I'll be asking this in a number of places. As many know, Google results don't necessarily display the meta title you've designated for your page -- it often displays an automatically generated title with information it deems pertinent to the search.
In some cases, this is problematic for us at Colgate. Colgate is located in the town of Hamilton, New York, and Google often adds "Hamilton" to the page titles it displays. The problem is that Hamilton College, another small liberal arts institution, is located nearby. Adding "Hamilton" to our page titles contributes to confusion in search results, as the two schools' start blending together.
This is what Google has to say about Page Titles and Descriptions: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/35624?hl=en
It's an interesting problem, because Google is working -- Hamilton is actually relevant to our location -- but Google obviously can't recognize the real-world confusion that creates.
Have you ever had an experience like this? Do you know of any course of action we can take to mitigate this? We always make an effort to ensure the titles we provide are relevant and descriptive, but that usually doesn't stop Google from doing its thing!
The first place to start would be adding content to the meta tags on your website. I visited a few of your site's pages, and none of them have meta tag content.
This is all that is present in your source code:
<meta name="description" content="">
<meta name="author" content="Design by W|W, Implementation by OpenArc">
<meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width,initial-scale=1">
<meta name="format-detection" content="telephone=no" />
Since there is no information in those tags, Google has to guess. As you've discovered, Google isn't always 100% accurate.
You should fill out the tags. Meta tags are one of the most important SEO elements for any website. It's honestly shocking to me that whoever built your website would omit critical information like that. You need complete meta tags (with relevant content) on every single page of your website.
Example meta tags for your homepage:
<meta name="title" content="Colgate University - A learning institution...etc." />
<meta name="description" content="Founded in ####, Colgate University offers academic degree programs...etc." />
<meta name="keywords" content="colgate university, colgate, bachelor's degree, etc."
(Note: Don't use "etc." in the tag, that is just for example.)
The content of the meta tags should be relevant to each page. So for the Prospective Students page, let's say, your meta tags should be something like:
<meta name="title" content="Prospective Students - Colgate University" />
<meta name="description" content="Information and resources for prospective students interested in Colgate University....etc." />
<meta name="keywords" content="colgate university, colgate, bachelor's degree, prospective students, prospects, future students, admissions, admissions information, admissions requirements, etc." />
You can also volunteer to maintain the DMOZ category (and others where your school might appear) to ensure your school's information is accurate and complete. Google pulls from a variety of sources, and that is one of the big ones. Wikipedia and Freebase are others.
Thanks for the insight. Our meta tags situation is a bit frustrating -- we do in fact maintain those, but we discovered that there were actually duplicate tags in place. So while we've been generating content for those tags via our CMS which does get added to the <head> section of the website, the tags you cite in your response actually appear first in that section. You'll see if you look farther down the page source that there are meta title, description, and keyword tags that should have content.
Hopefully the recent request I've put in with our IT folks to have that first set of mostly empty tags removed from our templates will be a big step forward, allowing our curated titles and descriptions to take precedence.
Thanks for your insight,
Oh, I see them now, yes. I do hope that you are able to get it worked out!
If you aren't already using it, Google Webmaster Tools is a useful toolset to discover issues that might affect the data Google and other search engines see when they crawl your site.