In looking over a post on the Google News blog from a few months ago on ways to help Google News better crawl your site this tip in particular caught my eye:
* Article Titles in Google News
In order for Google News to crawl the correct titles for your articles, make sure the title you want appears in both the title tag and as the headline on the article page. In addition, don’t hyperlink the headline on the article page – after all, your reader is already there! And it’s always a good idea to have links that point to your articles use the article title as anchor text.
The headline/title tag tip is also included in their Help for Publishers guidelines on article titles.
That’s interesting because a basic best practice in editorial SEO is to customize on-page headlines in the title tag (when necessary) to make them more literal and keyword focused. Of course headlines should be keyword focused as well but for a variety of reasons that doesn’t always happen, so customizing the title tag is a good way to offset the issue when needed.
I scanned through some of the Top Stories on Google News today – the majority of articles I checked did have the exact headline in the title tag but in some cases it had been customized, as in this NYTimes.com example:
In cases where the headline and title tag didn’t match it was the headline that was used by Google News. So it appears this tip is intended to make it easier for Google News to understand the correct title for articles, as opposed to being a “must do” to prevent an issue.
Using the exact article title in the anchor text of links doesn’t always happen either. Due to space limitations and to try to grab on-site users’ attention, news sites sometimes use shorter and/or wittier “tout links” on home pages, section fronts and in popular content modules. But linking with the article headline is something that publishers should do when possible.