November 17, 2021

Google’s 2021 Title Shakeup Part 1: What Pharma Marketers Should Know

Image of a laptop searching for google

In mid-August, SEO professionals across all industries began noticing a significant shift in search engine result page (SERP) listings. Specifically, title links (i.e., blue links) of the organic results appeared to be pulling from content outside of the HTML title tag at a much higher frequency.

Since then, Google has confirmed this change and provided additional guidance. With that, the Intouch SEO team has assessed the impact of these changes across our pharma clients’ brands. In this post, we will cover the details of the update and some key observations.

What Happened to Title Links in Google?
Before we dive into the details, let’s get grounded on some key definitions:

  • SERP – This refers to a search engine result page, which is what you see after you search, and before you click on a result.
  • SERP Listing – This is an organic search result on a SERP.
  • SERP Title or Title link – A traditional search result includes the URL of the listing, a blue hyperlink to the page that acts as a title, and a brief description to give you more information. The SERP Title is the blue link.
Example of components of a SERP title
Source: Google
  • Title Tag – This is an HTML element that provides a title for the page. It can be seen by hovering over the browser tab and has often been used to populate the SERP Title. The title tag is not otherwise visible to users on the page.
  • Header Tags – This is HTML on a page that provides a hierarchical outline to visitors and search engines alike. Heading tags range from H1 to H6, with H1s meant to be the main headline on the page (i.e., largest font at the top of the page). For instance, the H1 of this article is “Google’s 2021 Title Shakeup: What Pharma Marketers Should Know”.

Observation #1: Google is Leveraging Fewer Title Tags for Title Links Than Ever Before 
It is important to know that Google never exclusively pulled from title tags for its title links. While we don’t know the percentage of time Google leveraged other content for their title links, we do know that Google confirmed that they increased the usage of other content by 20% following the August 2021 update, and since then, in mid-September, that number dropped to 13%, which equates to Google using the title tag 87% of the time. 

Observation #2: Google’s Title Links Can Leverage Many Sources, Including Header Tags 
If a title tag isn’t being used as the source of the title link, Google is most often turning to the most prominent headline on the page, which is often coded as an H1 element. They may also use the H2-H6 elements, other styled or non-styled text, and even text used to link to the page from other pages.  

Observation #3: Title Links Are No Longer Query-Dependent 
In confirming its lessened reliance on title tags to populate title links, Google surprised many of us by announcing title tags are no longer query-dependent. For context, Google would periodically change its title links for a given URL based on what someone searched so that it would better align with their search intent, all in all, to create a better experience for the searcher. However, that is no longer the case. No matter what someone searches that surfaces a particular URL, the title link should stay the same.   

In the end, we’re seeing more and more that Google is being more selective in what they pull into their title links. It appears, while Google is open to your recommendation, they will use whatever content they want from your website to provide the most relevant title if they feel the one provided is missing the mark. 

You may be wondering how this all ties into pharma and what you can do to better your brands websites’ chances of having Google pull in your recommended title content. Get even more details in part 2 of 2 on how this update specifically has impacted our pharma clients, as well as some considerations for what you should do to help combat title rewrites by Google.

Author information: Tylor Hermanson is Vice President, SEO, at Intouch Group; Terri Greene is Group Director, SEO, at Intouch Group.