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Episode 38 - June 25, 2018

It looks like we have had a significant Google update this week. I suspect that this was a link related update. In this episode, I’ll share examples of sites that were hit or saw improvements. We’ll also give several content creation tips, a discussion on using the internal links report in GSC, more info on the March 9 update and how it has been affecting news sites and we’ll talk about Google’s removal of anonymous reviews.

In this episode:

Algorithm updates

June 17-18, 2018 - Significant update. Could be related to links

There were several sites which we monitor that saw changes on June 17 or 18 of 2018 in Google analytics. Several of these were sites that we had done a link audit for in the past. However, we did also see changes in a few sites that did not have a history of link issues. As such, it’s hard to say that this update was completely about links or perhaps has a quality component as well.
The other interesting thing is that SEMRush does not reflect a lot of the changes that we are seeing. That makes reporting difficult as I can only share GA data for some of these sites.
Here is what I am seeing for changes in sites I monitor:

  • An eCommerce site for which I did a link audit a couple of years ago is seeing moderate increases. (I’m not saying that our disavow is the cause, but rather, the point here is that this site is in a niche where unnatural links are often an issue.)
  • A site with no obvious link issues saw a slight decline. This site has been seeing improvements with quality updates as they have been working on improving overall site quality. The site is in a competitive travel niche. While this could be a quality issue, I’m suspicious that competitors could be seeing improvements after filing a disavow. It’s a tough call though.
  • An eCommerce store in a very competitive niche is seeing nice increases. This site has been working on improving quality issues (after having a site quality report done by the MHC team), especially when it comes to cleaning up thin content. This is Google organic traffic only and is not a seasonal change:
  • Another site for which I did a link audit a couple of years ago is seeing a slight increase.
  • A site which saw a massive drop in late May (which I suspect may have been due to a manual action for unnatural links as this site was involved in some risky article marketing link building) saw further drops on June 17.
  • A site in a very competitive financial niche has seen nice increases. We recently did a site quality review for this site and had recommended some disavow work. I am hoping that the disavow file was responsible for this nice increase:
  • An eCommerce site for which we have been working on site quality issues AND have recently filed a disavow for is seeing fantastic increases. SEMRush shows a little bit of increase, but GA is showing much bigger gains.

Usually I do not have this many examples of sites with changes on a particular day. As such, I think that June 17-18, 2018 was likely a significant update. The main question that I have is whether this was an update to the Penguin algorithm, or was a general quality update.
Added: After tweeting about this being a possible link related update, Glen Allsopp tweeted the following:

This reminds me of something that I saw a few times in the old days of the Penguin algorithm. I saw a few people who claimed to see recovery after a Penguin hit after implementing https. I believe that what happened here is that Google saw the https migration as a site move. However, in each of these cases, they eventually became suppressed again, most likely as the algorithms reassessed the link situation for this “new” site.

Google’s guide to getting verified

Google released a guide this week on how to get verified with GMB and announced that coming with recent updates, more entities such as persons, organisations, sports teams, events and media properties will be able to verify themselves.

Video Carousels are taking over image thumbnails in the SERPs

Pete Meyers from Moz has done a really helpful analysis of which sites videos are most commonly appear in these carousels. Looking at both the 3 visible videos, and the 10 scrollable, Pete’s analysis shows in both cases that has a clear monopoly with a 79.7% and 76.7% share respectively. All other sites like Facebook and pale in comparison to this, with >1% share each in both cases. Dr Pete also highlights the contrast between Youtube’s +70% visibility here with wikipedia’s 5% equivalent coverage in the organic SERPs.

Info from Google on keyword stuffing

I believe that what John is saying in this Twitter thread as well is that Google sometimes looks past keyword stuffing if the rest of the content is truly good.
Take note though - even though keyword stuffing will not cause a page to be deindexed, I still do believe that it can cause ranking suppressions. Any time I see a page that has trouble ranking for its main keyword, this is something I want to investigate.

New prayer time boxes launched

You can now add directories to GSC

This is a great feature that can be utilised in the new search console. While previously only a very basic trend of indexing could be seen in GSC, the new index coverage reports allows SEOs to look a lot closer at which specific urls are being indexed. Some of the drawbacks are the small download limits for url results (max 1000), but as Glenn Gabe has highlighted there are a bunch of ways that you can squeeze more data and insights out of the tool. One of the most exciting of these is the ability to add subdirectories to GSC, which give you a much more nuanced and granular view of any issues on your site which is particularly useful if you are working with a really big site.

Crawl Errors for Google News are gone

Google announced at the start of the month that with the new, revamped Google News platform, a couple of features that they saw as ‘deprecated’ would be being removed, and it looks like one of those features is the ability to see news crawl errors reported in GSC.

How long does it take to get unfiltered by Safe Search once you have removed adult content?

John Mueller describes how Google passes PageRank between canonical pages

New Search Console features

These features were announced this morning (June 25th) and include a new url inspection tool to let you look more specifically at how Google renders individual urls; a recipe report to help debug issues with recipe structured data; and new filters that let you view data for different browser appearances such as Web Light and Google Play Instant. These new features are being rolled out slowly and we are still waiting to see them appear for any of the sites we monitor.

Are you getting AMP error reports?

It looks like some webmasters have been getting inundated with error reports for their AMP pages from GSC.

How long does it take for Google to complete rendering of JavaScript?

At Google I/O this year, John Mueller discussed how GoogleBot crawls and renders JavaScript pages in two phases. The second stage of rendering for this process, John says, can take a couple of days. So make sure that any information that is really important is served up to Google either pre-rendered or in the HTML so they don’t miss it on the first go around!

Credo launch their Digital Marketing Job Board

With Inbound, and several other job boards, shutting down recently there has been a gap in the market for a dedicated job board for digital marketers. John Doherty from Credo has sought to fill this void with his newly launched job board which will cater to both part/full time job seekers and companies looking to make their next permanent or contract hire. You can read more about the new service here.

Ways to use the internal links report in GSC

John Mueller asked this very question this week

Some of the interesting responses were interesting:

There were also some suggestions of ways to improve this feature

New site aggregate feature in PageSpeed insights

The new feature in the tool provides an aggregated page speed across the whole of a site. PageSpeed insights is a tool that we use frequently in our site reviews, usually running both the homepage and many internal pages through the speed test to get a good idea of over all site speed. This has become increasingly important now that we know Google will soon be implementing an update that counts mobile page speed as a ranking factor.

Good content creation tip

I loved this tweet by Dan Sure:

If your subject is one in which people want to see comparisons, then this type of content works really well. You can write a post saying, “How does [our company’s product] compare to [other company’s product]?” Google seems to recognize when someone is doing research and would like to see comparisons.

SEMrush’s organic research section moves into BETA

Optimising site speed

Google have released a comprehensive guide for using their webmaster developer tools to conduct audits of slow sites and how to make improvements on them from there. The guide stresses the importance of starting with a site audit to a) help you establish a baseline for measuring any improvements you see and b) to help find the areas in which your efforts will provide the most improvement. In particular Google show you how to use their Lighthouse 3.0 audit tool and how to action the common page speed insights that it provides such as enabling text compression, image optimisation and specific ways to simulate tests for mobile devices.

GDPR implications for WHOIS data

We have previously discussed this, but Bill Hartzer  has provided an update on the effect that GDPR has had upon the ability of the ICANN to adapt its system of archived WHOIS data to comply with the new regulations. The main issue is that many registrars are contractually obliged to provide information about who owns and operates sites/who has in the past. One of the major perks of this is that new domain purchasers are able to know whether the site has a history that may affect it in search. However, under the new regulations it is unclear what of this information can be used. For the time being ICANN have introduced temporary measures to try and ensure continuity of its service.

More videos in the SERPS = less spaces for organic first page rankings


Google is now highlighting fact checking in the SERPs

As Danny Sullivan points out, this is a fairly under-utilized feature so far but one that is easy to implement with ClaimReview markup. If used, when your fact checked article appears in the SERPs it will be coupled with a snippet stating by who the article was checked and what the result was.

Web light statistics probably are counted in Google Analytics

I reported in our last newsletter about Web light, which is a way for Google to serve your content to people with a poor data connection. I had said that these visits are likely not tracked in Google Analytics. However, Luke Redding shared with me that he tested this and his Google Analytics tag did indeed fire on Web Light views.
Good to know!

Is your news site declining in rankings?

In this help hangout, John Mueller was asked about a news site that was seeing a decline in rankings. John commented on ad placement, implying that there may be too many ads above the fold. However, he also commented that this site is publishing the same content as many other sites on the web and then adding ads to it. He encouraged the site to take advantage of user feedback to ask their users what they could be doing to make their site more valuable.
John went on to say, “I think the main problem with a lot of these websites that I see is that they are kind of as good as the other websites that are out there, and in that case why should we show that website instead of the others?… So you really want to significantly stand out from the others.
He also said, “The other thing that I noticed is that a lot of the content that is getting a lot of visibility in search is fairly basic and simple content and I would kind of be worried that the information on your website could be provided by anyone.
I feel that the March 9 update by Google dealt with a lot of sites with this issue. My team and I have reviewed several sites that saw traffic losses at this time. Several of these sites were news sites that had decent articles but really offered no reason for searchers to read their article rather than the original, or one that is published on a well recognized news authority.
Recovering from this type of hit is likely going to be difficult unless you can find a way to stand out above the crowd.

Good tip for new sites just starting out

In a help hangout, John Mueller said the following:
“What I usually recommend is that if you are starting out with a new website, then find a niche where you can be the real expert, where you are not competing with gigantic other websites that have been around for tens of years but rather you really are seen as someone that is doing something unique and compelling and kind of grown organically from there.”
I still see so many sites that are trying to do the same thing as everyone else and hoping to rank well. I think that this happens because many of you can remember the days where you could take a mediocre site and if you purchased links, it would rank. This is getting much harder to do now. In most cases, in order to rank well you really do have to be one of the best options for searchers.

Do you have Google alerts set up for your name and brand?

This one for my name gave me a bit of a chuckle:

I included this in the newsletter because it is amazing how often Google alerts can help you get wins for your clients. We monitor with Google alerts and also Ahrefs alerts for brand names and also for the names of our clients’ competitors. Quite often we can find link opportunities here.

A great tip to improve E-A-T and get links

I was listening to a great podcast episode on NPR called “How I built this” in which the founder of Lululemon was interviewed. A couple of his stories were really inspiring. He told a story of how in the early days, they created a product that was a fur lined bra and it got a lot of attention. He also talked about an event that they did before the brand was big, in which they said that the first 100 people to the store who arrived naked would receive a free outfit.
This is great for SEO for a few reasons:

  • Crazy products and big events like this will get people to talk about the brand and link to their website.
  • This caused a big stir on social media. I do thoroughly believe that if people all over the web are legitimately talking about your brand, this can improve your E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trust).
  • I am betting that this got the brand a lot of coverage on authoritative news sites.

So, here is my challenge to you! I challenge you to meet with your marketing team (or if you don’t have one, have a staff brainstorm session) and think of something that you can do that will get lots of people talking about your brand. Can you produce a crazy fake product? Is there an event you can do that will get your city talking?

Local SEO

GMB guidelines update

The update clarifies that the sharing of confidential information such as financial information & government issued ID numbers is prohibited on the platform. As Joy Hawkins observes, this is not a new policy as posts/reviews including this information are very often taken down by Google, but it is good to have clarification that this is indeed a policy.

Location and Location Icon

Google is now displaying a location and location icon in the SERPs for news stories. These tags look similar to the ones you see on Google Maps, but they are not for local results, instead they appear to be letting the user know where the news event took place.

Google Project Beacon

There has been some buzz over the past week or so as some businesses have started receiving beacons from Google. While most of these beacons have been sent via requests, Barry Schwartz reported that Rustybrick were sent one out of the blue, something Google says can happen if you have been actively involved in Google advertising services.
The beacons are small one-way bluetooth device that sends a signal to users phones who have location settings enabled. This service is seemingly to help create a more accurate location footprint for users on their mobile devices, and according to the literature accompanying the beacons - “When a user’s phone has a better understanding of where they are and if they’ve visited your store, you can unlock a variety of new features to improve their experience and your local business presence.”
This is, in my opinion, very important. I believe that Google is already using location information for ranking. If a particular business tends to get way more foot traffic than competitors, it’s probably a business that should rank well.

Anonymous reviews officially gone

We mentioned that anonymous reviews were disappearing from Google a couple weeks ago, but there was no official statement from Google that is was occuring. Anonymous reviews have not been possible to leave on Google for a few years, but several businesses have a significant number of these reviews that have now disappeared. This week, Mike Blumenthal says that Google has gotten back to him with a statement confirming that ‘We do not allow anonymous reviews today, and we’ve removed legacy anonymous reviews’.

‘Follow’ button appearing on branded searches

It appears that this feature has been around for a while as part of the Google App but seems to be appearing on mobile search as well. The feature drives news stories about the brand/companies you are following onto your news feed.

What Google thinks about ‘Near Me’ queries

Google marketing VP Lisa Gevelber wrote this week about the trends Google has been seeing with the growth of ‘near me’ queries. She writes that the importance of these searches is huge for advertisers because the query presents such a clear signal of intent. This can be demonstrated by the 500% increase in searches for ‘near me’ including variants of ‘can I buy’ or ‘to buy’. In particular these searches have become more and more specific about the product or service searchers are looking for and, Lisa observes, these searches are often very time specific. In particular users want to use this information, i.e. convert, now.
We have discussed previously whether you should be adding “near me” or possibly “near you” to title tags. We do have one client that added “near me” to title tags and saw nice improvements in many of their local intent keywords.

New filters on Google Hotel search

Google has been using hotel highlighted icons for a while now to let searchers see their hotel options on a geographical layout and they have now added new filters to this feature that allow you to filters these results by options such as ‘top choices’, ‘guest favorites’ or ‘budget options’’.

There is a bug for claiming Service Area Businesses in GMB

How reliable are GMB insights?

Have you been finding that the data you have been getting from the GMB dashboard is less consistent than other monitoring platforms? This seems to be a fairly common complaint, so Gyi Tsakalakis has done some investigating for BrightLocal and released his findings here. What I found particularly thoughtful in this post is when Gyi notes if Google Analytics reports, say, 100 impressions and the GMB dashboard reports 65, we can still learn something from this. But what Gyi equally stresses is for us to recognise the limitations of these kinds of trackers with small data sets. John Mueller also touched on this in the most recent help-hangout.

Tip to make sure you are in the search radius for the city you are listed in!

A fix for Service Area Business on GMB

For a while now service area businesses and their digital marketers have been having a lot of trouble transferring ownership of GMB. The process contained a broken link for ‘requesting access’ that just refreshed the process creating a loop. Google has been silent on people's requests for help with this for a couple of months now, but finally this week they have announced that they will be offering a manual work-around to this issue. You can find out more on how to implement this here.

Another GMB locations and Adwords Bug

SEO Tools

See the mobile and desktop version of a page side by side

Recommended Reading

Five Years of Google Ranking Signals - Bill Slawski
June 22nd, 2018
In this very comprehensive article from Bill Slawski, he summarizes all of the Google ranking signals that have become known over the past five years and in particular he looks at the ranking signals that he has learnt about through his very well known, and really awesome Google patent research. While a fairly long post, this is really worth taking the time to read through.
SERP Analysis for Content Strategy - Russ Hudgens
June 18th, 2018
This slide deck from Russ Hudgens’ SEERFest presentation is about how to analysis the SERPs to help craft and structure your content. The presentation contains a lot of really cool tips for how to tailor your content based on effectively answering user intent queries, here are a couple of our favorites:

  • Focus on creating content that answers queries quickly. This is particularly important for winning featured snippets.
  • Sometimes queries are looking for less obvious content. For example, optimising for searches for ‘flower quotes’ would perhaps make you want to optimise for quotation text. However, after examining the SERPs it appears that searchers are looking for shareable images of flowers with overlaid quotations!
  • Some queries are very open to publishers ranking for them, for example ‘best headphones’ will not return a Bose or Beats page, but an article detailing the pros and cons of different headphones.
  • You can looks at timestamps on SERPs to determine how often posts need updated for different queries.
  • Big brands can break the SERP rules apparently, but as an SEO this should never be your fall back/general approach.
  • Sometimes knowing when not to aim for #1 is a good thing, especially if getting there will damage your overall content curation.

An 8-Point Checklist for Debugging Strange Technical SEO Problems - Dominic Woodman
June 19th, 2018
In Dominic Woodman’s words, this is the checklist for the “situations [that] defies a checklist”. These are the cases where where something seriously technical, and ellusive is playing havoc with a site. While every checklist we recommend still requires some brain power and personal judgement while following them, in these particular cases the checklist is really more about where to start digging for, rather than offering up, any solid answers. The checklist covers schema implementation issues, investigating indexing anomalies, and discovering the cause of inconsistent page status reports. The auditing process that Dominic goes through is very thorough but is also a very good guide if you are stuck with an older site or one that is heavily reliant on buggy JavaScript and the usual solutions are not working for you.
Should you keep your best content on your site or send it away? - Julie Joyce
June 19th, 2018
Julie Joyce weighs the pros and cons of having your content published on other people's sites. Many SEOs argue that if you have created great content, the best place for that to go is on your own site. But, Julie recognises that sometimes, especially for lesser known sites, having guest content in other more reputable places on the web can help them gain a better reputation and increase their traffic and potential leads. The key, Julie says, is to determine what content to place where. If it is evergreen you are best to keep it on your site, but one off pieces can be fine elsewhere. One of the main takeaways we got from this article is that sometimes people can get caught up a little too much on where they are in the SERPs and how much organic traffic they get. when Depending on your business, conversations could actually be driven more effectively if you publish elsewhere, for example on sites with a wider reach than your own.
On a personal note, much of my earlier branding was done this way. I have some posts on Moz that are huge traffic machines. Part of me wishes that I had published this content on my own site! However, those posts on Moz built up my reputation and brought me a lot of business. If you are trying to decide on posting on another site, I think that it makes sense to do so if it will improve your brand and potentially bring you business.
How to factor trust into your link building strategy (without ripping it up and starting again) - Stephen Kenwright
June 1st, 2018
In April, Bill Slawski reported on a Google patent that appears to suggest an update to PageRank to take into account more elements of link trust. In this post by Stephen Kenwright, he looks at this new patent and discusses how to re-work current link building strategies to include elements of trust. He focuses on getting creating a link profile that stems from highly trustworthy ‘seed’ sites. Working under the theory from this patent that trust can flow through sites as PageRank does, having a link from a site that is linked to by a highly authoritative site should still help you rank. Stephen also writes on how to discover and disavow sites that are potentially hurting your credibility with unnatural links.
The Entity and Language Series: Translation and language APIs Impact on Search (3 of 5) - D. Nyagolova & Cindy Krum
June 22nd, 2018
This is part 3 of an ongoing series from Cindy Krum at Mobile Moxie discussing the more and more prevalent concept/theory in search based around entity-first indexing. You can read our summaries of parts 1 & 2 in this newsletter.
The basic premise of the theory is that Google is moving away from a language based search based on keywords and the link graph, to a search that aims to understand user queries based upon search context and the relationships between the searched for entities. In this form of ‘entity first’ search, the language used in a query becomes secondary, acting as a strong modifier to confirm a user’s intention. It does seem like a move in this direction is fairly inevitable for search, especially with the rise of voice search in which being able to disambiguate queries is of high importance.
Cindy details the evidence in favour of this theory that it is comes from recent patents and recent changes/advances in Google passing information from different countries/languages to global users. This part of the series details the direct research that Moxie Mobile has undertaken to understand/evidence this theory.
The tests are focused around understanding the developments in how Google understands queries in different languages, alphabets, combinations of alphabets, and from different locations. The idea is that entity driven search is designed to better understand the broader context of these questions (in their numerous variants) and return similar, relevant results regardless of how a query was imputed. And the tests do suggest that Google is getting much better at doing this across the above mentioned variances. A lot of this is credited to the new Google Cloud Natural Language API which relies heavily on machine learning and AI not to translate, but to understand queries/text natively based upon linguistic structures and context.
This is a complex series of articles, but definitely a series that is highly interesting and well worth reading to get an early grasp on some of the changes coming to search.
Moz’s Mid-Year Retrospective: Exciting Upgrades from the First Half of 2018 - Neil Crist
June 20th, 2018
Neil Crist writes on the past 6 months of update’s to their tools and their new releases. The key changes they have made are:

  • New link index, 20x bigger and 30x fresher. It can also be integrated with Moz’s other tools and is also available through the Mozscape API. They also claim to have widely improved the metrics coming from Domain Authority, Page Authority and Spam scores
  • The ‘on-page grader’ was also given an overhaul with more suggestions which are now categorised and included in the MozBar
  • Keyword ranking data is made available for Canada, UK, and Australia
  • On-demand site crawls
  • New courses to the Moz Academy

Meet the man whose job it is to reassure people that Google search isn’t evil - Jillian D’Onfro
June 23rd, 2018
A year into his role as ‘Google Search Liaison’, this profile on Danny Sullivan by CNBC gives an interesting insight into the life of a man who is credited with coining the term ‘search engine marketing’ and has been working in and around search since the mid-90s. Danny describes how he wound up in this new position at Google and discusses the strangeness of the transition. His role is to bridge the gap between the Google engineers and the impacts that any changes have in the outside world. He says that his role is to provide explanations, not excuses, which has been tested a couple times over the past year. The profile also discusses the transition he has made from a prying, critical outsiders to an insider tasked with bringing some ‘humanity to search’.
The Proven Formula for Doubling your Blog Traffic in 3 Months (without creating new content) - Nat Eliason
June 21st, 2018
Nat Eliason, founder of Growth Machine, writes about how to increase your existing blog’s traffic without creating new content. This idea stems out of an experiment his company conducted to increase clients blog traffic purely by improving existing content, which resulted in 90-110% traffic increases over just 3 months. The main tactic that Nat suggests is looking for content on your site that is starting to gain some good keyword ranking traction, and repurposing it with newly optimised content and improving the technical health of a page. Taking this strategy and applying it site wide on posts that are doing well but haven’t exploded yet, you can capitalise on re-publishing and re-promoting material, hopefully getting your more traffic without creating more content.

Recommended Reading (Local SEO)

The right way to use call tracking numbers in Google My Business - Darren Shaw
June 14, 2018
Call tracking numbers are a great tool that marketers have been using for a long time to gather consumer data, but often there is concern about using these numbers in your web presence in case you mess up your citation profile. However, many local SEO practitioners including Joy Hawkins suggest that using them on your GMB profile is actually completely fine. One of the best benefits of having call tracking on your GMB profile is that it serves as a fantastic metric to judge how well your profile is performing, especially since the metrics Google provides you with are only for click-to-call actions from mobile devices. In this article Darren Shaw provides a thorough walk through of how to set up call tracking on your GMB account.
Q&A: Lost your Anonymous Google Reviews? The Scoop on Removal and Moving Forward - Miriam Ellis
June 21st, 2018
In this Q&A from Moz, Miriam Ellis answers questions about the recent disappearance of anonymous Google reviews which has dropped the reviews count for many users. Some useful information from the article is that the removal appears to have started on May 23rd and this doesn’t appear to be due to a  bug or a test. Indeed, as we reported early in the newsletter, Google confirmed the Mike Blumenthal that these reviews are not gone. The move appears to be a drive towards more transparency about the reviewing public and should help shut down some of the spammy reviews on GMB. Miriam goes on to say that this move should be taken as another nudge for local businesses to realise that increasingly their web presence is as much about their GMB profile as it is about their websites and details different ways such as implementing schema, diversifying how they garner customer feedback and actively monitoring their Q&A/reviews to prepare for this.

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Where to find Marie

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