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Death of SEO: Google Knows More Than You, Changes Title Tags

In our series of posts concerning 2011 search engine marketing predictions, we discussed the impending death of SEO. In a recent post titled, “Is This the Death of Title Tag,” Moosa Hemani discusses the potential end of one of the most important on-page SEO strategies. He notes a great deal of frustration appears on the Google Webmaster help forum, as a number of people wonder why their title tags have been removed or altered.

In an article first appearing in February 2011 on Search Engine Land, Barry Schwartz reported Google is Ignoring the HTML Title Tag More Often. Schwartz notes WebmasterWorld has dozens of complaints, mainly focusing on the webmaster’s ability to construct a better title than the Google Algorithm does. Google’s answer rebuffs this claim, saying it changes titles when they appear sub-optimal to ensure the user reaches the desired search results.

Essentially, Google is telling webmasters and their users that they know best when it comes to their sites. On the webmaster forum, John Mu continues: “One thing you can do to prevent this is to make sure that your titles and descriptions are relevant, unique, and compelling.” Understanding how algorithms assess relevance and originality is easy enough, but how can it determine a title’s ability to persuade or influence?

What is the Goal of SEO?

The question concerns the ultimate goal of SEO. Do we optimize for search engines or the user? On one hand, if search engines are not able to find the appropriate results and provide them to the user, then the search experience has failed. Score one for the search engines.

However, when search engines present users with results to their queries, the user, not the engine, must sort through the results or refine their search to find the desired results. Score one for the user.

While SEO requires a balanced approach to user-preference and search engine performance, the decision to ignore title tags is yet another example of Google’s lackadaisical approach to customer service. Google not only needs to cater to the user, but also the SEO experts that make up another important portion of Google’s users/customers. Otherwise, the search engine seems to be saying, “Thanks, but no thanks. We know your customers better than you do, we’ll take it from here.”

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