Missing Title Tag Substitute


Search for intitle:”Untitled Document” in Google and you will find plenty of websites with missing title tags. Worry not though as Google looks for hints of the page’s main theme elsewhere in the document and inserts it into search results instead of the title. So which elements can be used as a substitute? I investigate further.

Update: We’ve renamed the title of this very article to “Untitled Document” and the following is Google’s re-write based on our H1 and brand name:


Summary of Findings

Which elements will Google pick to replace a missing or inadequate title tag?

  1. Domain Name
  2. Page URL (note: gets confused with multiple levels)
  3. Domain + URL combination
  4. H tags
  5. Plain Text (tested when at the beginning of a document)
  6. Elements of a parent page (in case of iFrames)
  7. Truncation for boilerplate against variable elements.
Untested but highly likely: Anchor text in inbound links, DMOZ, local citations.

Our Research in Detail

Case 1: http://www.sarahaking.com/

Rendered Title: Sarah A. King

Inference: Likely <font color=”#006699″>SARAH A. KING</font>

Note: Domain name could have been used but it doesn’t contain punctuation visible in the rendered title.

Case 2: http://www.wesleyburt.com/drawingsamples.html

Rendered Title: Drawing Samples – Wesley Burt

Inference: {URL_filename} – {Domain Name}

Note: Potentially also home page TITLE.

Case 3: http://www.pinholephotography.org/Solargraph%20instructions.htm

Rendered Title: Solargraphs – Pinhole photography

Inference: {URL_filename} – {Domain Name}

Note: Identical inference to the one above.

Case 4: http://stepheneastwood.com/tutorials/lensdistortion/strippage.htm

Rendered Title: Stephen Eastwood

Inference: {Domain Name}

Note: /1/2/3/ levels of directories may be the cause for the drop of this element in the title substitute.

Case 5: http://www.howardtangye.com/HT-90.html

Rendered Title: Untitled Document – Howard Tangye

Inference: Untitled Document + {Domain Name}

Note: How interesting! Google decides to keep the Untitled Document part and use only domain but in addition rather than completely replacing it? Do they think the piece is actually called “Untitled”? Perhaps not but a semantically challenging HT-90 may have something to do with them giving up on figuring out what it may be.

Case 6: http://www.benkler.org/CoasesPenguin.html

Rendered Title: Coase’s Penguin, or Linux and the Nature of – Yochai Benkler

Inference: H3 – H4

Case 7: http://www.scientificamerican.com/media/8-Wonders/01-Intro.html

Rendered Title: 8 Wonders of the – Scientific American

Inference: Parent Page Fragment (iframe) – Domain

Note: This is a strange case in which Google gets it wrong and truncates the title. What’s interesting is that Google follows the parent page in which this URL is embedded as an iFrame and gets its information from there. My guess on truncation is because this goes into several sections each slightly changing (.e.g Saturn Rings).

Case 8: http://www.tonyhawk.com/thth/

Rendered Title: (#THTH) Rules! – Tony Hawk

Inference: H2 Fragment - Domain

Note: This is a case where truncation is useful and Google removes general site title and leaves only the bit of substance (e.g. Tony Hawk’s Twitter Hunt (#THTH) Rules!)

Found any more interesting cases?

Let us know on Google+


Dan Petrovic is a well-known Australian SEO and a managing director of Dejan SEO. He has published numerous research articles in the field of search engine optimisation and online marketing. Dan's work is highly regarded by the world-wide SEO community and featured on some of the most reputable websites in the industry. Questions? Here's Dan's contact email.

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2 Responses to “Missing Title Tag Substitute”

  1. So, the domain name and h1 are most important in case the title is missed in any of the page and it has been crawled by Google.

  2. It seems so, but there are other significant elements as per our summary of findings.

    • Dejan SEO

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