SEO News Recap – August 2016

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This August the digital marketing industry did not sleep, as many might have suspected. There are no summer breaks and stagnation periods in a vertical as dynamic as online search, so if you have taken a week or two off, now’s the perfect time to catch up with the latest trends and news and get back on track!

GOOGLE LOCAL EXPERIMENTS

LOCAL BUSINESS REVIEWS ALERT – GOOGLE UPDATES ITS GUIDELINES

The importance of local business reviews is indisputable, whether you are after better SERPs visibility and ratings or higher users’ conversions, you’d better know the rules of the game.

As of lately Google have made some essential changes to their review markup guidelines that are worth keeping in mind:

  • Only unique business reviews are to be marked up on company websites. Third-party reviews that are already present on business directories and other review sites are not to be ‘double-tagged’ with Schema markup or you’d be in serious violation of the latest guidelines of the search engine. A proper example of what you are no longer ‘allowed’ to do is marking up a Google or Yelp review on your own business website.
  • Multiple location businesses should also be careful not to syndicate reviews from a single location to each location page they have.
  • Reporting an average review rating based on an accumulated number of users’ reviews is also no longer admissible according to Google.

This update is addressed towards minimizing online review duplication and as extreme it might seem it is a good solution against overpopulating the net with redundant content, even if it is genuine user-generated one.

REVIEW QUANTITY IS AS IMPORTANT AS REVIEW QUALITY

Planning a rigid review gathering strategy has just become more urgent of a task to all local businesses investing in AdWords. Google are increasing the review threshold for advertising businesses that wish to have Seller Ratings extension appearing along their ads.

The former requirement of 30 reviews has swiftly jumped to 150 unique reviews per year with a composite rating of at least 3.5 stars or higher. The list of review sources used to accumulate the data for your business can be checked out in the guidelines article.

While you are free to choose from Google’s review partners and ask your customers to review your business on their platforms, you could also consider becoming a part of Google Trusted Stores or the Stella Service Program and take advantage of some additional business evaluation opportunities.

GOOGLE IS CROWDSOURCING LOCAL BUSINESS DATA

It has been noticed that Google has started to encourage their users to contribute with basic info about a particular local business. The open invitations have been seen on mobile, located in the Knowledge Panel. Google ‘are curious’ about detailed descriptions including place features and atmosphere, special offerings, planning and highlights, etc. The online user is not welcome to enter a free-text description but rather to select the most best option from a predefined list.

As of yet it is not clear where Google draw the predefined keyword options from, but they serve as a nice insurance against potential negative PR and unfair competition campaigns targeted against local business that are objects of such crowdsourced feedback.

CROWDSOURCING LOCAL BUSINESS DATA ON STEROIDS

Google don’t limit their in-SERPs prompts to contribute with simple business description data. Earlier this August it was observed that Google are encouraging mobile users to add a local venue to their database, if the given business is not ppresent in the search results. It is unclear; however, if this approach has accounted for possible duplicate issues that could actually ruin a business’ online NAP consistency.

GMB DESCRIPTION EDITABLE ONLY IN G+

Given that the company descriptions of local businesses on Google are only visible to G+ users, those descriptions are now only editable via the G+ platform. The description field will no longer be accessible via the GMB dashboard and that might pretty much put an end to its stubborn and futile spamming.

LIVE UPDATES IN GOOGLE SERPS OPEN FOR THOUSANDS OF LOCAL BUSINESSES

Posts with Google’, or as Mike Blumenthal puts it ‘Write Directly to Search’ has seriously evolved since the beginning of the year. What was once launched as a communication platform for political campaign news is now encompassing thousands of local businesses who wish to promote their brand, product and services directly in Google SERPs. The ‘experimental new podium,’ as Google refers to it, is still invite-only, but its testing scale is quickly spreading to new location and verticals.

Google has been actively and quite successfully monetizing its local SERPs lately and it would not be a surprise if this new social-like feature of live-streaming in Google (following the demise of G+ LINK TO MARCH) turns into yet another ad space in their SERPs.

OPEN CALL FOR GOOGLE CRITIC REVIEWS

Google is opening its ‘Critic Reviews’ platform for free application. The ‘Critic Reviews’ is a feature of the local Knowledge Panel and at first it fed data from 5 publishers only: 10best.com, Travel & Leisure, Michelin, UrbanDaddy, Zagat. This month Google announced an open call for new applications.

The main eligibility factor, however, states that the given review site needs to have in-house expert critic or at least a specialized review curator, who summarizes in an editorial tone the general predispositions of the site users towards a given local business.

GOOGLE GLOBAL EXPERIMENTS

CHOOSE ‘SEARCH LIVE COVERAGE CAROUSEL’ ABOVE STANDARD GOOGLE BOT CRAWLING

The almost instant new content publishing feature could turn out to be much more efficient towards ranking your news and latest blog posts in Google than the standard crawling and indexing procedure. You can apply as a publisher if you are covering “live sports, elections, and breaking news.” The only workload you’d have is to apply the structured markup for AMP and supply an Atom-based feed.

LATEST MOBILE SERPS TWEAKS

A couple of years ago Google started adding a mobile-friendly tag to all pages that offered pleasant user experience on mobile. However, with Mobilegeddon 1 and 2, business owners in their majority (85% according to Google stats), have already made their websites responsive and mobile-friendly thus Google now categorizes this particular tag as obsolete. As a result instead of cluttering the mobile SERPs the tag is deemed to be removed for good.

Yet another ranking signal for Google mobile search turns out to be the proper usage of on-site ad formats. Intrusive interstitials are the pest of the mobile user experience. Fortunately Google have decided to target such spammer tactics. As of January 10, 2017 pages that offer limited access to their main content due to spacious interstitials will be demoted in rankings. Still there are admissible interstitial variations that do not harm user-experience and that website owners are allowed to use according to Google’s guidelines including:

  • Interstitials responding to a legal obligation like age verification popup;
  • Login dialogs requiring personal data and other payment details;
  • Easily dismissible small banners that do not overshadow the main page content.

KEYWORD PLANNER BECOMES THE TOOL OF THE BIG SPENDERS

The free rides on Google get fewer and fewer: the participation in the local pack is seriously endangered to become all pay-to-play, the page rank metric is no longer accessible to webmasters, Google Analytics no longer show which keyword was used to find your business website, and now the keyword planner shows limited and obscured data to users who don’t regularly invest in Google AdWords campaigns.

Disguised as an improvement to the general user experience the Keyword Planner modification displays only ranged data for keyword groups instead of precise volume per designated keyword. Many refer to this tool ‘improvement’ as “Low Ad Spend Discrimination” that is only aimed at a forceful increase of ad spend in order to access quality search volume data.  Under the official announcement of the tool update you can read an interesting take on the issue:

“This move seems to continue to reward big spenders and give them an even greater competitive advantage than they already have by having budgets that allow for greater testing, trial and error, real world/user data, etc.” ~ Bill H

INDUSTRY SURVEYS AND STUDIES

301 REDIRECTS TO HOME PAGE = SOFT 404S

Have you thought that you could preserve ‘link juice’ even when you have stopped offering the value content that initially brought you the referral credit in first place? Think again.

If you no longer support pages that have good incoming links and bring you regular referral traffic, and you decide to 301 redirect those to irrelevant pages on your site or to your home page, you can say goodbye to the page rank boost altogether. Google will treat the unduly redirected pages as soft 404s, they will remove them from their index and will deprive your site from their former equity.

As it is advised in the case study: “make sure that you account for your top landing pages correctly when changing urls, migrating to a new CMS, or redesigning your site,” if you don’t wish to receive a message in your Search Console about a newly appeared 404s.

INNOVATIONS

REINVENT YOUR PHOTO SEARCH!

A new fascinating search engine is rising on the horizon for all the creative and artistic online users to enjoy! The Splash search engine allows searching for photos by color and “rudimentary sketches.” There are 5 main categories that you could navigate through: landscapes, people, animals, travel, and city. The interesting bit is that your search is defined by using a brush instead of a text tool. Your search bar is an improvised canva and you practically draw your ‘search query.’  The Splash is an amazing breakthrough idea worth giving credit to: try it out, I am sure you won’t regret it!