Home | Search Engine Optimization | How Distilled Stole My Page Title

How Distilled Stole My Page Title

John Doherty —  April 3, 2011
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Google changed my page title in favor of the anchor text from Distilled’s blog.

Yesterday I was doing some research on my blog and trying to find it using different keywords, searching old-school (like a normal Web user) using Google.com. I’ve been hoping to get this site ranking high for “John Doherty”, as it’s my name, after all.

So I searched “John Doherty”. The first instance I came across was my #linklove post, which is titled “The Distilled London #Linklove Conference” (screenshot below):

But this is what I saw in the SERP’s:

Huh? Wait, this is not the title that is on the post on the site, nor what I set using Yoast SEO:

Hang on.

So what is being displayed as the title?

After some more investigation, I realized that the title that is showing is the text used to link to the post from the Distilled Wrap-up by Tom Critchlow! Check it out:

Wow. I can almost hear Google saying “Who the eff is this John Doherty guy, with this new domain, getting links for his SEO site from big SEO players? We don’t trust him! Let’s trust Distilled. *evil laugh*

Why might this be? Here are my thoughts:

Google may think that the link text is a better description of my post than the title I gave it, since the link comes from a site that is much more authoritative than mine. In essence, Distilled is vouching for my recap, so Google trusts that their “stamp of approval” is a good indicator of quality, thus the words they use can be used to describe my post.

I cannot say I necessarily agree with this, but it is interesting! Does anyone else have any examples?

By the way, I saw this result when logged in with my girlfriend’s account. It shows the same when logged out.

*Do a search for “John Doherty”. The result should be on the second page. Let me know what you find.*

*DISCLAIMER – I do not think Distilled stole my page title. I highly respect Distilled and have met Will and Tom, who are both great guys. I titled the post this way to get you to read it :-) *

John Doherty

Posts

I'm the new (as of October 2013) Online Marketing Manager of Hotpads.com, soon to be based in San Francisco. Previous to Hotpads I worked at Distilled for 2 years as an online marketing consultant. In my spare time I shoot lifestyle photography, explore new and interesting food in New York, ski, rock climb, and update my Twitter and Google+ accounts.

40 responses to How Distilled Stole My Page Title

  1. You’re right, Google used Distilled’s anchor text over the page title… that’s insane! I’ve never heard of Google doing that before. Maybe for less authoritative sites they take that approach, but still, it’s shocking that you have no control over your page title on Google SERPs. #GWTF?!

    • Thanks for the comment, Ethan. It is quite weird that Google is doing this now. The only thing that I can think of is the authority factor. An you think of others? The interesting thing is that my post still ranks for the same keywords as it did. I wonder if this means Google is taking page titles into account less, because of past abuse?

  2. Nice catch John! This is a really weird change from Google – I can imagine in certain very weird edge cases using anchor text as the title tag but I can’t imagine this is generally a good experience…

    It’ll be interesting to see if this carries on rolling out.

    • Hey Tom, thanks for the comment! I do think this is a fairly unique case, but if it keeps rolling out, I agree, it may not be the best for user experience! I had heard rumors of Google replacing page titles with “something more relevant” (how vague is that!), but had not seen an example yet. I want to do some more tests. Think I can convince SEOmoz to give me a followed link to test it from? :-)

  3. I’ve seen this happen a couple of times before, you’re probably right about Google thinking the anchor text from the link describes your content more accurately.

    • Hi Paul, thanks for the comment. I do wonder “why?” Google thinks this. Hence my thoughts about domain authority.

  4. I’m wondering, could it possibly be coming from the two trackbacks that show up on the page rather than from the anchor text specifically? If Google thinks that’s relevant content about the query, perhaps it’s pulling that.

    • That’s a good theory, Jen! It could be a combination of the anchor text used and the ping/trackbacks. This is something I’d like to test. Do you think removing the trackbacks from that post would be a good idea, to see if anything changes?

  5. That’s a new one on me – Google is taking some crazy liberties with snippets lately, though. Apparently, they know best. THEY KNOW BEST!!

    • Dr Pete – Thanks for the comment. When you say “snippets”, you mean the meta descriptions that appear in the SERPs? I’ve heard rumor of them grabbing a line of text from the post to show to the searcher when they think that snippet it “more relevant” to the search query. Thanks but no thanks, Google.

  6. Gianluca Fiorelli April 3, 2011 at 10:29 pm

    Hi…
    just read it now and checked as you asked.

    I see the link on 4th page (google.com from Spain) and – yes! – with the Distilled anchor text.

    Honestly this is the first time I see something like this.
    As Tom said, let see if is something that is going to be more common in the future (I’m going to check my links).

    • Yes Gianluca, check those links! And all the way on the 4th page? Dang. Seems to be the first time many of us are seeing this “in the wild” as it were.

      Let us know if you find anything!

  7. All part of our master plan, John. First your page titles, who knows what next. Muahahahaha.

    I have no idea why Google would think this was a good idea. I like Jen’s theory that on-page content is contributing…

    • Well then Will, stay tuned for my next post, “How Distilled Stole The Interwebs”. I’ll send it to you for a quote :-)

      Thanks for the comment. On-page content could indeed have something to do with it. I’ve wondered if ping/trackbacks were a good idea…

  8. We’ve watched Google.co.uk go a bit crazy with our titles over the past month with test random characters showing which were randomly removed for a few months and which are now never appearing in the title on Googles SERPs.

    • Andy – Thanks for the comment! I have a question about these random characters. Are they to be found anywhere in your content? Anything to suggest that Google might have been pulling them from a link from somewhere? For clarification purposes, you mean that the random test characters disappeared and now the titles show as designated?

  9. Very nice catch!

    But… it is not the first time you will end up with weird results from Google in regards to your posts, pages and content. Although I must admit in all my time that this is the first I have seen of such a “big mixup”.

    • Thanks for the comment, Jim. Do you have examples of where you have seen Google messing with the results? It could very well just be a test…or could be insights into Google’s thinking.

  10. John – I just found this on Google Webmaster Central “Occasionally (generally when the title tag is not meaningful or the page is not crawlable) Google will pull the title from the anchor text of a link to that page…”

    Never seen that before – crazy!

    http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=159206

    • Wow! Great find, Eric. So it’s a quality thing, like when they think the creator might be writing the title for specific (non-altruistic, maybe?) purposes? That is really interesting.

      I wonder, if I block DMOZ using their Webmaster tips, if the title will go back?

      Also, (besides the fact that it IS an epic recap…:-)) how is that description better than mine? I have to do some testing tonight when I am not at work!

  11. I’ve seen this on some of our clients pages. It’s definitely a pain, especially when you’re managing thousands of pages.

    If you search for your site using this phrase, “John Doherty The Distilled London #Linklove Conference,” you’ll encourage Google to give your real title tag.

    • Thanks Bill. I’ll give that a shot…after testing a few other ideas. I want to see if I can figure out if @jennita is right a/b on-page content contributing to it. Also going to disable track/pingbacks on that post and Unapprove all track/pingbacks on that post. Then we’ll see what happens! I’ll write a follow-up to this too (possibly submit to YOUmoz).

  12. @john Your name is not in the Title of that article, but that’s what you searched on. Since that article’s title was not meaningful to your search query, Google instead displayed the anchor text it found that was more closely related.

    That’s why your search yielded those results but a query on linklove conference shows you what you’d expect:

    http://www.google.com/search?q=linklove+conference

    Hope this helps!

    On a side note.. your Screenshot above is HUGE (1.6mb). I thought my browser was broken at first til I saw it loading.

    • Greg – Thanks! You’re right, when I search for it using “Distilled Linklove Conference” (I see it in position 3) it shows the correct title.

      So it IS depending on the search query! I have never seen this before (or just never noticed it) in action. I’m still going to run my tests and see what happens.

      Oh, and I tried to reduce the size of screenshot a bit. I did it on a different computer.

      • Hey John, no problem. If you change the title of that article on your site to include your name, you’ll likely reclaim your title again for that query over time.

        On the screenshot issue, I was referring to file size, not the display size. Try converting the file to a .jpg instead of a .bmp and it will drop from 1.6mb down to a much more reasonable size for web.

        Cheers!

        • Thanks, Greg. Btw, just saw your iPad post over on SEwatch. Great resources. I love my iPad!

          I redid that screenshot. It’s now a PNG :-)

        • Totally agree. Since Google has algorithmically determined that this is the best page to represent you (I would argue in part due to your name being all over this post, and the high authority from the Distilled link), this slight tweak to your tag should get your preferred title back. That’s how we fix it for our clients (who don’t have any track/pingbacks). Since SERP branding can be a huge deal, it’s nice to have a simple fix.

          Unfortunately the algorithm isn’t perfect, and didn’t recognize your “About John” page as the more relevant landing page for a search on your name. Since you’re ranking on the second page for your full name now (on my machine), you shouldn’t have too much SEO work to fix, assuming that’s important to you.

          Looking forward to your follow-up post.

          • Hi Bill, just a clarification. You’re seeing THIS post on page 2 now for my name? Or the Linklove post?

            Also, when you say my “name is all over this post”, you mean the Linklove post again, right? I don’t really see what you are talking about in regards to that. My name has been associated with the post from other places around the Internet, but it’s not mentioned anywhere in the content of that post. The title that is supposed to show is “The Distilled London #Linklove Conference | The Beginner SEO”. No mention of my name there.

            You are right, I think “About John” is a more relevant landing page, but that has not gotten any inbound links or shares. So what would you recommend to “encourage Google” to point to that page instead? I’m still learning here :-)

  13. Any chance the # sign in your title is causing the problem? Maybe Google is tripping up on that. They could be tossing the title out due to an invalid character.

  14. Nice find. I’ve seen a couple of times before with different sites. My guess is that i happens when the titole tag of a given page does not correspond (in the eyes of Google) with the content and the content is the best result (still in the eyes of Google). Huh..That came out a little weird but I think it makes sense?

    • Hi Rosenstand, thanks for your comment. I agree with you in those cases, but my Title tag clearly described what I was talking about! I think we are encountering a case of Google seeing a search query that relates to the post (in this case, John Doherty), but the given title tag seems to not make sense to the searcher. So they substituted for a link anchor text from the most authoritative site they could find (in this case, Distilled).

      If you search for “John Doherty Linklove” you see the given title. Weird, huh?

  15. Whatever webmasters can most easily control has meant increasingly little to Google (meta keywords, meta description, etc.), whereas the factors most difficult for webmasters to control become increasingly important for ranking (domain diversity, social graph, authority links).

    I never thought that the title tag would be supplemented by Google, though. It honestly shocks me. The title is just not the same as the description text — which webmasters lost absolute control of years ago. Changing the description to best match the query really does improve user experience. But, the title is the *%^ing name of the document! I just can’t rationalize why G’d replace the title with authoritative anchor text. How does that improve user experience??

    • Glenn – thanks for the comment! I guess I’m kind of mixed in my reactions. It IS getting harder to control things, and Google is keeping us on our toes, so we need to learn what they are doing and what we can do to counter it. For instance, I don’t have the rel=me tag implemented on my site, and there are a lot of other things I need to do as well. It’s kind of fun to test and see what makes things change, so we can gain insight into the algorithm.

      I don’t think it improves user experience either. Though, if someone is searching for me, MAYBE seeing “An epic recap by John Doherty” will seem more…relevant…than “The Distilled London #Linklove Conference”. But then again, maybe not. Could it improve click-throughs? Hard to know!

      But I do think we get into dangerous territory with “authoritative” links taking over (but it currently seems like a brand new site has taken over from them…) because of the possibility of abuse, but then again, a lot of webmasters/”SEOs” were stuffing page titles/tags for a long time, thus necessitating actions. It’s just as hard for Google as it is for us!

      Thanks for the comment!

  16. A few months on and doing a search for “John Doherty” displays that page 3rd on the 1st page of Google, with the correct title. Looks like Google trusts you now! ;)

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