The Alternative Title Tag Conundrum
This is not a post about “10 Surefire Ways to Optimize a Title Tag” or “Increase your Title Tag Click-Through-Rate in 3 Simple Steps.” Not to knock any of those blog posts out there, but I feel like the same information is being regurgitated with catchy titles and cool graphics. Instead, this is an example of a situation I experienced, the test I ran, and the result from that test.
Quick…. Do a search for your brand, company name or even your URL. What do you see?
Do you see the nicely written title tag that you crafted or do you see your exact brand/company name?
More often than not, you will see your company’s name.
For example, conduct a Google search for “WebFX.” Instead of showing the home page’s title tag (Internet Marketing Services | Internet Marketing Company), Google decides to display “WebFX.”
It seems logical, but why????
Google states it has “algorithms that generate alternative titles to make it easier for our users to recognize relevant pages.” Makes sense to me. If I type in a company’s brand name, I already have awareness of that company and my searching intent is probably navigational, that is, with the purpose to get to a specific site.
This sounds good, but with any automated algorithm, there can be flaws. So, sit back, relax, and read how this system can sometimes create headaches.
For the purpose of this article, I am going to create a fictitious company and URL that closely matches the actual website this scenario is based on:
Fictitious Business Name: Steven, John & Jim’s Surf Shop
Fictitious URL: www.stevenjohnandjims.com
Fictitious Title Tag: Discount Surfing Gear & Water Equipment
When conducting a brand search for the company that was similar to this URL, Google screwed up the capitalization of the company name to look like the following:
This angered me to no end! If I was a user, I would be a lot less likely to click on a result if the capitalization appeared wrong. So I started researching, researching, and finally… doing more research to find the cause for this.
All the information out there on the web will lead you to a few possible explanations:
- This capitalization inconsistency is located somewhere within the content of my site.
- The site is currently registered that way under DMOZ.
- There may be an anchor text backlink to your site on the internet that is spelled that way.
I went through and started checking the previous points.
- Nope, that type of capitalization was not found anywhere in the source code.
- The site was submitted to DMOZ with the correct spelling but has not yet received inclusion.
- Aha! I used several tools like Open Site Explorer to find that there was a backlink to the site that included “steven, John, & jim’s Surf Shop”.
The link was legitimate, so I easily could have emailed the website owner to change the anchor text to the correct capitalization, but I wanted to run a test. 🙂
My hypothesis was this:
If I include the brand/company name within the title tag, Google’s ‘Alternative Title Tag algorithm’ could not justify showing the other, incorrect version of the title and would thus include my newly created tag.
I changed the title tag of the page to read like the following: Surfing Gear & Equipment | Steven, John, & Jim’s Surf Shop
I made sure to make it less than 70 characters long, as Google also states it replaces “long or hard-to-read titles with more concise and descriptive alternatives.” I didn’t want to leave anything to chance.
I checked back in 4 days and voila! The SERP result looked like the following:
It seems that by including the brand/company name within the title tag, I have enabled Google to show the better-looking title tag that appears in the source code.
Before I took my victory lap around the office, I had to verify the results with another site. This time, instead of messing up the capitalization, Google was confusing the singular and plural versions of the company’s name. The alternative title tag with this site would have little impact on the click-through-rate but I still wanted to test my hypothesis again. I used the same 3 steps noted earlier in this post to find that a couple of powerful backlinks were the cause. I changed the title tag to include the brand/company name at the end and voila, again!
Typically, I prefer including the brand/company name in the title tag to help build awareness in the SERP anyway so this was the icing on the cake to encourage me to do it more often. Of course, the results for experiments like this may vary, but if you find yourself in a similar situation to the one I was in, test out this method and let me know your findings!