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I'm having a hard time thinking of the best terms to search for similar questions so please bear with me.

We run a yearly "best X" contest where we nominate several to choose from and let readers vote, and I have a question about how to handle the URL structure. I'd like to have the top-level landing page describe what the contest is for, how it's run, etc. and have links to past years. This is how the Oscars do it:

http://www.oscars.org/oscars                   - basic description
http://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/2016   - 2016 ceremony
http://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/2015   - 2015 ceremony

When the next ceremony is announced, no URLs or page contents change. They simply add a new year for 2017.

http://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/2017   - 2017 ceremony   - added

But our current design displays the most recent contest on the landing page with links to past years.

http://example.com/best-x        - 2016 contest (latest)
http://example.com/best-x/2015   - 2015 contest
http://example.com/best-x/2014   - 2014 contest

When we have this year's contest, what's currently shown on the landing page will move to the .../2016 URL, and the nominees for 2017 will replace it.

http://example.com/best-x        - 2017 contest (latest)   - changed
http://example.com/best-x/2016   - 2016 contest            - moved
http://example.com/best-x/2015   - 2015 contest            - unchanged

This confuses Google as the subject of the landing page changes every year. If you do a site search for the contest name without a year, Google displays the landing page, but the title is "Best X 2012". 2012! They crawl our site quite frequently, and all the metadata on the actual page is correct.

I can only assume the changing subject is confusing somehow. Yes, the landing page is technically always about the "latest" contest, but the URL for every contest changes when it becomes the no-longer-latest contest.

Can anyone point me to a definitive resource that explains why this is problematic and how much it matters? Or am I tilting at windmills?

Edit

Title in HTML: Best Car to Buy Best Car To Buy 2016 Nominees 2016 - Green Car Reports
Title in SERP: Best Car To Buy 2012 - Green Car Reports

The duplicated title is due to the single category being named the same as the contest itself. I've fixed that going forward, and 2012-2015 all had the same title format. Also, the first year was 2011. For some reason Google took the new title once but never again.

  • Can you cut and paste the title for the page in question?? I rather think this is a title tag management issue and fairly easy to resolve. Cheers!! – closetnoc Aug 27 '16 at 0:03
  • Try fetching the "bext-x" url with Search Console, does it displays 2012? – marcanuy Aug 27 '16 at 0:07
  • @marcanuy I did Crawl : Fetch as Google and it all looks good. Does that grab the latest page content, or did you mean for me to do something else in Search Console? Even the cached version and snippet in SERP all say 2016. Only the SERP title says 2012. – David Harkness Aug 27 '16 at 0:31
  • @closetnoc I added to the question. Is it likely the duplicated phrase in the title is causing it? It has been duplicated since the first contest in 2011. – David Harkness Aug 27 '16 at 0:39
  • This confuses Google as the subject of the landing page changes every year. Google does not get confused. I did find your site in Google and examined your source code a bit before answering. The title tag being too long allowed Google to make something up. That is what is/was happening. If you can manage your title tag within the scope I have outlined, Google will always use it as you wrote it even when it changes. I have never had a problem with changing page titles even often changes. Cheers!! – closetnoc Aug 30 '16 at 1:22
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Google will make up a title that seems to make sense. You actually have a few problems.

1] The title tag is too long.

While there have been changes lately, generally, you can manage how a title appears in the SERPs by limiting the length. For a long while, the title tag length was better managed to a limit of 512 pixels or about 50 characters or so. It is surely longer these days, however, managing your title tag following the original principles still works.

Your title tag is 70 characters.

My title tag doesn't appear to be getting crawled by Google properly

Title in Google does not match <title> of document

2] Your title does not make linguistic semantic sense and is highly redundant.

Your title tag is clearly keyword optimized. The problem is, while using proper terms is necessary, search is not about matching keywords. In fact, Brin and Page's (The original Google Research Paper) own research paper written in 1997, criticized this technique as being ineffective as the method of matching results to search queries being used by the search engines at the time. Instead, the intent of Google was to employ some simple semantic techniques for better matches. With Google Scholar, in 2008/9 time frame Google realized the power of semantics and began shifting their index, result engine, and finally the query engine toward a more full semantic model. This means that language and not keywords has become important.

You will notice that Google chose the portion of your title that made semantic sense (Best Car To Buy).

Your title tag is: Best Car to Buy Best Car To Buy 2016 Nominees 2016 - Green Car Reports

It is better as: Buy Best Car To Buy in 2016 - Green Car Reports

You can optionally chose to put Nominees back in the title: Buy Best Car To Buy in 2016 Nominees - Green Car Reports

Why would a website with keyword stuffing rank higher than one without in google search results?

SEO Halo Effect

This answer does briefly reference using the year in a title tag.

Does the order of a keyword combination matter in the title and URL?

3] Branding the title tag.

You are not branding your title tag properly. Use the pipe character (|). Make sure that it matches the branding you use in other places which should all roughly match. Keep an eye on the domain name, the title tag, the company name used in the About or Contact pages, any schema.org markup, etc.

It is better as: Buy Best Car To Buy in 2016 Nominees | Green Car Reports

Pipes or colons in HTML title tags?

Site URL being displayed before TITLE on SERP

This answer speaks to branding and how branding is seen. It does not directly apply to your question, however, it still worth reading for a solid background.

Google has a hard time finding organization's official page

These links should be a good start.

You will have to massage your title tag a bit to properly manage how your site is seen. You can use Fetch as Google to check your updated title tag.

  • That's all great advice, but the duplicate title text was merely a bug (fixed but not deployed yet). My question is specifically about a design where the landing page's content moves to a year-specific URL each year to make room for the new year's contest. – David Harkness Aug 30 '16 at 0:13
  • @DavidHarkness I guess I jumped on your edit. ;-) That is my area of expertise is... sorry. Cheers!! – closetnoc Aug 30 '16 at 1:04

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