The Week In Search 21 July 2017

What’s the SEO News this week?


Google Analytics Ask Intelligence: Ask a Question, Get an Answer

Analytics Ask Intelligence Summary:

  • Google Analytics Ask Intelligence has a nifty new feature – plain language questions and answers.
  • You can ask (type) a question in plain English and get the data / chart presented back to you.
  • The new ask a question, get an answer feature is being rolled out currently, and only works in English for the moment.
  • It looks easy enough, but you will need to ask your questions in a fairly structured way, which could be useful and frustrating in equal measure.
  • This is fun but the jury is out on whether this will help drive traffic, conversions and revenue.

Google Analytics Ask Intelligence Questions

Actions to take:

  1. Log into Google Analytics and follow these instructions from Google to see if you can access Ask Intelligence.
  2. If you can access it, read the “what questions you can ask” guide and give it a whirl.
  3. If you can’t (and this feature is being rolled out), then you’ll just have to wait for the full joys of Ask Intelligence to be revealed to you. In the meantime, you’ll just have to access data via the old way of clicking links.
  4. If you don’t even have Google Analytics, use this Basic Goal Setting and Monitoring Guide to help you get started and set it up.
  5. Contact me if you would help installing Google Analytics and testing this feature.

Discussion:

I’m a little unsure if this is a Feature or a Gimmick. At the moment, I’m leaning to gimmick. This Ask Intelligence feature would be useful for asking occasional or one-off questions, but if you ask the same question regularly, then you really should set up a report, or a dashboard, or a shortcut.

I’m also getting a little bit disenchanted with Google’s rollouts. Many features are announced 4-12 weeks before they hit most accounts, which means they have been forgotten about by the time they are released to most users. Of course, Google releases them to power users quickly, but even some larger accounts have not got these yet. Google needs to make roll-out happen to all within 1-2 weeks of the announcement. Any more and its too long.

I’m also concerned that this is a solution in search of a problem using Google’s great language processing technologies to return data from natural language queries. But, like many things, if your UX is sorted and easy intelligible, then search shouldn’t be needed – and there shouldn’t be any need for Ask Analytics Intelligence.

More info:

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Mobile First is NOT Mobile Friendly


New Google Search Console Layout Coming

Beta Google Search Console Summary:

  • Google Search Console is beta testing a new layout, away from its old-school layout to a more material design layout in line with other properties.
  • This is still early days – it was released to a Webmaster Console beta testing group and the screengrabs accidentally leaked.
  • It look like menus, labelling and report layouts will change.
  • It’s not yet clear if report contents, and reports / features themselves will be enhanced or degraded.
  • It looks good, but like all changes will be accompanied by a wailing and gnashing of teeth when it is launched. Who moved my cheese?

Beta Google Search Console July 2017

(Image from SE Roundtable).

Actions to take:

  1. At the moment, there isn’t a lot to do. This is likely to launch soon, but how soon is anyone’s guess.
  2. And further to the issues with Google Analytics Ask Intelligence feature, when t is released, it may take a long while to roll out to everyone.
  3. In the meantime, entertain yourselves.
  4. Or, if you don;t have a Google Search Console account, then follow this Basic Google Search Console Guide.
  5. Contact me if you would like help setting up, or interpreting Google Search Console and its data.

Discussion:

Whoops! Some people were very naughty and accidentally shared screenshots they weren’t supposed to. Fortunately these were of limited use bar getting an overview of things that may change.

It does frustrate when people / companies run very closed betas. Some of the best web projects in recent times, have been run as open betas, where you can switch between beta and current view with ease and provide active feedback to the developers. Google seems to be heading towards Apple-like secrecy, which apart from a magician’s reveal, doesn’t add much to the equation.

You would hope that Google has a long list of features to add to the release of things that webmasters have been clamouring for. However, experience is that features on production releases are often fewer than they were before, which for a large subset of users leads to a degraded user experience. Usually this is caused by agile projects not being able to code all features in before release, or a budget-holder in the project design team deciding the value of a feature is less than the cost. Quite often that is wrong.

In the mean time we’ll wait with bated-breath for the Beta Google Search Console to become the production release.

More info:

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Google Now Becomes A Feed

Google Feed Changes Summary:

  • There have been a few shifts (and a few forecast shifts) that indicate Google is planning to do its best not to let users off its platform.
  • Google News Feed has had “follow” button added to it, allowing you to follow a topic without leaving anywhere else, like Feedly. This is also starting to appear in straight search.
  • Google New appears to have been killed off becoming much more of a Feed of data based on things you follow, search history and other interpreted metrics.
  • Finally, The Guardian has reported that the Google homepage is to take a step back to 2009 and effectively become iGoogle, with a populated homepage very similar to the Feed-replaced Google Now.
  • The ecosystems are closing and we are heading towards a much less interesting and diverse web.

Google Now Becomes a Feed

(Image from SE Land)

Actions to take:

  1. Get ready to fight for traffic. Neither Google nor Facebook really wants to give it to you.
  2. Implement structured data to better appear in the feeds.
  3. Implement AMP to better appear in Google News.
  4. Make sure your website is sticky, so people remember and visit outside of Facebook or Google search.
  5. Don’t forget to ask Google, why its homepage now looks like iGoogle from 7-8 years ago.
  6. Contact me if you would like to discuss ways to make sure you make it into the feed and ways to make your website sticky.

Discussion:

The ecosystems are converging. A few years ago, I posited that web channels were converging as social / search / web all started to influence each other and stopped acting like independent organisms. The same is true of the web for the next few years. Facebook and Google want to be like AOL of the late 1990s, that is a closed-system where you almost never needed to step outside to visit the actual web.

In all honesty, Google is a lot further behind Facebook in this traffic ecosystem, but it doesn’t have the screen ownership presence, which means people still have to open an app to visit Facebook to become enmeshed in it. Google on the other hand, you just click the home screen button on your phone.

I’m not surprised that Google will be taking this step. I think auto-adding things to a home screen feed comes with dangers of users getting agitated about privacy, but like a lot of their intuitive advances, it really depends on the utility and accuracy for uncomplaining adoption.

More info:

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Google Search Console Impression Data Change

GSC Impression Data Summary:

  • In a sneaky move last week, Google Search Console modified the way it calculates average impression data and average search positions.
  • This led to a drop of in Average Position for a lot of webmasters and an increase in impressions.
  • Google has been generic and bland in its explanations, but essentially, they are now showing impressions and data from positions well beyond P100.
  • This means that a site will have increased impressions, since more rankings are taken into account and lower average positions, as those additional rankings are at the lower end of the scale.
  • This took place on / around 14th July.
  • This just goes to show that the Average Position is not a trustworthy metric. It should only be relied upon on a per keyword basis.

Google Search Console Data Anomalies July 2017

Actions to take:

  1. Log into Google Search Console to check your website’s average position and impressions.
  2. Review changes around 14th July.
  3. Keep an eye on the Average Position and Impressions data, but don’t rely too heavily on them as indicators of search performance.
  4. It is better to track rankings through a third party tool, ven if it more difficult to track clicks, owing to Not Provided.
  5. If you don’t have a Google Search Console account, then follow this Basic Google Search Console GuideAction 2
  6. Contact me if you would like help setting up Google Search Console, or if you would like help interpreting and analysing the data for actionable insights.

Discussion:

Every time there’s a slight change, lots of webmasters get their undies in  twist. All of a sudden the world is caving in and they’ve been penalised, or Google is rolling out a massive update and nobody else is affected.

It is mildly annoying that Google has been really bland and generic in its messaging around feature change. It would be helpful if they gave more of an explanation to webmasters. Yes, they’ll confuse some, but the majority will be aided by the deeper understanding. Sometimes, Google dumbs it down too much.

Google Search Console impression data is a bit of a mixed bag. Sometimes it is ver useful, but mostly it isn’t. When it comes to the Average Search Position, you have to remember it includes the normal variation and fluctuation, personalisation and, of course, the impact of RankBrain on user intent based fluctuations. I’ve always looked at the data, but never relied upon it.

More info:

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The State of SEO Mid-2017 Released

The State of SEO Mid 2017

We recently released the super-exciting The State of SEO in mid-2017. Read it now.

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Google Adwords CTRs Up  But Paid Search Overall Down

Google Adwords CTR Summary:

  • A UK based digital marketing agency, Accuracast has analysed 2 million paid search ads to discover the impact of Google dropping ads on the right-hand side of the screen and only listing ads above and below the search results.
  • They found that click-through-rates for the ad positions have increased by about 50% as a result of this change, with the individual positions each changing substantially.
  • Interestingly, overall CTR is about 15%. This means 85% of clicks go to Organic (or nowhere, as a lot of searches do not generate a click).
  • The other part of the puzzle which isn’t answered is whether overall clicks have gone up – eg for 100 searches are the total ad clicks for the new layout bigger or smaller than before.
  • It should also be noted that the clicks were compared on desktop only. You would think that there would be little impact on mobile (aside from Google taking clicks from real estate dominance), but you never know.

Google Adwords CTR Up

Actions to take:

  1. These stats are interesting but should be taken with a dash of salt, as they miss out a little on pre / post comparison.
  2. The interesting stat is that Google Adwords accounts for around 15% of clicks (CTR) on searches. This means that effort should be put into capturing that 85% of clicks available.
  3. Whenever you see data like this, always check the maths. There are occasions when the headline doesn’t match the substance.
  4. Contact me if you would like to discuss how to capture organic clicks and drive traffic, conversions and revenue through organic search.

Discussion:

Wow. Only 15% of clicks goes through paid search. That’s quite low. The accepted figure used to be a 70/30 split with 30% going through paid search. It’s hard to believe that figure has halved in the intervening years – reduced, maybe, but halved?

What is also interesting is that the shift from right-sidebar to top and bottom ads appears to have driving higher CTR through those ads, although whether the total number of clicks is up, is up for debate.

You have to remember that mixed in with those figures, will be a bunch of searches where nobody clicked, a bunch where people multi-clicked and some where the user searched, clicked and then went away happy as Larry.

Overall, this is a decent investigation into Google Adwords CTR, but it does lead to a few more questions!

More info:

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Bits & Pieces

  • This is an interesting Search Engine Land piece on what was gleaned from Gary Illyes during his sit-down with Danny Sullivan, once of SE Land. There are a few good bits in here regarding Featured Snippets and AMP. I am starting to wonder, however, if these guys are not a little too close for comfort with each other. I get the feeling little of substance is revealed, but it’s all treated as if its gold-dust. You could almost imagine it being part of a smoke-and-mirrors PR plan on Google’s part. Perish the thought.
  • Google has been testing a darker AMP logo in the search results. This is likely to give it better stand-out and possible drive more traffic to AMP pages, for those that prefer them. (See next Bit).
  • A nice straight-forward poll from 9to5Google shows that just over 50% of users are more inclined to click on an AMP link and prefer the stripped down version of a site. Bells and whistles are nice, but I think we’d all be glad of a bloat-free internet experience.
  • Google says there are no SEO benefits to adding trust seals to your websites. Honestly, where do they get these questions from? There may be some indirect benefit, but if any SEO says there is a direct benefit, they are peddling rubbish.
  • Following on from Canada’s glorious attempt to enforce global de-indexation on Google, the French / Europeans are up to it now discussing if orders for removal via “right to be forgotten” should take effect globally. This could get very silly, very quickly.
  • Another one from the “where do people get these ideas from” selection box. Google has re-affirmed that since it ignores the meta keywords tag, you can spam them to your heart’s content. It makes no difference, differences, odds to them.

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TL;DR

  • Google Analytics launches a clever, but underwhelming Ask Intelligence feature.
  • Screengrabs of a Google Search Console layout update leaked. Oops.
  • Google is become Feedly, on steroids.
  • Google scared webmasters by changing the way data is calculated in Google Search Console.
  • Individual Adwords positions CTRs are up, but overall CTRs are down.
  • Read The State of SEO in mid-2017. It is exciting.
  • Read about how Google’s Mobile First Index is not Mobile Friendly. It’s a terrifying terrific read.

Thanks for reading. If you would like to discuss what these changes mean for your web property, or would like to know how to implement them, please feel free to contact me.

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