SEO News Recap – February 2017

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Hi guys, are you ready to catch up with the February most prominent news in the SEO industry? In our latest news recap we will discuss the recent updates of Google My Business, the local Knowledge Panel, and the mobile Local Finder. February was also marked by several distinguished digital marketing conferences and if you have been out of the loop, we will gladly share with you some of the most interesting takeaways from those events.

GOOGLE LOCAL EXPERIMENTS

GOOGLE+ BRAND PAGES WILL NO LONGER BE MANAGED FROM THE GMB DASHBOARD

Those of you managing Google+ pages may have noticed that the “Brand Pages” tab at the top of the Google My Business dashboard is no longer available.

GMB-dashboard-updated

But don’t worry, Google hasn’t terminated brand pages just yet. You can now create and manage brand pages directly from the Google+ platform.

LOCAL BUSINESSES WITH ONLY ONE REVIEW NOW GET THE GOOGLE ‘STAR TREATMENT’

Google lowered the threshold from five to one review for displaying review stars for local business listings in its search results. Google has also stopped using the Bayesian average method to calculate the review score and turned to the arithmetic average. Previously businesses with less than 10 reviews that are all 5 stars couldn’t manage to get the 5.0 score because the score calculation depended not only on user ratings but also on a variety of other signals.

Before:

google ratings old

Now:

google ratings new

As this update makes reviews more prominent businesses will need to implement a strategy for gathering positive online reviews as soon as possible.

A “TEMPORARY CLOSED” SIGN IN THE LOCAL KNOWLEDGE PANEL

Mike Blumenthal reported that local businesses can now inform clients that they are temporary closed for renovation or other force majeure causes. The ”temporary closed” sign will appear as a status only on the Knowledge Panel, while on Google Maps the businesses will still appear  permanently closed. Currently the process of getting the new status is not that “user-friendly”. You need to report the issue on the Google My Business community forum and clearly communicate the closure on your business’ website. Hopefully your message will be read by a top contributor, who will escalate the issue and eventually help you access the feature.

 ADVANCED VERIFICATION FOR SPAMMY VERTICALS NOW IN LOS ANGELES

The advanced verification and the Home Service Ad test for spammy businesses like plumbers and locksmiths has spread to the Los Angeles area. The given LA businesses went through a verifcation process and any of them that didn’t pass the verification before February 27th had their listings removed from Google.

NEW UPDATES TO THE MOBILE LOCAL FINDER AND THE LOCAL PACK

SEO specialists spotted the following two tests rolling out in February:

  • A new carousel format of business listings on the Google Maps lets searchers browse through listings by swiping on the right side, while they are still able to see the map outlook and the respective local business pins.
  • If you enable your location settings, Google shows the message “near you X minutes ago” with the option to “refresh location” in order  to get more accurate local results for your search.

GOOGLE POST DIRECTLY IN THE LOCAL KNOWLEDGE PANEL

Google is testing a new feature in the Knowledge Panel containing a commercial message accompanied by a call to action button. It seems to be part of the experimental tool called Google Posts, though it is still unclear whether it will be a paid or free feature.

GOOGLE GLOBAL EXPERIMENTS

“SORRY…TEMPORARY CLOSED”

If you will need to take your company website offline for a while due to a redesign, an essential maintenance, or an upgrade, John Mueller advises you how to do it the right way and avoid any negative impact such as lost traffic for example:

  • In case you want to block Google from crawling your shopping cart pages you can put off the cart functionality through the txt file or the robots meta tag. If you want to restrict users from shopping on your website, you can hide or deactivate the link to the cart, or show an informational message for the temporary changes.
  • Activate an interstitial or a pop-up displaying a “temporarily unavailable” message when you need to block the whole site for users. The server should return the 503 result code (“Service Unavailable”) and Google won’t craw the interstitial.
  • In case of turned off server, you need to have “a temporary server available to serve a 503 HTTP result code for all URLs (with an appropriate informational page for users), and switch your DNS to point to that server during that time”.

GOODBYE GOOGLE SITE SEARCH

Google officially announced the shutdown of their Google Site Search product by April 1, 2018. This spring (April 1) Google will stop selling new licenses and renewals and the accounts will be automatically converted to Google’s Custom Search Engine (CSE). CSE is the free version of Google’s search technology, which supports Google ads. Users who don’t want to implement the CSE to their websites can remove it.

YOUTUBE AD TARGETING BASED ON USERS’ SEARCH HISTORY

Google is planning to allow advertisers to target their YouTube ads based on people’s past searches. For example, if you own a hairdressing salon and have an engaging how-to video, you could reach potential clients that have been searching for hair products or hair styles. The company also promises to provide new cloud-based measurement tools to help advertisers access more detailed insights from their YouTube campaigns.

MAKE “TO VISIT” LISTS AND SHARE PLACES ON GOOGLE MAPS

You can now create, follow, and share with friends lists of your favorite or dream spots to visit without ever leaving the Google Maps app. You just need to write down the name of the place you are looking for and use the “Save” icon to add the location to one of several pre-set lists like “Want to Go” or “Favorites”, or you can even create your own lists. You can also share lists via text messages, emails, social networks, and popular messaging apps.

INDUSTRY STUDIES AND REPORTS

Searchmetrics released their latest study with a focus on e-commerce websites. They analyze the 10 most relevant and important ranking factors for this type of websites. Here are the top three takeaways from the report:

    • Only 3% of the e-commerce websites in the top 10 use AdSense or Adlinks to make money from ads in their sites;
    • The content on the high-ranking e-commerce websites is more structured in comparison to other websites (they have more lists and 70% more bullets per list);
    • Video is not a top priority for e-commerce websites compared to websites in general – only 35% of the top 10 observed websites have embedded videos on their pages.

CONFERENCES/EVENTS

FRIENDS OF SEARCH

Friends of Search invited Gary Illyes as a key speaker. However, his “Google Search in 2017” presentation may not be news to you, especially if you have been following our SEO news recaps.  What he focused on was:

  • Mobile first index is one of the most important topics on Google’s search agenda;
  • AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) will be soon supported by the mobile first index;
  • There are upcoming improvements to PWA (progressive web apps);
  • Google is pushing for a more secure web;
  • In relation to the increasing popularity of the voice search, Gary advised content writers to read their content out loud and place a recording of that content on their pages.

Aleyda Solis presented on the importance of HTTPS, went through the most critical steps during the HTTPS migration, and provided tips on how to complete the process successfully. She advised to:

  • not show and allow access to content via your HTTPS version if you haven’t migrated yet;
  • not mix the HTTPS migration with other structural web changes and issues you are trying to fix;
  • create GSC profiles for your HTTPS domains and subdomains to start monitoring them;
  • verify the type of SSL certificate you need and make sure your SSL cert is working correctly before you migrate;
  • update your canonical and hreflang tags so they refer to the HTTPS URLs and generate a new sitemap that reflects all new HTTPS URLs;
  • implement 301-redirect from each of your HTTP URLs to their HTTPS versions;
  • update your robots.txt;
  • validate your SSL certificate and crawl your migrated site emulating both desktop and mobile Googlebots.

PUBCON AND SEARCHLOVE CONFERENCE

Pubcon SFIMA Summit 2017 and Searchlove Conference – both conferences offered really useful industry insights and tips from prominent search engine representatives and digital marketers:

  • Larry Kim from Word Stream discussed the content marketing strategy and guided that “content quality should be based on data not just biased views of your own work”.
  • Eric Enge from Stone Temple shared that “Google is going to up their interest in using Structured Data with the mobile index.’’
  • Purna Virji from Microsoft advised that “If we are going to take advantage of image search for retail images must be excellent and optimization is still key”.
  • Steve Shackelford from Dealer On emphasized that local businesses need tosupport local content with interesting stories about local people” in order to improve their online presence.
  • Rob Bucci from getSTAT advised that “in order to be where the searcher is looking, we need to understand their intent”

MOZCON LOCAL

Here are some of the key takeaways from the MozCon Local sessions:

Darren Shaw from Whitespark presented the 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors Survey results. The key insights from his prezi are:

  • Proximity to the searcher is the new black and appears to be weighted more than links, citations, onsite content, and reviews in the local pack rankings;
  • Local links and link building still matter a lot;
  • Review signals are increasingly important factors in local organic results (10.80% in 2015 vs. 13.13% in 2017);
  • Local businesses should care about NAP consistency and have their business citations cleaned on the most important top directories;
  • Keywords in the business names showed up a strong Google My Business ranking factor, but you should consider having a non-spammy, keyword-stuffed name;
  • Behavioral factors like the number of website clicks, clicks to Call Business, “Driving directions to Business” clicks, the average time spent on a website, how much do people spend via credit cards (Google Pay), etc. are gaining increasing popularity in Local SEO.

It is also worth checking out The Local Ecosystem makeover offered by Darren Shaw and David Mihm:
local search ecosystem

Mary Bowling from Ignitor Digital discussed the up-to-date local on-page ranking factors. She stressed out the importance of:

  • having accurate Schema markup to your local business website;
  • adding a Google map on your website;
  • linking outbound to authoritative local resources;
  • getting inbound links from trusting local directories and local resources.

Mike Blumenthal shared that SERPs are the new home page for local businesses, as people can now check there your reviews and business information without having to navigate to your website. He and Aaron Welche also discussed the importance of asking for customer feedback and advised on adding a special button on your website that would encourage leaving customer reviews. Mike also had a presentation on how Google is taking into account the keywords within reviews and blog content and shared that words are being increasingly perceived as the new links.

Mike Ramsey from NiftyMarketing pointed out that Local SEO doesn’t come down to just Google Maps and shared a slide summarizing the main elements of local content:

local content elements

Paula Keller from Search Influence gave a great talk about content marketing and the methodology of doing semantic research and writing a content that is both useful to your customers and semantically relevant according to Google.

That’s all folks! Thanks for reading and stay tuned for our March edition.

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