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Title Tag Rewrites: 7 Months Later

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Title Tag Rewrites: 7 Months Later


Back in August, we analyzed 10,000 SERPs and found that Google was rewriting 58% of the title tags we were able to track. In September, after some serious objections from the SEO community, Google released the following statement:

Based on your feedback, we made changes to our system which means that title elements are now used around 87% of the time, rather than around 80% before.

This immediately raises two questions. First, has the situation improved? Second, why the huge mismatch between our numbers (and similar numbers by others in the community)?

Rewrites by the numbers

We collected new data on March 2, 2022 from the MozCast 10,000-keyword tracking set. Here are the basic stats, which are very similar to what we found in August 2021:

  • 84,639 page-one results

  • 71,265 unique URLs

  • 57,832 <title> tags

  • 33,733 rewrites

So, let’s compare the August 2021 rewrites to the March 2022 rewrites:

Technically, the numbers did go down, but this probably isn’t the news you had hoped to hear. If 57% of titles in our study were rewritten, then — I think we can all agree with this math — 43% did not get rewritten. So, how do we reconcile our 43% with Google’s 87%?

Truncation, from simple to …

First off, our definition of “rewrite” is extremely broad, and it covers truncation, where Google just runs out of physical space. In August, I took a pretty simplistic view of truncation, but let’s try to give Google some benefit of the doubt. I’m going to dig into three forms of truncation, starting with the simplest:

1) Simple truncation

The simplest form of truncation is when Google cuts off a long title but preserves the original text from the beginning. For example:

No one is doing anything wrong here — the IRS’s <title> is accurate and descriptive, but Google ran out of space. They didn’t take any liberties with the text.

2) Midstream truncation

Let’s review another form of truncation, with this example from the Linksys website:

Again, Google truncated a long <title>, but here they removed the branded text from the beginning and started with the more unique, descriptive text. Is this a rewrite? Technically, yes, but it’s a direct excerpt and the “…” clearly implies truncation to searchers.

3) Excerpt truncation

Finally, we have situations where Google uses a portion of the <title> tag, but they don’t clearly indicate truncation with an ellipsis (“…”). Here’s an example from Congress.gov, a site Google is unlikely to view as spammy or in need of editorial revisions:

I don’t think Google’s trying to hide the truncation here by removing the ellipsis — the truncated title is a complete thought/phrase within the original title. In some cases, is this the excerpt the creator would have chosen? Maybe not, but I would still generally call this truncation.

All told, these three forms of truncation accounted for almost exactly one-third of the “rewrites” that we observed. These forms were distinct enough that we could separate them. From here on out, it gets a bit more complicated.

Title additions (brand & local)

In addition to truncating long titles, Google sometimes adds information they deem relevant to the end of a display title. The most common addition is “brand” information (using the term loosely) that wasn’t present in the original <title> tag. For example:

I kind of love this title, and you should definitely ride Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point if you’re a coaster fan, but notice here how Google has appended “Touring Ohio” to the end of the display title. This kind of add-on is very common, occurring in almost 14% of our observed rewrites.

In some cases, adding the brand text caused Google to truncate the title prior to the addition. See this example from Goodreads …

While the rewrite here is intended to be beneficial, this can cause problems with long brand names. Anecdotally, though, Google seems to be doing a better job of this in the past few months, and most brand identifiers are of reasonable length.

Finally, in a few cases, Google appended location information. For example:

It’s not clear what situations trigger this added location information, but it does show that Google is considering appending other forms of relevant information that could drive future rewrites and go beyond brand tagging.

Capital-R Rewrite examples

We can argue about whether truncation and addition are real, Capital-R Rewrites, so how about the situations where Google is clearly making substantial changes? Some of these situations — even working with a moderately-sized data set — are hard to classify, but I’ll cover some major categories.

1) Maximum verbosity

I almost said “keyword stuffing,” but that’s a judgment call and isn’t always fair in these cases. Granted, there are legitimate cases of keyword stuffing, like this example:

Prior to August 2021, Google might’ve just truncated this title, but now they’re saying “Yeah, no” and replacing the entire mess. Other cases aren’t so clear, though. Consider this one:

AMC hasn’t really done anything spammy here — this <title> tag is likely a direct reflection of their site architecture. In this case, though, Google has gone beyond truncation and rewritten the title, including replacing pipes with hyphens, removing “Movie Times” (which is arguably redundant with “Showtimes”) and pushing the site/brand up.

2) Minimum verbosity

Some people have too much to say, and some people are too quiet (I’m afraid I know which side I fall on). Here’s a case where the title didn’t quite provide enough information:

In many of these cases, like displaying just the brand name, a generic placeholder like “Home”, or – in one notable case – a code placeholder (“{{title}}”), it’s likely the culprit is an overzealous CMS default setting. These are clearly Capital-R Rewrites, but I would argue that Google is generally adding value in these situations by rewriting.

3) Excessive superlatives

Sometimes, we marketers get a little carried away with colorful language (in this case, the family-friendly kind). Google still seems to be disproportionately rewriting <title> tags with certain superlatives, even when they may not seem excessive. Take this example:

This is a case where Google replaced the <title> with the contents of an <h1> — while it’s not a bad rewrite, it does feel aggressive to me. It’s hard to see how “21 Best Brunch Recipes” is wildly over the top or how “21 Easy Brunch Recipes” is a major improvement.

4) Miscellaneous nonsense

It’s hard to measure the real head-scratchers, but anecdotally, it does appear that Google’s rewrite engine has improved since August 2021, in terms of the truly bizarre edge cases. Here’s a funny one, though, from Google.com itself:

Even Google thinks that Google said “Google” too many times in this <title> tag. I suspect the rewrite engine flagged the word “Google” as redundant, but I’d definitely call this a misfire.

A more nuanced pie chart

I made myself a to-do of creating a “pie chart with nuance,” and I now realize that’s impossible. So, here’s a pie chart that’s slightly less misleading. Many rewrites are hard to categorize and count, but let’s take a look at the data if we carve out the truncation scenarios (all three) and the additions:

Separating truncations and additions, we’re left with about 30% of <title> tags being rewritten in our data set. Keep in mind that many of these rewrites are minor and some probably involve forms of truncation and/or addition that were difficult to detect programmatically.

Flipping this around, we have 70% of titles not being rewritten. How do we reconcile that with Google’s 87%? It could just be a function of the data set, but let’s carefully re-read that quote from the beginning of the post:

Based on your feedback, we made changes to our system which means that title elements are now used around 87% of the time, rather than around 80% before.

Note the highlighted text — Google is specifically saying that they used the <title> element/tag 87% of the time. They may have subtracted from, added to, or slightly modified that original data (they don’t really say). So, the 13% of cases here is likely only when Google is pulling the display title in search from some other area of the page (body content, headers, etc.).

As to the bigger question of how much Google toned down rewrites after the initial outcry, it’s difficult to measure precisely, but I’d say “Not very much.” It does appear that some edge cases — including mishandling of parentheses and brackets — did improve, and I think Google turned down the volume a bit overall, but changes to titles remain fairly common and the reasons for these changes are similar to August 2021.



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(Re)Introducing your favorite Optimizely products!

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(Re)Introducing your favorite Optimizely products!



It’s important to us that you, our valued customers and partners, can identify with the tools you use daily.  

In that pursuit, Optimizely set out to simplify the way we talk about our product suite. That starts, first and foremost, with the words we use to refer to the technology.  

So, we’ve taken a hard look at everything in our portfolio, and are thrilled to introduce new names we believe are more practical, more consistent, and better representative of the technology we all know and love.  

You may have seen some of these names initially at Opticon 2022 as well as on our website. In the spirit of transparency, the team here at Optimizely wanted to make sure you had full visibility into the complete list of new names, as well as understand the context (and rationale) behind the changes. 

So, without further ado… 

Which names changed?  

Some, but not all. For your ongoing reference, below is a complete list of Optimizely products, with previous terminology you may be familiar with in the first column, and (if applicable) the new name in the second column.  

Used to be… 

Is now (or is still)… 

Meaning… 

DXP 

Optimizely Digital Experience Platform 

A fully-composable solution designed to support the orchestration, monetization, and experimentation of any type of digital experience — all from a single, open and extensible platform. 

Content Cloud 

Optimizely Content Management System 

A best-in-class system for building dynamic websites and helping digital teams deliver rich, secure and personalized experiences. 

Welcome 

Optimizely Content Marketing Platform 

An industry-leading and user-friendly platform helping marketing teams plan campaigns, collaborate on tasks, and author content. 

DAM 

Optimizely Digital Asset Management 

A modern storage tool helping teams of any size manage, track, and repurpose marketing and brand assets (with support for all file types). 

Content Recs 

Optimizely Content Recommendations 

AI-powered and real-time recommendations to serve the unique interests of each visitor and personalize every experience. 

B2B Commerce 

Optimizely Configured Commerce 

A templatized and easy-to-deploy platform designed to help manufacturers and distributors drive efficiency, increase revenue and create easy buying experiences that retain customers. 

Commerce Cloud 

Optimizely Customized Commerce 

A complete platform for digital commerce and content management to build dynamic experiences that accelerate revenue and keep customers coming back for more. 

PIM 

Optimizely Product Information Management 

A dedicated tool to help you set up your product inventory and manage catalogs of any size or scale. 

Product Recs 

Optimizely Product Recommendations 

Machine-learning algorithms optimized for commerce to deliver personalized product recommendations in real-time. 

Web 

Optimizely Web Experimentation 

An industry-leading experimentation tool allowing you to run A/B and multi-variant tests on any channel or device with an internet connection. 

Full Stack 

Optimizely Feature Experimentation 

A comprehensive experimentation platform allowing you to manage features, deploy safer tests, and roll out new releases – all in one place. 

Personalization 

Optimizely Personalization 

An add-on to core experimentation products, allowing teams to create/segment audiences based on past behavior and deliver more relevant experiences. 

Program Management 

Optimizely Program Management 

An add-on to core experimentation products, allowing teams to manage the end-to-end lifecycle of an experiment. 

ODP 

Optimizely Data Platform 

A centralized hub to harmonize data across your digital experience tools, providing one-click integrations, AI-assisted guidance for campaigns, and unified customer profiles. 

 

So, why the change?  

 It boils down to three guiding principles:  

  1. Uniformity: Create a naming convention that can be applied across the board, for all products, to drive consistency 
  2. Simplicity: Use terms that are both practical and concise, ensuring the names are something that everyone can understand and identify with  
  3. Completeness: Develop a framework that showcases the full and complimentary nature of all the products and solutions within the Optimizely suite 

 As the Optimizely portfolio comes together as a complete, unified platform, it’s important that our names reflect this, as well as support our 3 key solutions (i.e. orchestrate amazing content experiences, monetize every digital experience, and experiment across all touchpoints).  

Other questions? We’ve got you covered. 

Q: Why have you made these product name changes? 

    • We wanted to simplify how we talk about our portfolio. The renaming applies a naming convention that is both practical and concise.  

 

Q: Do the new product name changes affect the products I own? 

    • No, there is no impact to product functionality or capabilities.  

 

Q: Do the new product name changes affect who is my Customer Success Manager or Account Manager?  

    • No, there are no changes to your Customer Success Manager or Account Manager. 

 

Q: Do the new product name changes affect the ownership of the company?  

    • No, ownership of the company has not changed. We have only made changes to the Product Names. 

 

Q: Have any contact details changed that I need to be aware of?  

    • Only contact details for former Welcome customers has changed. These are the new contact details you should be aware of: Optimizely, Inc.| 119 5th Ave | 7th Floor | New York, NY 10003 USA. Phone: +1 603 594 0249 | www.optimizely.com 

 

Q: Where can I send any follow up questions I might have?  

    • If you have any questions about the Product Names, please contact your Customer Success Manager or Account Manager.  


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Email Marketing Trends 2023: Predictions by the Industry Stalwarts

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Email Marketing Trends 2023: Predictions by the Industry Stalwarts


Every year, we see new trends entering the world of email marketing.

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5 Simple Things You Can Do To Improve the Content Experience for Readers

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5 Simple Things You Can Do To Improve the Content Experience for Readers

Who doesn’t like to have a good experience consuming content?

I know I do. And isn’t that what we – as both a consumer of content and a marketer of content – all want?

What if you create such a good experience that your audience doesn’t even realize it’s an “experience?” Here’s a helpful mish-mash of easy-to-do things to make that possible.

1. Write with an inclusive heart

There’s nothing worse than being in a conversation with someone who constantly talks about themselves. Check your text to see how often you write the words – I, me, we, and us. Now, count how often the word “you” is used. If the first-person uses are disproportionate to the second-person uses, edit to delete many first-person references and add more “you” to the text.

You want to let your audience know they are included in the conversation. I like this tip shared in Take Binary Bias Out of Your Content Conversations by Content Marketing World speaker Ruth Carter: Go through your text and replace exclusionary terms such as he/him and she/her with they/them pronouns.

Go through your text and replace exclusionary terms such as he/him and she/her with they/them pronouns, says @rbcarter via @Brandlovellc @CMIContent. #WritingTips Click To Tweet

2. Make your content shine brighter with an AI assist

Content published online should look different than the research papers and essays you wrote in school. While you should adhere to grammar rules and follow a style guide as best as possible, you also should prioritize readability. That requires scannable and easily digestible text – headings, bulleted text, short sentences, brief paragraphs, etc.

Use a text-polishing aid such as Hemingway Editor (free and paid versions) to cut the dead weight from your writing. Here’s how its color-coded review system works and the improvements to make:

  • Yellow – lengthy, complex sentences, and common errors
    • Fix: Shorten or split sentences.
  • Red – dense and complicated text
    • Fix: Remove hurdles and keep your readers on a simpler path.
  • Pink – lengthy words that could be shortened
    • Fix: Scroll the mouse over the problematic word to identify potential substitutes.
  • Blue – adverbs and weakening phrases
    • Fix: Delete them or find a better way to convey the thought.
  • Green – passive voice
    • Fix: Rewrite for active voice.

Grammarly’s paid version works well, too. The premium version includes an AI-powered writing assistant, readability reports, a plagiarism checker, citation suggestions, and more than 400 additional grammar checks.

In the image below, Grammarly suggests a way to rephrase the sentence from:

“It is not good enough any longer to simply produce content “like a media company would”.

To:

“It is no longer good enough to produce content “as a media company would”.

Much cleaner, right?

3. Ask questions

See what I did with the intro (and here)? I posed questions to try to engage with you. When someone asks a question – even in writing – the person hearing (or reading) it is likely to pause for a split second to consider their answer. The reader’s role changes from a passive participant to an active one. Using this technique also can encourage your readers to interact with the author, maybe in the form of an answer in the comments.

4. Include links

Many content marketers include internal and external links in their text for their SEO value. But you also should add links to help your readers. Consider including links to help a reader who wants to learn more about the topic. You can do this in a couple of ways:

  • You can link the descriptive text in the article to content relevant to those words (as I did in this bullet point)
  • You can list the headlines of related articles as a standalone feature (see the gray box labeled Handpicked Related Content at the end of this article).

Add links to guide readers to more information on a topic – not just for SEO purposes says @Brandlovellc via @CMIContent. #WritingTips Click To Tweet

You also can include on-page links or bookmarks in the beginning (a table of contents, of sorts) in longer pieces to help the reader more quickly access the content they seek to help you learn more about a topic. This helps the reader and keeps visitors on your website longer.

5. Don’t forget the ‘invisible’ text

Alt text is often an afterthought – if you think about it all. Yet, it’s essential to have a great content experience for people who use text-to-speech readers. Though it doesn’t take too much time, I find that customizing the image description content instead of relying on the default technology works better for audience understanding.

First, ask if a listener would miss something if they didn’t have the image explained. If they wouldn’t, the image is decorative and probably doesn’t need alt text. You publish it for aesthetic reasons, such as to break up a text-heavy page. Or it may repeat information already appearing in the text (like I did in the Hemingway and Grammarly examples above).

If the listener would miss out if the image weren’t explained well, it is informative and requires alt text. General guidelines indicate up to 125 characters (including spaces) work best for alt text. That’s a short sentence or two to convey the image’s message. Don’t forget to include punctuation.

General guidelines indicate up to 125 characters (including spaces) work best for alt text, says @Brandlovellc via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

For both decorative and informative images, include the photo credits, permissions, and copyright information, in the caption section.

For example, if I were writing an article about Best Dogs for Families, I would include an image of a mini Bernedoodle as an example because they make great family pets. Let’s use this image of my adorable puppy, Henri, and I’ll show you both a good and bad example of alt text.

An almost useless alt-text version: “An image showing a dog.”

Author’s tri-colored (brown, white, black, grey wavy hair), merle mini Bernedoodle, Henri, lying on green grass.

It wastes valuable characters with the phrase “an image showing.”

Use the available characters for a more descriptive alt text: “Author’s tri-colored (brown, white, black, grey wavy hair), merle mini Bernedoodle, Henri, lying on green grass.”

It’s more descriptive, and I only used 112 characters, including spaces.

Want to learn more? Alexa Heinrich, an award-winning social media strategist, has a helpful article on writing effective image descriptions called The Art of Alt Text. @A11yAwareness on Twitter is also a great resource for accessibility tips.

Improve your content and better the experience

Do any of these suggestions feel too hard to execute? I hope not. They don’t need a bigger budget to execute. They don’t need a lengthy approval process to implement. And they don’t demand much more time in production.

They just need you to remember to execute them the next time you write (and the time after that, and the time after that, and the … well, you get the idea.)

If you have an easy-to-implement tip to improve the content experience, please leave it in the comments. I may include it in a future update.

All tools mentioned in the article are identified by the author. If you have a tool to suggest, please feel free to add it in the comments.

If you have an idea for an original article you’d like to share with the CMI audience, you could get it published on the site. First, read our blogging guidelines and write or adjust your draft accordingly. Then submit the post for consideration following the process outlined in the guidelines.

In appreciation for guest contributors’ work, we’re offering free registration to one paid event or free enrollment in Content Marketing University to anyone who gets two new posts accepted and published on the CMI site in 2023.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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