September 20, 2014

Advice From Matt Cutts of Google on Title Tags, Myths, and Website Size

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advice from matt cutts

Recently, Head of Google Webspam Matt Cutts gave a few different videos offering quick pieces of SEO (search engine optimization) advice. Below are the three videos and what his message means to you:

How and Why Google Changes Your Page Title

You may have noticed that Google will oftentimes change your title to be something different than what you specified in your title tag. Obviously, this causes a little bit of confusion and many Webmasters find themselves asking several questions:

  • What was wrong with my title tag?
  • How does Google determine what title to use?
  • Does Google look at schema, headings, or other factors to make this decision?

Apparently, Google will change the title if it doesn’t fit their three main criteria:

  • First, it has to be short.
  • Second, it must describe the page well
  • Third, it must be somehow relevant to the searchers query.

In other words, Google will often choose a different title because, plain and simple, some Webmasters just don’t write good titles.

So how do they determine what title to use? Google does a few different things:

  • They might use content on your page.
  • They might look at the links that point to your page and then incorporate some text from those links.
  • Cutts says that they even sometimes use the Open Directory Project to try and help figure out what the best title for the page would be.

One thing that Cutts doesn’t address in the video is why the titles they choose are not relevant sometimes. It doesn’t happen too often, so that may be why Cutts didn’t mention this problem. Nonetheless, he did say that you can’t control what title is used, but if you try to think about what a user might type into a search engine and write a title accordingly, it has a better chance of being chosen by Google.

4 Conspiracy Theories Matt Cutts Wants to End

There are quite a few different SEO myths out there that just won’t seem to go away, so Cutts addressed some of these in a video. He talked about four of the most popular:

  1. You will have higher organic rankings if you pay for Google AdWords. He also discussed how the opposite of this theory is just as prevalent (that you will rank better in organic if you don’t buy ads).
  2. Google changes its algorithm so people will be forced to buy ads. It make sense that Google wants you to buy ads and if you have low traffic, then you will be more apt to buy these ads. Of course, Cutts explained that this is very far from the truth.
  3. The latest black hat fad will help you rank. Cutts wants people to think for themselves and stay away from the latest fad about what is going to make you rank. Black hat tactics will never help you rank.
  4. SEO tools will always help you. There are quite a few tools out there that claim to do it all and guarantee you’ll rank number one. Unfortunately, many can get you penalized.

Cutts ends the video by saying that it’s important to realize Google’s goals and then align your strategies with those goals. This will help you differentiate between a myth and a fact. It’s not about money for Google, it’s about giving the searcher the best possible results.

Why Small Sites Can Outrank Large Sites on Google

Small sites have long been frustrated because it seems that larger sites automatically rank better because they have higher traffic, usually for no reason other than their brand name.

However, Cutts reiterated in this video that this is not the case. Larger sites do not automatically rank higher, and he has seen smaller sites push ahead because they are able to respond quickly to changes, roll out new ideas faster, and put out more content more frequently than larger sites. In his words, this is how small sites become large sites.

When it comes to being a smaller site or a solo Webmaster and simply not having the resources to run a site the same way a larger site does, Cutts gave the advice that you should focus on a small niche and cover it extremely well.

Image: Google Press Center

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HigherVisibility HigherVisibility is part of the Small Business Trends Publisher Channel, offering a full range of professional interactive marketing services. The mission of HigherVisibility is to provide clients “Valuable Solutions with Visible Results.” HigherVisibility works with companies of all sizes, offering advice on topics ranging from keyword research to algorithm updates.

6 Reactions

  1. I must beg to differ with some of the points Cutts is discussing here. First of all, small business will never be able to outrank big brands with the current algorithm. Google turns a blind eye to big brands which are buying their popularity online to increase their rankings in organic search. The only reason behind is because these brands spend big chunks of their budget on Adwords.

    So yes it’s true what Matt says that you will not have higher organic rankings if you pay for Google AdWords, but they won’t check on your black hat activities to increase your rankings if you pay for Adwords.

  2. I don’t know if Matt Cutts just likes to lie or is downright disconnected but some of his points are factually wrong.

    Just to pick the two most blatant:

    1) Black hat tactics will never help you rank.

    Yes, yes they will. Eventually they’ll probably come back and bite you. Maybe, maybe not though. But the fact remains that many black hat methods do in fact work, at least in the short term.

    2) It’s not about money for Google

    It is only about the money for Google. If you think Google’s search engine is a public service I have some bad news. Google has shown time and again they are more then willing to force businesses to pay for those precious first few spots. Remember when Google Shopping was free?

    And while Google may not start with the intent of forcing people to buy ad space from them that is in fact the end result regardless of their intentions. They have to know this, they have to be aware. Heck, they even bragged about their ad sales increase quarter over quarter last year after one of the Penguin updates in their quarterly results.

    Google isn’t around to help anyone but Google. Don’t be fooled by Matt Cutts trying to claim that their changes are solely to benefit the user.

    • Thank you for sharing your point of view, Siva.

      Allow me to address the logical issues in your points.

      1) And your point about black hat is what, exactly?

      Unless you are in the business of creating churn-and-burn websites that you don’t care will be crippled in 6 months, it’s still a lose-lose situation. The vast majority of small business owners are in it with a long-term intention. To engage in a short-term technique that as you say will “probably come back and bite you” is a waste of money to a small business looking to grow next year, the following year, the year after that, etc. Clear-headed business owners who read up on this topic come to realize that (a) any money spent on black hat techniques will be wasted effort when eventually those techniques come back to bite the site, and (b) on top of that the business will have an expensive clean-up to dig out of the mess at that point. It’s a double whammy.

      2) Google has to balance many factors, and business owners of all people realize that.

      If searchers don’t find results they feel are good in Google, eventually they will abandon it. I don’t know how old you are, but I was around when the Internet was young. I remember Altavista being THE search engine. But when something better came along, people stopped using it. No one knows better than small business owners that businesses aren’t in it 100% for altruistic purposes. No business is! Profits are important because unless a business is profitable it can’t provide its service over the long haul. But by the same token, a company that is focused 100% on profits will have a short future as customers abandon it — so it is a self-correcting thing.

      • My point about black hat is that Google doesn’t catch everything and in the most likely case they can’t catch everything. Flat out stating that all black hat methods will backfire just isn’t correct. There’s a few that they’ve cracked down on, for sure. Backlink networks have definitely felt their wrath. But it’s not so difficult to be skipped by their algorithm and still have a black hat backlink profile. It’s like a giant game of whack-a-mole. The odds are simply not in their favor. I wouldn’t ever advise to use black hat techniques. But to flatly state they don’t work is disingenuous at best because they don’t work for Google, it works fine for some other people, assuming you’re fine with the risk.

        As for the self correcting market: That’s really no help to sites that depend on a vast majority of their traffic to come from Google because let’s face it: they have a monopoly. I remember well the days before Google. I remember finding Yahoo’s link directory and thinking “awesome.” But now it’s “just Google it.” But what if your site falls off? Are people going to try anther search engine? Unless Google manages to de-index Amazon that probably won’t happen. People will simply go to the next result and never be the wiser. While I don’t believe that Google would ever be so foolish to change their algorithms so much to actually drive people away, they are completely capable of changing them to force a tiny fraction to suddenly have to buy more ads for the spaces that they lost.

    • Siva.k: Even if, like you’ve mentioned, even if in your view many black hat methods work, is it really worth it? is it worth the potential repercussions?

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