The Week In Search 24 Feb 2017

This week’s updates and search snippets include: a Google My Business service area update; an announcement that Google and Bing take action on UK Piracy; findings that proximity upweighted in Local Pack ; a reduction in Google Star Rating threshold and advice to use caution with using the GSC URL Removal Tool.

#GoogleMyBusiness, #GoogleSearch, #GoogleLocal, #StarRatings, #GoogleSearchConsole

Google My Business – Service Area & Virtual Offices Update

Summary:

  • There has been a small update / clarification to Google My Business Guidelines.
  • Businesses which have a “service area” must now have a single page for their central location and indicate their service area from there. The listing can be set to not show the physical address for the business location.
  • Service area businesses cannot use a “virtual office” unless that location is staffed during the business’s normal office hours.
  • If the business is a hybrid bricks & mortar / service area business – eg a fast food restaurant & delivery service – then the listing can indicate a shop-front and service area.

Actions to take:

  1. If running a service area business, log into Google My Business to check the service area and business location are correct as per the guidelines.
  2. Also ensure the “I serve customers at this location” box is unchecked to prevent  the physical address being listed and shown.
  3. If a hybrid business, ensure the physical address details and service area details are correct and show as appropriate.

Discussion:

This is a relatively minor bit of housekeeping in Google’s ever-continuing attempt to list every business location accurately and correctly. Unsurprisingly, some people try to game the system by listing unstaffed virtual offices as physical locations.

More info:

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Joint Effort by Google and Bing to Demote Piracy Sites from UK Search Results

Summary:

  • The two major search engines have struck a deal with intellectual property organisations in the UK to remove or demote pirated content from UK search results.
  • They have promised to take action by June 1st 2017.
  • Repeat offenders in film and music expected to be hit by this.

Actions to take:

  1. If in the music / film industry, keep an eye on improved UK rankings and traffic from the UK around May / June / July.
  2. If in the pirated music / film industry, keep an eye on reduced UK rankings and traffic from the UK around May / June / July.

Discussion:

Google has taken action similar to this before with algorithmic penalties based on DMCA takedown notices, although it has stated that there is no algorithm update involved this time. Google seem to believe the current steps they take are enough in the fight against piracy, although clearly the UK copyright organisations disagreed.

More info:

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Google Local Pack Upweights Proximity

Summary:

  • The Google Local Pack now show places which are near you for heavily location oriented searches without the need to specify a location.
  • Proximity to searcher has also been seen as an upweighted factor in the ranking results.

Actions to take:

  1. Make sure your Google My Business information is correct and accurate, including map pin placement.

Discussion:

This varies between extremely handy for the user and slightly creepy. Obviously you can turn some location services off on your mobile, but I suspect Google will still have a stab at pushing location-relative results your way. Whether or not it is the most useful of features, remains to be seen.

However, if Google preferences displaying the closest dentist, there is no guarantee it is also the best.

More info:

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Google’s Star Rating Threshold Reduced

Summary:

  • The number of reviews required for a star rating has been reduced.
  • Stars now given for as little as one review.
  • Google has changed to the arithmetic average to calculate overall star rating.

Actions to take:

  1. Keep on encouraging customers to leave reviews.
  2. Keep on dealing with bad customer reviews quickly and efficiently.

Discussion:

While star ratings shouldn’t necessarily make or break a business, they are undeniably important. Lowering the threshold to trigger a star rating is a bold move rpobably aimed at encouraging people to leave reviews (instant gratification) and businesses to manage reviews. It will also encourage gaming of the system.

The way reviews are calculated is simple but inefficient, and not just by Google, it has to be said. By taking a simple average Google takes each review at absolute face value and does not put any weight onto the reviewers trustability.  This makes the system easy to game and potentially leaves end-users with a poor experience. Weighting individual reviewers would give a much better trust factor to their reviews and more accurate star ratings

More info:

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Google Search Console URL Removal

Summary:

  • Removing one variant of a URL (eg the http://www. version) using the Google Search Console URL Removal Tool may remove all versions.

Actions to take:

  1. Don’t use the URL Removal Tool to remove incorrect variants of a URL from the index.
  2. Use a 301 redirect to direct the crawlers to the chosen variant.
  3. Use a 410 Gone Away if the URL has to be removed and there should not be a  redirect.
  4. Use the Fetch As Googlebot tool to get Google to grab the redirect and process it.
  5. Include the redirected URLin an XML Sitemap submitted to Google to ensure it is (eventually), crawled, processed and de-indexed.
  6. Wait. De-indexing can sometimes take time to process and take effect.

Discussion:

URL Removal is an absolute last resort action. In almost every instance there is a better option (301 Redirect or 410 Gone Away).

It is however a bit surprising that Google requires webmasters to have a separate Search Console instance for http://, http://www, https:// and https://www variants, but then processes a removal for a specific variant against all variants. It has then potential to confuse a lot of webmasters.

Of course, if you’ve been absolutely steadfast in only ever allowing a single canonical version of a URL to exist, then this shouldn’t be a worry.

More info:

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