Website owners who look at their own sites’ positions in Google search results will have noticed that the pages sometimes do not appear as they were designed to appear.
Theoretically, the meta title and the meta description tags in your header should appear as the text within the search result, but Google often ignores these elements to present its own choice of content – and what it displays can vary every time the page is shown in search results because each result is tailored to the assumed intent of the searcher.
Some search marketing professionals and webmasters get frustrated by this because, well, it’s your website and you should be able to show it the way you want, right? I think that’s the wrong attitude and I actually like the way Google thinks. Sometimes you see a page appearing with an odd choice of text but that’s not Google’s fault, it’s the fault of the content on the page.
Google is a recommendation service as much as it is a search engine. You search the index and Google then recommends web pages to you based on what you are looking for. If I recommend a car to a friend who is looking for a red sports car, I might recommend a “Ferrari” rather than a “Luxury sports cars | XYZ Company | Ferraris London”. Just as we use the most apt way of describing something when talking to people, depending on the context, Google tries to use the most apt term for describing what page it is recommending to you, based on what you just searched for.
This can be a problem if your page content is not well structured for the search term. Here are two examples.
Example 1: A search for a company by name
Here’s a real example I found just through a random search. If you search Google for “official Pavers shoes website” the result in position one is the official website, with the URL shoe-shop.com. The title of the result is cut off because it’s a long meta tag – you can see it in the image below.
Now, if you search for “shoe shop” you get a different result. The same page comes up, but the title has changed.
From a business point of view, we would want the search result to say more than Shoe-Shop.com – especially if the business is known as Pavers – at least it should include a description of what they do. Because the search term was not in the meta title, Google decided the meta title was irrelevant to what the searcher was looking for, so it used the domain name as the meta title instead.
Solution: The simple solution in this situation is to ensure the meta title contains the term people might commonly search for, so Google has an incentive to show a more meaningful title, such as “Shoe Shop – official Pavers shoes website”.
Example 2: The ALT text that no one thought about.
I had a strange example where one page of a site was showing in Google with a title phrase that was not even visibly present in the page. In a search for the company by name, the contact page in Google’s results was showing a phrase that did not make sense. When I examined the page, there was a contact form there and very little text, however, there was a Contact Us button and some ALT text behind the button that was not relevant to the button at all. Google was finding the button called contactus.jpg and then assuming the ALT text for that button must be the best thing to show as the title for the Contact Us page when I searched for the company by name.
Solution: Ensure the text structure of your page is relevant to the page and to what people might look for. Make sure you use meaningful and relevant names for images and for ALT text behind images.