Dennis Sievers (@resiever), a top SEO specialist in the Netherlands and a fellow blogger, alerted me via twitter to a phenomenon I hadn’t previously encountered: apparently Google is tweaking webpage headlines on its SERPs if it feels a website is relevant enough for a query but lacks a title tag containing the query’s keywords.
The example Dennis forwarded on to me is in Dutch, and I haven’t been able to find an English language instance of this yet. Try a search on Google.nl for “heren instappers” (men’s loafers). A bit below the middle of the page you’ll find this result:
However the actual title tag of that page is this (and has been for a while):
It’s a small tweak, but for SEOs this is a big deal. Up to now we’ve more or less assumed that Google takes the title tag of a given page and uses it as the SERP headline.
However in this example Google has expanded the title tag with the actual search query and the number of relevant products shown on the page (taken from an internal link anchor text), thereby making this result appear more relevant.
Apparently Google feels this webpage is so relevant to the query that it deserves extra love & attention, and feels inclined to deliver this love & attention itself in the form of a highlighted headline in the SERPs containing the actual search phrase.
What this means is that Google appears to be trying to close the gap between optimised and non-optimised sites. They’ve gone beyond just ranking pages for relevance, now they’ve also begun enhancing non-optimised pages’ listing in the SERPs.
This is just one example and by no means an indication of a wider trend. And usually I’m the type of guy that warns against hype. But if Google is seriously going down this path – in a way doing a bit of SEO work for non-optimised sites for them – the repercussions for professional SEOs may be significant.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree that this is a big deal, or am I blowing things out of proportion? You can read Dennis’s own blog post on the matter here: Optimization of title tags? Google will do it for you!
Update 01 April: Eduard pointed out that this is not a new phenomenon, and Matt Cutts has even mentioned it in a video: