If businesses don't want Google showing alternate page titles, they should leave anything that could be considered misleading out.

Brands may fine-tune every element of their web pages, but when their sites are live and content is crawled and indexed, they may find their page titles aren’t appearing in search results the way they were originally written. This is mostly a problem for spammers, but it can be disconcerting for businesses with carefully designed content marketing plans. The phenomenon reflects Google’s commitment to put users first, which above-board marketers need to bear in mind as well. It also indicates what companies should be doing to improve the clarity of their web publications.

In this week’s Webmaster  Help Channel video, Matt Cutts addressed the fact this has become a common concern of late, indicating there may have been an uptick in the phenomenon. He commented that page titles need to be relatively short, good descriptors of pages and relevant to specific queries users are making. 

“Whenever we try to decide which title to show in a search result, we’re looking for a concise description of the page that’s also relevant to the query,” said Cutts.

It’s about the user, not the webmaster’s SEO goals 

He stressed the number one role a page title should fill is to help users assess if a page contains the answers they want. Therefore, the best way to come up with a title that will not be changed is to try to anticipate what a user would type to arrive at a landing page from organic search. 

This is a great insight that should always apply to web content created for marketing campaigns. Question mapping, as Brafton reported, is becoming an important part of writing content, and also for packaging it properly. Unlike in the past, when brands could simply include keywords and relevant links, companies need to stop and think about what people might enter into Google or other search engines to arrive at a resource.

Providing accurate descriptions isn’t just something Google is encouraging – it’s search engines’ attempts to provide better results to users. It’s no accident people are asking more “how-to” questions – users are becoming savvier web explorers and want in-depth guides. That’s why whitepapers, case studies and lists are so prevalent. His advice is directed at spammers, but Matt Cutts’ comments are important for webmasters and marketers as well. Google wants to help: The information might be great, but if the <title> tag isn’t doing a page any favors, search engines might substitute an <h1> instead. This can throw off a carefully constructed content marketing campaign, so make titles short, useful and relevant to begin with.

Alex Butzbach is a Marketing Writer at Brafton. He studied Communications at Boston College, and after a brief stint teaching English in Japan, he entered the world of content marketing. When he isn't writing and researching, he can be found on a bike somewhere in Metro Boston.