The Week In Search SEO News 24 Mar 2017

What’s happened this week?

It’s been a fairly quiet week in organic search terms, but not in other areas, as  Google gets caught up in a storm over ads and controversial content, while it also releases Adwords Close VariantsSite hacks in 2016 were also on the agenda, tappable shortcuts got released and webmasters breathed easier as the date of the mobile-first index is pushed beyond the 5th of Sometime.

#GoogleDisplayNetwork #GoogleAdwords #GoogleSearchConsole #WebsiteSecurity #MobileSearch

Google Comes Under Pressure Over Ads & Controversial Content

Summary:

  • Numerous advertisers have pulled out of various Google display advertising platforms & networks over placement of their ads next to  controversial and objectionable content.
  • In the wake of these high-profile “stop” orders, Google has released expanded safeguards and promised to do better.
  • This has released several waves of more general, but opportunistic, complaints about display ad networks, especially programmatic display.

How to deal with your ads and controversial content:

  1. Talk to your media buyers to ensure they know how you feel about your ads being placed next to objectionable content
  2. Talk to the ad networks themselves, again making clear how you feel about objectionable content.
  3. Thoroughly review the actions the networks are putting into place to overcome the issues.
  4. Rather than relying on relatively passive programmatic ad buying, consider taking up more direct placement opportunities and being more active about ad placement in general.
  5. Build your organic search presence by following my Basic SEO Guide.

Discussion:

Since time began (well, since Internet Time began anyway, let’s call it 1994 for the sake of argument), advertisers have griped about the quality of traffic, the expense of traffic, the fraud perpetrated by websites to generate revenue and the lack of visibility over where their ads are placed and what kind of content they sit next to. Raw impression programs, CPC programs, first-click, second-click, pay-per-actions – all have been subject to the same issues.

Google is in an envious position: it knows what the content on each page is generally about, through any one of its various bots, but, it is not (or was not) incentivised to prevent an ad firing as it gets paid for doing so. It’s obviously more profitable for Google to have open slather on ad display, based on demographic preferences, rather than build systems to prevent display, or give advertisers detailed choices based on content context.

The other big factor in this is the laziness of the average digital marketer. It’s not difficult to set a budget, set some demographics, build a banner / landing page and press the go-live button. All you then need to do is play with the variables, until you get a somewhat acceptable ROI, or other KPI. If the marketers really knew what they were doing, they would be doing direct buys and promotions, with ads reflecting the user’s context. The focus is on a set of anonymous numbers rather than intelligently seeking out good quality traffic and making deals off the back of it.

More info:

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Adwords Close Variants Rolls Out

Summary:

  • Google Adwords has released “close variants” pretty much removing Exact Match
  • This groups together a lot more variant keywords into sets which (Google thinks) mean the same thing
  • Words are removed, added, changed, or reordered to achieve this

How to Manage Adwords Close Variants:

  1. Exact Match Keyword Lists can now be reduced as the close variants should be included automatically.
  2. Keep an eye on poor performing queries and use negative keywords to remove those which really don’t work.
  3. Prepare to re-do Keyword Research for organic search.

Discussion:

For a long while, Google has been trying to move away from keywords to concepts, especially in organic SERPs. Conceptually, there is very little difference between “running shoes” vs “shoes for running”, so if a page is relevant for one query, it is likely to be relevant for the other.

Google has already made it harder to do quality keyword research and estimate search volumes – combining singular and plural terms, as well as providing volume ranges, are great examples – and this has the potential to further muddy the waters. It is quite possible that in 6-18 months, Google’s Keyword Planner will give volumes based on concepts rather than individual exact match keywords, although considering the data available to Google, its Keyword Planner is really rather poor.

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The State of Website Security in 2016

Summary:

  • There was an increase of 32% in the number of hacked websites in 2016 vs 2105 (no absolute numbers though).
  • 84% of webmasters who attempted clean-up got re-included in the Google index.
  • 61% of sites weren’t verified in Google Search Console, so were never notified of the hack by Google.
  • Google has now created new documentation to help webmasters identify a hack and clean it up

Actions to take:

  1. Verify your website in Google Search Console
  2. Read up on and act upon hacking prevention – usually securing scripts, keeping software up-to-date
  3. If you are hacked, follow the Google resources to recover.

Discussion:

Website hacking is on the rise, although we don’t know how many websites Google has identified as being hacked.

Google is playing the good guy in this instance, even though it is an ancillary outcome from wanting to keep hacked sites out of its index, and getting recovered sites back into its index.

Most hacks are brought about by insecure websites – either poorly coded scripts, or software / hardware not being kept up-to-date. In most instances, web hosts are very good at helping to identify and fix potential vulnerabilities.

Final thought (as I’ve seen this one in action): if your favourite script only works with an out-of-date version of something else, eg PHP / MySQL etc, then find an alternative script, pronto

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Google Releases Tappable Shortcuts on Mobile

Summary:

  • Google releases “tappable shortcuts” for its search app and mobile site
  • Easily find quick answer for things like weather, sports, food and entertainment

Actions to take:

  1. If you’re in the weather, sports, food or entertainment search field, prepare for a potential drop in traffic.
  2. Find ways to optimise for tappable shortcuts, to ensure your content is displayed in the results. It’s not known yet if these will display the same results as for a generic query, or if the results are curated.

Discussion:

Last week, “OK, Google” was supposed to be the new way to search on mobile. This week, it’s tappable shortcuts. Google’s big problem with search and mobile is how people actually do their searching on mobile. Few people like to peck away at a mobile keyboard, so search queries are getting shorter / more succinct. Even fewer people are prepared to say “OK, Google” followed by 3-4 repetitions of the search they want to perform. There are so many inherent problems with typing and speaking, that it’s difficult to see how it can be fully overcome on mobile without a big technological stride.

If Google Now worked well (or if people had it set up properly), they could just fire it up and most of the information they can glean from these shortcuts would be there, available as cards.

Mind you, I would find it handy if I could create my own shortcuts to oft-repeated searches.

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Google’s Mobile First Index Still Some Time Away

Summary:

  • Everybody can breathe again, Google’s mobile-first index is still some time away.
  • “Some time away” is nebulous – think months or quarters.
  • Google wants to have a “quality-neutral launch” – ie the quality of the search results remain roughly the same.

How to build a mobile-first website:

  1. If you haven’t already, get a mobile-friendly version of your site. It is 2017 after all.
  2. Preferably, use a responsive framework for your website.
  3. As Google will be using “what do we see on mobile” as its first approach to decoding and ranking websites, make sure the content that is important for ranking is visible on your mobile site.

Mobile First Index Discussion:

Gosh, this is taking some time, isn’t it. I’m half-reminded of Microsoft’s “Coming Soon” approach, which always seems eternal – or leads to much-valued features being dropped for no apparent reason.

Some time ago, more than 50% of searches on Google were from mobile devices, so this is no surprise. What is surprising is that Google is taking so long about it, especially as the mobile site quality has supposedly been taken into account for mobile rankings for a while now. Even if they weren’t, the bounce rates from poor sites should in theory see them slide down the rankings on mobile. Got that?

Switching to a mobile-first index should be a no-brainer for Google. Sites should in theory rise or drop down the rankings depending on their usefulness on the device the user is using. The reality appears to be somewhat different.

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