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Episode 22 - Jan 5, 2018 (Light Version)

Welcome to another exciting couple of weeks in the world of search! Years ago, Google’s Matt Cutts said that Google tries to minimize algorithm updates near the holidays, but this doesn’t appear to be the case this year. There were possibly two significant updates in December.

Google made an official post to help us know what to expect with the mobile first index. They also announced the date on which sites with bad ads will start to have those ads blocked by Chrome.

Paid members this month get a lot of goodies including a tip that every eCommerce site should be using to increase conversions and really good link building tips that work for most businesses.

For this episode, we've added a video of me discussing the newsletter as well. Click here to jump to the video.

In this episode:


Paid members also get the following:

  • Why you shouldn't show your structured markup to just Google and not users.
  • A great idea for eCommerce sites that will increase conversions.
  • The most common errors when using canonical tags.
  • Did you know that Google has considered crawling from countries outside of the US?
  • A great tip for checking your redirects after a site migration
  • Are guest posting links ok provided the guest post offers significant value?
  • Are Top Stories are organic search results or Google News results?
  • Should paginated pages have the same title tag?
  • How to know if you have GSC beta.
  • A really good link Building tip.
  • A helpful SEO tool.
  • Local SEO: Why you want reviews from repeat visitors, and how you can take advantage of this algo feature.
  • Local SEO: Are virtual offices for SEO purposes against Google’s TOS?
  • Local SEO: The brightlocal local SEO industry survey results
  • Local SEO: Can you respond to reviews that are left on you Google Local Services ads profile?
  • Local SEO: Can food trucks have a GMB listing?
  • My tl;dr summary of several awesome SEO articles published recently

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Algorithm updates

December 12, 2017 algorithm update - The Maccabees update

I wrote briefly about this algorithm update in my last newsletter. We now have a little bit more information. Barry Schwartz dubbed this the Maccabees update as it happened during Hanukkah.

It does appear that this was a significant algorithm update. In Barry’s post you can read many statements from site owners who saw a big drop in rankings:

  • “My Site also dropped approx. 25% on 12 December. No seasonal content.”
  • “We've also experienced a noticeable drop across our sites on or around December 12th. Like some of you sites which have held the top spot for keywords for several years have dropped 5 or 6 places in the rankings and have been replaced with low quality sites.”
  • “On one search result where I went from #2 to #9. The top three spots are now from the same site.”

Celebrity websites hit in December 12 update

Glenn Gabe made some interesting discoveries about the December 12 update. It appears that many celebrity websites dropped dramatically in rankings. Many celebrities such as Tom Cruise, John Lennon, Barack Obama and quite a few more used to rank #1 with their personal websites for searches for their name and now most of those have dropped considerably.

To me, this makes sense and I’m wondering if Google perhaps tweaked the benefit of having an exact match domain. If I Google “Tom Cruise”, I’m probably not looking for his personal website. There is a much higher chance that I’m looking for an IMDB page or an article about his latest movie.

Many of these websites are not great quality, and also poorly SEO’d. I thought that this was quite funny:

In his article, Glenn noted that not all celebrity websites have dropped. Katy Perry’s personal website is ranking for her name. He also noted that the website is high quality and super helpful.

I reviewed all of the websites for which I have Google Analytics access and I did not see any significant increases or decreases that were not normal seasonal changes.

Danny Sullivan from Google tweeted that there were several changes made to the algorithm that week, but wouldn’t comment on specifics:

As always, you can stay up to date on the most recent, and also past algorithm updates on my Google algorithm update list.

December 25-26, 2017 manual action wave

Many sites were given unnatural links penalties on Christmas day. Merry Christmas to you!

From what I can see, many of the sites that were affected were sites that used PBN’s (Private Blog Networks). For those who are not familiar with PBN’s, these are essentially networks of websites that are created with the sole purpose of linking out for SEO. Sometimes PBN’s can work extremely well, but they almost always go against Google’s Guidelines and can cause a site to get a manual penalty.

In fact, after a fairly quiet 2017 in terms of manual actions, I consulted with several sites that received a manual action for unnatural links in the last couple of weeks. Each of these had used PBN’s and I suspect that this is where the penalties came from.

Matt Diggity had a good recap of what he saw happening with sites that were hit. However, the video is part of a private Facebook group:

I’d like to thank Matt for inviting me to watch his video as it was quite interesting. He did a survey of 44 people who had several website that were handed out manual actions. He felt that most of the sites that were hit were affiliate sites. It seems that local sites that also used PBNs did not tend to get hit.

One thing that was quite interesting from Matt’s video was that many of these sites that were hit were using scholarships as a way to get links. This is not to say that all scholarship programs are considered blackhat, but if you are creating scholarships just to get links, you have to be really careful about scale and intent. If you’re not sure whether your scholarship links are above board, I wrote a post a few years ago on this subject and it should still be quite relevant now.

It is also possible that it was not just PBN and scholarship links that were affected, but that Google simply got better at determining which links were unnatural across the board.

Important note: It is my opinion that when Google gives out a wave of manual actions, it is because they have found a new way to discover unnatural links that they currently can’t figure out algorithmically. In many cases, several months or weeks after the wave of manual actions happen, there is an algorithmic change that mimics the manual actions. As such, it wouldn’t surprise me if we see an algorithmic change in the next few months that works to devalue scholarship links and links from PBNs. It’s possible that this has already happened.

Was December 26, 2017 an algorithmic update or just a wave of manual actions?

I did not notice any obvious movement in all of the sites that I monitor. I had several clients that appeared to see a jump on December 26. However, when you look at YOY data, they all normally see a seasonal jump in late December each year.

Glenn Gabe noted that he saw several sites that appear to have been algorithmically hit on December 26:

Personally, I think that December 26 was mostly a change in Google’s ability to detect unnatural links. This may possibly have been an update to Penguin. Hopefully we will get more information soon.


New Google rich results testing tool

Google announcednew tool to test your site’s rich snippets. However, it is only available right now for sites with markup for Recipes, Jobs, Movies, or Courses.

It should be noted that this isnot a tool to test your ability to get featured snippets.

Here is what the results look like:

The tool works with JSON-LD, Microdata, or RDFa types.


Google’s recommendations for mobile first indexing

Google released a blog post to give us more information on how to get ready for mobile first indexing.

Here are the important points:

  • Once a site has been switched over to mobile-first, webmasters can expect to see a significant increase in crawling by Smartphone Googlebot.
  • Google will be evaluating the readiness of websites for mobile-first indexing independently and will start transitioning sites when Google believes the site is ready. This process has already started on a small number of sites.
  • Tips to prepare for mobile-first indexing:
    • Ensure the mobile version of your site also has all your high-quality, unique content
    • Make sure structured data is on the mobile version of your site
    • Metadata on your desktop and mobile versions should be equivalent
    • When using link rel=hreflang elements for internationalization, the URLs on your mobile site should have their hreflang pointing to other mobile URLs (and vice versa for desktop)
  • If you have an m.-dot site:
    • You don’t need to make any changes to your existing link rel=canonical and link rel=alternate elements
    • If your mobile site uses a different host from your desktop site, make sure its server is prepared to handle increased crawling

New Google Search Quality Guidelines for Voice Searches

Google announced that they have released some guidelines for voice search that are quite similar to their Quality Raters’ Guidelines for regular search.

You can read the guidelines here.

Paid members get a summary of the important points.

What can we learn by reading these guidelines? 

For the regular search quality raters’ guidelines, there is so much that we can learn that helps us to make sites higher quality. For example, those guidelines tell us things that would make a page appear to be lower quality such as improper citations, misleading ads, etc.

The voice queries guidelines are not as helpful as of yet.

At Marie Haynes Consulting, we are doing a lot of work to help our clients win featured snippets. Given that in many cases the featured snippet is what Google uses for the voice response, we will be keeping these guidelines in mind. When we’re rewriting content to try and win a featured snippet, we’ll now also read the content out loud and ask ourselves whether this answer would make sense as the answer to a voice query.

I feel that these guidelines are just the start of this document. Most likely Google will expand on them over the next few years.


Google Search Analytics AMP bug

If you noticed that your AMP impressions and clicks dropped between December 14 and December 18, don’t panic. There was apparently a bug on Google’s side that caused a problem in tracking in GSC.

Barry Schwartz posted the following image showing what the drop looks like:


Starting February 15, sites with bad ads will have their ads blocked by Chrome

Google posted this blog post that states that starting on February 15, Chrome will block ads on sites that have a failing grade in the Ad Experience Report for more than 30 days.

You can view your Ad Experience Report by going to Google Search Console → Web Tools.

Almost every client that I have shows that the site has not yet been reviewed:

I do have a few that have been reviewed and have passed:

But, I have yet to see a site that has a failing grade.

If you do happen to have a failing grade in your Ad Experience report, you can apparently request a review once you have fixed up any violations.

Glenn Gabe also added this interesting information:


Knowledge panels are disappearing for many businesses

Have you lost your knowledge panel? A number of businesses noticed recently that they have disappeared. In this Google Plus thread, Tim Colling noted that for many businesses the knowledge panel is gone unless you search for their business name plus a city.

It’s hard to say what Google is doing here. But, know that if you have lost your knowledge panel you are not alone in this. Hopefully some of the amazing local SEOs that I follow will come up with tips on how to win the knowledge panel back!


Google Search Console Beta is now missing the Index coverage report

AJ Kohn noticed this change. I have confirmed that right now, I no longer see “indexed, low interest” pages for any of my clients that have GSC beta:

Hopefully this will come back soon as this report is super valuable when it comes to identifying thin content on sites.


Local SEO

Reviewing your competitors, or reviewing former employers are now against Google’s TOS

It’s also now against Google’s TOS for former employees to review a business. Google updated their TOS to add the following:

This type of thing, where a competitor leaves a negative review happens extremely often. If you do have negative reviews that are left by a competitor, you can flag the review as inappropriate by clicking on the three dots to the right of a review:

In some cases you can also get negative reviews removed by posting a question in the Google My Business help forum. It helps to have as much evidence as possible. For example, if you have a screenshot that shows that the reviewer is a staff member of a competitor, this could help.

Something that a lot of people ignore, in my opinion, is simply asking the reviewer to remove their review. I have one client who received a scathing review from the employee of a competing company. My client contacted this company and said, “Hey, did you know that your employees are doing this?”. The competitor was mortified and immediately had their employee remove the bad review. That won’t happen every time, but in many cases, it can help.


Businesses can now add videos to their GMB profile

Colan Nielsen has a great post describing a discovery that he recently made in which some of his clients had a section in their GMB dashboard allowing them to add videos. This is a new thing, and it doesn’t appear to be available for everyone just yet.


Recommended Reading

Note: If you're a paid reader, you also get a summary of each article so that you don't need to read the whole thing.

https://searchenginewatch.com/2017/12/18/how-to-carry-out-a-mobile-seo-audit-on-your-site/

Written by Jessie Moore, here are some things to keep in mind while optimizing your site for mobile.

https://www.gsqi.com/marketing-blog/mobile-problems-with-google-mobile-first-index-looming/

Glenn Gabe has written this post where he gives some real-world examples he’s seen while helping m-dot sites, and sites which use dynamic serving, transition to mobile first.

https://www.sterlingsky.ca/google-makes-14-changes-review-guidelines/

This is a really helpful article by Joy Hawkins about all the changes Google made to the Review Guidelines on December 14, 2017. I encourage you to read Joy’s article because all these changes are important to be aware of.

https://www.sterlingsky.ca/comparison-12-google-business-bookings-feature-partners/

This article by Colan Nielsen is a handy comparative guide on the features of 12 different scheduling partners a business may be interested in using for booking business online.

https://whitespark.ca/blog/tips-tricks-localu-advanced-workshop-santa-monica/

Jessie Low wrote this article as a recap of all the things you would have missed from Local University’s Advanced Workshop in Santa Monica this past November.

https://moz.com/blog/mobile-first-indexing-seo

Bridget Randolph has a nice run down of the technical side of Mobile-First Indexing and how it can affect SEO.

https://gofishdigital.com/how-to-create-a-sitemap/

Brian Gorman created this guide to building a sitemap so that your site is correctly crawled and indexed.

https://www.digitalcommerce360.com/2018/01/02/tumi-conversion-rate-increases-after-blocking-unwanted-ads/

This is an interesting story about the luggage retailer Tumi. Tumi.com had been inadvertently showing unauthorized pop-up and banner ads to anywhere from 12-13% of traffic to their site.

https://www.justinobeirne.com/google-maps-moat

This is a fascinating read about how Google maps has evolved and how it compares to Apple Maps.


Want More?

Paid members also get the following:

  • Why you shouldn't show your structured markup to just Google and not users.
  • A great idea for eCommerce sites that will increase conversions.
  • The most common errors when using canonical tags.
  • Did you know that Google has considered crawling from countries outside of the US?
  • A great tip for checking your redirects after a site migration
  • Are guest posting links ok provided the guest post offers significant value?
  • Are Top Stories are organic search results or Google News results?
  • Should paginated pages have the same title tag?
  • How to know if you have GSC beta.
  • A really good link Building tip.
  • A helpful SEO tool.
  • Local SEO: Why you want reviews from repeat visitors, and how you can take advantage of this algo feature.
  • Local SEO: Are virtual offices for SEO purposes against Google’s TOS?
  • Local SEO: The brightlocal local SEO industry survey results
  • Local SEO: Can you respond to reviews that are left on you Google Local Services ads profile?
  • Local SEO: Can food trucks have a GMB listing?
  • My tl;dr summary of several awesome SEO articles published recently

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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Part of the challenge of SEO is staying on top of industry news, trends, and techniques There is so much information out there that it is easy to get bogged down in information overload and trying to disseminate what's truly important from all that noise can be really time-consuming and challenging.

Marie's newsletter is a game changer because it manages to cut through the fluff and deliver high-quality information that is not only really important for those that do SEO, but it is presented in a format that is really easy to absorb.
If you are looking for a trusted information related to search that is highly actionable I would strongly recommend Marie's newsletter.
Paul Macnamara - Offers SEO Consulting at PaulMacnamara.com

 

That's it for this episode! As always, I'd love to hear your feedback on what you'd like to see more (or less) of in the newsletter. Also, I'm now starting to do Facebook Live videos to inform people of the latest Google News. If you're not already following me on Facebook, here is my page.


 

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