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Checking the top 10 for the term "forklift truck accidents" on behalf of our client Carrs Solicitors, we noticed that the anchor text used for the Google result differed significantly from the on-page <title>.
This is the page's <title>:
This is the result as shown in Google UK:
This is very unusual - in fact no-one here can remember seeing it happen before. Google seems to be constructing its own anchor text links with no obvious indication as to how or why it's doing this.
We've seen Google replace link anchor text in its SERPS with information drawn from DMOZ before, usually when a particular brand name is searched for. However, the site in question is not actually listed in DMOZ at this time so this cannot be the cause.
We have built a number of links pointing to this page from other trusted directories using variations of the term "forklift truck accidents". None of those links use the exact words "Forklift Truck Accidents - Carrs Solicitors" however, so Google has not taken that text from a particular link.
We checked Google's cache and the internet archive to see if old information was being used, but this only confirmed that the on page <title> has not changed since we first optimised that page in 2008.
This Google search reveals similar anchor text for a number of different pages on the site. The <title> tags on these pages are also different to their anchor text links in Google. However, many sites are linked to using the content from their <title> tag, as normal.
What's more, Google is clearly still aware of the original <title> tag for each page - a search for "forklift truck accident" shows a link to the same page, but this time the text from the <title> tag is used as anchor text (most likely because "forklift truck accident" is included in the title tag).
It seems that Google is constructing the anchor text itself, based on information collected from more than one source - leaving us left wondering exactly how it is doing this, why it is doing this, and what it could all mean.
Of course, this is all speculation at this point but the most consistent elements of the new anchor text links are:
- the keyword in Google's anchor is included in the page's H1 and;
- each page has a few (5-10) keyword-rich links from trusted directories.
So, theoretically Google could be selecting a relevant keyword based on these factors. It's also believable that, from the information available on the site, Google could work out the name of the brand to append on to that keyword to make succinct yet descriptive title tag.
But regardless of exactly how Google is doing this, we're most concerned about WHY. Is it an odd anomaly that is limited to our client, or is this something Google is planning on rolling out across all sites? If so, what do they have to gain from it?
Our best guess is, should this turn out to be indicative of wider changes afoot at Google, it may be an attempt to clear up the look of the results pages with short, succinct, relevant anchor text links to each page in their index.
As SEOs, we love filling <title> tags with relevant keywords and phrases, using pipes, hyphens, tilds and whatnot to glue them all together. While this helps our sites to rank better, it can lead to long, cumbersome title tags which can be quite difficult to scan when collected together in Google's SERPs.
These new links will certainly be easier for your average user to scan, which could improve their experience.
So could this mean the end of the "optimised" title tag? I guess we'll just have to see what Google does next.
UPDATE: Since writing this entry, we have seen a similar issue with a number of other clients. Have you seen anything similar? What are your thoughts? Let us know below!