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Episode 26 - Mar 7, 2018

In this episode, we’ll take a look at the latest Google algorithm updates as well as my most interesting takeaways from my time at Pubcon Austin. Although this was a small conference, I learned a LOT of new things! There is also news on featured snippets, ad filtering, Local SEO news and tips, and much more.
I'm gearing up to speak at a few more conferences in the next couple of weeks. If you'll be at Engage Portland or SMX West, I'd love to meet you!

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Algorithm updates

February 20, 2018

This was likely a sizeable core quality update. The SEMRush sensor was quite high. Also, Search Engine Round Table has a good discussion on changes that people have seen.
Here are some quotes from the 87 comments on Barry’s post:

  • Most of my sites got hit kinda hard this month as I ran the numbers. I had some gains but mostly losses in rankings. Mostly in the copier industry.
  • We are seeing positive results. Lots of low quality blogs being replaced with .edu URLs, our site, and our competition.
  • Been seeing it since Tuesday night, and it's literally a disaster in the entertainment sector. Bogus outlets from the Ukraine and other parts of the world are leapfrogging legit sites in the U.S. and fake entertainment news about certain celebrities has dominated Top Search.
  • There was an update. Not a good one, a lot of low quality sites gained some spots.

In my own client data, I am seeing several sites that saw improvements.
All of these were clients of ours who with whom we have been working tremendously hard to improve overall quality:

At this point it is too early to see any common factors. I think it’s safe to assume that this was another update that had to do with overall site quality.

March 1 - 2, 2018

I didn’t notice any obvious changes in traffic at this time, but there is a discussion on Search Engine Round Table saying that several people noticed volatility on this day.

Chrome ad filtering is live now

Glenn Gabe has been tracking Chrome’s new native ad filtering feature over the past month and showing us how it will work along with some examples. It appears Chrome is completely removing ads from sites that violate Google’s Better Ads standard and is also serving notifications about the blocked ads to users on both mobile and desktop.
As of late February, Google has begun rolling this out on the stable version of Chrome and this will continue gradually over time. If you weren’t already aware, this should have the attention of all websites currently relying on ad revenue! If you’re unsure about whether your site’s ads pass the standard, request an ad experience review within Google Search Console.

Google makes changes to featured snippets to allow for multi-faceted answers

Last week, Google announced it had begun rolling out multifaceted featured snippets for multi-intent queries. The blog announcement provides an example for the query, “garden needs full sun?”

Google has also announced that the next step with multifaceted snippets will be to expand them to include “guidance-seeking” queries such as “should I replace my faucet?”
If you’re looking to win more featured snippets, it is worth asking yourself if your site’s content could be improved to answer additional questions searchers may have -- as well as figuring out what exactly those questions might be. Use Google search suggestions to your advantage here!

Simple but solid SEO tips from John Mueller on reddit

It’s interesting to see that John Mueller hangs out in /r/bigseo. I thought that this thread reply was basic advice, but advice that many of us should still pay attention to.
John said, “Good titles & descriptions are some of the easiest wins you can get on webpages. We did a round of site-reviews for some NPOs recently, and the number one item that came up for almost all of them was that what they cared about wasn't front & center on their pages, and reflected in their meta-data. How are search engines supposed to guess what you want your pages to rank for?”
In the next section (for paid members only) I will share information on how I like to do this kind of optimization.

Using GSC to optimize title tags and meta descriptions

I have discussed this before, but many of you may not have seen it. Here is my process for page optimizations using GSC.

Title tag optimization

First, open the performance report:

Next, click on “Pages” to decide which page you want to optimize:

Choose which page you are working on. For this example, we’ll look at my post on the an experiment we did to determine whether the order of keywords in a title tag is important.
Click on all of “clicks”, “impressions”, “Average CTR” and “Average Position”:

Then click on “Queries” and sort the list by Impressions:

Now we have a list of the most searched for keywords for which this page has been seen in the search results:

(Note: In this example, I have not sorted by Impressions because some of the top impressions are for keywords that are not ranked near page one. But, for most big volume keywords, sorting by impressions is best.)
Now what we want to do is make sure that most of the top searched keywords are in our title tag. The title tag for this page is:
Is title tag keyword order important for SEO? An experiment.
After looking at the keyword data above, I’ve changed the title tag to this:
Keywords included in title tags. Do they have to be in order? An experiment.
In most cases I’ll also make sure that all of the keywords that are in this list are covered in the copy as well. Also, what I’ll often do is find places on other pages of my site to link internally to this page using keyword anchors.
Next, I’ll submit the url. You don’t have to do this through GSC any more:
Sometimes after doing this, Google will recognize and index the title tag changes instantly. Often we can see nice improvements in one or two places of rankings right after making a good change.
In this case, unfortunately, Google did not recognize my changes right away, so I’ll need to wait a few days to see if my rankings go up.

Meta Description optimization

This one is a bit more tricky. What we’re looking for here are keywords that rank well but have a low CTR. Then, we would look for how the snippet displays in the search results compared to other options. The goal is to change the snippet to encourage more people to click on your result.

New sorting options in GSC

These look really helpful:

Chrome now strips out URL parameters for sharing

This appears to be a feature of the Chrome mobile app. If you use the share button on Chrome, it will strip out URL parameters and share the canonical url.
Here is an example. Here is an affiliate link to Amazon. (Shameless plug...this is a fantastic book on the history of Google.)
If I open this link in Chrome on my phone, I can click the three dots in the top right corner and tap on “Share”:

You can see that now, that the url has all of the url parameters including the affiliate tracking parameters removed:

This looks like something that can have serious implications for affiliate marketers. If shared links have parameters stripped, then this means that marketers would not get credit for a sale if someone purchased via this link.
I feel that there are other serious issues that this could bring up as well. If you are a marketer who is likely to be affected by this, I’d love for you to leave a comment below.

Good information on the best way to deal with expired products

This is a really good Twitter thread:

Here are the important points from this thread:

  • One option is to leave the page live along with a form to allow people to be notified when the product is back in stock again. But, this only works for products that will become back in stock. Also, this is difficult to implement for very large sites. (Tip from Cindy Krum).
  • Pierre Far stated that the top priority should be user experience. SEO should be secondary.
  • James Gurd suggested that for items that are out of stock only for a few days, he would recommend keeping the items indexed.
  • Dawn Anderson pointed out that if pages are noindexed, this will eventually cause PageRank flowing to and through these pages to be lost.
  • Mark Cook suggested that pages should not be noindexed or 404’d as this would confuse customers. Rather, there should be information on the page saying that the product is out of stock along with links to related products.
  • But, David Sottimano said that if you have too many pages that look like this, this could eventually cause problem. (My note: John Mueller has said before in hangouts that having too many out of stock pages could be seen as something that is frustrating to users and could affect a site’s quality level.)
  • John Mueller said that most of the above scenarios would likely to be treated by Google as a soft 404 and any of these would likely be fine. He suggested to choose the option that works best for users.
  • John did come up with a good suggestion though:

It amazes me that with all of the incredibly intelligent SEOs in this discussion, there is no general consensus on what to do here. Dealing with expired products is difficult.

Does the Google Sandbox exist? New information from Google

If you have been doing SEO for a long time, you’ll remember the Google Sandbox. The sandbox theory has never been proven as far as I know. The idea is that new sites or new pages are placed in a temporary holding position that keeps them from ranking well until they have been proven.
John Mueller had some interesting comments on some algorithm features that could be perceived as a sandbox:

I do believe that I have seen this in action. I feel that new sites are held to a higher standard level than established sites and pages. I also feel that this is one of the reasons why some sites suffer after doing a correct https migration. Https versions of pages are seen as new pages. I feel that in some cases sites are getting away with things like keyword stuffing or above the fold ad issues, and then when they switch to https, those issues get caught.
I also feel that Google has really changed how they value links, especially when pointing to a newly discovered site. This is likely an effort to combat spam sites and PBN’s. If Google sees that a new site suddenly has hundreds of links pointing to it, they may be more strict on ignoring those links until the site has proven its worth.

The GSC API can still only access 90 days of data

Great tip on bulk image compression for WordPress sites

Can Fetch and Render see hashbang urls?

Roy Skif has a good post describing why it is important that Google has reinstituted the ability to fetch and render hashbang urls. Here is a summary:

  • A hashbang url contains #!, like this:!/sh/
  • A few years ago there was a bug that caused sites using this (i.e. a lot of angular sites) to not render properly.
  • In October of 2016, Google made it clear that they were deprecating the Ajax crawling scheme.
  • If you do use escaped fragments, it is best to fetch and render pages both with and without the fragment to make sure that Google is seeing these pages as the same. Otherwise, there is a risk for being seen as cloaking.

Can a meta refresh be seen by Google as a redirect?

John Mueller has mentioned this in hangouts before. If Google recognizes a quick meta refresh or a javascript redirect, they usually will treat this just like a 301 redirect. However, there are no clear guidelines on what Google considers “quick”. We don’t know whether a meta refresh with a five second delay will be treated as a straight redirect or not.
Really, in my opinion, there aren’t many good reasons for meta refresh redirects. I could be wrong though...happy to hear your comments on this.

Will fetch and render see a popup that displays after a delay?

Peter Nikolow has done a neat experiment to test this. Here are the results:

  • A popup that displays after 3 seconds was seen on fetch and render.
  • A popup that displays after 5 seconds was partially seen. The popup covered the content, but the content of the popup did not render.
  • A popup that displays after 6 seconds or longer was not seen. Google rendered the content underneath instead (which is what we want.)

Not all submitted pages are indexed

This is nothing new. However, I commonly get asked questions by site owners who want to know why Google is not indexing all of their content.

You can use inspect element to quickly see title tag length

Implementing a Duck Duck Go search box instead of Google’s

This looked like an interesting post.
Duck Duck Go is known as an alternative to Google that is not invasive of privacy. The post discusses an easy way to implement a Duck Duck Go search box rather than use Google’s custom search engine on your site.

Pubcon Austin Recap

This was my first year attending Pubcon Austin. It was a great one day conference. The highlight for me was that I got to spend almost an hour chatting with Gary Illyes from Google. He answered so many questions for me. While I can’t share everything that I learned with Gary, I have some really good tidbits, both from our talk, and from his keynote presentation to share.
Here is the important news:

Gary Illyes keynote - Pubcon Austin, February 2018

    • Google has already started to add sites to the mobile first index.
    • If you see a large amount of crawling by Googlebot on your mobile site, this can indicate that you are being switched to mobile first.


  • In the next month and a half, Google will be adding a lot of sites to mobile first.


    • If you have AMP pages, they will only play a role in mobile first if they are the canonical versions of your pages.
    • If your site doesn’t render properly, it can fall out of Google’s index.
    • Google is planning on launching new features for which structured data is important.


  • Content that is higher up on the page often ranks better. (My note: This is something that I have never seen confirmed by Google before. Now, this was a random statement in response to a question, so it wasn’t an official Google announcement. But, I would say that if you are trying to rank for a certain keyword, or perhaps even win featured snippets, moving content around on the page can help.)


    • Content that is in a footer usually doesn’t rank well.


  • E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trust) is mostly based on off site mentions. (My note: this is huge! If you were hit by the February 7, 2017 algorithm update, or a recent quality update, I would highly recommend looking at your E-A-T. How does your off site reputation look? Does your business have mentions on authoritative sites? This is one of the ways in which Google tries to rank true, legitimate, good businesses higher.)

    Note: If my team and I have done a site review for you and we have identified E-A-T issues, please do contact me as I have information to share with you. Gary has asked that I don’t publicly share the new E-A-T info I have but for many of the sites we investigated in the past, we have some new ideas on E-A-T.

Local SEO

Reserve with Google is now live in Canada

Sergey Alakov has a good overview of this topic. If you use a supported scheduling partner, customers can now book appointments with you right from the Google search results.

There may be a bug affecting GMB menu listings

According to Tim Capper, this bug has been happening for six months now. In some cases, a restaurant can add their menu url in their GMB dashboard, but not their menu itself. There is a temporary workaround described in the post which involves changing the category from “Italian Restaurant”, etc. to “Restaurant”.

Do call tracking numbers cause SEO problems?

It has long been said that businesses need to have consistent NAP (Name, Address, Phone number) across all of their online listings in order to rank well locally. CDK Global has done a study to try and determine whether rankings would suffer for a business that uses a call tracking number (and therefore has different phone numbers listed on different web profiles.)
In the study, they followed 25 car dealerships that were using call tracking and each of these saw good organic growth and no loss in keyword rankings.
There wasn’t much data in the article about how the study was done. From what I can see, we can’t say with certainty that the inconsistent NAPs had no negative effect. However, I feel comfortable with clients using a tracking number.

Google is now sending an email when someone adds photos to your GMB listing

Can adding photos to your GMB listing help rankings?

I noticed recently that Google is now sending out emails to encourage business owners to upload more photos:

Bill Hartzer responded to my tweet saying that he feels that adding a photo on a regular basis can definitely help improve rankings.

Advice from Google on what to do if your GMB listing is suspended

Great information on how to get the most out of Google posts
Ben Fisher from BrightLocal gave some great tips on GMB Posts that all local businesses should check out. These Posts are included in the business’ Knowledge Panel and are a great way to give customers additional information about your business such as deals, events, and products. Here are some of the things to be aware of when creating a GMB Post:

  • Posts can contain an image, a short description, a Call To Action, and a link.
  • There is a limit of 300 words, but only the first 100 will show in the Knowledge Panel, so make sure to include your most important keywords and information at the beginning.
  • The best image size is 750 x 750, but this may still get cropped and image text may get cut off (depending on the device viewing this Post).
  • There are different types of Posts you can create, such as book an appointment, order online, buy, learn more, sign up, get offer, or event. Ben recommends that you create separate pages on your website that shows off what you’re featuring in your Post.
  • Posts stay “live” for 7 days, and Event Posts will be included in your GMB listing until after its end date (at which point it will no longer be included in the Knowledge Panel, and only found in the archives - which searchers can still see when they click on your Post).

In this article, Ben also gives a number of content ideas which you could create a GMB Post for, so if you’re looking for a place to start, definitely check it out!

You can see Google Analytics data in your GMB dashboard

I have not done this for clients yet, but I could see it being helpful:

Yelp will sometimes hide listings

Here is another great video by Whitespark. In the video, Darren Shaw points out that Yext has a Yelp listing, but, it is extremely difficult to find Yext on either a Yelp search or even a Google search. The same thing is true of Yodle listings on Yelp.
According to Darren, the main reason for this to happen is because Yelp wants to display local businesses, and organizations like Yext and Yodle are not local businesses. The video is definitely an interesting watch.

Interesting information on Amazon and local search

This is an interesting discussion in the Local Search Forum. It sounds like Amazon is going to be offering local businesses an Amazon page from which they can sell products.
This is essentially just another barnacle page that businesses can take advantage of. Here is a good sum-up post in that thread:

Which Sites Should You Focus on for Reviews? – Whitespark Weekly
This is a video (don’t worry, there’s also a full transcript) featuring Darren Shaw from Whitespark, in which he discusses which websites are the most valuable for business owners to target getting reviews of their business on. Unsurprisingly, Darren’s first pick is Google and he suggests targeting there first due to Google’s prominence. Then, once your business is well-represented there (he suggests this should be around 20 reviews), you can begin diversifying. Darren has a lot of good information here about why and how you should build up your reviews on sites other than Google, and demonstrates with a number of helpful examples. Definitely worth checking out if you are working on building up the off-site reputation of your business.

SEO Tools

Tool to find unused CSS on your sites

This looks like a really helpful tool. The idea is that this tool can help you find CSS on your site that is not being used. In theory, removing this CSS should help to improve page performance.
However, I tested several sites that I am sure have unused CSS and each of them showed no unused CSS. I still wanted to include this tool, however, as I think it has real merit if it does work.

I love what Glen Allsopp is doing here. You can go to and get lists of important mentions of websites in your industry. For example, these are all sites that have recently mentioned Moz:

This looks like a great little tool to help with content curation and more.


If you are in the Ottawa, Ontario area, I would love for you to come and work with me! I am currently hiring for entry level positions. No experience is necessary. This is not a remote position. You need to come into the office on March Rd in Kanata and have fun with us every day.

Marie speaking on Google algorithm updates with Matt Medeiros

If you need a refresher on the basics of Panda, Penguin and Fred, you’ll enjoy this:

Recommended Reading

Your Google Rank Doesn’t Matter Anymore
This is a compelling article from Matthew Howells-Barby about the always-shifting ground in SEO industry, in particular as it pertains to tracking keyword rankings. In the age of personalized, localized, device-based searches, it has become more difficult to ascertain how your keywords are tracking, with accurate data more difficult to come by. As Matthew points out, this means keyword rankings alone should no longer be the sole focus or metric of your search efforts and performance. You might be missing the forest for the trees if you’re singularly focused on it! Matthew shares that at Hubspot, they’ve reduced their focus on specific keyword rankings and taken up a “topic cluster” approach. Instead of focusing on rankings for individual pages, Hubspot will look at the collective organic traffic and conversion data for a subset of pages within each topic cluster.
How to Rank Boring Pages: 16 Link Building Experts Weigh In
There are some great perspectives here on how to get links to pages that are “boring” and tough to invigorate (category pages for a certain product, etc) but nonetheless important to make rank! There are a number of different ideas and approaches laid out here by some reputable industry experts that are worth taking the time to read through. At MHC Consulting, we advocate strongly for building natural links. As such, we tend to prefer the answers here about creating genuinely linkable content elsewhere on the site and then devising a great internal linking strategy that can pass link equity to those “boring” but important pages!
Incredible resource on Javascript and SEO
This is a great list of resources for information for javascript information for SEOs.
The Google Ranking Factor You Can Influence in an Afternoon [Case Study]
Jeff Baker wrote an interesting case study about quickly ranking your content. Since Google is getting better at determining what content actually has value rather than just focusing on keywords. Jeff makes the case that if you are able to determine what factors Google deem important on a given query, you can very quickly tweak your content to include that info. As an example he searches “Search optimization techniques” and analyzes the results by assigning a letter to each topic discussed.
Pos.1 - A, B, C, D, E, F - Pos. 2 - A, B, F
Pos. 3 - C, D, F - Pos. 4 - A, E, F
After analyzing the results it's clear that topic F is important and if that is not mentioned in your content it would be a good idea to add it. Jeff also discusses tools to find topics more easily as well as a 7 step process for implementing those changes which should result in better rankings for your content.
How to deal with fake negative reviews on Google
Joy Hawkins wrote a helpful post on how to deal with fake negative reviews. She makes a great case for spending time each month monitoring you and your competitors reviews. Once you have a good understanding of who is likely to leave a review you will be able to make a better case to Google as to why they should remove them. If the reviewer leaves no text and just a star rating it may be more difficult to remove and the next best option would be to respond to the rating offering a 100% refund. This will most likely reflect well on your business when new users come looking for your reviews or more information.
Are Yelp ads worth paying for? How to figure it out
Here’s another in-depth post by Joy Hawkins where she attempts to see how well Yelp ads perform vs Google Adwords.  In this case study she’s uses her clients data who owns an auto repair shop who was spending on average $700 per month on Yelp ads. She outlines how the data given by yelp varies from what should be considered a credible lead and determines that several of the metrics provided for this specific client aren’t relevant. Things like "call to action clicks", "directions and map views" and other factors are removed for calculation as lead. After all things considered, 2 quality leads were produced in the a span of a month for $350 per lead. Joy compares this to the spend her team put toward Google Adwords for the same business and time period which resulted in 11 leads at $1171 total or $106 per person. In this case it looks like Yelp Ads are 3.3 times the cost of an Adwords lead. She concludes that if the lifetime value of a customer is high enough, Yelp ads still may be valuable but regardless, any data given in a dashboard should be viewed objectively to whether or not it has value.
Crawling & Indexing: Technical SEO Basics That Drive Revenue (Case Study)
Courtesy of Robin Rozhon comes this interesting case study on deindexing large amounts of duplicate and low quality content on an ecommerce site – to the tune of over 80% of the sites pages, or 400,000 pages of a 500,000-page site – leading to some amazing results. It is worth reading the details of how they went about this process. They found that no-indexing was more effective as Google tended to ignore canonicals pointing from their duplicate pages to their original category pages. Word of caution: Always be sure to check and make sure pages aren’t generating organic traffic before going the no-index route!
7 Practical Tips for Cheating at Design
I won’t summarize this article as it is really worth a read itself. Even though this is not an SEO article, it contains information that most of us will find extremely helpful.
My Last Day at Moz. My First Day at SparkToro.
Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz, has now left Moz and started a new company, Spark Toro. This article is an interesting read about Rand’s hopes for his future.
Here are the points you are likely interested to know:

  • Rand’s new company is called Spark Toro. He describes it as “influencer marketing” but much deeper.
  • His book, Lost and Founder, is available for preorder now.
  • He is working on a non-profit project that sounds like it is mostly to help fight against discrimination at conferences.
  • Rand and Geraldine still own 24% of the shares of Moz and Rand is still on the board of directors for Moz.
  • We will see several more (already recorded) WBF videos with Rand in them.

We Analyzed 10,000 Google Home Results. Here’s What We Learned About Voice Search SEO
Brian Dean looked into the role that 11 things he targeted as potential ranking factors (such as pagespeed, schema, and HTTPS) had on the results of 10,000 Google Home search results to see if these gave any insight into how to optimize a site for voice search. You should definitely check it out to see the detailed explanations he gives, but here are a few highlights that really caught my attention.
Of those 10,000 voice searches:

  • The average voice search result page loaded in 4.6 seconds, which was 52% faster than the average page
  • 70.4% of the result pages were HTTPS
  • The mean Ahrefs Domain Rating of a result page was 76.8
  • 75% of the voice search results ranked in the top 3 desktop results for that query
  • The average voice search result had 1,199 Facebook shares, and 44 Tweets

How to Diagnose SEO Traffic Drops: 11 Questions to Answer
This is a good starting checklist to work through if you are dealing with a drop in organic traffic -- and how to confirm it’s a real traffic drop as opposed to just normal variance. There are some good tips here. We’ve done countless traffic drop assessments at MHC and believe, if you’re dealing with a loss in Google organic traffic, it is now essential to also include a thorough assessment of site quality according to Google’s Quality Raters Guidelines. We’ve put together a checklist to work through on site quality and the QRG, which you can purchase here.
How to Promote Your Blog to 1,000,000+ Yearly Visits
Here is a piece from Ross Hudgens of Siege Media with some really great advice on how to promote your blog by driving consistent traffic through a general framework of search, SEO, and content marketing. Ross says to start small and targeted, using the keyword difficulty tools in Moz, SEMRush, or Ahrefs to find low difficulty/high link intent topics with a search volume of over 1000; these keywords are how you pick your blog topics. Next, use a promotion strategy for every single post you create: search, mentioned outreach, or cold outreach. The one you pick depends on the content you’ve created, but this keeps up momentum instead of waiting for people to organically discover your content. He then recommends building a shareable asset in every post in order to make it more appealing for others to link to. Once you’ve got this strategy down, you can use content marketing to begin building towards more competitive keywords in order to eventually reach holistic growth.
Ecommerce Link Building (Without Cold Emailing For Backlinks)
Kevin Indig, wrote an detailed article about building a great backlink profile for your e-commerce shop by analyzing how some of the major US retailers do it (Apple, eBay, Target etc.).

  1. User Generated Content - This can be hard to achieve but once you start growing a community discussion about your store, backlinks will follow.  In some cases it's not even necessary to have a dedicated forum section if users naturally move to places like reddit.
  2. Catching Attention - Also a difficult task in a world where there is an abundance content. PR Stunts, memorable products and seasonal landing pages all have the ability to draw attention to your band or site. Examples from Dollar Shave Club and Warby Parker.
  3. Charity, Contests and Giveaways - People love free stuff  and if done right it can bring a lot of positive attention to your brand. 'Macy’s Gives’ is a page for the companies charity projects and has managed to attain over 4,000 backlinks, any from high authority non-profit sites. (My note: be careful though. Giving away free product in exchange for an article with links is against Google's guidelines.)
  4. Guides, Blogs, Podcasts and Calculators - Creating amazing content that users want to engage with. Lululemon’s blog is a great example of releasing high quality focused content that users would be happy to share.

Above are just a few of the examples of what these big brands do to leverage content to gain high quality backlinks. Kevin did a fantastic job creating this article and it's recommended you check out some of the other examples he mentions that major brands use to get attention online.

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.