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Unfortunately sometimes Google and WordPress do not play nicely together.
A few months back I was commissioned to figure out why the phrase “Comments On” was appearing in Google search engine results for a given website.
I always love a good investigation. I figured I would be able to get to the bottom of this in a few hours.
I knew that Google reserves the right to change a site’s title tag. I have seen this over the years and even Google states this:
If we’ve detected that a particular result has one of the above issues with its title, we may try to generate an improved title from anchors, on-page text, or other sources. However, sometimes even pages with well-formulated, concise, descriptive titles will end up with different titles in our search results to better indicate their relevance to the query. There’s a simple reason for this: the title tag as specified by a webmaster is limited to being static, fixed regardless of the query. Once we know the user’s query, we can often find alternative text from a page that better explains why that result is relevant. Using this alternative text as a title helps the user, and it also can help your site. Users are scanning for their query terms or other signs of relevance in the results, and a title that is tailored for the query can increase the chances that they will click through.
But I have never seen Google’s algorithm get something so wrong. Where did Google go wrong? The first clue was that in April 2012 Google released two new updates called ”HalfMarathon” & “kebmo”:
More efficient generation of alternative titles. [launch codename “HalfMarathon”] We use a variety of signals to generate titles in search results. This change makes the process more efficient, saving tremendous CPU resources without degrading quality.
More concise and/or informative titles. [launch codename “kebmo”] We look at a number of factors when deciding what to show for the title of a search result. This change means you’ll find more informative titles and/or more concise titles with the same information.
I have a feeling that these updates sent Google “Title Tag Modification” algorithm into overdrive. It was almost too good! However, in this case Google’s algorithm got it wrong by selecting “Comments On” as the title tag.
So, the real question is why would Google select the phrase “Comments On” as the title tag?
The simple answer is that the phrase “Comments On” had to appear throughout the website code. Sure enough if you do a site: command search “site:website.com “Comments On” you would see it showing up:
But wait, I didn’t put “Comments On” in my Title Tag or in the content. I looked at the source code of the webpage and found no records of “Comments On”. I asked myself “Where the hell is “Comments On” appearing in the code!?” I could not find it! I did some more digging and was about to give up when I found it!
“Comments On” was being generated by the default WordPress RSS Feed! If you look an individual URL RSS feed you will see that WordPress attaches the phrase of “Comments On” to the RSS Title Tag.
This is the first time I have ever heard of Google reading the RSS Feed Title Tags and attributing them to the title tag of the page. The lesson to learn here is to be careful with what you are placing in your RSS Title Tags!
Turns out, it’s very simple:
1. WordPress includes several “feed” management files in the folder “wp-includes”. The filenames start with the word “feed” so they are easy to find.
2. Two of these files contain a “title” tag in the code:
3. Simply change or delete the wording of the title tag in the PHP code to suit your desires.
In my example I removed the phrase “Comments On”.
Now I am currently still testing to see if this fully solves the issue and I will report back when I get updates.
If you have questions or feedback please drop them below in the comments. Also, if you need help with this or your search engine optimization reach out to us.
I would also like to thank my programming friend “Dave Mercer” on helping me track down the “Comments On” bandit!
This solution does solve the problem with the “Comments On”. It took a few weeks for Google to process the update!