Bit of scary news from Karon Thackston on Wordtracker. Google has taken to changing page titles that are, in their opinion, “sub-optimal.”
Google says they may change page titles if they’re too short, used across several pages on your site, keyword stuffed, or not unique or compelling.
Any good SEO will tell you the importance of page titles. They may be the number one on-page item other than the site’s content itself. So it certainly makes sense that you would want to have titles that are unique, compelling, sufficiently descriptive to help visitors and not keyword stuffed, but it’s odd, creepy and a bit unnerving to think that Google is making these judgements on our behalf. (Something tells me it’s not our best interests they’re looking out for …)
Most importantly, it’s just plain wrong for them to do this without alerting site owners. I’d also argue that it’s wrong for them to do so without telling searchers/visitors that a change has been made.
Taking a ramble down the speculative path:
- On what basis do they make these decisions?
- Are the changes made similarly across all sites ranking for a given keyword?
- Do they favor sites with big AdWords spending? I haven’t seen any evidence of that, but it is hard not to wonder.
I know there are lots of people who view Google as a healthier, more open alternative to the closed systems that companies like Apple push. (And that Microsoft pushed in the past, and that Amazon and others are trying to push going forward.) I’m neither a huge fan nor huge hater of Google, but this seems like one more piece of evidence that maybe the “don’t be evil” mission statement got pushed aside at some point.