Google is getting more creative with SERPs, and now sometimes picks the H1 instead of the page title to show as the link.
In the SEO pre-historic days, a Google SERP would consist of the page title (the <title> tag in the head) in blue, with a meta description below that. Those days are long gone. The meta description is only shown in roughly 30% of searches. That's because often, Google finds a different text snippet on the page that better matches the intent of the search query. And with the rise of rich results, you'll often see much more than just some blue links and plain-text meta descriptions.
Despite all that, you could still count on Google to show the page title as the blue link in 99% of the cases. That seems to have changed though.
Various SEOs found out that for many results, the first h1 tag would be shown instead of the title. Lily Ray found that this change happened for SERPs from Amazon.com.
Mordy Oberstein did some further research and found that the results showing a title tag dropped a whopping 77%. In most that cases the H1 tag was shown instead of the title, in other cases the changes were smaller, and the brand name was removed from the title.
Dr. Pete from Moz.com found that about 58% of all title tags get rewritten. That may sound dramatic, but the number includes truncation of long titles like Google has been doing for years. Their main advice is that writing a good page title is now more important than before. Some guidelines:
- Stick to the maximum length of 50 - 70 characters (600 pixels)
- Don't use keyword stuffing on your titles
- Write for searcher intent
Nothing new there, SEOs have been recommending this for a long time. It's just that it is now even more important if you don't want Google to come up with creative alterations of your title.
What this means for you
Heading 1s (H1s) have always been important, but now that they're showing up in the SERPs more often, it becomes even more important to make sure that every page has a descriptive, enticing H1 on every page. This seems like a good time to review the H1s on your important pages (and SiteGuru's heading report can help!)
Google's Danny Sullivan responded, saying not much has changed: page titles were never always exactly used as titles, as they explain in their documentation about page titles and snippets. While that may be true, this change took many SEOs by surprise, and sometimes resulted in undesired page titles. Google said they're refining that.