What’s happened this week in Google Search?
There’s a bunch of interesting SEO news covered in TWIS w/e 07 July 2017. Not many specific updates, but some entertaining thoughts, opinions, and some slightly daft questions from webmasters. You should read it to find out more about these topics:
- New Adsense Native Ads Potentially Breach Webmaster Guidelines;
- Why is LinkSpam Being Ignored?;
- Mobile First Staged Rollout;
- Google Posts Not Quite Ready;
- Hidden Content “Fine” in Mobile First;
- As well as some remarkably riveting Bits & Pieces.
#SEO #GoogleAdsense #MobileFirst #LinkSpam #GooglePosts
New AdSense Native Ads Breach Webmaster Guidelines
- The AdSense part of Google has released a new “native” ad format.
- This is designed to appear “in-feed” or in-line with content, matching the look and feel of the website.
- This may go against the principles of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines – especially the one that says “Don’t deceive your users”.
- This may also be in potential violation of the Google Page Layout penalty.
Actions to take:
- Read the AdSense blog post regarding the new ad formats. They are similar to in-stream / related posts ad formats that have been circulating for a good few years.
- If deciding to use them, use them wisely, especially if your key source of traffic is organic search. Avoid placing above the fold, over-doing the ad spots, or using them deceptively.
- Be aware that Google AdSense and the search algorithm teams appear to live in separate universes – one side’s advice may breach the policies / /guidelines of the other.
- Contact me if you would like to discuss how to balance ad performance and revenue versus organic search rankings.
Google AdSense is just about catching up with similar ad formats made popular by other ad networks like Outbrain etc over the last few years. These formats do work, but are not universally loved by users because they can be deceptive – unclearly marked, overdone, or just plain rubbish content.
Unfortunately, the AdSense team have a long history of recommending actions which may cause issues with ranking in Google search – for example encouraging plentiful ads above the fold, which causes issues with Google’s Page Layout Penalty.
If you’re already using these types of ads from another provider, and your organic performance is okay, then you should consider testing these ads to see if they perform better than the incumbent ad network. If you don’t currently use these types of ads, then introduce them slowly and be aware of potential issues with Google’s algorithms.
Just in case there is any doubt, over-doing AdSense ads and deceptive placement of those ads is just as likely to incur a Google ranking penalty as using ads from any other network. Google is pretty good at being unbiased towards its own products.
Link Spam – Ignore or Penalise?
- AJ Kohn posted a great opinion piece on Google’s current preference for ignoring Link Spam rather than penalising it, expressing his doubts at its effectiveness.
- Google claims it is “pretty good at ignoring links”.
- This is a game of whack-a-mole, other link spam techniques are springing up to replace previous methods. Google has yet to catch those.
- Google is likely to implement linking penalties again.
Actions to take:
- Ignore those spammy links offers which appear in your inbox.
- If content marketing and posting content on third party sites, choose those sites wisely. Some of them are good-looking spam-farms.
- Assume that any content which you post which contains non-editorial links are being ignored.
- Contact me if you would like to discuss ways to implement a Content Marketing strategy which generates links without being ignored.
As mentioned in a couple of other post about spammy article links, Google appears to be girding its loins ready to tackle link spam again. This is a good thing, but there will be good sites caught up in the cleansing process, in the same way that perfectly valid linking techniques got caught up in the link purges of the early 2010s.
Personally, I can;t wait for the day when some sources of link spam get pushed to the bottom of the pile. They produce rubbish content, effectively sell links and are trading off great names, while filling the web with tosh and drivel.
Over the years, Google has tried various methods of ignoring links for ranking purposes. Apparently the resulting indexes didn’t look good. As part of this work, they probably found that certain types of links could be devalued, or ignored, with minimal impact on the index, and then chose to ignore those types of links.
If you want to know the basics of getting external links, read my Basic External Linking Guide.
Overall, AJ’s piece is good and well-reasoned. I disagree partially with his point about the rise of content marketing being down to Panda & Penguin in 2011-2012. That timeframe is when the likes of BuzzFeed & Huffington Post rose to prominence with their push into Social Media, and the rise of importance of Social Media as a content distribution / consumer reach channel. (Yes, both, all were around previously, but this is the period where everyone started to get on board).
Mobile First Index Will Roll Out to Individual Sites
- John Mueller confirmed in a recent Google Webmaster Hangout the Mobile First Index will be rolled out to individual sites that are ready for it.
- This is likely to be sites which, effectively, are the same on Desktop as on Mobile.
- The sites will not necessarily be informed of the change.
- The Mobile First Index is still expected in 2018, but will be piecemeal and slow.
Actions to take:
- Get your site set up to be Mobile First.
- Read Mobile First is not Mobile Friendly.
- Set up rank tracking tools to track mobile rankings, if they aren’t already.
- Keep a steady eye on rankings and traffic over the coming month, especially with traffic from mobile.
- Don’t wait for Mobile First to hit, get started now.
- Contact me if you would like to discuss setting up your site to be Mobile First.
Google is definitely taking a slowly, slowly approach to Mobile First. This indicates that, despite assurances, a significant shift is likely to take place. In previous “big” changes, like Panda, or Penguin, 10%-20% of rankings were affected in some way. These were considered earth-shaking to the webmaster community.
I can envisage a scenario where Google rolls out Mobile First to certain sites, which effectively have the same mobile and desktop experience and would expect limited ranking changes as a result of being Mobile First. The next stage would be to roll it out to certain verticals, which are likely to be of limited commercial value, as Google is unlikely to want to hit its hip pocket. Following on from this, you’d expect the pace to pick up, more sites, more verticals, more algorithm tweaks.
Even though this is a big change which Google has announced well in advance, the feeling I get is that the change about to be unleashed really will see significant changes, but Google is struggling to balance the desired outcomes with the actual / projected outcomes. Why do it otherwise?
Google Posts Not Quite Ready
- Since the release of Google Posts, it’s proven to be a little bit disappointing.
- Automated posting is currently not available.
- Schedule posting is currently not available.
- Posts expire after a whole 7 days, except for upcoming events.
- It’s not available to all business categories yet.
- Google Posts is currently for short burst promotions, not for regular specials.
- It’s Not Quite Ready in my view.
Actions to take:
- If you run regular, short, promotions in your business, use Google Posts, but be aware that posts expire after 7 days, so you will need to set up a regular posting routine.
- If you run events, then Google Posts is good, you should also be using Events Structured Markup on your pages.
- If you have longer promotions, or don’t run events, the you should test using Google Posts to see if it brings any visibility, traffic, or conversion benefits.
- Contact me if you would like to discuss ways to use Google Posts and set it up to work effectively for your business.
Sigh. Google is disappointing currently. This is another half-baked product launch with great fanfare, which actually is of little effective value to businesses. Instead of running with an MVP (minimum viable product) style of product development and launch, they seem to be going with an NQR (Not Quite Ready) style. I don’t know whether Google is maxing out on product tweaks, or if its New Product Development process is falling apart, but something is not right.
Google Posts has the potential to be a really useful piece of web presence kit. Think of being able to schedule promotions in advance, supply promotions from an XML, or other feed, or even being able to run a promotion for (shock!) 10 days. Those things would be useful.
Google My Business users are not constantly logged in checking their stats, updating their pages. It’s not quite set-and-forget, but it nearly is. Having to visit every seven days, for something which is very nearly set-and-forget, is just not going to work. Of course, the cynic in me think that businesses can manage all these promotions through Adwords, but Google would never do that, would they?
Google should allow scheduled posting, set expiry dates or even more advanced post time / display options and make it actually something which businesses get some value out of.
Google Says Hidden Content “Fine” in Mobile First
- Great care needs to be exercised with these utterances from a recent Google Webmaster Hangout. They are talking about indexing content, which is different from ranking content.
- Google has long said that visible content is what matters in indexing and ranking, but appears to be back-tracking on that for the Mobile First Index.
- It appears they are allaying fears over the greater level of hiding content on mobile. “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine”.
- It’s not a sensible approach to rank pages on hidden content, even on mobile. Welcome to spam land, if they do.
Actions to take:
- Wherever possible surface critical content as visible on load, even on mobile.
- Be suspicious about some of these comments from Google. It’s likely they are allaying fears. They are also talking about indexing content, which is different from ranking content.
- Get your mobile first site sorted now. (Notice a recurring theme here?) That way impacts of going mobile first are already likely to be factored into your rankings.
- Contact me if you would like to discuss ways to make your mobile site Mobile First.
Google is spending a lot of time and effort allaying fears about the looming Mobile First Index. I’m almost tempted to believe them that there’ll be “no change”. If there is to be no change, why bother with the index modification in the first place? Google has often claimed that it serves the right rankings to the right devices. It doesn’t make sense that Google would spend this much time and effort solving an issue which it seems to think it has already solved.
The idea that hidden content on mobile will carry the same weight as visible content is ludicrous – despite what Google claim. If it does, then naughty webmasters will spend a lot of time stuffing hidden tabs with lots and lots of spammy content in order to rank.
If you have a website with full content on desktop and hidden content on mobile, you are likely to find rankings differ significantly on launch of Mob ile First. If you have the same visible / hidden ratio for desktop and mobile, your rankings are unlikely to change.
Google ideally wants us all to have completely mobile first websites before they implement the switch. That way they can claim “no change”.
Bits & Pieces
- Google can (and does) index content in iFrames. It’s been able to do this ever since Googlebot became a headless browser. It could do this as old Googlebot, but the parent / child relationship wasn’t always considered. On occasion, the iframe content is used to rank the parent page.
- Exact Match Domains don’t have any magic when it comes to ranking. Oh, and there’s also the potential EMD Penalty to be wary of. In other words, keywords in domains don’t really matter.
- Putting a YouTube video on a page doesn’t make it “high-quality”. Honestly, I do wonder where some of these questions come from. in what world do people imagine slapping a YT vid on a page would help rankings?
- Google says publishing 100,000 pages at once shouldn’t be an SEO problem – although your servers might want to be up to the job of dealing with Googlebot. Funnily, I had this discussion with another SEO recently. Interesting the myths that pervade – not helped by analysis tools which claim lots of content and few links are a potential spam signal.
- AdSense releases native format ads, which may violate the Google Webmaster Guidelines. Approach with caution.
- Link Spam is on the rise and Google is ignoring it.
- Mobile First Index will roll out to individual sites first.
- Google Posts is Not Quite Ready and a bit of a disappointment.
- Apparently hidden content will be just fine and dandy in the Mobile First Index world. Don’t believe the hype.
- Have you read the State of SEO Mid-2017? Read it now.
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.