Changed Title Tags and Lost Rankings

I blogged about this nearly 3 years ago, but some people didn’t believe me back then, and I imagine there are still plenty of skeptics now.

From my experience, changing your home page title tags too often can temporarily result in a HUGE loss in rankings!

The title tag is one of the most heavily weighted on-page factors in Google’s algorithm. It is the one place where a few slight changes can result in huge ranking increases. So it makes perfect sense to me that Google would apply a temporary “penalty” to a website that changes them to frequently (or at least having that be one of the many triggers) – making it tougher to “game” the system.

If no such penalty were in place, we’d have a bunch of people always changing their title tags in an effort to out-optimize their competitors. And if everyone was doing it, it would be a lot like a dog trying to catch it’s tail. Which would just be a lot of wasted efforts, IMO.

You can almost always expect a slight drop in rankings after you initially change your title tags, but normally, depending on how active your site is, they will likely come back within a few days to a few weeks.

So how long can it take to recover if your website has actually been penalized?

From my experience it takes about 4 to 8 months to work you way out of the penalty box for this particular type of penalty. Other penalties may be longer or shorter.

I just had another one of my nearly abandoned web projects recently work its way back from this type of penalty.

I strongly suspect this also applys to Google maps as well, however, I believe the triggers and penalties are applied much differently. Either way, pick an appropriate title and stick with it.

For the organic search results I don’t recommend changing your home page title tag more than a few times in a six month period, however, I don’t know what the exact number is. If you need to change them more often than that then you may risk triggering a red flag.

If your site has been penalized, then I recommend just doing what you normally do to properly increase your rankings (content, links, patience, etc.), just stop playing with the title and meta tags for awhile. A long while.

You could also try requesting re-inclusion or changing domain names entirely, but that really depends on your particular situation. I wouldn’t expect to get much help for Google if you’re not a major brand name.

I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on this.

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  • May 8th, 2010 at 12:32 pm Wesley LeFebvre said:

    A few clarifications:

    When I say I lost rankings I mean I severely lost rankings – several hundred positions down from number 1. I mean even when searching for the domain name itself, i.e., “”, not just for specific keywords.

    Whether the title tags alone are the trigger that set it off I can’t say for sure. But I’ve had this happen on at least three websites around the time I was making frequent changes to the title tags for testing.

    In this last case however, I also changed the home page fairly dramatically and redirected one of my past clients abandoned domain names to a relevant page on the site. All of these are likely weighted triggers, with the latter perhaps being the largest. However, that domain still forwards to the same page on this domain, the home page and title tags remain the same as when it nearly dropped completely out of Google’s index, and I didn’t do any link building during the time the site was penalized. It came out of the penalty box all on it’s own after about 6 months. That’s why I believe these are automatic, timed interval penalties.

    Some experts say increasing high-authority relevant links to the site could potentially help it come out of the penalty box sooner. However, I have not tested this. I wanted to see how long it would take for the penalty to release without doing anything else to it.

  • May 26th, 2010 at 12:20 pm OMA said:

    Hey Wesley, I think you just answered a question I recently posted here It never even occurred to me that the reason might be because I changed the title a few times. The changes weren’t that big and they were cached in the search results rather quickly so I had no reason to think that would be an issue because it has never been a problem before.

    “Some experts say increasing high-authority relevant links to the site could potentially help it come out of the penalty box sooner. However, I have not tested this. I wanted to see how long it would take for the penalty to release without doing anything else to it.”

    I’m testing this now and so far I haven’t seen much difference but I’ll give it some time to kick in see what happens. I most likely won’t be changing the title anytime soon so hopefully things will come back to normal.

  • June 1st, 2010 at 3:52 pm Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Hey Marlin,
    Yeah, it’s just a theory, but I’ve definitely had it happen enough times to feel strongly about that being at least one of many penalty triggers.

  • August 7th, 2010 at 6:30 am aanbae said:

    I think no problem if you change title or blog name, the real big touble is if you often change your description blog and your domain of course.

    beside that dont make title blog too long, becouse you know it’s about limited character for search engine.
    btw i so resfect with your sharing about it, sorry if my english isn’t well coz i’m from indonesia, thx

  • September 23rd, 2010 at 10:29 am Doug said:

    I just had this happen (or it really seemed that way), so I google around a bit and found your article. I’m glad to see you wrote about it.

    Googling on my domain name and very uncompetitive keywords still works fine. But in the competitive areas, I’ve dropped from the first few pages to essentially off the charts.

    I changed title tags, changed the initial page from a redirect to just serving a page directly and a couple other refinements. I’m guessing the title tag change was a big part.

  • September 23rd, 2010 at 11:18 am Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Hi Doug,
    I’m sorry to hear about your unfortunate situation. Without knowing everything you’ve done, it’s tough to tell if an actual penalty has been applied. But, since you do show up when searching for your domain name and some less competitive search phrases I don’t think it’s been affected by a major penalty. And perhaps no penalty at all. It could just be the Google dance, or Google needing some more time to figure out exactly what you’ve done. I took a quick look at your website and my recommendation are to continue to build additional backlinks to your website, add some more text to the home page and then give it some time. You should come back for those competitive keywords if your there aren’t any other major changes from the way you had it before.

    Thank you for sharing what you did exactly. I’m sure it will help others who also find this post.

    Best of luck!

  • October 18th, 2010 at 4:48 am Ashvin said:

    Yeah, I’ve noticed that too. I had to change all the titles on a website, and lost rankings due to these. However, I’ve also noticed that the drop will be temporary if you go ahead and actually improve the title tags (ie. gives a better description of the page, not just keyword stuff it).

  • October 23rd, 2010 at 1:13 am Brain Waves Technology®™ said:

    You are on the money saying avoid changing meta tags, to bad I did not read this before I started tweaking my meta tags

    Avoid changing meta tags as it will get you penalized or even band by Google however other search engines are a lot more excepting of frequent changes…

    I have made this mistake my self and its got me from 1st page to page 100+
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

  • October 23rd, 2010 at 1:28 am Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Hi Brain Waves!

    There alot of factors at play. Recently, I have changed my mind several times on this blog. And, as a result, changed my home page title tag more than I would ever recommend and didn’t have any major issues.

  • October 23rd, 2010 at 2:19 am Brain Waves Technology®™ said:

    Hi Wesley I understand what you’re saying I imagine factors like domain age, reputation trust, back links etc, changes to the big names like facebook probably work in favor of their ranking, but for the small name like ours I think I will stick to your old philosophy of not changing as our traffic has dropped significantly in one day from 22 October, 2010 to 23 October, 2010 now we have to play wait and see game.

    All the best
    Brain Waves Tech

  • October 23rd, 2010 at 12:40 pm Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Hi Steve. Yeah, I think that’s probably a pretty good idea. BTW, I’m sorry to hear about your significant drop in rankings. Hopefully they will come back soon.


  • November 22nd, 2010 at 4:23 pm craig said:

    I agree with you on changing the title tags too frequently, but what about changing the title once a year, would it hurt the rankings, and what about changing the description. I am wanting to improve my title and description, but don’t want to hurt my current rankings. thanks,


  • November 22nd, 2010 at 4:39 pm Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Hi Craig,
    You definitely shouldn’t have to worry doing it once a year.

  • December 16th, 2010 at 1:54 pm Jack Strawman said:

    I had a chat site that was ranked in the top 5 for about a dozen good keywords/phrases. I decided to hire a SEO company to further increase my rankings. They suggested I change my title tags. I did, and my site immediately dropped down to the 40s and 50s for all these keywords/phrases. It’s now been over a month, and my site has worked its way back into the 20s and 30s.

    I am 100% convinced that this is the reason. I have absolutely ruled out all other possibilities (trust me, I have spent hundreds of hours trying to figure this out).

    I just really hope it doesn’t take much longer to get back onto the first page.

  • December 17th, 2010 at 12:14 pm Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Hi Jack,
    I’m sorry to hear of your issue. Hopefully they will come back soon. Anyway, thanks for sharing your experience.

  • April 18th, 2011 at 2:41 pm Ana said:

    I will ask. Is changing post title danger for getting penalty?

    I want to change title of some posts which are good ranked for that keyword or that name, but i want to improve it more. So is there a risk if i change post title f.e. “How to Post” to “Posting Tips” (its only example) to be penalized and get it down for this keyword?

  • April 19th, 2011 at 11:21 am Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Hi Ana,
    I would say whenever you make changes you put your site at risk of losing traffic/rankings on those page. However, I would say that if you are only changing a page or two, and don’t change them often, your risk is minimal. I have since started changing the title tags on some posts monthly to reflect the current month and have not had an issue with those posts. I still stay away from changing my home page title tag frequently, however.

  • May 17th, 2011 at 2:30 am Ana said:

    Thanks Wesley. Im following your advices and I stopped changing on Posts which already have good keyword rating. Even to be honest I dont chang on weaker pages. My tactic is if page/post isnt even in first 100 in some time than im doing some research and update title and wait what will happen.
    P.s. I was researching the net but I can find some precise answers about how seo (Google in my case) are finding, order, penalize…etc this kind of stuff.

  • May 18th, 2011 at 9:42 am Scott said:

    Thanks for such a great post!

    Over the past 13 years I have created many websites and have never had too many issues getting them to rank on Google. I have websites ranking number 1 for very competitive niches and they have stayed there for many years.

    Then, over the past 5 months, I started several new websites. They started to rank on about page 4 or 5. I decided to optimize a bit more and changed the title tag on the homepage of each site and several inner pages. The next thing I knew these sites dropped out of the top 700 and this includes the inner pages as well! I had never had this happen before so I wasn’t sure if this was the issue until I read this post and some other info.

    I can still find the sites using the domain name so they are still indexed, but they are way down on the rankings. I have continued to build back links but still they are not moving. Do you think they will eventually come out of this? I hope so.

  • May 18th, 2011 at 11:39 am Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Hey Scott,
    Thanks for sharing with us. I can’t say for sure what has happened in your particular situation, but I imagine they will come back eventually. Since they aren’t showing up anywhere near the top right now anyway, I don’t see any point in further optimizing those sites since we’re not sure if over-optimizing has contributed to the drop in rankings. However, I would continue to try and earn the highest quality backlinks. If you do that they should come back. But it could be tomorrow or it could be 4 months from now depending on exactly why they were penalized.

  • May 18th, 2011 at 12:39 pm Scott said:

    Thanks Wesley. Your response is much appreciated.

    I did have another question hope it is not too far off topic.

    Have you ever had Google pick up the wrong description that it shows in the search results? Google is using some very strange descriptions on some of the posts on one of our websites even though the description tag is perfectly in place.


  • May 18th, 2011 at 12:58 pm Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Hey Scott. Yeah, once in a while Google will display a different description in the SERPs if it feels another snippet of text within your page’s content is more relevant to the user’s search query. It doesn’t always make sense, but it does happen.

  • May 18th, 2011 at 1:25 pm Scott said:

    Thanks Wesley.

    The problem is it is grabbing snippets that have nothing to do with the page at all. I haven’t had these issues too much until recently. Strange.

    I wonder if Google will ever make the correction itself?


  • May 18th, 2011 at 2:19 pm Wesley LeFebvre said:

    You could always click the “Give us Feedback” link at the bottom of the search results and explain what’s happening. I did that on Google maps the other day and to my surprise it was fixed within 48 hours.

  • May 20th, 2011 at 3:24 am Scott said:

    Hi Wesley:

    I have another site that has been climbing in the rankings and was on page 2 of Google for the main keyword and on page 3 for a few others. The site is 5 months old, I have been consistently getting back links to the site (around 12 per month at this point, and I thought it would be on page 1 within the next few months. Today, it has totally dropped in the rankings! I still see the domain in the index but the site has vanished to under 700!

    Now, of course I have had this happen before with other websites but I can’t pinpoint anything that was done wrong with this site. I had changed the site title but this was 3 months ago and Google had already indexed that change and actually increased its rankings.

    The only thing I changed was I hired a new employee to build back links to many of our websites but this just started this week. Those links could not have any influence this fast could they?

    This happened with another site that I launched at the same time as this one. They are both using the same WordPress theme.

    My questions are:

    1) Do you think the new back links could have done this?
    2) Could a wordpress theme be an issue?

    I know you don’t know for sure but it is great to get some else’s input.

    This brings up another topic I have read much about. Can someone linking to you cause your site to be penalized? I know the overwhelming consensus is that it cannot effect your rankings. People say this because if Google penalized you for who links to you then you could easily knock out your competition by getting links from bad sites to their website.

    However, I do know that a huge flood of back links all at once can cause a site to lose rankings. Since this is the case, how easy would it be for someone to just send a huge amount of back links to a site in a short amount of time and virtually knock them out of rankings?

  • May 20th, 2011 at 12:06 pm Wesley LeFebvre said:

    There are so many possible variable at play here… All are possible reasons, but none are likely. Unless you’ve participating in a link scheme, or they are spammy backlinks. And, I can’t see how the WordPress theme would have had an affect since you were climbing in the rankings previously with the same theme.

  • May 20th, 2011 at 12:31 pm Scott said:

    I do use several link building tools.

    I am using BuildMyRank (about 1 link per day), AMA (random amount of links each month but there have been maybe 20 indexed to date for this site), and manual link building (profile, forum posts, blog commenting etc..)

    I do not consider these link schemes.

  • May 21st, 2011 at 2:34 pm Ana said:

    Scott Im sorry for your situation. Can you tell us if this site is back in rankigs, and do you have some clue whats happened? Can you provide the URL of that site?

  • May 21st, 2011 at 5:04 pm Scott said:

    Thanks Ana.

    No,it is still under the 700 rank. Hasn’t moved since it happened 2 days ago. This happened on a few sites of mine this past few months. I have never had this happen just like this before.

    It is possible that Google may have felt the site was over optimized but I didn’t think so. Of course the title tag was an exact keyword match, but the content of the site is 100% unique. We have been building back links at a gradual rate. It is possible that Google felt the back links were over optimized but I just can’t see that yet. I wish I knew but Google is changing things so much lately.

  • May 21st, 2011 at 5:08 pm Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Also make sure you’re not always using the same anchor text.

  • May 21st, 2011 at 5:10 pm Scott said:

    Yes, I make sure anchor text is rotated. Of course, we have a “main keyword” for the anchor text but I make sure that there are a variety of words besides the main one.

  • May 22nd, 2011 at 6:16 am Ana said:

    Hmm Its really strange situation. Can you tell us what is the name of the site? Maybe we can check for something which you haven’t noticed. But anyway i think all is seems ok. I have heard of similar stories but thy backed on old ranking in 1-2 days.

  • May 22nd, 2011 at 6:37 am Scott said:

    Hi Ana:

    Sure. Here is the url of the site that was on page 2 but now has vanished:

    Then here is another site that was on page 2 and then did the same thing:

    now these are product specific sites. We are going to be adding more articles this week on various topics to each site as it is always good to have more original content.

    Content is 100% original.

    We have many of these sites that rank very well with no issues. These are the only two sites that we are using this wordpress theme so I don’t know if that could have anything to do with it.

    They are product specific as we are only trying to attract visitors that are ready to buy.

  • May 22nd, 2011 at 7:44 am Ana Wellbeing said:

    Yes I see that its about one page site, and both refer to another site with few links. If you have similar sites as this and thy are doing well and aren’t penalized, it must be some isue with this 2 only. So as you said those ar only 2 which using wordpress platform. See your options on wordpress maybe you have some ping plugins… or similar. Check all your plugins in wordoress, contact google also. My meaning is that google recognized those sites as some kind of scam and penalized them.
    I will anlise those sites little bit more and if find something interesting i will reply you.
    Good luck

  • May 22nd, 2011 at 12:04 pm Wesley LeFebvre said:

    How many sites are you promoting through buildmyrank? Upon checking your backlinks I can’t find what I would consider one legitimate backlink yet. Clearly the majority of backlinks come from someone promoting all of their client website through a network of websites set up for that purpose alone…i.e., a link scheme. My advice would be to slow it down to one link a week instead of one link a day, and personally, I would never use a system like buildmyrank on websites I actually cared about. But, considering those are pretty much just one page product websites that can easily be replaced, they might be worth taking the risk on for you…. I’d at least slow the backlinks a bit more, though.

  • May 22nd, 2011 at 1:10 pm Scott said:

    Thanks for the feedback everyone!

    As I said, these are product specific review sites. There are many sites in these same niches that use BuildMyRank and are in the number 1 spot.

    I use WordPress on most of my affiliate sites. Not all, but most. I said these 2 sites are using the same theme so I wondered if the “theme” could cause this.

    I don’t just use BuldMyRank, it is one of many ways I build back links including manual link building.

    Wesley, you said to go down to adding 1 link per week. What’s the difference if you add 1 link per week or 1 per day? Google doesn’t find them all at once anyway. In fact, you could add 30 a day and Google would take many months to even find a portion of them. 1 link a week would never be enough to rank in any slightly competitive niche. I just don’t see how back links can cause this. Maybe I am wrong. I am open to suggestions!

  • May 22nd, 2011 at 2:13 pm Scott said:

    I have another question:

    Wesley, you said:

    “I can’t find what I would consider one legitimate backlink yet”

    Exactly what is a “legitimate backlink”? Trying to Manipulate your ranking in the SERP’S in any way according to Google is not “legitimate”. Google basically says that if you provide great content, people will naturally want to link to you. We both know this is not true of course. You can have great content and people may never find your website to “link to your content” unless you do “back linking”! The very thing Google says you should not do.

    So, if you leave a comment on a blog and link to your website, this is an attempt to Manipulate your ranking. Of course it can be just to let others find out about your website but many times we do it to get a back link.

    Here is a link you left on a blog:

    You linked with anchor text to content on your website. Now I see nothing wrong with that at all. However, what is the difference between that type of link or writing a unique article and getting a contextual link through BuildMyRank, AMA, or Ezine Articles? Both are links in content on a website.

    It is all a “linking scheme” in the eyes if Google and any “link building campaign” is not “legitimate” according to Google.

    Also, I have a number of websites that have been around for close to 10 years and they grew by getting back links and having others link back through reciprocal link exchanges. Once they reached a certain point I no longer had to do back linking as the websites took on a life of their own and today are the number 1 sites in their niche. However, it would have been impossible to get them to grow without back linking.

    These affiliate sites are totally different. You cannot get people to link to them as you would a blog or some other type of website. They always rank through back link campaigns.

    Thanks for the great feedback. I love talking about this to learn more as even after 13 years I still have much to learn.

  • May 22nd, 2011 at 3:40 pm Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Hey Scott,
    Well first of all, I have to completely disagree with you regarding the number of links it takes to rank a site. I’ve never looked at it from the point of view of x number of links within so many days will rank me where I want to be. A few quality links will go a lot further than a ton of lower quality ones.

    Regardless of how fast google discovers them, isn’t it safe to say that less links available to discover will still be less discovered within whatever time frame?

    I’m sorry, maybe “legitimate” was a poor choice of words on my part. And please understand I am not trying to judge you in any way. I completely understand how difficult it is to get natural links to any site unless you’re mr popular.

    I judge everything by risk. From my experience most of those links from what i will assume is buildmyrank are what I would consider very risky. They appear to be nothing more than a network of ghost blogs offering hardly any valuable content, linking out to a bunch of random sites with perfect anchor text. They are easily recognizable to me, so I would imagine they are to google too. Some by spam filters, some after manual review, and some are likely to be missed. The ones that are missed are the ones helping your rankings.

    I think that it is very possible google either directly penalized you for some of these links, or some of the sites that were helping your rankings got torched.

    I don’t think it is logical to think your theme that was ranking just fine, would all of a sudden affect your rankings so significantly.

    The link you pointed out of mine is a signature link for a forum I was very active in at the time. Plus the links have the nofollow attribute associated with them. So they don’t help anyway.

    That’s the thing though, even if it was a riskier link, I personally can see one once in a while not setting off any red flags with the google spam filters whereas one a day would be a lot more detectable.

    As far as your old sites go, don’t you think google has probably got a lot better at detecting links they consider spam than they were ten years ago?

    Scott I don’t mind keep chatting with you about this, but we’re kind of way off topic now, and maybe it would be helpful to start a forum post on v7n or something so you can get feedback from others too. If u do, feel free to post the forum link here.

  • May 22nd, 2011 at 3:56 pm Scott said:

    Thanks Wesley!

    I didn’t feel you were judging me at all by the way. I appreciate this type of feedback and love to get the input of others.

    If there was a penalty for these links, do you think there is a way back out of this penality?

    After that last question I will do as you said and let this discussion get back on topic!

    Thank you again for the help.

  • May 22nd, 2011 at 10:14 pm Wesley LeFebvre said:

    If it was me, for these particular sites I would simply wait it out. In the meantime I would also continue to build high-quality backlinks and add helpful content. If there has indeed been a penalty applied directly, my experience is typically 4-6 months for it to lift. At least for penalties I have noticed anyway. There may have been shorter ones, but I likely didn’t recognize them as penalties and just saw them as algorithmic or database updates.

  • June 8th, 2011 at 9:17 am Scott said:

    Just a quick update on this. Yesterday, 6/7/2011, both of these sites come back into the rankings.

    went back to page 1 and page 2 for the respective keywords.

    came back into the top 100 after 3 1/2 months of being under 700.

    Needless to say I was happy to see this. Unfortunately, today, they both are right back under 700! I am really not sure why. This is so strange.

    On I had made a few on site page changes about 2 weeks ago just to the text but I don’t see why that would have done this just after one day.

    On I changed the theme about 1 month ago hoping it would help but left everything else in tact. So maybe that could have caused an issue but not sure why it would come back up and drop off so fast.

  • June 20th, 2011 at 6:48 pm JB said:

    This just happened to me today 6/20/2011. I changed my title tag for better seo. I’ve now dropped out of top 200 for every one of my ranking keywords.

    I had not touched the site in over a year and was around spots 9-12.

  • June 21st, 2011 at 9:01 am Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Hi JB, Sorry to hear that happened to you. It may have been a result of this:, and not necessarily a change in your title tags.

  • August 16th, 2011 at 1:38 pm Marco said:

    Thanks for this article Wesley, great stuff. Unfortunately, I also came a bit too late. I guess this is an instance of trial and error. I just change them dramatically and my site fell off the chart. To make matters worse, I saw some mistakes on the original ones (after I had updated them) so I redid them, TWICE. I will await, I have no problem, but wish this stuff was said in books, big and bold :)



  • September 6th, 2011 at 10:29 am Tara said:

    Does anybody know if there would there be a penalty for a subtle change to the right hand side of the title tag if the words I rank for at the beginning of the tag do not get altered? This will be the first time i am changing the title tag in the past 9 months. What is the risk? Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

  • September 7th, 2011 at 7:05 am Scott said:

    If you are concerned about being dropped out of the rankings because of your title change, yes, any change will be detected. Even subtle changes will be noticed by Google since it does this automatically and not by humans. If it was a human they nay miss the small change but not with a robot. Believe me, I have made changes to title tags and it took a long time to recover.

    Always be sure before you choose a title tag that you are sure it is the title you want forever. Once your site is indexed any changes will cause a lose in rankings for a while. You will come back but it takes several months.

  • September 12th, 2011 at 2:12 pm Tara said:

    Scott, thanks so much for responding to my question. one last folowup. As an alternative, if I leave the title tag as is but add some additional copy to the bottom of the page (that focuses on my newer key words) and made a minor change to my h1 tag, (to include one of my newer key words) do you think I am at the same risk for penalty?

  • September 18th, 2011 at 5:47 pm Scott said:

    Hi Tara:

    If you add some copy to the bottom of the page I think you would be ok. Changing an h1 tag shouldn’t cause an issue but there is no way to say 100% that it will not effect any rankings. Even if it did effect the ranking it shouldn’t be for long. I have changed h1 tags before and it didn’t cause any penalties but I have to say that once I have a page that ranks well I rarely make any changes to it. I don’t want to take any chances.

    Now, if a page is not ranking where I want it to be even after building back links and giving it time, then I will make changes to try to get it to rise in the serps.

    Hope this helps!

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