Google’s gone and changed things. Again.

If you’re an SEO-savvy reader, don’t panic – I’m not talking about a massive algorithm update. Unless you’ve been using dodgy Spanish, Italian or German link networks (as outlined in Matt Cutts’s recent Tweets), then you can rest easy on the technical SEO front.

No, the latest change Australia’s favourite search engine has made is aesthetic. Have you noticed? The appearance of the search results pages has been altered. Which means that, for the sake of Human Optimisation, it’s time to give your title tags a spring clean. (Or, for those among you who currently live south of the equator like me, it’s time to give your title tags an autumn makeover.)

What’s a Title Tag?

A title tag (aka meta title) is a little bit of code on each page of your website. As the name suggests, it’s the title for that page.

Title tags don’t appear on your webpage, but they do appear in the tab above it on Chrome, Firefox, and IE (I presume the same applies to Safari and Opera – check it and let me know in the comments).

More importantly, they appear in a search engine’s result pages (SERPs) as the title for your website. For instance, here’s an image of my home page’s current title tag as it appears in the new-look Google SERPs (it’s the purple bit that reads “Copywriter Brisbane | Emily Read | SEO & Inbound Marketing”).

What’s Changed?

As outlined in this blog by Moz’s Dr Pete Meyers, there have been several (mostly subtle) changes to Google’s appearance in its 2014 redesign. Among them is the fact that the size of the title tag font has increased.

Why Should I Care?

Traditional SEO wisdom held that a title tag should be no more than 70 characters long in order to avoid being truncated by Google in the SERPs. However, last year, several SEOs (who probably had too much time on their hands) found that Google appeared to care more about the size of your title tag in pixels, rather than the character length. Suggestions regarding the maximum pixel size range from 448 to 548 pixels, although 512 pixels appears to be the most-quoted number.

But with the new, larger font size for title tags in Google’s search results, your old title tags may no longer fit into the search giant’s new-look result pages, regardless of whether you stuck to the 70-character or 512-pixel dogma.

No Really, Why Should I Care?

There are two main reasons you probably want to avoid truncated title tags.

The first is completely aesthetic, and in fact you might disagree. But personally, I think truncated results for a webpage look ugly. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

The second reason is much more important, however: you need the people searching for you to get all the vital information your title tag is meant to convey.

Your title tag is probably the first thing a potential visitor to your site is going to notice. It’s the first step in the process of drawing them in and enticing them to click. And if Google’s new-look SERPs are truncating your title and hiding some of the vital information you’re conveying, then human searchers are missing out on what you have to say. That’s bad for Human Optimisation, and it’s also bad for you, because you are potentially missing out on a visit from those human searchers.

What Should I Do?

The solution to this is simple – thanks to Google’s new-look SERPs, it’s time to give your title tags a spring clean! <>

The first step is easy: start Googling yourself. Search for the main pages on your site, and check to see whether any of your title tags are being truncated due to the new, larger font size.

Once you’ve identified any problems, get to work on your title tags. Make them shorter. Look to see if you can make any of the following changes:

  • replace “and” with “&”
  • replace hyphens with colons or pipes
  • replace written numbers with numerals
  • remove or abbreviate branding

If you can’t apply any of the above changes to your title tags, then it’s time to get ruthless – hack away at them, or re-write them so that they’re concise and snappy.

Finally, do some more testing. Wait a few days for Google to re-crawl your site, then see how your newly-shortened title tags are faring. It’s a bit trial and error, but you’ll get there in the end. And it will be worth it.

Get Googling

Have your site’s title tags been affected by Google’s recent aesthetic update? Let me know in the comments below.

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