A coworker came to my desk with an odd SEO problem. One of our hotel clients at buuteeq was showing up in the SERP with a totally wrong meta title. I thought the client must have logged into our CMS and changed the meta title for their site—but no. Their homepage meta title was exactly as it always was, and yet Google was serving something different.
The reason for this is that, since around 2005, Google sometimes changes the title displayed in the SERP based on either a user’s query or more relevant content on the website. While they usually go with the title offered by the website, they’ll change it if they feel that the meta title is ‘spammy’ or overly SEOd, or if they feel they can deliver better content to the user. Here are a few examples of this in action.
Google ‘suede shoes’. The second organic result for me was Macy’s. Here is what the SERP looked like:
Men’s Suede Shoes – Macy’s. Nice. But here’s what the meta title looks like:
A bit of a difference, right? What’s the difference between the first option that Google served and the one Macy’s wrote? The Macy’s meta title tag is optimized for search with the keywords they’re trying to rank for. ‘Men’s Suede Shoes: Buy Men’s Suede Shoes at Macy’s’. Golly, I guess they’re trying to rank for ‘men’s suede shoes’.
So it looks like, in this example, Google has chosen not to use the meta title tag offered by the website, apparently because they feel it sounds too SEOed. It doesn’t sound natural, so they made up something that did. Incidentally, the exact phrase ‘Men’s Suede Shoes – Macy’s’ doesn’t appear anywhere in the page’s copy:
And the page’s <H1> tag is missing the word ‘suede’:
Which means that Google is generating the page’s meta title on the fly by combining part of the meta title (men’s suede shoes) with the brand name (Macy’s).
Also interesting: their exact keywords do not appear anywhere on the page either. ‘Men’s suede shoes’ can only be found in the meta title and description.
As a side note, I find it eyebrow-raising that, given the choice, Google went with a dash ( – ) to separate the title topic with the title brand, instead of a vertical bar ( | ).
Here’s another example. Google ‘mustache wax’. Near the bottom of the page you’ll find a link to the fine gents over at Handlebar Club.
Mustache Wax – The Handlebar Club. Classy. But wait a minute…
Holy mother of metas, Batman! After looking at the source code of the website, we discover that it has one crazy meta title. In this case, the authors obviously aren’t trying to stuff keywords into the meta title—‘mustache wax’ doesn’t even appear. But their meta title still looks machine generated, with the title of the website, title of the site segment, and title of the page, sewn together with vertical bars. Notice that in the two examples I’ve shown, the meta titles are inordinately long.
What Does This Mean for Hotels?
When writing titles for your homepage or articles, don’t stuff too many keywords. We have often been taught by SEO agencies in the past to stuff our keywords in our metas, but we know now, in a post penguin and panda world, that this can actually harm our website rankings. As we see from the examples above, Google has reserved the option to completely override your meta titles and write their own, based on what they think your page is about.
Since you don’t want to lose your opportunity to communicate directly with potential guests through the meta title, write one Google is more likely to select by making it pertinent to the page and readable Use your keywords once, use your brand name (hotel name), and maybe use location information, such as “Seattle Washington”.
Examples of Good Hotel Meta Titles
Remember to keep the length of your meta titles short–70 characters (including spaces) or less.