SEO News Recap – August 2015

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Hi friends, this is the second edition of our monthly SEO News recap, so, if you have enjoyed a month of a sunbathing and beach walking or you’ve had a cool SPA gateway in a calm mountain resort, here’s a great way to catch up on things.

In contrary to the common belief that the end of summer is a slow and uneventful work-wise period, this August introduces some pretty interesting changes in the SEO world.

This time we have categorized the top industry news into 5 main sections:

But enough talk, let’s see what you’ve missed this month!

GOOGLE EXPERIMENTS

The Snack Pack’s Getting Slimmer – Google’s Ads Compensate For The Loss

The Snack Pack has undergone a major makeover throughout the past month. The Local SERPs are still restless with structure and layout changing by the hour. Whether a testing stage or the real thing here is the current shape of the Local SERPs:

  • The Snack Pack includes 3 local listings only – The number of the local listings has shrunk drastically from 7 to 3. This along with the more spacious design of the Pack and the top page ads panel manage to push the organic results further below the fold.
  • Ads get the VIP positions in the Snack Pack – Google’s already starting to monetize on the Snack Pack listings. The paid local listings are positioned on the top of the standard “organic” Snack Pack, shaping a fine block of paid-only SERPs above the fold (top organic ads, followed by listing ads, accompanied by a right-hand side block of more ads). But given that this was a long-expected change, we’ll be hardly surprised if the “pay-to-play” rule for the Snack Pack don’t extend to all Snack Pack participants in the near future. After all the sponsored local listings or the “home service ads” are the ones that have already substituted the Snack Pack since the past month in verticals like Plumbers, Handymen, Cleaners and Locksmiths.
  • The map gives way to more ads – Once a compact addition to the right-hand side of the local SERPs, the map is now embedded above the Snack Pack, and its place is proudly taken by an unrestricted block of ads.
  • Review stars to be a goner? – Certain search queries no longer trigger the business review stars even when the business has a fine number of Google reviews. A curious example shared by Nick Ring at the Local Search Forum forum shows how simple rearrangement of the keywords in the search query could also lead to such a tedious “bug”. Hopefully this will also pass, because crippling the SERPs in this manner could hardly be referred to as “Increased User Experience”.
  • Links to the G+ Local page are history – With G+ becoming obsolete as a social network even Google’s SERPs stop referring to its assets. For good or bad the listings in the Snack Pack are no longer associated with their respective G+ Local pages. The worrying aspect of this change though is that it becomes harder for local businesses to get natural G+ reviews by their customers.1-no-stars
  • Street number lost on the way – Currently the Snack pack results show the business street address with no street number to complement it. Needless to say the address details offered in this format are as useful as saying “listen’ in sign language”.
  • Phone number – who needs it? – The stylized Snack Pack has stripped even the business phone number from the local listings. If an online user needs the business phone number, he has to explicitly request for it in its search query, as Connor Tracy has noticed.
  • Office hours gain SERP prominence – the Snack Pack info is enriched by the businesses’ working hours – a new feature worth mentioning.
  • The company website gets a button – the local listings do not contain the business official website URL – this info is moved to a separate “Website” button next to the “driving directions” button on the right-hand side of each local listing in the Snack Pack. On the other hand, once you click on a listing Google takes you directly to the Local Finder.
  • Main business category plain to see – an interesting feature added to the Snack Pack and the Local Finder is primary category info for each business.

How People Interact With The New 3 Pack

As everything new in the SEO world needs to be tested to figure out its actual worth, concept and user adoption the 3 pack phenomenon inspired several digital marketers to conduct heatmap studies and analyze the new Snack Pack. You can check them out here:

  • Mike Ramsey’s study and his conclusion that Local SEO should not be a priority rather a complementing part of a well-developed organic SEO strategy;
  • Casey Meraz’ study and his advice to heat up on your review gathering strategy and make an effort to rank your business in the newly-born 3 Pack.

The Knowledge Panel In The Local Finder Gets Upgraded


This month Google did not omitted tweaking with the Local Finder Panel either. It now shows poorly formatted images (as Brian Barwig noted those are pulled from the verified G+ business pages) and even organic branded results (5 to be precise) for the given local business just under its review section.


This upgrade once again should remind local business owners how important crafting a good Reputation Management plan for their online presence is. Allowing a competitor to rank in your branded SERPs has doubled as a threat and should never be ignored by businesses that strive for online visibility and rely on online sales and leads.

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Verified G+Local Pages Need a Poke

As Google is all about accurate and update info they are planning some G+ Local Page maintenance. They urge each active local business owner to log in and verify their business info on their G+ assets. Failing to comply with Google’s “request” would lead to deverification of the local listing or deletion from Maps, so there’s a lot at stake here. The good thing is that Google will send out an email reminder to business owners before taking an action against “lazy” G+ Local Pages.

Google’s Index Grows

“We can now index even more URLs everywhere, globally!” shared Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes on Twitter. That all sounds pretty encouraging for the online businesses, especially after John Mueller’s statement that Google never indexes all pages of a website. However, if you are to head to the Search Console and see for yourself if the number of indexed pages in the dashboard of your site has increased, you’d better reconsider.

Even if Google Search Console has some pretty useful features for webmasters the data it shows should not be followed blindly as it’s proven to be off track and rather misleading. Even Google admitted the issue earlier this month: “Bad news: we might have a problem with reporting the number of indexed URLs in the SC Sitemaps feature. Good news: we’re looking into it”.

 

YELP Is Dominating Bing SERPs

While Yelp is not so satisfied by their visibility on Google (they have even invested in a survey that proves that Google’s local results are a “degraded version of its search engine”), they surely enjoy high prominence on Bing. The second most popular search engine adds a branded Yelp review box on top of their SERPs in reply to queries related to local business reviews.
On the other hand Yelp have lost another battle on online visibility: Yahoo no longer serves their reviews.

Yelp are going to some tough times, though their attitude towards their platform users is not helping them gain people’s sympathy. There are a lot of angry Yelp users who admit being forced into upgrading to a paid subscription plan to keep a “neat” review profile, however currently the sales team has become even more resourceful. It appears that claiming multiple listings is a no free ride on Yelp. If you try to manually claim the listings the platform could ban you based on your IP and thus “convince” you to subscribe for their service.

Map Maker Resurrects

Following up on the previous month alert Map Maker is already open for editing for 45 more countries. Each of those countries has been granted a special “Regional Leads” team that will moderate all edits done by mappers in the respective regions. Application forms for “pro map moderator” are still welcome, so if your country Map Maker is yet restricted for edits, most probably there’s a delay in gathering the local “Regional Leads” team.

Google Adds Filters For Image Search On Mobile

Even if not so groundbreaking this new mobile SERP filter is a nice addition to the image search that would really hep you narrow down your search. As Barry Schwartz shares, a query for wood home siding would trigger a filter helping you discriminate between stone, brick, cement, metal and concrete results

No Links to Social Networks or Directories In G+ Page:

Google officially added to their GMB guidelines a ban to insert a link to social media and directory profiles in the G+ local business page. As Joy Hawkins explained, Facebook and Yelp-like directories were all frown upon URLs to add as a referring website in the G+ local page. However many businesses exploited the opportunity, given that such practice was not officially condiment in the guidelines. Well, not anymore, they aren’t.

Movie Reviews To Have Their Own Rich Snippets

This is huge news for all those movie lovers. The markup for movie entities is to expand to TV shows and books later this year. The critics review markup should include some specific properties like: name of the movie, release date, director, main cast, URL to IMDB or Wikipedia, etc.

Pdf Links Do Pass Page Rank

This one’s confirmed by Gary Illyes on a conversation at G+.

Google introduces in-SERPs booking service

Soon online users won’t need to step foot on local businesses’ websites – they could book a service straight from Google’s Knowledge Panel . After Google has partnered with Intuit DemandForce signing a data integration agreement the local businesses with active profiles in Intuit are including in the testing phase of the Google online service scheduling feature. Safe from profile data Google has also access to businesses Intuit reviews. Here is a sample screenshot of how a local business dashboard looks at Intuit. Needless to say, those figures in the Appointment tab have a huge potential to grow after the latest booking test of Google, but only time will show if online users and business owners will readily adopt the new feature or not.

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Interesting screenshot posted again on Intuit’s helpcenter page reveals how “Google shows links to our customers’ Intuit Local business profile pages.”

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When Work and Pleasure Meet

(Fun Experiments of Online Marketers)

No New Content For 30 Days Experiment

The Buffer team is really devoted to quality content creation and marketing. This time they’ve decided to share a rather fascinating content-repurposing experiment. And even if the tagline is a bit misleading: “We stopped publishing content for one month. Here’s what happened” for actually they did published recycled content, the idea behind the experiment is really educational.

If you wish to repurpose your content and yet not sacrifice your monthly traffic, follow Buffer’s lead and: update older blog posts; create SlideShares; republish content to Medium, LinkedIn Pulse, Quora; create video/audio/ebook content from blog posts; create infographics, Pinterest images, bundle tools into Product Hunt collections and so on.

Sign With “I Love You”

Talking about highly relevant personalized and honest outreach has become quite trendy nowadays. This outreach experiment takes it a step farther! What if extreme friendliness opened new opportunities and shortened distances between PR specialists and end clients? If you have a fine sense of humor you’d enjoy the “I love you” study of Ralph Jones.

Facebook Privacy Breach – Monitor Your Friends’ Monthly Schedule

A dreadful experiment revealing how everyone could take advantage of Facebook’s weak privacy protection practices and track his friends’ and even mere acquaintances’ day-to-day activities and schedule. Facebook Messanger allows historically tracking one’s location and thus you can deduce on a given person’s daily routines, appointments and even favorite spots to visit. This study raises a flag on the poor social network’s privacy policies and on the risk we all face when we blindly stick to app’s default settings and not protect our own private data.

Google Hiring Process

An amazing story shared by a current Googler on the sci-fi recruitment process he underwent before being hired at the top search engine. It all started when: “The search results split open and folded back to reveal a box that said, “You’re speaking our language. Up for a challenge?” ….

EXPERT OPINION:

Moz Ranking Factors

Just as the Local Ranking Factors study by David Mihm, the Moz’s Search Engine Ranking Factors article attracted a lot of attention when released this month. It looks at how link, content, social signals, keyword distribution, traffic, engagement and other relevant metrics affect rankings and online visibility in 2015.

CT Rates Are a Ranking Factor

A myth got busted by Cesarino Morellato. The study systematically proves the power of CTRs and its direct correlation to rankings. Even if the study leaves several questions unresolved, it is a strong evidence that rankings could be manipulated even if temporary by steady CTR activity.

INNOVATIONS

Google Joins MIT To Remove Image Reflections – Added To Face Recognition …

Another revolutionary algorithm created by the joint efforts of Google and MIT helps eliminate reflections on photographs. The program helps differentiating between the real image and the actual reflection and thus captures clear images of both the targeted scene and the obstructing reflection. (via Justin, LocalSearchForum).

Vertical Videos To Optimize Space In Ads

Nowadays mobile space optimization is of prime concern, thus rethinking an advertising model is not a huge surprise. As you can see vertical videos utilize space much more efficiently and my guess is that such format will prove to be much more engaging to the user. The ability to send various messages simultaneously via the several ad layers could make the message much more vivid and attention-grabbing.

ROUNDUPS

The Local SEO industry has been rather hectic this month, so it is only natural to list a Local SEO Expert Roundup. The guys from Synup have asked 15 industry pros to recommend their preferred Local hacks and there are some really interesting gems you’d definitely want to learn.