SEO News Recap – March 2016

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Are you ready to catch up with the March’s hottest stories in the SEO industry? Go ahead then, see the main news categories of our March SEO News Recap below and take your pick!

GOOGLE LOCAL EXPERIMENTS

ADS CHANGE THE LOCAL SEO GAME

If you’ve read carefully our February News Recap you’d already know about the upgraded 4-ad Google SERPs. A month later the industry could offer a fairly perceptive assessment of the actual impact of the innovation.

As Wordstream’s survey concludes the decreased total number of on-page ads from 11 to 7 tops (the sidebar ads have been removed and the top-SERP ads have increased by 1) results in decreasing ad impressions and steeply surging CPC costs.

A valid prediction under the given circumstances is that those businesses that can’t afford the high Google advertising costs will channel their advertising budgets to other platforms like Bing, Yahoo, Facebook and other social networks.

Interesting take on the subject is that of Mike Blumenthal’s who notices another threat to local SMBs that is tightly related to the new ads format: “If they (Google) can’t monetize via adwords on the first screen in the mobile search results, they will keep the user engaged ever deeper and longer in the local results and thus gather viewer and conversion data. If they can’t get you on the click they will get you on the clock.”

SOCIAL POSTS IN GOOGLE SERPS:  GOOD OR BAD FOR LOCAL BUSINESSES

The so-called Google Posts were first released as a test with exclusive right to participate granted to the 2016 US presidential candidates. The promo slogan of the experiment stated: “”Hear directly from the US presidential candidates in real time on Google.”

Then Google decided to open the experiment to few selected local businesses. The Google Posts, now better known as the Local Business Cards, are an impressive attempt to revive the failed G+ social platform. They offer real-time communication with front page exposure in Google SERPs. And while they are still in a testing phase, one cannot help but wonder how long before Google decides to monetize on this new feature as well.

Andrew Schotland discerns the obvious future losers (local directory sites, e-commerce sites, SABs, content sites, and local businesses that don’t know how to produce suitable for the given platform content) and winners (local businesses that are actively engaged in creating valuable content, spammers who tend to hijack listings, agencies that can scale content creation, and of course, Google) in this game.

Truth to be told, few are the local businesses that are able to really take advantage of the Google Posts feature in-house. Such kind of social involvement requires much time, organized effort, educated approach and scalability. The chances are that local businesses will either pass on the opportunity or will hire an agency to help them out with it.

On the other hand Google has no reason to bother with such trivial concerns because, as Mike states: “the fast and achievable alternative for Google is to have small businesses put their content directly on Google and then just wait for the call. “

If you are ready to take the dare challenge, Google invites you to “join the waitlist!”

GOOGLE MAPS SHOW NEARBY RIDE SERVICES

Having used to checking the car, transit, walking, or biking options on your mobile? You now can find suitable ride providers directly on Google Maps without having to navigate to other apps.

To sustain the initiative Google is adding “new providers across five countries: 99Taxis in Brazil, Ola Cabs in India, Hailo in the UK and Spain, mytaxi in Germany and Spain, and Gett in the UK.” Google maps downloads additional data from your installed Taxi apps and offers in-Google Maps info like fare estimates and pick-up times.

Greg Sterling characterizes this innovation as an important competitive advantage for Google in their fierce race with Apple Maps.

GET READY FOR ANOTHER MOBILEGEDDON

Google shares that the mobile-friendliness will become an even stronger ranking factor. We all know how important mobile searches are for Local Businesses, so make sure your company website is well-prepared for the second Mobilegeddon!

GOOGLE REVIEWS A REAL RANKING FACTOR?

Local businesses that follow Local SEO trends up-close know  well the three essential ranking factors in Local Search: relevance (to online users’ search query), distance (from online users’ location of search or the location preference specified in search), and prominence (online popularity of the business).

To add to that info you’d better start taking into account your business review count and score as Google  factor them into the local search ranking.

PIMPING THE LOCAL REVIEWS

Yes, reviews are a ranking factor, but do you know how to upgrade them to perfection? Enriching the business reviews with photos is a new feature that could bring a lot of positives to your business. Maybe you could suggest to your satisfied customers to photo-review your business by taking a shot of an exquisite meal, a relaxing indoor environment, friendly staff or maybe a sale sign or a live even you’ve organized and they took part in.

GOOGLE GLOBAL EXPERIMENTS

GOOGLE ALGO UPDATES GO UNDERCOVER

Google have been avoiding making any public announcements of their algo updates and they attempt to make small but regular real-time updates instead of pronounced eye-catching ones. We cannot help but wonder if we are to ever notice drastic over-night changes in rankings as we did once with the major Penguin or Panda updates.

But some traffic tremors on a larger scale are still obvious for the keen eye to discern beyond the fog. This month both Pierre Far (an ex-Googler) and Glen Gabe shared their observations on the noticeable traffic tremors for branded and non-branded search queries. And while the rankings for non-branded searchers were the ones to go up the actual nature of the suspected algo update remains unknown.

Glen Gabe comments on possible Panda or Phantom update as he notices the importance of relevant content in the recent ranking fluctuations. But who knows, it might just as well be a sign of RankBrain helping Google algo make better sense of the users’ search queries and intent.

GOOGLE IS THE FINAL FRONTIER

Google’s long-term strategy to convert online users right in their SERPs and to provide them with extensive info, so as to make it useless for them to leave the search engine, is already gaining traction. The latest innovations in its favor include:

  • The “people also ask” feature is getting higher prominence in Google SERPs. The increased impressions of these ‘suggested Google searches’ is a fine way to keep the users on Google instead of letting them navigate to external destinations;
  • Extra white spaces to hide the organic results further down the SERPs. The increased number of ads on top of Googe SERPs (upgraded with series of sitelinks) obviously was not enough to distract online users from searching for organic results. With the increased white space between the search results Google seems to try to make users tired of scrolling and hopefully convince them to click on another ‘similar’ search query with another block of 4ads on top of the organic results.
  • Call Google when in search of a service provider. Why Googling a plumber when you can call Google and ask for reference? Mike Blumenthal calls this smooth service Google Concierge – a great way to make private business websites obsolete and turn Google into an obligatory intermediary between home service providers and online users. This new daunting Google approach seems to have replaced the local pack, local ads and the Home Service ads. Maybe soon the focus of local search will shift away from reviews, citations and content to advertising budgets and analytics.
  • Conversational shopping is the future of search. Calling Google for a service provider and asking your device to buy a product it found on Google are all services that are to be applied on a large scale by Google in the foreseeable future.  Just command “Purchase the one from BestBuy,” and you are done your shopping, you can now get on with your daily routine.

GETTING RID OF GOOGLE DIRECT ANSWERS, WELL, NOT EXACTLY

For those of you who don’t want Google to take their website content, publish it on their SERPs, and show it as a direct answer to online users’ queries, you have an option to opt out. Or do you, actually?

Google offers a way to waive your rich snippet rights, but there is a catch. You’d not only sign out of the direct answer feature, you’d also agree your site results to be stripped off from their description snippets, which by all means is an awful bargain to make.

REFERRAL SPAM REMOVED FROM GOOGLE ANALYTICS

Finally Google has taken serious actions towards cleaning referral spam from its site analytics.  Webmasters no longer have to play with filters to minimize the disturbance of the traffic data by the constant referral spam.

IS GOOGLE WELCOME IN CHINA?

China is one of the few countries where Google is not the dominant search engine. Actually Google has been blocked in China since 2010, but curiously enough on March 27 local residents reported that they were able to access Google unobstructed.  The ‘free ride’ lasted for about a couple of hours though, before the online climate got back to normal. It is still unclear whether Google are testing or negotiating ‘new’ markets, but obviously they are still not that welcome in China.

GOOGLE TRYING HARD TO IMPRESS IPHONE USERS

The latest Google innovation, a keyboard for iOS devices, is an insightful attempt to increase Google searches made by iPhone users. Google invested $1 billion in 2014 to remain the default search engine on iPhone, the new gadget implementation is just another way to ensure this investment is well-covered for.

INDUSTRY STUDIES AND STUDIES

THE ‘NEAR ME’ PHRASE TO MOVE THE NEEDLE?

Mobile search results are known to be greatly influenced by location, but could the on-site ‘near me’ optimized content factor in this game as well? The guys at CDKGlobal insist it can. Their survey accross 82 auto dealer sites show that adding the ‘near me’ phrase on the website would actually lead to increased impressions in Google SERPs.

Whether the results of the study are valid, only time will show. However, I’d recommend you don’t go blindly and spam your on-site copy with ‘near me’ phrases. After all Google is smart enough to know where your business is located, what service area it serves and who are the nearest to your business mobile users. Google won’t show your business to a user on the other part of the town, no matter how ‘near me’ phrases you add to your home page.

EXTRA LOCALIZED MOBILE RESULTS TO KILL SABS

Google local searches for mobile are highly location-sensitive and rightly so, but should the rule apply to all local businesses regardless of their area coverage? Many local service providers actually serve a wide area range within the location/city they are based just as effectively.

A member of the LocalSearchForum with nickname valesence made an improvised test for the landscaping industry. He tried searching on his mobile device for landscapers at various locations within the same city and every time the search results offered different, i.e. highly location-sensitive businesses.

He brings up the valid question whether a search query for a service provider should render results that are not based on the actual area-served but are rather tied to the specific location of the business. Hopefully Google will realize the inaccuracy in their SABs ranking algo and update it for industries which services are relevant for a broader range of online users (instead of the near passer-bys).

REENERGIZING OLD CONTENT BY UPDATING ITS PUBLISHING DATE

Many have tried and succeed to boost their older blog posts in Google SERPs by editing the date of their content and tweaking here and there their content. Ahrefs have decided to document their efforts on a similar project and track the results.

The changes they applied to the old post included:

  • Editing content keywords and links;
  • Updating post headings;
  • A date change;
  • Updating the meta data of the post;
  • Promoting the ‘new’ post (non-paid promotion via social medias and to email blog subscribers).

The results were fascinating:

  • Page ranking jumped with 5 positions in Google (from #8 to #3);
  • Increased page traffic by 486%.

HOW ONLINE USERS INTERACT WITH GOOGLE SERPS – THE 2016 SURVEY

Early this month Mediative released an eye-tracking survey revealing the latest trends in how online users interact  with the current Google SERPs layout. Some of the key takeaways of the study are:

  • Businesses that are positioned lower on the SERP (especially positions 2–4) see more click activity than they did several years ago;
  • The #1 organic listing still captures the most click activity (32.8%), regardless of what new elements are presented.
  • Only 7.4% of clicks were below the 4th organic listing versus 16% on a desktop, and only 62.9% of tasks resulted in a scroll-down.
  • 19.2% of page clicks on average went to the top 2 sponsored text ads, compared to 14.5% on a desktop.
  • 6. 47% more clicks went to the map and local listings when they were above the organic listings.

INNOVATIONS

AMAZON INVESTS IN AIR DELIVERY

To improve cost efficiency of its delivery and shipping processes Amazon is leasing 20 Boeng 767 planes. This is a remarkable innovation following 2 no less groundbreaking initiatives of the corporation, again related to cutting delivery costs, called Prime Air and Amazon Fresh. The two are also known as drone-delivery programs  and represent an important part of Amazon’s strategy to build an “alternative transportation network”.

INTERVIEWS

GOOGLE STARTS ANOTHER NOFOLLOW CAMPAIGN

This month Google has launched another campaign against bloggers that is promised to be backed up by manual penalties if it meets opposition. This time Google is condemning bloggers for their tendency to accept gifts in exchange for writing product reviews.

Google accuses bloggers of an attempt to manipulate their ranking algorithm because in their product reviews webmasters include a link to the specific product or the company that sells it. Google demand nofollowing the link or they threaten to penalize the sites that have published the review.

A interview with Barry Adams offers some great insights on the given situation and is worth reading.  I’ll just share with you a couple of excerpts that you might find pretty though-provoking:

“It’s now up to individual bloggers to make educated decisions about using nofollow tags – which also brings with it a learning curve about what the nofollow tag is and when it should, and shouldn’t, be used – and this will likely lead to extravagant use of the nofollow tag.”

“It seems Google interprets any promotional activity that results in links as an attempt to manipulate its search results, which begs the question what a company is actually allowed to do in Google’s eyes to boost its online profile.”

CONFERENCES/EVENTS

GOOGLE HAS RANDOMLY SWAPPED POSITIONS #2 AND #4 IN THEIR SERPS FOR YEARS

On SMX this month Google’s employee Paul Haahr revealed that between 2001 and 2005 Google has been swapping on a whim the #2 and #4 positions in their SERPs. The tests showed curious results, like for instance an increased click-through rate for the #1 result when they swapped position 2 with 4 because of the significant quality contrast between result #1 and #4.

Did you have fun time learning the latest SEO news? We surely hope you have and if there is any recent piece of news that we’ve omitted but you feel like sharing, please do so in the comments! Don’t forget to come back for the April’s News Recap or better yet sign for our newsletter and get it by email!