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Episode 15 - Aug 23, 2017
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Here we go with another big episode. In this episode we'll go over some recent algorithm changes. One appears to be link related and one is quality related. We'll discuss the latest http warnings from Google as well as several important changes in the local SEO field.

Paid subscribers get some neat things in this episode including a tip to help you find thin content on your site, information on making sure that your search pages are not being indexed, important info on above the fold content and a very cool thing that I discovered that allowed me to make a change and in two minutes see pages jump up to top ranking positions.

In this episode:

Paid members also receive the following:

  • A very cool thing I discovered that allowed me to make a simple change to some pages and see almost instant ranking boosts.
  • How do ranking tools get away with scraping Google?
  • How to make sure that your search pages are not indexed by Google, and why this matters.
  • A neat trick that I use for helping me find the thin content on a site.
  • My thoughts on "above the fold content" and how important it is.
  • Are there SEO implications to having internal links open up in a new tab?
  • Page Speed tip #5 - Step by step, easy to understand instructions on how I minimized CSS, Javascript and HTML.

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Recent algorithm updates

We know that Google makes changes to the algorithm every day. However, in the last couple of weeks there have been two days on which there appear to be significant ranking shifts happening.

August 7, 2017

I noticed that several of my clients who previously had link related issues were seeing nice gains on this day. Here are two clients that had nice Penguin recoveries that also saw further improvements on August 7, 2017:

aug 7, 2017 algo change

August 7 2017 algorithm change

It looks to me like August 7, 2017 was a link related change. I've yet to see any hits on this date yet, but if some sites are seeing improvements then there have to be others that are seeing hits.


August 19, 2017

This appears to be a significant core quality algorithm change (also known as Phantom). I saw several sites that previously were negatively affected by the core algorithm change that happened on February 7 that saw either a further hit on August 19 or improvements.

It is still early to say definitively what is going on, but this looks like a significant core quality update to me.

Google Search Console Data is delayed by a few days

The data that we see in GSC is commonly a couple of days behind. However, it's a little more delayed recently. John Mueller said the following:

All of the sites in my GSC seem to be stuck on August 13. (It's August 19 as I write this).

GSC delayed

Update: Just before publishing this newsletter I checked again and I'm now seeing data that goes up to August 14 along with a line marked with "note":

Note in GSC

If you click on the word "Note", you'll see this page which says, "Users may see a very slight decrease in numbers due to an internal logging issue."

New warnings for http sites

Last week Google sent out a huge number of warnings for sites that are operating on http and collect information via a <form>:

Google is pushing more and more to get sites to move towards https. However, making the shift is not always an easy decision. If you are considering the pros and cons of switching, I wrote an article this weekend explaining the SEO implications of switching to https.

Local SEO tip: Google Guides can now upload videos

If you are a local guide, you can now upload videos to your reviews. This will gain you seven points. There are instructions on how to do this here.

Adsense exploit means lower income for publishers from approx Aug 5 to Aug 9

Many site owners who relied on Adsense noticed a sharp drop in CPC (cost per click) that they were getting from ad clicks at this time. Barry Schwartz wrote a story explaining that the problem could be related to the fact that all over the web, readers were seeing ads like this:



What he postulated had happened was that the creator of these ads found a way to make them unclickable. Then, they greatly increased their bids on CPC (cost per click). The increase in CPC meant that their ads would almost always win and as a result they were shown all over the place. But, because no one could click on them, they never paid for a single click.

But, Google says that this was not the issue. They released this statement:

"Over the past 48 hours, a number of AdSense publishers alerted us to an issue with declining cost-per-click for ads on their sites. We were able to identify the cause of the issue quickly and resolve it quickly: Several ad buyers were using irresponsible campaign parameters, lowering query coverage for specific creative types in some countries. The ad buyers responsible have been blacklisted and impacted publishers should see that their coverage is back to normal in their AdSense account."

Whatever the problem was, it has now been fixed.

Local search tip: You can now let searchers book an appointment right from the SERPS

If you have a page on your website that allows people to book an appointment, place an order, reserve a table, search for items, or view a menu, you'll see a new option now where you can add that url to your Google My Business listing:

book appointment in SERPS

In some cases, this url may be added automatically by Google. An example would be for sites that use a third party provider for bookings.

Here is an example of a company, Joint Chiropractic, using this feature:

There is some more good information on this on the Local Visibility System blog.

Local search tip: Allow customers to ask you questions

This is big news! Rolling out to Android users now is the ability to ask questions of local businesses. I'm not seeing this yet on my phone, but here is a screenshot from The Daily Mail:

Once questions are asked, they can be upvoted. The most popular questions will appear at the top of the list. The business owner will get notified of the question and have the ability to answer it.

This appears to be a little glitchy right now. Also, it's not available on iPhones just yet:


Google posts bug

If you're using Google Posts, it appears that there is a bug that will not let you enter a url containing capital letters. Bill Hartzer has a post explaining more about this.

Did your Google My Business Listing disappear?

We spoke in our last newsletter about Google's new Home Services ads that are appearing in local packs. A GMB help forum thread has several posts from concerned business owners:

"Wondering what is happening as of this past week (August 2017), all service area businesses seem to be all screwy. If I search for a locksmith in Marietta I don't even show up at all but have been at the top of the list for the last 4 years before that. The only way I can find myself now is by searching directly in my zip code or directly by name"

"Like you, we have also been in the top of the maps for years and now can only be found when we actually type in the name of the business."

"We appear fine in our home cities. For larger cities, we appear in our closest zip codes as well. However, when searching for a locksmith outside of city limits, we have been completely removed from the packs."

"My listing has completely disappeared from all search results after being top of the 3 pack for the last 2 to 3 years. My GMB listing doesnt even show when doing a direct business name search. The only way i've been able to find it is by searching for carpet cleaning and my zip code."

According to Mike Blumenthal, if your business is one for which Google is offering their Home Services ads, then when the HSA's appear, if you're not one of the businesses who are paying for ads, then you'll drop out of the three pack. If someone clicks on the HSA's you'll appear, but down at the bottom of the list:

It will be interesting to see whether HSA's come to more local verticals. It seems to me like in the future, it will be very hard to rank well locally unless you are paying Google.

There is a bug affecting Google's site:search

I had a weird thing happen to me recently when doing a site:search. A site:search can be done to have Google show which pages from a site are in their index. The numbers are not always accurate, but still, I use this search operator almost every day.

I was doing a search for thin content on a client's site. (Paid members have a tutorial this week on  how I do this). I clicked to the end of the Google results for this client and saw this:

Now, this is not that uncommon. Usually if I see this, I can click on the "previous" link and I'll end up on the true last page of the results. But, in this case, when I clicked "previous" I got the same result. I kept clicking previous and could not get to the actual results.

Then, I tried the search over and did a search and I got this:

Ut oh. Google was now reporting no pages existing in their index for my client.

I tried the same search in incognito and also on another browser and got the same results. Then I asked Jennifer Slegg in a DM to try the search and she could see the results normally.

This weird block lasted about an hour or so. I've replicated it again and it sometimes only lasts a few minutes.

This issue is happening to others as well:

Google is aware of the issue as John Mueller asked me for more details so that the team could take a look.

A workaround

If this happens to you and you can't see any site:search results, you can still see the results by adding something else to the search. For example, a search for inurl:http should work.

In the meantime, it can be a fun way to prank your boss if you want to tell them that you've accidentally noindexed your company site:

GMB reviews were broken last week

If you had a problem where clients were unable to leave a review, there was an issue that lasted just a few hours:

It should be fixed now.

Is short content thin content?

I was surprised to see Search Engine Journal reporting that Google says that content under 300 words is thin content:

I do not believe that Google has ever said this. In fact, Google employees have said many times that word count is not what makes content thin.

This statement from Paul Macnamara sums up how I feel about thin content:

Now, sometimes short content is thin content. When I'm doing a site audit I will often run a Screaming Frog crawl and in my spreadsheet I'll sort pages according to word count. I'll look at pages with a low word count in order to determine whether they are thin pages. Sometimes this is a great way to find pages that have very little valuable content.

But if a page with very few words is one that consistently gets visitors and also gets people engaging with the site, then don't get rid of it just because of its word count!

Is long content better than short?

There have been several studies that have shown that longer content often ranks better than short content. Also, Amit Singhal's 23 questions (which were given to us to help us create quality content in the eyes of Panda) have several entries that imply that a long article is better than a short one:

  • Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?

If this is true, then shouldn't we get rid of our shorter content? Here is my rule of thumb when making this decision:

If a user would land on this page and find that it is a page that answers their question fully, then it is not thin content.

But, when it comes to writing articles, don't put too much weight on the fact that not all short content is thin content. You still want to write articles that are absolutely the best of their kind. Here are some quotes from the Quality Raters Guidelines (which are used to teach people how to identify high quality sites) which support this point. (Note, "MC" in these screenshots means "Main Content"):

The main point that I'm trying to make here is that even though not all short content is thin content, we should always strive to write content that is as helpful as possible.

Did your url removal request expire?

When you use Google Search Console to request removal of a url it generally lasts for 90 days. But, if you are seeing that the request expired sooner than that, it may be because Google has recognized that the url is already gone:

Having trouble getting your schema to appear in search?

A common question that I hear is "Why can't I see my review stars on searches even though I have them marked up on my page?". John Mueller recently tweeted three possible reasons for your schema not to be appearing in search:


By "SDTT" John means the Structured Data Testing Tool. If your structured data is not appearing in search, then use this tool to test it.

I find it interesting to note that general quality issues can hinder schema from appearing. As such, if you're having trouble getting your marked up data to appear on Google, it may be a sign of deeper overall quality issues with the site.

Recommended Reading

Check Your Inbox: Google Warns Publishers Serving Annoying Ads

Google has apparently sent out emails to quite a few large publishers informing them that they have ads that are annoying or misleading. Included in the recipients are Forbes, Betty Crocker, The LA Times and quite a few other well know sites. The email apparently doesn't say that Google is taking immediate action of any kind. However, publishers will be encouraged to not be so aggressive with their ads.



Company that pretended to be Google is shut down

How often do you get one of those calls from someone telling you that your Google business listing is about to expire? Well, good news! One of these scammers has been shut down. This firm was apparently calling businesses and telling them that their contract for their Google My Business listing was expiring. They would then charge between £199 and £249 for a yearly renewing contract, without telling them that the contract auto-renewed.  The company had made £537,000 (almost $700,000 USD) from this scam.



If you're looking for SEO minded people to follow on Twitter, this is a great list of people who genuinely tweet helpful SEO related tips and advice. I'm honoured to be on the list!


How we reverted a frustrating SEO downtrend in six weeks

I love reading case studies of how others have seen improvement after implementing good SEO practices. For this site, the SEOs made technical improvements to canonical tags, meta descriptions and title tags. They also fixed broken links to the site by 301 redirecting those links to new, but relevant pages. They reversed a -12.8% YOY traffic downtrend to +21.9% YOY.


Web Crawling

This is a long read, but if you are at all interested in understanding how the web gets crawled, it's packed with great information. (Thanks to Dawn Anderson for this suggestion.)


How to Target Multiple Cities Without Hurting Your SEO

I love learning from Jenny Halasz. In this article she discusses best SEO practices for targeting multiple cities.


Interesting study on email deliverability

Do you send out newsletters using a platform like Convertkit, Mailchimp, Aweber, etc.? In this study ConvertKit had more emails successfully delivered than any other provider. I found this quite an interesting read.


10 hidden gems of Google Analytics

If you use Google Analytics at all, you should read this post on the Branded3 site. There were a few tips in there that helped me learn to use GA better.


5 Tips to Help Show ROI from Local SEO

This is a super helpful post by Joy Hawkins. I loved reading about how she uses call tracking, and then reports on it in GA and also how she communicates success to her clients. Clients can get overwhelmed when we use too much technical search lingo. But, if we report simply on how much extra business we brought them, this is a great way to communicate.


How to Perform a Basic Local Business Competitive Audit

This Moz blog post by Miriam Ellis gives super actionable tips on how to do a competitive analysis for your local clients. It includes a spreadsheet which you can download to provide similar reports for your clients.


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Want More?

Paid members also receive the following:

  • A very cool thing I discovered that allowed me to make a simple change to some pages and see almost instant ranking boosts.
  • How do ranking tools get away with scraping Google?
  • How to make sure that your search pages are not indexed by Google, and why this matters.
  • A neat trick that I use for helping me find the thin content on a site.
  • My thoughts on "above the fold content" and how important it is.
  • Are there SEO implications to having internal links open up in a new tab?
  • Page Speed tip #5 - Step by step, easy to understand instructions on how I minimized CSS, Javascript and HTML.

Note: If you are seeing the light version and you are a paid member, be sure to log in (in the sidebar on desktop or below the post on mobile) and read the full article here.

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