SEO News Recap – October 2016

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Hello, friends! Welcome to your monthly dose of news and updates to get you up to speed on all things happening in the SEO and SEM sectors. In this blog post we will discuss Google’s recent SERP changes and tests, as well as new AdWords and Facebook features that local businesses can benefit from.

GOOGLE LOCAL EXPERIMENTS

NEW ADVANCED VERIFICATION PROCESS FOR SPAMMY VERTICALS

In the beginning of October, Google announced that they are testing a new advanced verification process for locksmiths and plumbers in the San Diego area. The verification is conducted by Google and Pinkerton, a third-party provider of corporate risk management services. Here is what is included in the advanced verification check:

  • For business owners – inquiries into Social Security number validity, and where applicable professional license validity
  • At the company level – inquiries into business registration validity, evidence of fraudulent or misleading behavior on Google, and where applicable, professional license validity

The advanced verification is currently affecting only non-store businesses. If you don’t have brick and mortar locations and you don’t pass the verification, your business listing won’t show up in local results on Google Maps and the Knowledge Panel.

This is definitely a step to fighting spam on Google Maps Business listings and improving the customer experience that deserves to be supported by local businesses.

NEW SHARE FEATURE TO LOCAL KNOWLEDGE PANEL 

Mike Blumenthal shared in his blog mobile screenshots of a new sharing link option into the Google Maps Knowledge Panel box. By clicking on the share link, a share box opens with icons for Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and email, as well as a copy of the shortened link. However, the limited sharing options are a primary disadvantage of the feature, thus not allowing searchers to share the content on more social networks and apps.

GOOGLE TESTING BLUE PINS IN LOCAL 3-PACK

Last month Google was noticed experimenting with a new colored pin within the Google’s local 3-pack map listings. The screenshots showed off a new blue colored pin icon on the map for the first result listed in the local pack, while the other two results were marked with pins in the usual red color.

4- AD-PACK IN LOCAL MOBILE SEARCH RESULTS

Another experiments were spotted in October – a PPC local 4-pack displaying above the organic results in the mobile search. The ads format was similar to the regular 3-pack except that the ads were featuring a Direction button so that customers can get directions to the given business. Although the expansion of the local ad pack pushes down the local organic search results, the ad pack is a valid alternative for businesses that are unable to get into the 3-pack.

NEW AD NOTE FOR LOCAL AUTOMOTIVE BUSINESSES IN LOCAL AD PACK   

Google added a new note at the top of the local ads related to vehicle searches. Next to the green “Ads” tag you can now read a “vehicle dealers nearby” description. For example, if a person searches for “volvo dealership Austin”, the ad note will display “Volvo dealers nearby”.

ADD A MISSING PLACE IN THE LOCAL 3-PACK

Google is testing a new option where searchers can add a missing place in the local pack. The message “Something missing? Add the missing place” appears in case of missing third listing in the local 3-pack. This option allows users to add a missing business or a public landmark. Moreover, business owners can use it to claim their business. This is an opportunity for business owners who are not so familiar with Google My Business to add their local businesses to Google Maps.

GOOGLE SHOWCASES MENU ITEMS FOR LOCAL RESTAURANTS

Google added a new feature to the mobile local Knowledge panels for restaurant menus and it is called “From the menu”. If the user searches for a restaurant, the new panel section contains client-generated food images. There is also a blue camera icon that online users can click on and upload a photo of their meal.

MAPS EXPANSION BUTTON POPS UP IN THE LOCAL PACK

The SEO specialist Sergey Alakov has noticed Google testing a small button in the Google maps that lets you enlarge the map while doing a local search. Here you can check his screenshots.

GOOGLE GLOBAL EXPERIMENTS

SAY GOODBYE TO THE DEMOTE SITELINKS SETTING IN SEARCH CONSOLE

Google made an announcement on its Webmaster’s Google+ profile that the “Demote Sitelinks” setting will be removed from the Search Console. The feature allowed webmasters to block unwanted sitelinks from showing below the result snippet in the Google search results. From now on, Google will only show sitelinks for results they consider useful for the user.

READY FOR A COMPLETELY SEPARATE MOBILE SEARCH INDEX?

A major shift in how Google is indexing sites is underway since more than half of the overall search query volume is mobile. Gary Illyes from Google announced at this year’s PubCon conference in Las Vegas that within a few months Google will finally release a mobile only version of Google search index. The desktop index will be maintained, but less up-to-date, while the mobile index will become the primary one. The main goal of the change is to encourage webmasters to prioritize the mobile optimized version of their sites. However, the following problem is on the rise among SEOs and webmasters – since mobile sites have less content than the corresponding desktop site, quite a few signals will be lost. Thus, you as a SEO optimizer or business owner, must be aware of the most engaging and valuable content for customers on mobile.

A NEW AMP TESTING TOOL FOR REAL-TIME IMPROVEMENTS

Google launched a new webpage tester for those using AMP (accelerated mobile pages) in order to make it easier for webmasters to “create great AMP content while finding and resolving issues that may appear on your AMP pages”. Here and within the Google Search Console webmasters can check if their AMP page is valid. Google stated in their official post that “the testing tool is mobile-friendly and uses Google’s live web-search infrastructure to analyze the AMP page with the real Googlebot”.

GOOGLE ANALYTICS WITH IMPROVED USER INTERFACE

Google announced a new set of improvements to the Google Analytics User Interface coming in the next few months. The update brings “a simpler Google Analytics while still retaining the key functionality that people frequently use”. Here is a list of the most noteworthy changes that people are going to see:

  • simplified navigation menu;
  • a new Customization tab, where all customization elements (dashboards, shortcuts, reports, alerts) are now located;
  • a new picker that makes it easy to switch views from any page in Google Analytics;
  • logging in now automatically takes users to the last Google Analytics page they reviewed when they log in;
  • the replacement of Intelligence Events with automated insights from Google Analytics Assistant;
  • the removal of In-Page Analytics.

NEW OPTIONAL FEATURE FOR PAID PROMO DISCLOSURE ON YOUTUBE

YouTube added a new, optional feature that enables video creators to inform viewers about paid promotion in their videos. The disclosure appears as a 10-second text overlay caption at the beginning of the video. The new feature is to establish a transparent collaboration between brands, creators, video influencers, and viewers.

KEYWORDS PLANNER GIVES YOU FORECASTS FOR EXISTING CAMPAIGNS OR KEYWORDS

Google added a new feature to AdWords Keyword Planner allowing advertisers to get forecasts and trend data for campaigns or keywords from their AdWords accounts. In order to use this feature users need to have at least one active Search Network campaign with manual CPC bidding. The goal of the new option is to help advertisers adjust their bids on certain keywords and optimize their advertising budget.

ROLLOUT OF CLICK-TO-MESSAGE ADWORDS EXTENSION

A new option is available in AdWords for advertisers to interact with online users, namely text messages. Advertisers can set up free message extensions for their text ads on the Search Network. They are required to provide the name of the business and a phone number for sending and receiving messages. They must also add an extension text, for example “Got Questions? Send Us a Text!” and a list of automated messages that the site visitors can opt from, like for example “I’m interested in a reservation. Please text me back with more information.”

ADWORDS SHOPPING ADS NOW IN A CAROUSEL FORMAT

Google updated the format of its product listing ads from the static, non-scrolling ad units to carousel format that now lets online users browse through more product cards by clicking the arrows or using a scroll bar bellow the ads.

AFFILIATE LOCATION EXTENSIONS TO BE ROLLED OUT

Google announced the launch of affiliate location extensions in AdWords ads to support manufacturers to deliver more targeted location based ads and to win more customers on their decision journey. By using the new extensions advertisers can help people find nearby stores that sell their products. Currently, the available retail chains are US based. Unlike the standard location extensions, advertisers don’t need to link to their Google My Business and AdWords accounts and “some advertisers may also be eligible for store visits data to help measure the impact of their campaigns on offline store activity”.

TESTS ON USER INTERFACE

In order to improve its service, Google is continually experimenting with its search user interface. Most of these tests often go unnoticed by the users, but some of them get covered by SEO experts. Here are some of the October Google tests that were spotted by SEOs:

  • A new card-style search results (check the Twitter chat and screenshots of the test)
  • A new shade of green for the URLs in the snippets listed in SERPs (check the screenshots)
  • A new look for sitelinks, containing icons next to the links, in the mobile search results (here is a picture of the test icons)
  • A new look of “People also search for” feature that helps searchers expand their search queries was spotted in the mobile search results. The new layout features a carousel with related search queries under the snippet of the result the searcher has clicked on.
  • Google displays more images for search queries in the mobile web results snippets (take a look of the tests)

INDUSTRY STUDIES AND REPORTS

SEARCHMETRICS’ 2016 STUDY ON UNIVERSAL & EXTENDED SEARCH RESULTS

In October Searchmetrics released a new study revealing the latest changes in Google user interface and search results. The key takeaways of the study are:

  • The number of organic search results in mobile search has fallen on average to 8.5 from 10;
  • Although, images and videos are the most frequent search elements, the new Extended Search integrations such as Knowledge Graphs or App Packs are increasingly common;
  • There is a significant and growing difference between results seen for smartphones and desktop;
  • About one out of every 10 mobile queries returns mobile app pack, and you are twice as likely to see direct answers or featured snippets on desktop rather than on mobile.

CROSS-DEVICE INSIGHTS FOR BETTER MOBILE STRATEGY

Google conducted a new research on how, when, and where people are using their devices throughout the day. Read below some of the key findings from the report:

  • Nearly 7 out of 10 people use their phones or computers to browse the internet on an average day.
  • In an average day, 25% of all users only use smartphones, which is almost double the number of those who only use a computer.
  • More than 50% of all people use multiple devices daily.
  • People conduct more mobile searches on Google than desktop searches – nearly 40% of users use only smartphones to search something immediately.
  • Smartphone users are using their phones mostly at home, work, and in a store.

INNOVATIONS

CONVERSION IMPORT SOLUTION FOR SALESFORCE

Google officially rolled out a new feature that helps advertisers automatically count AdWords conversions for any of the lead statuses and opportunity stages (called milestones) that they’re already tracking in Salesforce. By linking your AdWords and Salesforce account you can measure how your online ads drive offline conversions by importing sales funnel data from your sales cloud accounts in Salesforce.com. With AdWords Conversion Import for Salesforce, you can automatically count AdWords conversions for any of the lead statuses and opportunity stages that you’re already tracking in Salesforce.

HANDS-FREE HOME ASSISTANT

By using featured snippets, knowledge graph and structured data, the newly launched voice activated speaker Google Home is capable to answers users’ voice queries. With voice commands people can enjoy music, play their favorite TV shows, get information about the weather, traffic jams and upcoming events, make reservations, use voice translation or send messages.

SEO TOOLS IN WORDPRESS BUSINESS PLAN

“Advanced SEO tools” is the new feature to WordPress’ business plan. The set was introduced as a new way to enhance website’s content for better results on search engines and social media. The set includes the following three tools:

  • Custom meta descriptions with a summary that will be displayed on search results pages
  • Custom title formats for different pages – SEOs can change the way website title is displayed in search engines, social media and browser tabs
  • Preview tool to see how the post or the page will look when found on search engines or found across different social networks.

LISTEN TO RADIO STATIONS DIRECTLY IN SEARCH

A new feature provided by Bing enables online users to listen to online radio directly from the search results pages. Partnering with Tuneln, an online radio provider, Bing has identified over 10,000 stations and formats for users to discover and listen to.

SOCIAL MEDIA

NEW BUYING AND SELLING OPPORTUNITIES FOR LOCAL COMMUNITIES

With the launch of Maketplace Facebook enables people to browse a relevancy-sorted feed items and to easily connect with people from their communities in order to buy and sell items. Currently, Marketplace is available to everyone over 18 years old in the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand on the Facebook app for iPhone and Android. Facebook promised to expand to additional countries and make Marketplace available on the desktop version of Facebook in the coming months.

NEW TOOLS FOR LOCAL DISCOVERY AND COMMERCE ON FACEBOOK

Facebook introduced a set of new features that will help users to discover local places or services and communicate with local businesses in easier and faster ways. Here is a quick overview of the new tools:

  • Gather recommendations in one place – when customers write a Facebook post looking for advice on local places or services, they’ll have the option to turn on Recommendations for that post. Thus, their friends can comment on the posts with suggestions, and all of them will be mapped out and saved in one place;
  • A new version of the Events dashboard to improve local events discovery;
  • Booking and ordering via the businesses’ Facebook Pages;
  • A new “Get Quote” button for some local business pages;
  • People can get tickets for movies and other events directly from Facebook event page;

EXPERIMENTAL ADS IN FACEBOOK GROUPS

Facebook has started to test delivering ads in the group feeds of some users in Australia, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand. The experimental ads are targeted based on topics discussed within the group as well the demographics and interests of the group members.

FACEBOOK EXPERIMENTING WITH A NEW TARGETING OPTION – LINK SHARING

The marketing expert Jon Loomer noticed that Facebook is testing a new targeting method in its Ads Manager. The new option enables advertisers to create an audience based on the specific type of content that people have shared on Facebook. As link sharers are some of the most engaged users Loomer concludes that now business owners have the opportunity to leverage the viral effect of social media and attract new customers.

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