search newsletterSearch News You Can Use

Episode 1 - January 25, 2017

Welcome to the first edition of Search News You Can Use. My goal is to make this newsletter insanely actionable. This first episode is free for everyone. If you become a paid subscriber, you'll get an issue like this every two weeks. Each episode will not only give you the most recent search engine news, but also give you tips you can implement right away to help improve your website.

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In this issue

News

Tips

SEO Challenge

Other Interesting Stuff


Google publishes a blog post about Crawl Budget

This is important for:

Sites with more than a few thousand pages.

Summary

Google recently published this blog post entitled What Crawl Budget Means for Googlebot. When Googlebot visits your site, they will only crawl a certain number of pages. If you have a big site, you want to be sure that Google is crawling the most important pages. If Googlebot spends most of its time on low quality parts of your site then this can mean that Google’s impression of the quality of your site can suffer. Also, it can mean that your new or recently updated content takes much longer to get indexed by Google.

Recommended actions (Note - some of these can be good for small sites too!)

In the blog post Google gives us some tips on things that should be addressed for large sites. Here are some things that you should be checking if you have a site of more than a few thousand pages:

Minimize error pages.

Crawl health matters. If Googlebot encounters lots of errors during its crawl, it will crawl less.

Tips for doing this:

  • Check Google Search Console → Crawl → Crawl Errors. If you click on each link in the list you’ll see where it is linked from. If it’s a source you control, change the link. If an external site is linking to you incorrectly you can either contact them to ask them to change the link or create a 301 redirect from the wrong version to the correct page.
  • You can use the Screaming Frog broken link checker (this is a paid tool but well worth it) to check for broken internal links.

Avoid faceted navigation problems.

An example of this would be on sites that have products with a different url for each variation in size, colour or price. There’s more information on fixing this here.

Avoid on site duplicate content.

More info on how to find and fix duplicate content issues here.

Look for hacked pages.

  • You can check Google Search Console → Security Issues.
  • Run your site through a Sucuri Site Check. Note: It’s free to check a site whenever you want. I have my sites all on a maintenance plan from Sucuri and get emails as soon as they’ve detected a potential hack or that my site is down.
  • Do a Google search for site:yourdomain.com viagra | cialis | ugg | kors | payday (feel free to add spammy terms to the search) and also set up Google Alerts for this search.

Look for infinite spaces

These are places where Googlebot may end up following a link chain that never ends such as clicking on “next month” on a calendar. Make those kind of links nofollowed. More info here on infinite spaces.

Look for low quality/spam pages

This can be tough, but here is a tip that I use. Do a site:mydomain.com search for your site and then go to the very end of the results that Google gives. If Google gives you the option to “repeat the search with omitted results included”, click on that and then once again scroll to the end of the results. Quite often you’ll find that your site’s thin and un-useful content is at the end of this list.

 

Here is an article by Vanessa Fox for more additional reading on Crawl Budget and how it applies to SEO and also one by Jen Slegg which is excellent.


The interstitial “penalty” is now live

This is important for:

Everyone

Summary

An interstitial is a popup that appears as soon as you visit a site. While they can be good for advertising, users don’t tend to like these. Google announced in August of 2016 that they were going to demote sites that used interstitials on mobile. That change has now finally gone live.

This is just one ranking factor, so some sites that have strong authority can still get away with using interstitials. (Forbes is a good example.) Still, if you use this type of tactic, it’s best to change it otherwise there is a good chance your mobile rankings will suffer.

With that said, so far we’re not seeing any widespread changes so it may be a small ranking factor.

Jen Slegg wrote an excellent post for those of you who want more information on interstitials. Also, Glenn Gabe has been tracking a large number of sites that use mobile interstitials and so far he has not seen a lot of change.

 

Recommended actions

  • If you know you are using a full page interstitial popup, it’s probably a good idea to look into other options.
  • If you are not sure, you can try visiting your site on mobile, or, check it on Google’s Mobile Friendly Tester. Note: a page with an interstitial can still be called mobile friendly by Google. What we’re looking for here is to see whether the image of your home page that appears contains a full page interstitial over top of your regular content.

Google’s mobile first index is not launching any time soon

Story here: https://www.seroundtable.com/google-mobile-first-index-not-launching-soon-23253.html

This is important for:

Everyone

Summary

Google announced in November that they will be moving to a separate index for mobile. What does this mean? Right now when Google gathers information in order to determine rankings, they get that info from your desktop site even if your mobile version of your site is different than your desktop version. This means you could possibly have a mobile page on your site that has almost no content but ranks well because the desktop version is awesome.

The good news is that this change is not yet live, and according to Google employee John Mueller, it’s not going to happen until sometime later this year.

Recommended actions

  • If your mobile site has the same content as your desktop site you probably don’t need to do anything.
  • If you serve your mobile site on an “m-dot” (i.e. m.example.com) then you’ll want to make sure that it contains the same content as your desktop site.
  • If you have structured data on your site use the structured data testing tool to make sure that it is correct on the mobile version of your pages

Google’s Gary Illyes suggests we should nofollow links to untrustworthy sources

This is important for:

Everyone

Summary

Google spokesperson, Gary Illyes, tweeted “Sometimes makes perfect sense to use nofollow.

Writing about a bad site? Don't help them with your reputation!”

Recommended actions

A nofollowed link is one that Google does not follow when they crawl the web. When a followed link is crawled by Google, it passes PageRank to the site to which you are linking. That PageRank will help improve their rankings. This is why we want to get links when we’re trying to improve our Google rankings!

There might be instances though where we want to link to another site but we don’t want to improve their rankings. For example, if you were writing an article about fake news sites you might want to link to an example, but not help improve its PageRank. You could link to this site with a nofollowed link.

Note: If nofollowed links are confusing for you, there is a large section devoted to the nofollowed links in my Learn SEO Course. In the course we talk about how to implement nofollow and many other reasons why you might want to do so.

Please note that you do NOT need to nofollow every link that comes from your website. There is no benefit in doing so.


Google is now sending out warnings for sites with insecure forms

This is important for:

Any website that has a section for users to log in or collects credit card information.

Summary

I received a couple of emails from Google this week that looked like this:

chrome https warningMost of these sites had a section at the top of each page on their site that allows users to log in to the site. If you have a login section on pages that are http and not https, then you’ll get one of these too. The Chrome warnings are going to start appearing at some point in January. I’m not seeing them yet.

Firefox also tweeted, “Starting this week, we'll be calling out web pages that collect passwords but *don’t* use HTTPS.”

Recommended changes

Google is really pushing https and wants everyone to make the switch. I’m still on the fence as to whether all sites should switch. My reason for not recommending that everyone switch to https is that I’ve seen too many examples of sites that made the switch and then saw a drop in rankings. The problem is that switching to https is like doing an entire site move. There are a number of things that can go wrong and can impact your rankings.

However, I’ve also seen many cases of sites that did the switch to https properly and did not see any drop in traffic at all. If you do it correctly, it really should not cause problems.

Google announced a couple of years ago that they were going to give a ranking benefit to sites that were https. However, we really haven’t seen any obvious evidence that this is actually happening. If there is a ranking benefit it is small.

My recommendation would be that if you are starting a new site you should start it up as an https site right from the start. If you have a site that currently runs on http then it is a good idea to look into switching to https but it is not mandatory unless you have users log in to your site or unless you have forms that collect sensitive data like credit card info.

Here are some good guides on switching to https:

http://searchengineland.com/http-https-seos-guide-securing-website-246940

https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/6073543?hl=en

https://www.keycdn.com/blog/http-to-https/

 

If you want to make the switch to https and would like to hire someone to help you do this, then I would be happy to recommend someone whom you can hire to help you make this change. Also, if you are an SEO who has experience in helping sites migrate to https, you can apply to be one of my recommended SEO providers and receive referrals from me.


Amp is not a ranking factor

This is important for:

Those who are running or considering running Amp pages

Summary

Amp (Accelerated Mobile Pages) is something that is relatively new for Google. Many websites have already implemented amp. In order to do so, you need to make amp-friendly pages that load lightning fast. These pages aren't bogged down by many of the bells and whistles that you would find on a desktop site.

John Mueller tweeted today that amp is not a ranking factor. In other words, sites that are amp enabled won't rank higher than ones that are not.

So, why implement amp? As searchers get used to seeing amp results on mobile searches, you should find that your amp pages have a higher click through rate and bring more visitors. However, the jury is still out on amp as many are finding that it's hard to get good ad revenue from these pages.

I have been running some amp experiments myself. I'll be writing an article in the next few months with my findings.


Tip - Delete old WordPress themes

This is important for:

Anyone whose site runs on WordPress

Not sure if you run on WordPress? Go to your site and use one of these techniques to view the source code. Now hit CTRL-F and search for “wp-content”. If that appears on your page, then you have a WordPress Site.

Summary

This tweet from Andy Beal came across my twitter feed today reminding everyone to delete unused WordPress themes. Most sites that use WordPress will have unused themes such as the default WordPress “twenty-sixteen” theme. If you don’t remove those themes, the files are still on your server. Hackers can use these outdated files to hack into your site.

Recommendations

Log in to WordPress and go to Appearance → Themes. Click on any of the themes that you are not using. In the bottom right corner, you’ll see a red delete button. Click that to delete the theme.


Tip - Stop using the meta keywords tag

This is important for:

Everyone

Summary

Joe hall tweeted a comment this week stating that SEO’s should stop talking about using the meta keywords tag. Years ago the meta keywords tag on your website was important for helping search engines learn what your site was all about. But now, Google simply ignores the tag. Several years ago, Duane Forrester, a Bing representative actually stated that having a spammy meta keywords tag can be a negative ranking factor in the eyes of Bing!

Recommended actions

You can quickly check to see whether you have a meta keywords tag on your site by checking the source code of your site for a line that says, “<meta name=”keywords”...”. If you have this on your site you’ll want to either manually remove that line of code or, if you use an SEO plugin such as Yoast or All-in-one SEO you’ll need to go into the settings of that plugin and remove the meta keywords option.

Note: The meta description tag is still a good thing to have as this tag can sometimes determine the snippet that is used when your website is displayed on Google searches or on Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites.


Tip - Does your above the fold content accurately describe what your page is about?

This is important for:

Everyone

Summary and Recommendations

I have seen a number of websites recently that look beautiful but do a poor job of explaining what their main purpose is. In many cases the website will have a huge catch phrase as their main content that sounds nice but doesn’t explain the business’ purpose. For example, I recently saw a dentist’s site and the only thing visible in the above-the-fold content was, “DOING OUR BEST TO SERVE YOU WELL”. That doesn’t tell me anything about what this business offers. 

In a hangout from two years ago, Google employee John Mueller mentioned that Google may have a hard time ranking a site well if it can’t figure out what the site is about. It also makes sense that users should be able to easily understand your business’s purpose.

What I find sometimes is that a site’s home page content might make perfect sense to a business owner, but not to a stranger to that site’s business.

My challenge to you today is for you to take a screenshot of your home page and ask several strangers to tell you what they think your business does. A great way to do this is to post this as a question on fivesecondtest.com. (It’s free!) Ask users, “What do you think my business offers?” If many of the replies do not accurately represent what you do, then you may want to consider re-writing your above the fold content.


Tip: Should you be rewriting product descriptions?

This is important for:

Affiliate sites and eCommerce sites that list products that are also sold on other sites

Summary and Recommendations

Google employee John Mueller was asked today whether an affiliate site should rewrite product descriptions so that they are unique. The idea was that this would help the site stand out in Google’s eyes as unique compared to all of the other sites that are showing this same product. John stated that rather than doing something just to look good for Google, make changes that make sense to users. This might sound cliche, but really, he has a point.

I see too many eCommerce sites that want to rank well for each product they sell, but yet, their product page adds no value to users that is greater than their competitors.

I would challenge you to find ways to make it so that someone who is searching for information on this product would want to end up on your website rather than a competitor’s site. This can be hard to do with an objective eye, because in your mind, your site is the best.

Rewriting a product’s description so that the wording is different than other websites’ wording is probably not enough to want to make users land on your page. What else can you add? Here are some ideas:

  • Can you create a buying guide to help people determine what type/size/color/etc. of this product to buy?
  • Can you add a unique video of this product in use?
  • Do you have unique reviews and client testimonials?
  • Are you priced competitively?
  • Are there questions that people have about this product that you can answer? (Tip: A good way to find this info is to search Yahoo answers for your product.)

This might seem a little excessive, especially if you have millions of products. I’d urge you to try beefing up just a few product pages and then asking friends, or better yet strangers, which site between your site and your competitors they would want to land on if they were researching buying this product.

In the past, a mediocre eCommerce site could stand above the crowd by building a few links and having a technically sound site. But, now that Google is getting better at determining what it is that users want to see, the key to ranking number one is to actually BE the best site for users to land on. That’s hard to do, but getting ahead in eCommerce now, in my opinion, has so much to do with pleasing searchers.


Tip: Having trouble getting a page indexed?

This is important for:

Any site owner who is struggling to have a particular page indexed in Google’s results.

Summary and Recommendations

I noticed something interesting in today’s Google Webmaster Help hangout. A user was asking about why a particular page had not been indexed by Google. They were concerned that it might be because the page was completely rendered by javascript but this was unlikely to be the issue. John Mueller commented that that particular page had been submitted to the index via the add url tool in Google Search Console and wasn’t referenced from anywhere else. He commented that Google’s algorithms can have trouble deciding what to do with a url that is not referenced anywhere else.

This is probably a very simple tip, but if you are having trouble getting a page indexed, add some internal links, or if possible, external links to that page and that really should help. Once you've added internal links, use the fetch as Googlebot tool in Google Search Console to fetch the page on which the internal link resides. Then, submit that page to the index. Be sure to check off the box that asks whether you want Googlebot to crawl linked to pages as well.


Tip: Do you have search pages in Google’s index?

This is important for:

Any website that has search pages on their site.

Summary

Do you have a place on your site for users to search? When they land on a search page, are those pages included in Google’s index? They should not be indexed! John Mueller mentioned in today’s webmaster help hangout that Google recommends that you do not have search pages indexed as they are rarely pages that people would want to land on for a Google search.

Recommendations

Here is how you tell whether your search pages are indexed. First, do a search on your site and take note of the url. Many search urls will have something like /search/ or searchresults.php or something similar in the url.

Now, go to Google and do a site: search to see if Google has any of these pages in their index:

Site:mydomain.com inurl:search

Or

Site:mydomain.com inurl:searchresults.php

(Be sure to put no space after the colon.)

If you do have search pages indexed, one way to deal with this is to add a noindex, follow tag to your search pages. However, these pages will still be crawled by Google and can eat up some crawl budget. As such, it’s best to also block these pages via robots.txt as well.


SEO Challenge

Every now and then I’m going to give you an SEO challenge. The goal of these is to learn something new and to push you to take steps to improve upon your website. In most cases I’ll give you a detailed tutorial. You can choose to take part anonymously, or, if you’d like to showcase your success, you can share the results with me and I’ll post it on my blog and credit you with a link to your site if you'd like.

In this first challenge, we’re going to do the following:

  1. Learn what featured snippets are and why we want to win them.
  2. Learn how to find out what featured snippets your site could possibly earn.
  3. Make changes to our sites in order to try to get the snippets.

Click here to access the information on featured snippets and join the challenge.


Other interesting News

Matt Cutts, the former head of webspam at Google officially resigned from Google this week and is now the director of engineering for the US Digital Service.

 

That's it! I hope you enjoyed this episode. The next episode will be out in two weeks. In the meantime, if you are a newsletter subscriber you will also get an email if Google does something that you need to know about urgently.

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