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Protect your business from Google's page title changes for better site archiving

Sean Stapleton

On or about Aug. 16, 2021, bloggers, marketing teams and various related website junkies noticed a new phenomenon: their HTML title tags were not working. Google, unilaterally, began rewriting them. Businesses that rely on content-generated web traffic should immediately familiarize themselves with these changes, measure how this is impacting their efforts, then adjust title tag practices as indicated.

But this is not an issue for marketing teams alone. In particular, for many businesses, what gets published is already an issue in regulatory compliance or can become an issue in the event of civil lawsuit and e-discovery. Consequently, executives need a better understanding of the business risks lurking in title tag rewriting, and thus the value of precision archiving.

Why the Change?

It all began back in mid-July 2021, when Google implemented an array of new search technologies. The goal of this release was to create a means for the search giant to easily – rapidly – develop and deploy algorithms to police searches and results.

Not long thereafter, search engine optimization (SEO) junkies began noticing a not-so-subtle change. As reported by Search Engine Journal, “Google has started replacing the title tags in search engine results pages (SERP) with other relevant text,” from any given web page.

There are also reported instances of Google showing old meta descriptions, ignoring search terms or disabling HTML title tags.

To date, the industry has yet to discern any reliable pattern to the why or how Google is taking actions such as rewriting title tags. In many cases, it seems to be reaching into the body text of a web page, grabbing the first subhead it sees (H1) or one close behind (H2, H3, or H4). The search engine is also on occasion adding a date, which at some point could reduce the attractiveness of a webpage as it ages.

Nor has the industry been able to pinpoint the scale by which this is happening other than to say, again from Search Engine Journal, “the scale of title rewrites is widespread enough [for the industry] to have noticed.”

Is Google Ignoring Search Terms?

This is not a simple question. A title or HTML tag is simply the title for a given web page. SEO-focused organizations put considerable effort into their titles as a means of maximizing search rankings as well as eyeball capture. Indeed, when the webpage arrives within a search, the title is the first thing seen by the prospective reader or customer. Losing control of such a carefully cultivated tool could be a problem.

But this issue is a bit more complicated. As reported by SearchEngineLand, John Mueller, Search Advocate at Google, explains, “this changes the displayed titles, it doesn’t change ranking or take anything different into account.”

So in other words – whatever businesses are doing to evaluate where they are in Google search rankings – keep that up. Google is using title tags. Still, you need to look at downstream changes that are taking place and then, in turn, evaluate how this is impacting clickthrough rates.

What Is the Impact on Data Retrieval Requests?

The concern arises: what if a regulatory agency or court of law notices a discrepancy in titles? Indeed, the title of an article can have an impact on how the whole of the piece can be interpreted. So losing control here absolutely introduces a new wrinkle into the risk profile.

But this is why precise and meticulous archiving becomes so important. A Google algorithm could, ostensibly, come up with a display title that is just a bit “off,” potentially running afoul of rules or norms for your industry. After all, artificially intelligent agents at Google do not know your business or its regulatory framework – that’s your job.

So step one is to make certain that anything you publish to the web is scrutinized for compliance (with regulations) and business practice (in the case of a potential lawsuit). Making sure your content makes the grade is essential – including reviews of not only title tags and subheads, but also body text.

From there – see that it is archived as published. So later on, if a regulator or courtroom presents your group with a Google-generated title that does not correlate with anything you’ve published, not only will you be able to explain what happened, but you can document you had nothing to do with it.

How Can MirrorWeb Help?

What Google has done here is nothing revolutionary. The truth is, Google, and for that matter every other search engine, is continuously evolving and changing its practices. So likewise, companies should be in the business of continuously exploring how keywords, title tags, subheads and all other components are performing in search rankings. That’s just business.

But when it comes to regulatory compliance and civil suits, such changes over which you have no control introduce a new set of technology-driven risks. This is why at MirrorWeb we’re here to ensure your material is preserved as published, not as interpreted or altered by internet algorithms.

You are your own first line of defense, so take all steps needed to ensure your copy is compliant, accurate, and mindful about commenting in any area of potential business risk. But once your content goes “live”, we’re here to ensure it remains unalterable – proving what you “said” and not what the algorithm decides it actually “heard.” Call or contact us at MirrorWeb when you’re ready for the solution.

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