot of time crafting my title and description tags. I check the competition and write them so that they do help with rank, but also so they stand out, clarify a value proposition, or define a differentiator. And then Google comes along and often turns them into jibberish or makes them sound like everyone else, at the same time leaving those poor business owners with less of a chance of capturing a click and making a sale.

    And why do they do that? To prevent “SEOs” from manipulating rank? Their claim is that they are trying to show the reader that that page really is relevant to their query. Ok, I can understand that if there is a query on a keyword that is not included in the title or description. But they do it most of the time. Maybe they are going to do away with meta tags entirely. I hope not. Those meta tags are often the only way to lure someone to click, and I want to control that, not leave it to an automated machine like Google.

  • Kathy Long

    Thanks Mary! I didn’t notice the connection!

Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest

 
 

Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States

Europe

Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech


Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!

 


 

Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide