SEO News Recap – October 2015

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Hi there, SEO addicts! Have you heard that this October Google revealed why his ranking algorithms are getting harder to account for: get the popcorns ‘cause we will introduce you to Google’s AI project, the RankBrain!

This month Google is spreading his influence not only in the machine learning field but in the SERPs of other search engines just as effectively. And while Yahoo is becoming a monetization platform for Google, the most influential competitor of the search giant is sending off for good its publicly beloved leader. But getting sentimental about Danny Sullivan’s leave is absolutely futile. The rumor has it he is considering turning to the ‘Dark Side’ and becoming a regular SEO consultant just like many ex-Googlers have done so far.

So what else happened this October in SEO? Don’t worry, curiosity may have killed the cat, but let’s not forget that “satisfaction brought it back!”

GOOGLE EXPERIMENTS

AI BECOMES THE 3RD MOST IMPORTANT RANKING FACTOR

„We should be very careful about artificial intelligence… [it is perhaps] our biggest existential threat. With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon.” ~ Elon Musk

Are Google summoning the demon by incorporating AI in their ranking algorithms – we are yet to find out. Since early 2015 Google has been gradually rolling out their experimental machine learning algo called RankBrain. Currently it has been said to affect 15% of all daily “never-before-seen” search queries and it has a serious weight as it comes to final rankings. According to Greg Corrado, the senior research scientist of Google, RankBrain is “the third-most important signal contributing to the result of a search query”.

RankBrain’s ‘thinking process’ constitutes in transforming written language into matemathical entities (vectors) that are easier for ‘him’ to interpret. Thus the new algo aims at developing strong conceptual thinking in order to be able to substitute the unknown variables with valid alternatives. Simply put the words and expressions that RankBrain does not recognize, ‘he’ tries to associate with similar ones depending on the given context and on the user’s interactions with search result data.

The challenges behind the introduction of a such ground-breaking innovation in Search are many. People are wondering how Google will be able to apply this algo to other languages, especially to German grammar, Romance or Slavic languages, or even to the dozens of Arabic dialects.

However there’s a question far more troubling, namely how long before RankBrain gets from the 3rd most important to the 1st and sole ranking factor in search. And while at this point Google is convincing online users that Rankbrain is “periodically re-trained, but it’s not learning on-the-fly,” we all know far too well that it is not matter of IF but of WHEN both digital marketers and Google engineers will watch the search ranking mechanics through a thick vail of incomprehension.

GOOGLE MONETIZES YAHOO SERPS

As we’ve discussed in the past month news recap, Google is fast forwarding towards monetizing its SERPs including the Local Pack that since its original release has been declared to be among Google’s “free services”. Apparently Google’s users constitute an audience far too narrow to satisfy the advertising potential of Google’s advertising partners, so since this October Google has sealed a deal to provide Yahoo with search ads.

The current president of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer is an exGoogler, who once used to be responsible for Google’s Local and Maps Search. Mayer is insisting that Yahoo should “focus on its best performing products and “disinvest” in the others.” Probably you remember that earlier this year Yahoo have signed with Microsoft a deal to serve Bing ads on desktop. However, apparently the act of giving up ad sales control hasn’t brought the expected results and now Google comes as a last resort towards reviving Yahoo’s business.

In 2008 Google has stepped down from similar paid search deal with Yahoo, because the US Justice Department threatened to file a lawsuit that “would have ended up also alleging that Google had a monopoly and that [the advertising pact] would have furthered their monopoly.” I guess 7 years later the threat of Google monopolizing search is no longer an issue requiring governmental intervention and thus the Yahoo deal has been celebrated by everyone.

GOOGLE TO RENDER FEWER SEARCH RESULTS

The expected reduction in search results will affect more or less 5% of the queries, as explained in Google’s blog. The bellow illustrated drastic reduction of SERPs will be a result of improved algorithm actions against hacked sites.

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MOBILE APPS TRANSLATE STREET SIGNS

Google releases a couple of instant visual translation apps that will not only interpret printed text from the world around, but could also translate it into your own language. All the traveling lovers would appreciate this tool … at least when it’s released for all languages. For now the apps translate Arabic into English and German only (talking about selective market or goals here).

GOOGLE’S TESTING FIXED SEARCH BAR

As Google innovations and webmaster guidelines are all about improving UX, it has come time for them to optimize their own search results landing page. In this regard fixing the search bar on top of the page and keeping it available to the user even when scrolling down the SERPs is a long-awaited improvement that we all cheer for (or at least those of us who are often not satisfied with picking up a site from the above-the-fold selection).

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LOCATION CUSTOMIZERS FOR GOOGLE ADS

Customizing your ad based on the physical location of your target audience or on the locations your audience has showen interest in is now possible for all AdWords subscribers. The ads customizers allow dynamically including info in your ads like:

  • up-to-date inventory, store hours and location;
  • unique shipping times for specific regions;
  • specific discounts, promotions, or events for each of your locations.

G+ PAGES BUG

The newly appeared bugged G+ pages or the “franken-pages,” as Mike Blumenthal calls them, are a strange mixture of local and brand pages and don’t show reviews or offer an opportunity to leave a review on the given business.

INDUSTRY SURVEYS AND STUDIES

STATE OF SEARCH INDUSTRY REPORT

The survey accumulates the answers of over 500 participants mainly based in US and offers some interesting insights like:

  • online visibility at Google is perceived to cost more (people are investing more in G ads);
  • Yahoo is no longer relevant as it comes to paid search;
  • Almost 80% of marketers are managing social media profiles in-house;
  • Agencies are way ahead of marketers in terms of managing paid Facebook campaigns;
  • 43% of marketers are using a third-party tool to analyze inbound links, while 49% of agencies use their own propriety solution.

ANCHOR TEXT STILL MOVES THE NEEDLE

David McSweeney analyzes 255 domains as to debunk the myth: Branded vs Exact-Match anchor text. So the thorough investigation of 51 keywords, the top 5 ranking sites for each of those keywords or a total of 255 domains, confirms that:

“keyword prevalence in anchor text is almost certainly still a ranking factor”

MOBILE SEARCH SURVEY

Even if you are well-aware of some of the insights revealed in the survey, the statistics referring local businesses are pretty useful marketing-wise to be overlooked:

  • 94% of respondents say they use a mobile phone to search for local businesses;
  • While conducting a search for local goods and services, 78% of mobile users discovered a business that they previously didn’t know existed;
  • 88% want to see prominently displayed business hours, 85% want to see the phone number, and 82% need addresses and driving directions.

CONSUMER BAROMETER STUDY BY GOOGLE

The consumer study was updated this month and offers really important intel on consumer search tendencies. The country filter gives additional insight though the most fascinating feature of the study is the Graph Builder where you can search interactively throughout all questions, applying different filters, depending on your goals and interests.

  • Consumers are often looking for a specific product or service when conducting a local search;
  • 21% of US respondents started collecting information to inform their purchase a few moments before making the purchase;
  • 58% of respondents were at home while looking for information about a given business they made a purchase from, while 55% were away from home.

WHEN WORK MEETS PLEASURE

BUY GOOGLE FOR A MINUTE

This is the fun story of an ex-Googler who bought Google domain for $12 only. His purchase lasted for a minute only before it got cancelled; however the fact that he was able to proceed to check out is a success nonetheless.

YELP GETS FEATURED IN SOUTH PARK SERIES

The roast South Park directors organized for Yelp users in one of its series is priceless. It even inspired a rumor that Yelp is filing a $10 million dollar lawsuit against the creators of South Park and Comedy Central, though Yelp debunk this in one of its tweets:

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INNOVATIONS

THE WAYBACK MACHINE WITH A KEYWORD-SEARCH FEATURE

By 2017 the Wayback Machine is expected to have a new updated service that includes a keyword-based search filter. The Wayback Machine has been a reliable database for checking previous versions of millions of web pages. And while for now online users are required to enter a specific url to get results, in the foreseeable future they would be able to find sites based on keywords.

FACEBOOK LAUNCHES A PUBLIC POSTS SEARCH

There is a solid reason why Facebook has been referred to as Google’s fierce competitor. The latest proof of this well-deserved title is Facebook’s new massive project aimed at indexing “Facebook’s 2 trillion posts and making them searchable”. The results in the ‘Universal Search’ will be “Starting with authoritative sources like news organizations, the search results will become more granular as you scroll down to what your friends are saying, liking and commenting on and then finally to strangers discussing the same topic.”

“Because we’ve indexed the entire world’s conversations, we tell you things that are trending, things that are breaking, what’s happening right now,” says Rousseau Kazi, a product manager on Facebook’s search team. “The whole idea here is that if you can group these pieces of content in certain ways, it makes it pretty easy to get the full story.”

And while Facebook is arguing that this information will help people build an unbiased opinion on topics they’re interested in, I am more concerned about the fact that user’s privacy would be seriously undermined under the new update. Currently it is impossible to hide posts and comments exchanged with people and pages that are open to the public. Thus often when people post at their favorite movie group for example their opinion is visible to every online user. With the new search feature introduced such comments will be indexed and will appear for relevant search queries. Now imagine that you’ve posted not in a movie group but in a health-related group, or a sexist humor page or in a specific politic community … do you wish those words of yours to be added to a general index and to be visible for years to come?

PINTEREST + GOOGLE MAPS = PLACE PINS

Locations pinned in Pintrest will now be associated with directions, contact details and working hours thanks to platform integration with Google Maps. Information and tips about the location (similar to map reviews) would be given by Pinterest users only. The joint project will also allow Pintrest to offer recommendations of similar ‘nearby’ businesses.

CONFERENCES/EVENTS

SMX EAST 2015 & LOCAL SEO

As an agency focused on Local SEO, it would be quite disappointing if we don’t mention the Local SEO panels at this month SEO conference. The presentation of Joy Hawkins, Mary Bowling and Andrew Shotland offered actionable guidance on a real-life problems like: managing closed listing issues, optimizing for local by ignoring the NAP consistency, how should a full Local SEO audit look like. At the second Local SEO panel the expert threesome was accompanied by Casey Meraz. The conversation explored issues like why Google might have switched from the 7 to the 3 pack and how to make up for it from a business owner point of view.

INDUSTRY ‘OUT-OF-THE-BLUE’

THE NOFOLLOW WAVE STILL ON THE RISE

After Google stepped up on the Manual Penalties for ‘Unnatural Links From Your Site’ a couple of years ago many webmasters decided to nofollow all of their outbound links in order to see ranking recovery. The ‘nofollow trend’ has been gaining traction ever since and obviously has affected even well-established strong brands. In hope to avoid a Google penalty or to preserve ‘link equity’ within their site 3 major websites: SocialMediaToday.com, SiteProNews.com and Inc.com nofollowed all of their outbound links. Whatever the case, their decision is an interesting example of how a news site ends up crediting none of its sources based on pure SEO reservations.

DUANE FORESTER BECOMES A SEO FREELANCER

Bing’s Head of Webmaster Outreach is leaving the company by the end of next month. The news is really undexpected and quite disappointing for Duane has been quite influential and respected person in the SEO industry. Fortunately he won’t be gone for good, for it seems that he is considering opening a private practice. Who knows maybe the 2016 Search Awards winner will be an Ex-Binger!