Supported Platforms, Vendors & Partners – AMP
Getting Started with AMP.
While AMP provides a significant boost in speed and benefits for site owners and users, to be honest, there is a solid amount of work required to enable it on your site. It’s likely AMP may not fit in with your current design or templates, requiring retooling your website layouts and elements to fit in with AMP’s guidelines. The speed boosts are significant, however, so it may be worth considering implementing on your site.
Coding with AMP technology is well beyond the scope of this book, however, the folks over at Google and AMP have put together all-encompassing guides that are updated regularly, making it easier for yourself or your developer to put this technology to work. Have a browse or send the following resources to your developer, and you can get AMP technology running on your site.
Accelerated Mobile Pages– Overview
This home page provides a general overview of AMP, written in a conversational style that should be understandable to both technical and non-technical readers alike.
Accelerated Mobile Pages – How AMP Works
This technical guide provides a more detailed overview of the inner workings of Accelerated Mobile Pages, including tutorials on how to implement it on your website.
Accelerated Mobile Pages GitHub Repository
For super smart technical types, the AMP Project GitHub Repository has all the updated files and resources needed to get your website running with AMP, as well as all of the source code which is open sourced so you can bask in its transparent wonderfulness.
Google’s FRED and Panda update—diagnosis and recovery.
On March 2017, murmurs of a Google update echoed around the blogosphere. Prominent Google staff member, Garry Illyes previously joked all future updates should be named “Fred”, so the SEO community obliged and labeled this newest update Harold… I mean, Fred.
While many professionals initially debated the significance and exact focus of the update, industry stalwarts Barry Schwartz from Search Engine Land and Juan Goanzalez from Sistrix put their heads down and analyzed hundreds of sites that lost massive amounts of traffic, up to 90% in some cases, and they found something interesting. Sites affected were guilty of a surprisingly small set of possible infringements, two in fact, which could be witnessed on affected sites. The common attributes were largely on-page and quality focused, making this update likely focused on improving the Google Panda part of the algorithm—which deals with assessing page quality.
Common Attributes of FRED Affected Sites.
1) Sites affected showed a strong commercial focus over providing real value for users. This means sites with large amounts of pages filled with low quality content in an effort to generate ad revenue.
2) Sites affected generally feature aggressive ad placements, taking up a large amount of screen real estate “above-the-fold” or hidden in the content in a way that confuses users.
Google FRED Recovery Steps.
The update is clearly focused on content quality, much like previous Panda updates, thus the solution is fairly straight forward for victims of this update—improve your content and take it easy on the ads. In many cases, site owners hit by the update made a complete recovery simply by dialing down their ad placements above the fold. If you think you were hit by this update, take a look at the following recovery steps. As with all updates, you should only complete the following steps if you are confident you were definitely affected by the penalty.
1. Look over your rankings and traffic around the 8th of March, 2017. If you experienced a drop off in both rankings and traffic on this day, and the drop off is significant (i.e. it looks like your rankings and traffic fell off a cliff) then it’s likely you’ve been hit by Google FRED.
2. Next look at your content and advertisement strategy on your site. Does your website create a lot of low quality articles to drive ad revenue, or does it feature aggressive ad placements to drive ad revenue? If you’re guilty of either of these, and you saw the clear drop off in traffic then it’s almost certain you’ve been hit by FRED.
3. If you’re guilty of aggressive ad placement above the fold, you want to try modifying your ad placement strategy. This includes reducing your amount of above the fold ads, and also spacing out your ads so they are not deceptively mixed in with content.
4. If you’re guilty of having large numbers of low quality pages, you either want to improve the content or take low quality pages down. Improving content is the better option, if you make a recovery you will recover more traffic than deleting offending pages.
5. When finished, update your sitemap and resubmit to Google in Google Search Console. This step will encourage Googlebot to visit your website and pick up the changes.
6. Monitor Google Analytics and any rankings tracking software you use. Rinse and repeat if necessary.
Google’s local SEO Hawk & Possum Updates.
On August 2017, local SEO industry analyst Joy Hawkins, founder of Sterling Sky consulting, and occasional contributor to Search Engine Land, broke news of a significant update to the local SEO algorithm, subsequently dubbed the “Hawk” update.
She discovered that Google rolled back, or at least fixed, some of the changes to the Possum local SEO update that shook up the local SEO results way back in September 2016.
The previous Possum update had some bugs that would inadvertently filter out individual businesses in close proximity to each other. For example, if your businesses occupied the same building with a competitor in the same industry, or down the same street, you could potentially completely fall off the local rankings—if your competitor had stronger local signals than you.
After the Hawk update, Google loosened the proximity filter up a little bit, so local businesses within close proximity, unfairly affected by the Possum update, are given a fairer chance in the results.
Businesses still affected by the Possum update, or the “close proximity filter” Google uses in the local algorithm, includes businesses in the same industry using the same “virtual addresses”, businesses in the same industry occupying the same building, businesses in different buildings—up to 50 feet away from competitors—now still often filtered out from the local search results.
So, if you’re looking at opening up a new business, better make sure you don’t choose the same building (or virtual address) as your competitor, or you might find yourself fighting an impossible battle trying to work your way into the local search results.
Google becoming Apple’s default search provider for Siri, iOS and Spotlight on Mac OS.
On September 25, 2017, Apple announced the switch from Bing to Google as the default search provider for Siri, iOS search, and Spotlight search on Mac OS—a big news event in 2017 for everyone living in search engine universe.
The reason for the switch, stated by Apple, was Apple wants users to have a consistent search experience for users across all apps and devices…. Google’s state-of-the-art search technology likely took part in this decision… And, possibly, just a guess, the $9 billion annual contract Google is now paying Apple to remain Apple’s default search provider on iOS devices—I’ll let you form your own opinion on whatever the final deciding factor was, but moving on…
Part of the agreement requires all searches through Apple to be encrypted and anonymized, to ensure Apple’s enduring stance on safeguarding privacy for users. Good news for Apple users.
You might be wondering what this means for the average user or business? Well first up, with close to a billion iPhones in active circulation worldwide—it’s certainly going to lead to more traffic and customers for businesses performing well in the Google search results.
Secondly, well, we’re not really sure what the other impacts may be. With increasing voice search popularity, including Siri, it might become more important for business owners to ensure their business names are easy to pronounce…
So, if you were thinking of naming your new Indian restaurant “Patek’s Delicious and Delectable Culinary Indian Delights” you might want to make your business name something more pronounceable, like “Patek’s Indian Restaurant Los Angeles”, and make it a little bit easier on Siri… Poor Siri…
Either way, it’s blue skies from here for site owners performing well in the Google search results—more users means more customers and more sales.
Google’s game-changing Mobile-First Index.
After much anticipation and speculation by the SEO community—Google officially announced the live rollout of the Mobile First Index on the 26th of March, 2018. Let’s look at official wording from Google’s ‘Best Practices for Mobile-First Indexing’ guide…
“Mobile-first indexing means Google will predominantly use the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking.
Historically, the index primarily used the desktop version of a page’s content when evaluating the relevance of a page to a user’s query. Since the majority of users now access Google via a mobile device, the index will primarily use the mobile version of a page’s content going forward. We aren’t creating a separate mobile-first index. We continue to use only one index.”
Want simple language? Google is now using the mobile version of websites as the first touchpoint in calculating the search index and search results, for both desktop and mobile results… Hold up a minute… Did I just say that the mobile version of your site will be the FIRST touchpoint for calculating BOTH results… Damn straight!
It makes sense when you think about it. The vast majority of the Internet are mobile users. To ensure smartphone addicts are delivered with better results on the move, it makes sense for Google to make mobile the highest priority in the algorithm, with desktop quickly becoming a small minority of Internet users.
Outcomes and action steps for site owners.
If you haven’t jumped on the mobile bandwagon by now—with mobile traffic making up around 70%-80% of traffic for most sites—you’re missing out on traffic right very second and it’s possible you will eventually completely fall off the mobile results.
Fortunately, there’s an elegant solution discussed earlier in the mobile SEO section in the on-page SEO chapter, but I’ll let Google spokesperson Gary Illyes take the reins, with a direct quote from a discussion about the update at the SMX Advanced search conference in Seattle…
“If you have a responsive site, then you’re pretty much good to go. Why? Because the content on your desktop site will be pretty much the same on your responsive site. The structured data on your desktop site will be the same.”
In other words, if your site is responsive and supporting mobile users, you can lie back and enjoy a Piña Colada, knowing your desktop-only competitors will eventually fall to the wayside, while you bask in the glory of a mobile-first paradise for users.
For the detail-a-holics out there, here are the likely scenarios for varying mobile implementations…
– Desktop sites with no mobile versions will not be crawled by Google’s special mobile spider called ‘Smartphone Googlebot.’ They will continue to be crawled by desktop Google and likely perform worse in mobile results due to Google’s continued focus on improving mobile results for mobile users.
– Sites with responsive web designs (supporting both desktop and mobile in the one design) will continue to perform the same in both desktop and mobile results.
– Sites built entirely in AMP HTML will continue to perform the same in both desktop and mobile results.
– Sites using separate URLs for mobile visitors will have the mobile URLs crawled by the smartphone spider and rankings adjusted accordingly.
– Sites dynamically serving different content for desktop and mobile users will have the mobile content crawled and rankings adjusted accordingly.
– Sites using both AMP and non-AMP versions of pages will have the non-AMP mobile version of the page crawled by Googlebot and rankings adjusted accordingly.
Summing it up—not much to do really, besides making sure your mobile support is top notch. If you need to improve your mobile support, read the mobile support section in the on-page SEO chapter. And if you want to read about all the bells and whistles involved with this particular update, Google has put together a digestible guide for business owners and developers alike, available below…
Best Practices for Mobile First Indexing – Google
Google’s mobile “Speed Update”.
Smartphone users want answers delivered fast—as discovered in a study conducted by Google in February, 2018, titled “New Industry Benchmarks for Mobile Page Speed.” The study analyzed site speed impacts on mobile users, uncovering interesting but not entirely surprising insights…
– When mobile load times increase from 1s to 10s, the probability of users leaving your site increases by 123%.
– When the number of page elements increases from 400 to 7000—titles, text, images, and so on—conversion probability drops by 95%…. In other words, thrown everything but the kitchen sink into your page? You’re only achieving half of your potential sales.
It comes with little surprise in January, 2018, Google announced an upcoming update titled the “Speed Update,” rolling out July, 2018. Google’s staff are tight-lipped about updates, so when they make an announcement, it’s something business owners and developers must prioritize.
Site speed was previously used for desktop results. Google’s Speed Update will focus on mobile results. Google didn’t reveal exact impacts to the slow loading sites—but it’s safe to say, slow sites won’t be rewarded with higher mobile rankings…
Wondering what to do? Simple. Make your site load fast on mobile. Your rankings will be safe and sales will likely go up too. Instructions for improving load speed are covered in the load speed section in the on-page SEO chapter, for both desktop and mobile speed improvements. The following resources cover this update and include resources specifically focused on improving mobile load speed.
Using Page Speed in Mobile Search Ranking – Google
Test Your Mobile Website Speed and Performance – Google
Find Out How You Stack Up to New Industry Benchmarks for Mobile Page Speed
Google’s “Medic Update”—A.K.A “Your Money or Your Life.”
On the August 1, 2018, shockwaves echoed across the SEO stratosphere. Google released an update shaking up the results, with sites showing up to 50% gains and 50% losses in Internet traffic. Google released a tight-lipped comment on Twitter…
“Last week, we released a broad core algorithm update. We do these routinely several times per year…. There’s no ‘fix’ for pages that may perform less well other than to remain focused on building great content. Over time, it may be that your content may rise relative to other pages.”
That’s some vague advice… Fortunately, several industry SEO analysts did intense research revealing sites affected and why. The venerable Barry Schwartz, of Search Engine Land fame, coined this “The Medic Update”, with the medical industry suffering the biggest impact. But this title is misleading, impacted sites include any site or page affecting financial or physical well-being of users… So, I hereby call it, the “Your Money or Your Life Update”, as it affects both the money and life of users—and ultimately, the financial well-being of website owners… Let’s look at the YMYL update’s common attributes.
YMYL update common attributes.
– Impacted sites and pages cover topics that affect Internet users’ physical and financial well-being.
– Impacted sites saw up to 10%-50% decreases or increases in search engine traffic around the 1st of August 2018.
– YMYL sites with low trust saw decreased rankings.
– YMYL sites with high trust saw increased rankings.
– The update also affected low quality YMYL sites, such as aggressive popups and auto-play ads.
– The trust and quality factors observed in affected sites are published in Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. Examples include making site ownership clear on an about page, reputable authors posting on sensitive topics, quality content, not having annoying popups and ads, and so on. Google’s Search Quality whitepaper location is included later in this section.
Action steps if negatively affected by the YMYL update.
Like all updates, it’s always a solid move to get a second opinion, ensuring you’re not fixing problems that don’t need to be fixed and unnecessarily damage your site. That said, follow these steps if possibly affected by the update.
1. Using Google Analytics, review search traffic around the 1st of August, 2018. And review search visibility in Google Search Console. If you see a sharp drop-off in search traffic and visibility, more than 10% or 15%, it’s possible you’ve been affected by the update.
2. If your site generates ad revenue and revenue dropped off, don’t go crazy filling your site up with extra ads. It will make things worse.
3. Review your site to see if it is guilty of the YMYL update common attributes listed earlier.
4. Re-read Google’s Search Quality Guidelines covered in the On Page SEO chapter in this book. Google’s trust and quality factors are covered there, listing causes and remedies for site owners suffering from the YMYL update.
5. Get to work improving these areas. You should see gradual improvements over several weeks.
6. The above steps should cover 99% of cases. If you clearly lost traffic around the 1st of August, 2018, and don’t see any progress after the above action steps, you might have to read Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines to improve traffic. Yes, it’s 160-pages long. Yes, if I had to choose between reading a 160-page document and losing more traffic and sales, I’d read the document.
Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines – May, 2019
Google’s new nofollow link guidelines for 2020.
Ever heard of the rel=”nofollow” tag on links? It was introduced by Google way back in 2005, to help Google detect and filter out sponsored, paid or spammy links. The tag is also used for site-owners to openly tell Google links are paid, preventing site-owners from getting into Google’s naughty book for selling links on the down-low for shady purposes.
Fast forward to September, 2019, and now Google wants more information about the links on your site, introducing three new types of rel tags, which will be used as a hint to calculate the rankings. Here’s the three new types of rel tags introduced by Google…
rel=”sponsored” – links that are advertisements or paid placements.
rel=”ugc”- user-generated content (UGC) links, such as comments and forum posts.
rel=”nofollow” – use when other values don’t apply, when you’d rather Google not associate your site with the outgoing link, or crawl the link from your site.
Wondering what to do about this update? Google made it clear in the announcement to not go back and change all the old nofollow links on your site—and I agree. Going through and changing all old nofollow links on your site could have unpredictable consequences, unless you really know what you are doing.
Moving forward, simply add the above tags to new links added to your site starting from… Now. You can add multiple rel attributes to links, where relevant, by separating them with a space. Official guidelines from Google listed below.
Qualify Your Outbound Links to Google – Google Search Console Help
Google’s BERT update—Google finally learns how humans speak.
Let’s face it—we’re getting lazy about how we use the Internet… Getting out the laptop feels like a drag and we’re shouting shorthand voice searches into our phones like, “movie 1990s people experiment dying kiefer sutherland”, expecting Google to do the heavy lifting…
And it does—displaying the Wikipedia entry for 1990’s film “Flatliners”, a cult-classic about medical students experimenting with near-death-experiences. On the Flatliners Wikipedia page, the word “experiment” appears only once, but Kiefer Sutherland appeared in over 29 movies in the 1990s, in which lots of characters died. Notice how I accidentally typed in 1980s and Google figured it out, anyway? Solid work by Google.
To combat increasing ambiguity in searches, with 15 percent of searches being entirely brand new—and just get a better grasp on human language—on October 21, 2019, Google announced the biggest leap forward in search technology since RankBrain called… BERT.
Or for-short, Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers… A machine-learning technology to better understand human language.
In Google’s big BERT announcement, the VP of Search described how Google would previously struggle with searches like “can you get medicine for someone pharmacy”, delivering a non-specific result about getting prescriptions filled.
After BERT, Google understands the searcher’s intent better, now delivering a result about whether a patient can send a friend or family member to get their prescription filled.
Quick take-aways about this groundbreaking update by Google:
– BERT is expected to impact up to 10% of searches.
– BERT is entirely focused on better understanding the way humans actually communicate (a type of machine learning called Natural Language Processing).
– Searches affected include queries with Homonyms and Polysemes (e.g. the verb “run” is a Polyseme, with 606 different-but-similar meanings according to the Oxford Dictionary).
– Other searches affected include conversational or shorthand queries —such as “parking on a hill with no curb.” The last part of this search transforms the intent of the search. This is where the “Bidirectional” aspect of BERT’s algorithm comes into play.
– Top-performing sites didn’t report any major losses or gains in traffic and rankings after the update.
– Pages targeting long-tail searches will most likely benefit from this update.
Like all algorithm updates, SEO professionals industry-wide analyzed the update upside-down and back-to-front to find an edge… And the general consensus is—not much to do, besides following regular best-practices, making sure your page shows high quality content, including related keywords, LSI keywords and natural language on your pages… And perhaps targeting more long-tail keywords. If you want to read up on the update in greater detail, check out Google’s announcement below.
Understanding Searches Better Than Ever Before – Google Blog
Google’s best practices for marketing and SEO during COVID.
The world is going through a serious crisis, affecting almost every business owner, marketer and employee, making it difficult to know how to approach marketing. The following section outlines best practices on marketing your business through a challenging time, starting with best practices from Google, followed by my own recommendations.