Search Engine Optimization: Did Google Change My Title Tag Without My Permission?

Yesterday, here on my blog, I wrote a blog post about tracking your Google rankings. I wrote about a site called that will help you track your website’s rankings in the Google search engine. Here is where it gets really interesting. Today, when checking the search engine rankings of that blog post, Google, for whatever reason, has decided to change the title tag of that blog post–without my permission!

Let me explain.

I wrote the blog post, and put a title on it. This is the title of the blog post (this has never changed):

Search Engine Optimization with Track Your Google Rankings

I use WordPress for my blog. Whenever I write the blog post title, that ends up showing up as the title tag. I also have a setting on my WordPress blog that tells it to automatically add | (a pipe symbol), and my name, Bill Hartzer.

Since I wrote the blog post and the title tag, I have never changed the title tag of the blog post.

However, when you search at Google for “Track Your Google Rankings” (which *IS* a phrase in the title tag but at the end of the title tag), the actual Google search result looks like this:

Go ahead, take a look for yourself, by searching for this at Google.

Google has chosen, for whatever reason, to completely change my title tag in the search result. Not only does Google decide to show the keyword phrase that I search for, but they are only showing the last part of the actual title tag. They have also, for whatever reason, actually changed the | (pipe) symbol in the title tag to a – (hyphen) and then added my name.

I have been trying to figure out where this is coming from. Where did Google get this title tag, and why did they change the pipe symbol to a hyphen?

If you are familiar with the Google search results, then you probably know that the title tag is always used as the first part of the search results. That has never changed (up until this point). After the title tag is displayed, they typically will show your meta description tag (or part of it). If the meta description tag is not there or the keyword that you searched for is not in the meta description tag, then most likely they will display data from the body copy of your page. And then they display the URL.

Let’s look at this specific example, though:

In this case, the title tag is not being used. Google has scraped or taken the title tag from somewhere else (not from my web site). Google then displays text from the first paragraph of the blog post (which is logical). They then display the URL of the blog post.

So what does this mean?

Is this just a weird coincidence? Or is Google actually messing with the title tags now and what they display in the search results. For search engine optimization professionals like myself, this is quite unnerving, to be honest with you. It appears that we no longer can dictate (for certain) what our title tag will be in the search results.

I can completely understand the fact that Google displays different text in the “middle part” between the title tag and the actual URL, based on search queries. But why on earth, Google, would you take it upon yourself to completely change my title tag without my permission?


  1. Adrian Swieboda says

    It seems like google wants to control something… I hope it is one time event… but what if not ? Certainly I have to follow your next blog posts…

    But what I feel missing here is:

    Have you thought about purpose of that kind of google idea?

  2. says

    Adrian, it could be a test by Google, but it appears that it is lasting, at least for now.

    I can understand that Google will change the search results in regards to how they display your particular listing based on your query. They will change the part below your title tag so that we understand that the page is related to our search query.

    I know that changing the title tag like it is being done will definitely help click-thrus, since showing the keyword query in your title tag will show that the page is about that particular keyword.

    I also understand why Google might pick out part of your title tag and display that part, if in fact that is what they are doing. But in this case, they have actually changed it from a pipe symbol to a hyphen. And I can tell you that I never ever changed the title tag, so they have no reason to pick that particular title tag.

  3. says

    I am hoping, actually, that at some point Google will show the cached version of the page that they are indexing. Since this is a new URL, they do not have a cached version of it. So, once they show the cached version we may be able to tell for certain whether or not this is a case of that’s what they saw when they crawled the site or if it’s a case of the fact that they are, in fact, pulling a title tag from somewhere else and displaying it.

  4. Chris Countey says

    Hey Bill,

    This is a crazy find. I put in the original search (which does match part of your title word for word) and then a search for the actual title, which did bring up the first part of the title that was missing in the other SERP.

    I couldn’t find anything online about the colon (:) being a special character to Google in terms of it making a judgement call that would dynamically display only the relevant part of a title. In Google’s quest to provide the user with the best information, maybe the application makes an exception if part of a page title matches a document word for word. Maybe Matt Cutts can shed some light.