Why doesn’t the title and description I set appear in search results?

When search engines like Google crawl your website, they do two things:

  1. They index the content (text and images) on your site.
  2. They check the source code of the page for meta data.

The meta data in the source code of your content includes the title tag and the meta description. These are the SEO tags you can set in All in One SEO for every page, post, etc. on your site.  

As an example, below is the title tag and meta description for this FAQ as seen in the source code:

<title>Why doesn't the title and description I set appear in search results? - AIOSEO</title>
<meta name="description" content="The most frequently asked question in SEO is why doesn't Google display the title and description I set. This FAQ addresses that question." />

Google has answered this question many times. The official answer is that Google takes into account the title tag and meta description as well as the content on your page and information from other sources.

When someone performs a search and Google returns results, they decide on what to display as the title and description (they call this the snippet).  

They will choose what to display. This may include either the title tag or meta description you provided, or it may not.  

It’s entirely their choice and it is an automated process that runs each time a search is performed.

Their decision is partly based on the search itself and the content of the page. If Google feels that it can generate a better title and/or description than the one you’ve provided, they’ll do so. Sometimes they do a great job with this, other times they don’t.

SEO is all about influencing search engines.  You cannot force a search engine to do what you want, and you cannot force search engines to use the meta data you provide.  All you can do is influence them by setting good titles and descriptions that meet the quality guidelines specified by companies such as Google.

Always adhere to the quality guidelines specified by the search engines, including staying within the maximum number of characters allowed, and making sure every SEO title and description is unique (no duplicates are allowed).

As a follow-up question, we get asked why you should set a custom SEO title and description on every page/post if search engines aren’t going to use them.

The answer is that this process is part of SEO, in fact it is a fundamental part of SEO. Search engines expect you to do this, and if you care about SEO then you must set good SEO titles and descriptions on every page/post. If you don’t then you’re not correctly optimizing your site for search engines.

For further reading, check out the following links:

  1. Quality Guidelines for SEO Titles and Descriptions
  2. Checking Index Status in Google Search Results
  3. Google’s advice regarding SEO titles
  4. Google’s advice regarding meta descriptions