Google Placing Brand Name at Start of Page Titles

Over the past few weeks we have been conducting some new activities throughout the site with regards to on-page SEO; fixing headings, descriptions, cleaning up some old links and just generally doing a little bit of spring cleaning. After some title changes, specifically on the home page; one interesting thing we noticed within SERPs was that Google had started placing our brand name at the start of our home page title tag rather than leaving it where it was.


Above is an image of how our page title displays in SERPs. Notice our brand name is now at the start separated by a colon followed by the descriptive title. Within the source code our brand name is actually at the very end separated by a pipe.


Although (to the best of my knowledge) Google hasn't official explained why they are doing this, we have a few theories behind the movement of brand names and a couple suggestions for anyone worrying this may adversely affect the keyword part of their titles or indeed their rank.

Clearer more relevant search results

What is clear is that Google are trying to make search results more distinctive and by placing brand names in open view it gives users a better indication of the site they may or may not decide to click. For example if a user has already visited XYZ website and decided they are not offering what they want, it stands to reason any further results from this site may also be of no interest. By placing the brand name in open view, the user has that informed choice without accidentally clicking the same site again.

One of our theories for what triggers this is keyword competition. If your sites title uses keywords that are reasonably popular amongst other sites similar to yours; it makes sense that Google wishes to differentiate between them by placing the brand name in full view. Again we haven't found concrete evidence in this regard but it does make sense. Titles which appear more descriptive rather than keyword focused seem to be less likely affected.

Can we avoid this happening?

Interestingly enough Google isn't forcing you to comply to this convention as you can actually just remove your brand name from the title and this seems to prevent this happening all together. I wouldn't recommend this though if it's done for the sake of space saving as Google will likely mark a site down for being too obscure and having no identity.

For us it was initially a bit of a shock as our brand name is rather long and ended up pushing the rest of the page title partly out of view (we adjusted our title to fit). However what this does suggest is that Google maybe focusing less on left to right order and more on the overall relevance / readability of the title; which is a good thing!

Things to keep in mind when creating page titles

Now more than ever you should stick closely to the max display length of titles as seen in SERPs (64 characters with spaces including your brand name); as there is no confirmed way to know if Google will adjust your title like this; so short and to the point titles are very important. Using commas instead of slashes or pipes can also save an extra character or two if really needed.

Overall I wouldn't panic though. I think websites that look very similar or spammy in search results are much clearer with brand names in view and this should lead to companies paying less attention to keywords and more on relevance throughout.