Anyone the slightest bit involved with SEO will know that the latest set of Google Panda and Penguin updates have upset the old apple cart, some sites (although none of ours I’m pleased to say) have had their rankings either destroyed or badly damaged.
As all the information on these updates shows, there are many reasons why sites have been hit, in some cases incorrectly, but one factor that has received little comment so far is that the ‘Over Optimisation Penalty’ that seems to be being applied to the Title tag, this one being in relation to the use of the pipe ‘|’ symbol.
This symbol has been used Search Engine professionals for many a year now, it being the accepted way of separating those all important keywords in the TITLE of a webpage. It was therefore the norm to see such lines as
‘SEO Services | Search Engine Marketing | Website Optimisation’
in web copy. As I say, this was accepted practice and Google were quite happy to use this as one way of deciding what site to list where.
Things have changed now however, as Google, in it’s latest attempt to take away the advantages that optimised sites have, have deemed that such sites may well be ‘over optimised’ (i.e. they are trying too hard) and have therefore reduced their rankings to some degree.
You can argue the point here of course (not sure that Google will listen though) but I can see their point in that what they are after is to provide the browsing public with the very best set of results for any given search term. This requires that they list the sites with the very best content and so they don’t want their results to be skewed by a SEO’d title, well not too much at least.
The other thing to bear in mind is that as Google has these ‘over optimised’ sites in their sights so speak, anything that can make it easier to spot them is welcome. Sites which include too many keywords in their TITLE have always been penalised of course, but this is a different tack, as Google are in effect saying that if a site uses the ‘|’ symbol it MUST have been optimised and therefore could be subject to penalities, it certainly will be flying above the Google ‘radar’ and that is something that is not always recommended.
Why have they come to this conclusion, well it has much to do with the fact that Google have had hundreds (thousands?) of people checking the web awarding points to the best sites and picking out those that are seen to be ‘spammy’ etc. The results of this research showed some similarities that spammy, over optimised and poor quality sites, have with one another, one of these being that they all used the ‘|’ symbol to separate keywords….
This factor has therefore been programmed into the Google algorithm, the result being that sites that use it could, just could get poorer rankings that they should/did.
Thus the current word on the SEO street is to remove the ‘|’ symbols, reduce the number of keywords and use meaningful sentences for Titles instead of a series of keywords, using commas as needed. Making this change will / should, achieve two things, firstly it will stop Google penalising the site and secondly, as the Title is shown in the Google listings, may increase the Click Through Rate of that listing as it (a) is more readable and (b) therefore some say, boosts the ‘believability’ rating of that site / listing.
There is not conclusive evidence for all this just yet (some SEO companies still recommending the use of the ‘|’) but as the listings show, many sites on the first page are not using it anymore…
At Serendipty, we have no doubt that it’s use is now a bad idea and are in the process of changing all of our customers sites (and ours too).
For information on how the | used to be used, here is a useful blog:-