As of this writing, Google is currently rewriting the title tag of the white house website to indicate that Joe Biden is the Vice-President instead of the President:
In other words, without the consent, or knowledge of the website in question, Google is blatantly lying about what the site contains.
Those of us who track our rankings in Google’s search for a living, know that they take great liberties with how our sites appear in the listings. Google can choose to change your meta description (or not show it at all), they can choose to append the date or even your business name to the title. We’ve all gotten used to this over the years, because…what choice do we have. However, over the past few weeks, it’s become apparent that Google has started to rewrite our page titles as well.
This is NOT ok. Page titles should never be rewritten.
What’s Wrong? Google Knows Best…Right?
Sure, Google knows best. For itself! Website owners spend a lot of time A/B testing title tags to optimize for a set of goals on their landing pages. Maybe you want your users to sign up for a service trial, or subscribe to your e-mail list, or navigate to a specific page. Just ask anyone who advertises using PPC, how much effort we put into monitoring conversion rates, and trying out different titles. After all, the title is the single biggest reason why people click through to a search result.
So for Google to mess with those titles is bad enough. All the work that you put into crafting a title to further a specific goal is down the drain. And we don’t know the extent of the problem. How often is Google changing our site title? For which queries?
But What Happens When Google’s Goal Contradicts Yours?
Bad enough for Google to rewrite your title tags. How do we react when Google metrics for a “successful” click depend on whether or not someone clicks on an ad on your site? For there, it’s just one step to Google prioritizing sites with rewritten titles over yours, to encourage ad clicks.
I know, I know. We’re all told that the two departments are separate in Google. That the advertising arm is a completely separate branch that never comes into contact with the search team. But even if we were to take that claim at face value (which…why should we?), the problem remains that the search team might have different metrics for a “successful click” compared to what you consider to be successful.
In short, Google is using our websites as a kind of resource to further their metrics. Whether those metrics are time spent on Google properties, or advertising conversions, or something else entirely. Where is the transparency?
Danny Sullivan Used to Be Against Title Rewrites – Till He Started Working for Google
Way back in 2013, Danny Sullivan used to write for “Search Engine Land” – an SEO blog. At the time, he was vehemently against title rewriting, pointing out real-life examples where Google got it wrong. However, it’s been a long time since Danny wrote for Search Engine Land. He now works for the Google Search Liaison team. And oh boy, has he changed his mind on title rewrites!
Color me surprised.
Google Rewrites Based even on Anchor Text!
For a long time, we thought that Google used to only rewrite our title tags based on our H1 headings. Not ideal of course, but perhaps they would use a certain heading depending on what the user was searching for. However, there is evidence that they are now rewriting tags based on internal anchor text!
This is probably the cause of Google’s showing that Biden is the Vice-President instead of the President. Over the years, there are probably a huge number of anchor text links pointing to Joe Biden as the Vice-President. So the Google AI in its infinite wisdom believes that this is an indisputable fact.
Whatever the reason, this kind of misrepresentation is not ok. I don’t even know how this is legal. Imagine if a telephone directly decided to change your name or address based on where it thinks you should be living! Or an encyclopedia deliberately changes things about your life based on its version of the truth. This is something that needs to be nipped in the bud, and we should all stand up to it instead of lying down and saying “Thank You!”
I’m a NameHero team member, and an expert on WordPress and web hosting. I’ve been in this industry since 2008. I’ve also developed apps on Android and have written extensive tutorials on managing Linux servers. You can contact me on my website WP-Tweaks.com!