This week Google announced it will be retiring its ‘Trusted Stores’ program and introducing something that’s arguably better. Google launched a new accreditation program for mobile sites. The search giant is cracking down hard on fake Google Maps listings.
Google has put new measures in places to thwart fake news. It’s gotten slightly more difficult to advertise on YouTube. Lastly, we learned more about when Google’s mobile-first search index will be rolled out.
More details about each of these top stories are included in this week’s SEO & SEM news roundup.
Google Introduces Verified Customer Reviews
Google is retiring its Trusted Stores program, but it’s introducing something new to take its place which could end up being even better. Businesses with an online store can now take advantage of verified customer reviews.
If you’re thinking Google already has a review system in place, you’re partially right, but this new system is different. Users have long been able to leave reviews on a business’s Google listing, but those reviews are not “verified.” Technically, anyone can leave them whether they’ve patronized the business or not.
Google’s new ‘Customer Reviews’ are verified to have been left by people who have actually made a purchase from the business’s website. That’s also why this review type can only be used for businesses with an online store.
Customer Reviews come with a few other benefits. Businesses can also customize the look of their badge, and receive more detailed insights about the reviews themselves.
Setting Up Customer Reviews
This new service is completely free to use, all it requires is a Merchant Center account. After signing up, you can then have customers opt-in to receiving an email survey after they complete a purchase from your site.
The survey sent out will ask for customers to review their buying experience. The data collected will be used to create a seller rating for your Merchant Center account. Seller ratings can then be shown on Google Shopping, AdWords text ads, and your own website.
Here is the 4-step process to follow to sign up for Customer Reviews:
- Sign in to your Merchant Center account (or sign up if you do not have an account).
- Select “Merchant Center programs” from the dropdown in the upper right-hand corner.
- Click “Get Started” in the Google Customer Reviews card and accept the Program Agreement.
- Add the survey opt-in code to your website.
After this process is complete you will also have the option to add the badge code for display on your website wherever you want.
Google Mobile Sites Certification
Google has introduced a Mobile Sites certification program which offers anyone the opportunity to demonstrate their expertise in creating sites for the mobile web.
Becoming Mobile Sites certified requires passing an exam. Successful completion grants you a printable certificate and a listing on your Google Partners profile showing you’ve passed the exam.
The exam consists of 65 multiple choice and true & false questions, covering basic to advanced concepts. A score of at least 80% is required in order to pass. Google has provided a helpful study guide you can review before taking the exam.
The study guide consists of 4 modules:
- Mobile sites and why they matter
- Improving mobile site speed
- Creating an effective mobile UX
- Advanced web technologies
As you can see, there’s an entire module dedicated to mobile site speed, which should go to show how important that is in 2017.
Once you’ve completed the exam, you can put your certification right up there with the AdWords, Analytics, and other such accreditations from Google.
Google Cracking Down on Fake Maps Listings
Google recognizes there is rampant abuse going on within Google My Business, which extends to Google Maps and Search. This involves bad actors registering fake listings with the intent to defraud businesses or extort customers.
Google has released new data which details how it has been working to keep fake listings off Google Maps. On a positive note, the search giant has been able to reduce the number of fake listings by 70% from an all-time high in June 2015.
In addition, the company has also put new measures in place to prevent fake listings from appearing in the first place. These include:
- Prohibiting bulk registrations at most addresses.
- Preventing businesses from relocating a great distance from their original address without additional verification.
- Detecting and ignoring intentionally mangled text in address fields designed to confuse Google’s algorithms.
- Adapting anti-spam machine learning systems to detect data discrepancies common to fake or deceptive listings.
Google says it is now able to detect and disable 85% of fake listings before they appear. As a result, less than 0.5% of local searches lead to fake listings.
Google Tries to Thwart Fake News
Back in October, Google introduced a ‘Fact Check’ label within the Google News section. Now that label is being rolled out to the main set of search results pages.
The ‘Fact Check’ label indicates a piece of content includes information which has been fact checked by the publisher and other fact-checking organizations. A new search snippet will be used for qualifying pieces of content.
The new search snippet includes information on the claim, who made the claim, and how true the claim is. Here’s an example:
Publishers have to meet a strict set of criteria in order to receive the new ‘Fact Check’ snippet:
”Content must adhere to the general policies that apply to all structured data markup, the Google News Publisher criteria for fact checks, and the standards for accountability and transparency, readability or proper site representation as articulated in our Google News General Guidelines.”
In addition, publishers must be using the Schema.org ClaimReview markup on pages where public statements have been fact checked. Most importantly, publishers will only receive the ‘Fact Check’ label if Google’s algorithms have determined they are an authoritative source of information.
New YouTube Advertising Policies
Google is increasing its efforts to ensure ads do not appear alongside questionable YouTube videos. Its latest effort involves blocking ads from appearing on channels with less than 10,000 total views.
Google has been facing a bit of a YouTube advertising crisis after several top US brands recently pulled their advertising from YouTube when ads were seen appearing next to controversial videos. To prevent this from happening in the future, Google doesn’t want to give just anyone the ability to display ads on their YouTube content anymore.
With the new 10,000 view threshold, Google is making it more difficult for channels to display ads. The idea is that questionable and/or controversial videos will not find a wide audience. Therefore ads will likely not end up appearing on channels publishing the controversial content.
Google’s Mobile-First Index Likely Not Launching This Year
Back in November, Google introduced the idea of switching to a mobile-first search index. That would mean first crawling and indexing the mobile versions of web pages, rather than the desktop versions.
Since then, we’ve been waiting for further announcements on when this mobile-first index may roll out. Just recently there has been word that we may not even see it until next year.
Google’s Gary Illyes mentioned at the Next10X conference that he doesn’t think the mobile-first index will launch in 2017. He noted this will be the biggest change in search in the past 9 years, and it is still “quarters” away.
With that being said, it sounds like site owners still have quite a bit of time to prepare themselves for Google going mobile-first.
Site owners can now take advantage of Google’s new Customer Reviews program. Marketers and developers can become Mobile Sites certified. Searchers can worry less about being deceived by fake news and fake Google Maps listings. YouTube channels now have to reach a threshold of 10K total views before monetizing. Lastly, everyone can breathe a sigh of relief that Google’s mobile-first index is not imminently around the corner.