This week Google rolled out what appears to be another significant algorithm update. Some experimental features began showing up in Google search results. Google’s Gary Illyes and John Mueller dropped a few bits of knowledge via Twitter. Google is retiring one of its WordPress plugins. A few updates were announced for Google’s call-only AdWords ads. Lastly, an industry veteran suggests search signals can vary wildly based on a number of factors.
Details about each of these stories are included in this week’s SEO & SEM news roundup.
Possible Google Algorithm Update Targeting Low-Quality Links
The search forums lit up toward the end of the week with talk of a possible Google algorithm update which appears to be targeting sites with low-quality inbound links. Affected sites saw ranking positions for some of their top keywords drop significantly, and the one thing they all seem to have in common are spammy backlinks.
Google has been mum on the matter, as usual, offering little more to say on the subject besides “we make updates almost every day.” That’s a statement we’re hearing more often than ever as of late. Gone are the days when months could go by without a Google algorithm update — now the search giant is rolling out small updates on a regular basis. That means it’s more important than ever for either you, or an SEO firm, to monitor your website’s ranking positions.
If this update is indeed related to poor quality links, then we recommend using a tool to assess your inbound link profile and identify any sources where spammy inbound links could be coming from. If it’s not possible to get those links fully removed, then you can use Google’s disavow tool to prevent Googlebot from associating those links with your website.
If you believe you have been affected by this week’s update, we’d like to hear from you. Please leave us a comment below to let us know what you’re seeing, or send us a message discretely via our contact form.
New Google Search Features
Google has been experimenting with some new search features this week. One of them puts more of a focus on video content with a YouTube video carousel at the top of search results. Dr. Pete Meyers from Moz was first to spot this, who also shared a screenshot on Twitter:
Looks like Google's testing a video carousel (this was on desktop, query = "unicycle")… pic.twitter.com/YaOwerxk7h
— Dr. Pete Meyers (@dr_pete) March 9, 2017
Another new feature is seen in the Google app itself. When you open the app, before even conducting a search, you may be met with a series of “Trending News” topics. The stories are tailored based on your previous search history, so Google is essentially helping you find more of the information you want before you even go searching for it.
Again, these appear to be just experimental features at this point, so your mileage may vary when it comes to whether or not you personally come across them.
New Google AdWords Click-to-Call Features
Google announced a series of updates to click-to-call ads this week, the most notable of which is account-level call extensions. Now, instead of setting up call extensions at the campaign or ad-group level, you can set up call extensions across your entire AdWords account.
A new design has been introduced for call-only ads which appends the business name at the end of the phone number. In addition, Google is experimenting with the ability to include customer satisfaction ratings at the bottom of call-only ads.
Lastly, new details will soon be added to keyword and ad copy reports in AdWords. Columns will be added for “Phone impressions” and “Phone calls”, which are designed to give advertisers a more complete view of overall call performance. These details can help guide your decision-making in the future. For example, you may decide to use call-only ads only on keywords with the highest call-through rates.
Googlers Drop Knowledge Via Twitter
If you’re not following Google’s Gary Illyes on Twitter, it’s perhaps time you should. In addition to being highly responsive to site owner questions and concerns, he’s recently been delivering interesting facts in the form of DYK (did you know) tweets.
This week he mentioned quality comments can be a sign of a healthy website, which should encourage site owners to garner more comments on their content:
DYK quality comments can be a signal of a healthy website? pic.twitter.com/Yugh9AhBWz
— Gary Illyes ᕕ( ᐛ )ᕗ (@methode) March 10, 2017
(oh, he also has an unusual obsession with fish as of late)
John Mueller is another Googler we believe is essential to follow on Twitter. He’s highly responsive to questions and concerns as well. In a reply this week he mentioned that keywords in URLs are an overrated ranking signal.
@HillwalkTours Keywords in URLs are overrated for Google SEO. Make URLs for users. Also, on mobile you usually don't even see them.
— John ☆.o(≧▽≦)o.☆ (@JohnMu) March 8, 2017
Weight of Ranking Signals Vary Based on a Number of Factors
Speaking of Google ranking signals, industry veteran Jennifer Slegg made some keen observations this week that the weight of ranking signals is not equal for every type of search. Content and links are generally regarded as the top two ranking factors — but then, what comes next?
Well that depends on a number of factors such as who’s searching, what they’re searching for, where they’re searching from, and what they’ve searched for in the past
Slegg notes that brand recognition is a highly weighted ranking signal, which could even be weighted above content in some cases. For example, if you’re searching for an established brand name, yet the content on the site doesn’t include many instances of the brand name, the brand’s own website will still likely rank at the top.
Another top ranking signal could be location, especially if you’re searching for a business or service provider near you. Depending on where you’re searching from, the businesses that are closest to you will rank near the top.
Another top factor that varies wildly from searcher to searcher is personalization. If Google recognizes you prefer to visit a specific site over others when searching for a particular type of information, it will rank that site above others. Someone else searching for the same information may not get the same site at the top of their search results if Google knows they’d prefer to visit another site.
Google Retiring WordPress AdSense Plugin
If you’re using Google’s AdSense WordPress plugin to display ads on your site, we have some bad news for you — it’s about to be retired. Don’t worry, you have until early May 2017 before it becomes completely unusable. Google’s recommended guidance is to instead use text widgets and paste in the ad code directly. See Google’s help page for more details.
Wrapping it Up
Another month, another significant Google algorithm update. Thus is the nature of SEO in 2017. You can never be too vigilant about protecting your own search rankings — and we’re always here to help if you need us.
In addition, new features are rolling out for Google Search and Google AdWords. We learned more about how website comments and exact-match domains are viewed in the eyes of Googlebot. Google is retiring its AdSense plugin, and an industry veteran dissected the differences between search ranking signals and how they can vary from person to person.