Many little maintenance updates occurred in the search world this week, with Google retiring some old features and testing out new ones. There has been a major update to sitemaps that webmasters need to know about, and more of Google’s artificial intelligence and machine learning is making its way into search results.
Full details about each of these stories are included in this week’s SEO news update.
Google Removes Content Keywords from Search Console
Long before there was Search Console we had Google Webmaster Tools. One of the earliest features of Webmaster Tools was the Content Keywords report, which was once the only way to see what Googlebot was able to learn about your site after crawling it. Since then, the more efficient Fetch as Google tool and Search Analytics report in Search Console have all but replaced Content Keywords. Now Google has removed the Content Keyword report all together, officially making it obsolete.
Sitemap File Size Limits Upgraded to 50 MB
In a rare joint announcement between Google and Bing, the two companies both upgraded the file size limit of sitemaps from the standard 10 MB to 50 MB. Despite allowing an overall larger file size, the amount of URLs that can be included in one sitemap is still capped at 50,000. Even though you can now upload sitemaps up to 50 MB in size, it’s still recommended to keep the file size as low as you can especially if Google crawls your site a lot. If Google is consistently requesting large sitemaps, it could end up putting unnecessary strain on your server leading to slower performance for visitors.
Google Highlighting ‘Videos from the Web’ in Knowledge Panels
When you search for a business, a person, a destination, or a landmark, Google returns what are known as ‘Knowledge Panels’. Knowledge panels appear on the left sidebar in desktop search, and are typically displayed before organic search results in mobile search. These panels contain vital information about the entity being searched for, and now some of them are being enhanced with video. Google was just spotted including ‘Videos from the Web’ in Knowledge Panels this week, but only for certain searches. Searches for local businesses will return videos from the web, and so will searches for entertainment entities such as movies, TV shows, and video games. Here’s an example of what it looks like in action:
— Sergey Alakov (@sergey_alakov) November 29, 2016
Google’s Desktop Featured Snippets to be Written by Artificial Intelligence
Google is flexing its artificial intelligence muscle with the rollout of a new sentence compression algorithm, which is capable of analyzing large amounts of text and summarizing the exact information being searched for. The sentence compression algorithm will be used to write featured snippets on desktop going forward, which are those instant answer boxes that come up when you ask Google certain types of questions. Now, the next time a featured snippet appears in your desktop search results, you may be looking at one written entirely by a machine!
New Google Test Allows Searchers to Message Businesses from Search Results
Google is currently running a pilot program that allows searchers to message certain businesses directly from search results. After searching for the business name, right next to the ‘Call’ button will be a button that says ‘Message’. Users can tap on the button to instantly connect with a business via either SMS or Google Allo, depending on what the business on the receiving end has decided to use. Access to this feature for businesses is available by invitation only, unfortunately not everyone can sign up for it just yet. However, if you are invited to try the feature, be prepared to be responsive. Google has warned it will kick businesses out of the pilot program if their average response time becomes too long.
Google Gets Rid of Feature-Phone Search Crawler
This is a feature that no one is likely to miss, but the fact that Google is retiring it is still newsworthy enough to mention. Google has a version of its web crawler designed for crawling content that has been optimized for feature-phones. Feature-phones are the predecessor of smartphones, the ones that put Nokia and Motorola on the map back in the day. Going forward that version of Google’s web crawler is going to be retired. The company says there is hardly any feature-phone optimized content left on the web anyway, so this change is unlikely to affect most websites.
Google retired Content Keywords and its feature-phone crawler, while adding ‘Videos from the Web’ and AI-rendered featured snippets to search results. Sitemap file sizes have been upgraded, and Google is testing a pilot program for instant messaging a business after searching for it. Another busy week in search! We consider it our priority to keep you informed, so stay tuned next week for another SEO news update.