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Brand Residue – Google Just Changed My Title Tag

“Help! Google changes my title tag.”

Sounds familiar? To me it does. I got that call a bunch of times already, and I got it just yesterday in a new and interesting situation, namely in a rebranding.

I’d like to focus on this specific situation because in a company rebranding, this topic is pretty important. After all, how do you want to rebrand, if Google won’t let you?

Companies change their name, not often, but it happens. For instance Tesla changed the company name from Tesla Motors to Tesla Inc. beginning of this year, after already shortening the URL to tesla.com in July 2016.

I’ll first explain, why Google “changes” title tags, and then I’ll explain this specific problem with what I call brand residue, relative and absolute. And finally of course, let us talk about what we can do.

Why Does Google Change Title Tags At All?

Let us first be clear, Google doesn’t “change title tags”. Google is a website. Google could display funny icons next to your URL if it wanted to. Luckily, having the goal of providing a great search experience, Google tries to gather relevant snippets, based on your title tag, meta data etc. that make people click on the relevant results.

But, as Google also points out, through it’s clearest voice called “Matt Cutts”, title tags, just as all of the snippet, are subject to change on Googles side. They may use:

  • Anchor texts
  • On-page text
  • Other sources

to determine more relevant, more clickable, more descriptive titles (and that’s in 2007, Google being Google, by now they are probably 100x quicker to “improve” on what they think is better.)

Brand Residue

Let us imagine a simple example. Enter the

    “Data Center Inc.
The Data Center Inc. was founded 10 years ago, recently went on a huge buying spree, now widened it’s portfolio to everything related to data. Now they want to rebrand themselves accordingly. They want to be known as the Data Inc.

    “Data Center Inc.” ====rebrand ===> “Data Inc.

Now our problem: Brand residue. I’d like to think of the situation as follows: A company that’s been up for 10 years has also spent 10 years creating a brand. A small part of that brand are the names it gives to all sorts of things, to the company in this case, it’s products, etc.

Those 10 years compound. The company posts videos on YouTube, they get shared and so on. There’s lots of reference to that company with a specific brand name on

  1. own spaces (like the website)
  2. rented spaces (like youtube)
  3. unaffiliated spaces (like someone who posts the companies video somewhere else comments etc.)

Now “Data Center Inc.” becomes “Data Inc.”. They spent a large amount to rebrand. There’s a new website, new offline banners,…. But there is something left. Actually there is quite a bit left, and I call that brand residue. It’s the compounding amount of anchor texts, context etc. which still mentions and names the old brand.

The brand residue creates this evil kind of stuff in the search engines the “Data Inc.” wants to get rid off. There are two important kinds of that search engine brand residue.

Absolute Brand Residue

Absolute brand residue means, no matter what I google, the title will be displayed with a “wrong” title. That’s the worst kind of brand residue, typically present right after rebranding, but this depends on the amount of brand residue in general.

So if I search for “awesome data company” the homepage datainc.com will have the title “Data Center Inc.” .

Two recent real world examples are Tesla as in the image below:
check out the actual title.

btw., if you’re trying to check those things on your clients or on your websites, make sure, google already crawled your new page and indexed that. To see whether that has happened you can view the “In Cache” version.

and the Computer Direct Outlet, pictured here:
Again we check the source.
The “– Computer Direct Outlet” was added by Google.

On to the other kind of search engine brand residue.

Relative Brand Residue

Relative brand residue means that the title is changed, depending on the query. So basically, if I search for the “data center inc.” I get the title Data Center Inc.” with the new URL (in case we also changed the URL), but if I search for the “Data Inc.” I get the same URL but a new title “Data Inc.”.

Here we have some real world examples: Kraken Sonar which recently changed it’s name to Kraken Robotics, but if I google for “Kraken Sonar” I get the old title.

The same thing goes for a company which was previously called vortex infrastructure and renamed itself to vortex companies.

What You Can Do About It

I’ve been pretty much saying, in the last few paragraphs, that this brand residue is there, and it will stay for some time, depending on how much there is, how gradual the rebranding is, and how much you invest.

At first, it’s a huge amount relative to your new brand put out there. In a rebranding this changes pretty quickly. But as in my experience, companies miss a couple of places they have a huge lever at.

Take the Matt Cutts quote and extrapolate to today. I’d say you have three places to “influence” the title tag.

  1. Anchors, or today probably all off page text referring to your brand, linking to your page and so on.
  2. On-page text
  3. Other sources like Googleing  behaviour of visitors etc.

You can influence the first two. You’ve probably thought hard about (2), but (1) is usually overlooked and it’s the decisive point at where you can take action.

For instance, you can change and adapt:
  1. Real anchors in directory listings, in social media profiles, on career websites like LinkedIn, and so on.
  2. Text references. What do you call your company at LinkedIn Still “Company AwesomeProduct”? How about the social media profile? It’s surprising how often the company’s name is not changed on LinkedIn.
  3. How about the Titles of your YouTube videos, do they refer to your new name? What about the description text in your YouTube channel?
  4. How do you refer to your company in (the real printed things I mean) catalogs? After all, people will google for whatever you print on those things.
  5. What did you tell your partner companies? Did you sent e-mail blasts to make sure they changed the ad material they use to refer to you?
  6. … and so on and so on

So you see, there’s actually a large lever you can use to shift the brand residue – new brand relation to your favor. Let’s use that!

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