From Characters to Pixel Length, Why Google doesn’t read your entire page titles

Monday, September 01, 2014
Grant Whiteside
SEO

Have you noticed that less of your page title is showing on Google’s results pages than it used to a couple of months ago? Then let us shed some light on the situation. This news isn’t straight off the press, but we have been monitoring the situation to see what the outcomes may come out of it.

Let’s get the geeky history bit out of the way first.

Google increased their font size of their SERP results from 16 to 18 pixels and removed the underline text; the result was a cleaner (more Bing like!) experience for the user. As the pixel size increased, the number of characters displayed in the page title before it was truncated also decreased.

For years we have told our clients that a title character length of 67 – 70 was the maximum we would recommend. However, now it seems that most titles start truncating after 55 characters; give or take the size of the character (W’s are wider than I’s, capitals are wider than lower case).

Page title

Is it a big deal? Has this changed my rankings?

The change is unlikely to have affected your rankings as page title tags are only one of the algorithmic factors. But of course we cannot say this for certain, as search engines never reveal their algorithms.

Are there any actions I can take?

Closely monitor your page click through rates (this is something we recommend doing regularly anyway) to see if there has been any decrease in a page-to-page click through rates. If this is the case then a title tag refresh may well help increase your visitor engagement metrics. If click through rate has not changed, you should probably focus your time on something more productive.

It is also worth remembering that Google likes page refreshes, looking for new assets to crawl and index. If it has been a long time since you refreshed your pages this may be an opportunity to refresh not just page titles but entire pages – including both written copy and media assets.

For lengthy articles or in depth pieces of content you could consider splitting them out into two articles, using two shorter and more relevant page titles; simple metrics like click through rate will measure the impact.

Looking at what part of the page title is displayed in a bit more detail.

Big G only displays up to 512 pixels within a page title now; however, it does read and consider the entire title tag, this is why we see certain elements of a search query highlighted in the page title it displays. We see it all the time when brand names are used in the search query, sometimes the Title is displayed in the result, with the relevant text and brand name, and the text in the page title that wasn’t used in the original query gets cut out.

Sometimes Google creates an entirely new title for their results pages – either made up from rearranging the page title or one it deems more relevant to the search query. We see this all the time, especially for home pages where the relevancy of the brand in the page title is of greater importance than the rest of the content. For example, take a look at Easyjet – here’s what happens to their homepage in search results.

On the site: <title>Cheap flights – Book cheap flights to Europe – easyJet.com</title>

In Google’s results:
Easyjet

What is to come next?

With far more people looking at search results on much smaller screens, will the pixel based page title eventually show a bearing on Google’s Mobile SERPS? Will Click Through Rates be demonstrated as a form of relevancy? Will it be a ranking factor on Google’s SERPs and will it show different results for non location based queries on mobile devices? My guess is this is where it is heading. Search results are all about relevancy, putting the search query in context with what you are asking for, where you’re asking for it and on what device.

The one factor we can guarantee is Google will continue to change and evolve how content is indexed, ranked and how it inevitably affects your bottom line results. My advice is to optimise, measure then optimise again; SEO is an ongoing process that never really ends, an SEO audit is something that should be regularly revisited if you are going to maximise your opportunities. Google isn’t going to stop evolving, so why should your online marketing efforts be any different?