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Google Update Slapped Your Rankings: What’s Next

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Google recently released a spam update. Judging by how Google released several spam updates in a row followed by a core update this past summer, it would not be surprising if a core update is in the works, especially since the holiday shopping season is around the corner and Google has a history of releasing updates around that time of year.  After experiencing Google updates for over twenty years, one advice is still the same and that’s to wait a bit before panicking. These are the reasons why.

Life Cycle of a Google Update

A life cycle for a Google update could be said to be the introduction of a new algorithm, modifications to improve it, eventual obsolescence and then replacement.

The improvements to the update usually begin shortly after the update is released and issues are identified. This article links to a Google video to confirm that algorithms have been updated.

This article is mostly concerned with what happens after the update launches and a website loses rankings.

Waiting for the Update to Settle Down

It seems that almost every Google update gets rolled back a little bit, sometimes within the space of days as if the different parts are added in unevenly across data centers.

Sometimes the search results immediately after an update announcement is rolled back within a few days for some sectors of the web while they stay the same in others.

There are some algorithm updates that affect the search results in a profound way, like the Medic update from 2018 and the BERT update most recently.

Those updates had a strong impact in how Google understands search queries and website content.

John Mueller recently said that core updates in general are about relevance and overall quality and those could be the introduction of new algorithms or the same algorithms but faster or improved.

There are many Google research papers that are about relevance but also about new ways for machines to learn and to improve (relatively) older algorithms like BERT.

But every time something new is introduced, that no matter how much testing is done that there will be unintended consequences when sites that should not have lost rankings regain their rankings.

Sometimes this happens sooner. Sometimes a site has to wait until the next Google core update.

Sites that should not have lost rankings are called false positives and sometimes also referred to as collateral damage.

Google Dance History

In Google’s early days the search index was updated on a monthly basis. Each month Google would add in the data from the previous months crawl and recalculate the rankings.

This is when publishers would find out if the changes to title tags, links and content helped their rankings.

It was actually kind of fun to share notes with other publishers about what seemingly worked.

Google’s monthly updates were called The Google Dance because during the update the search results would cause web pages to gain and lose positions in the search results.

Here’s a WebmasterWorld monthly Google update post from 2002 where I comment about a poorly designed website that had popped to the top of the search results and then mentioned about how the search results will settle down in a short time.

My forum post: 

“The number one serp for a term I follow is so far dominated by an awful FP 4.0 page that isn’t in dmoz, and has no PR.

I’ve never seen it before. This is a poor result (Goodness, this is an awful amateur web site) that makes the serp look shameful.

I will, however, wait until the dance is over before I start to foam at the mouth. These things usually look weird until they’re settled.”

This pattern of Google updates settling down has been a feature since pretty much the beginning of Google updates.

There is a long history of Google dialing back whatever was changed.

A Hypothetical Example of Collateral Damage in Search

Let’s say they make a change to better identify what users mean when they make an ambiguous search query, and they do that with natural language processing that understands what context means from various external documents (a hypothetical thought experiment).

They test it and it works. The quality raters give it a thumbs up and the various algorithms are queued up for release.

So then they roll that out in a core update.

And then the false positives happen where some high quality sites will be pushed down in the search results because other less deserving sites got pushed up.

It’s not that the high quality sites were demoted. It was that other sites were promoted unintentionally.

This viewpoint about not being demoted is super important to remember.

Just because a site lost rankings does not mean it was demoted or targeted.

Post-update Fine Tuning

In the past Google engineers took reports of quality sites that lost rankings that should not have suffered.

For example, in a YouTube video Google engineer Matt Cutts in 2013 offered a rare look behind the scenes about how an update is refined and tuned after it rolls out.

Video of Google Engineer Matt Cutts

In this case he was remarking on the ongoing refinement of the Panda algorithm after reports of collateral damage where high quality sites were affected by the Panda algorithm.

Matt also remarks in the video about side effects caused by the recently released algorithm and how they were going to take steps to fix those as well.

Matt Cutts explained:

“We’ve also been looking at Panda and seeing if we can find some additional signals (and we think we got some) to help refine things for the sites that are kind of in the border zone, in the gray area a little bit.

And so if we can soften the effect a little bit for those sites that we believe have got some additional signals of quality, then that will help sites that might have previously been affected to some degree by Panda.

We also heard a lot of feedback from people about Okay if I go down three pages deep I’ll see a cluster of several results all from one domain.

And we’ve actually made things better in terms of you would be less likely to see that on the first page, but more likely to see that on the following pages.

And we’re looking at a change which might deploy which would basically say, once you’ve seen a cluster of results from one site then you’d be less likely to see more results from that site as you go deeper into the next pages of Google search results.”

Going back to the hypothetical example, maybe Google figures out that the new natural language processing they added might favor a certain kind of low quality site and when they add an additional signal this fixes the search results.

AI Makes Mistakes

Mistakes in Artificial Intelligence (AI) happen. Facebook had to apologize in September 2021 when their AI labeled black men as apes.

According the news report:

“Facebook users who watched a newspaper video featuring black men were asked if they wanted to “keep seeing videos about primates” by an artificial-intelligence recommendation system.”

Algorithms are not perfect and it shouldn’t be a surprise if any core update or spam update makes a mistake and Google has to dial it back. It’s almost a given, in my opinion.

Coincidences Happen

Always take what people say online with a grain of salt. Coincidences are sometimes mistaken for proof.

For example, one SEO told me that they filed a disavow for a customer hit by a core update and that within days their site recovered.

But that was a coincidence, the disavow file had nothing to do with the site recovery. I know that because Google’s John Mueller recently said that disavow files take months before they have any effect in the algorithm and that’s IF they have an effect (because Google’s algorithm is good at catching random spam links).

So don’t automatically believe what people say is happening after a core update, especially if it cannot be cross-referenced as a significant trend.

Google Core Updates Don’t Target Niches

In general, Google updates don’t specifically target niches. There are exceptions of course, like the 2021 Product Reviews Update.

But in general, targeting specific niches isn’t how core updates work.

And even when a trend is identified, like when health related sites seemed to be suffering the most from an update, do not ever take that to mean that Google is “targeting” a specific niche, that’s not how updates work.

In the medic case, Google had updated how it understands queries and content and that profound change was most visible in medical search queries more than other areas.

So rather than incorrectly deduce that Google was “targeting” a niche the better way to examine that particular update was to ask, why is it that medical sites are more sensitive to what was changed?

Relevance Issues

John Mueller recently said that a site whose rankings were impacted by a core update won’t find a solution by disavowing random links or fixing technical issues like 404 errors.

He said that was the case because core updates revolve around relevance and overall site quality.

The way I generally approach solving a core update ranking issue is thinking about how relevance or quality might play a role.

What do people mean when they ask a query? That’s something that tends to change in an update.

Rankings Dropped. What Next?

I’m going to circle back to where we started, which is that updates seem to be dialed back sometimes. Sometimes they are dialed back a little bit within days, perhaps while they’re tuning it to fix mistakes. Sometimes it’s dialed back in the next update.

Google has begun announcing when an update has finished rolling out. If the rankings have changed and not returned then that’s a good time to take a hard look at overall quality and relevance.

Searchenginejournal.com

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Google to pay $391.5 million settlement over location tracking, state AGs say

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Google to pay $391.5 million settlement over location tracking, state AGs say

Google has agreed to pay a $391.5 million settlement to 40 states to resolve accusations that it tracked people’s locations in violation of state laws, including snooping on consumers’ whereabouts even after they told the tech behemoth to bug off.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said it is time for Big Tech to recognize state laws that limit data collection efforts.

“I have been ringing the alarm bell on big tech for years, and this is why,” Mr. Landry, a Republican, said in a statement Monday. “Citizens must be able to make informed decisions about what information they release to big tech.”

The attorneys general said the investigation resulted in the largest-ever multistate privacy settlement. Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, a Democrat, said Google’s penalty is a “historic win for consumers.”

“Location data is among the most sensitive and valuable personal information Google collects, and there are so many reasons why a consumer may opt out of tracking,” Mr. Tong said. “Our investigation found that Google continued to collect this personal information even after consumers told them not to. That is an unacceptable invasion of consumer privacy, and a violation of state law.”

Location tracking can help tech companies sell digital ads to marketers looking to connect with consumers within their vicinity. It’s another tool in a data-gathering toolkit that generates more than $200 billion in annual ad revenue for Google, accounting for most of the profits pouring into the coffers of its corporate parent, Alphabet, which has a market value of $1.2 trillion.

The settlement is part of a series of legal challenges to Big Tech in the U.S. and around the world, which include consumer protection and antitrust lawsuits.

Though Google, based in Mountain View, California, said it fixed the problems several years ago, the company’s critics remained skeptical. State attorneys general who also have tussled with Google have questioned whether the tech company will follow through on its commitments.

The states aren’t dialing back their scrutiny of Google’s empire.

Last month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he was filing a lawsuit over reports that Google unlawfully collected millions of Texans’ biometric data such as “voiceprints and records of face geometry.”

The states began investigating Google’s location tracking after The Associated Press reported in 2018 that Android devices and iPhones were storing location data despite the activation of privacy settings intended to prevent the company from following along.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich went after the company in May 2020. The state’s lawsuit charged that the company had defrauded its users by misleading them into believing they could keep their whereabouts private by turning off location tracking in the settings of their software.

Arizona settled its case with Google for $85 million last month. By then, attorneys general in several other states and the District of Columbia had pounced with their own lawsuits seeking to hold Google accountable.

Along with the hefty penalty, the state attorneys general said, Google must not hide key information about location tracking, must give users detailed information about the types of location tracking information Google collects, and must show additional information to people when users turn location-related account settings to “off.”

States will receive differing sums from the settlement. Mr. Landry’s office said Louisiana would receive more than $12.7 million, and Mr. Tong’s office said Connecticut would collect more than $6.5 million.

The financial penalty will not cripple Google’s business. The company raked in $69 billion in revenue for the third quarter of 2022, according to reports, yielding about $13.9 billion in profit.

Google downplayed its location-tracking tools Monday and said it changed the products at issue long ago.

“Consistent with improvements we’ve made in recent years, we have settled this investigation which was based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago,” Google spokesman Jose Castaneda said in a statement.

Google product managers Marlo McGriff and David Monsees defended their company’s Search and Maps products’ usage of location information.

“Location information lets us offer you a more helpful experience when you use our products,” the two men wrote on Google’s blog. “From Google Maps’ driving directions that show you how to avoid traffic to Google Search surfacing local restaurants and letting you know how busy they are, location information helps connect experiences across Google to what’s most relevant and useful.”

The blog post touted transparency tools and auto-delete controls that Google has developed in recent years and said the private browsing Incognito mode prevents Google Maps from saving an account’s search history.

Mr. McGriff and Mr. Monsees said Google would make changes to its products as part of the settlement. The changes include simplifying the process for deleting location data, updating the method to set up an account and revamping information hubs.

“We’ll provide a new control that allows users to easily turn off their Location History and Web & App Activity settings and delete their past data in one simple flow,” Mr. McGriff and Mr. Monsees wrote. “We’ll also continue deleting Location History data for users who have not recently contributed new Location History data to their account.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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5 Tips to Boost Your Holiday Search Strategy

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With the global economic downturn, inflation, ongoing supply chain challenges, and uncertainty due to the Ukraine war, this year’s holiday shopping season promises to be very challenging. Will people be in the mood to spend despite the gloom? Or will they rein in their enthusiasm and save for the year ahead?

With these issues in mind, here are five considerations to support your search engine optimization strategy this holiday shopping season:

1. Start early.

Rising prices are likely to mean shoppers will start researching their holiday spending earlier than ever to nab the best bargains. Therefore, retailers must roll out their holiday product and category pages — and launch any promotions — sooner to ensure their pages get crawled and indexed by search engines in good time.

Some e-commerce stores manage to get their pages ranking early by updating and reusing the same section of the website for holiday content and promotions, rotating between content for Christmas, Mother’s Day, Valentine gifts, Fourth of July sales, etc. This approach can help you retain the momentum, links and authority you build up with Google and get your holiday pages visible and ranking quickly.

2. Make research an even bigger priority.

With all the uncertainty this year, it’s vital to use SEO research to identify the trending seasonal keywords and search phrases in your retail vertical — and then optimize content accordingly.

With tools such as Google Trends you can extract helpful insights based on the types of searches people are making. For example, with many fashion retailers now charging for product returns, will prioritizing keywords such as “free returns” get more search traction? And with money being tighter, will consumers stick with brands they trust rather than anything new — meaning brand searches might be higher?

3. Make greater use of Google Shopping.

To get the most out of their holiday spending, consumers are more likely to turn to online marketplaces such as Google Shopping as they make it easier to compare products, features and prices, as well as to identify the best deals both online and in nearby stores.

Therefore, take a combined approach which includes listing in Google Shopping and at the same time optimizing product detail pages on your e-commerce site to ensure they’re unique and provide more value than competitors’ pages. Be precise with product names on Google Shopping (e.g., do the names contain the words people are searching for?); ensure you provide all the must-have information Google requires; and set a price that’s not too far from the competition. 

4. Give other search sources the attention they deserve.

Earlier this year Google itself acknowledged that consumers — especially younger consumers — are starting to use TikTok, Instagram and other social media sites for search. In fact, research suggests 11 percent of product searches now start on TikTok and 15 percent on Instagram. Younger consumers in particular are more engaged by visual content, which may explain why they’re embracing visually focused social sites for search. So, as part of your search strategy, create and share content on popular social media sites that your target customers visit.

Similarly, with people starting their shopping searches on marketplaces such as Amazon.com, optimizing any listings you have on the site should be part of your strategy. And thankfully, the better optimized your product detail pages are for Amazon (with unique, useful content), the better they will rank on Google as well!

5. Hold paid budget for late opportunities.

The greater uncertainty and volatility this holiday season mean you must keep a close eye on shopper behavior and be ready to embrace opportunities that emerge later on. Getting high organic rankings for late promotions is always more challenging, so hold some paid search budget back to help drive traffic to those pages — via Google Ads, for example. Important keywords to include in late season search ad campaigns include “delivery before Christmas” and “same-day-delivery.” For locally targeted search ads, consider “pick up any time before Christmas.”

The prospect of a tough, unpredictable holiday shopping season means search teams must roll out seasonal SEO plans early, closely track shoppers’ behavior, and be ready to adapt as things change.

Marcus Pentzek is chief SEO consultant at Searchmetrics, the global provider of search data, software and consulting solutions.

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Google Home App Gets an Overhaul, Rolling Out Soon

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Google Home app

Google refreshes its Home app with a slew of new features after launching a new Nest gear. This makes it faster and easier to pair smart devices with Matter, adds customization and personalization options, an enhanced Nest camera experience, and better intercommunication between devices.

This revamped Home app utilizes Google’s Matter smart home standard – launching later this year – especially the Fast Pair functionality. On an Android phone, it will instantly recognize a Matter device and allow you to easily set it up, bypassing the current procedure that is often slow and difficult. Google is also updating its Nest speakers, displays, and routers – to control Matter devices better.

Google Home App New Features

  • Spaces: This feature allows you to control multiple devices in different rooms. Google has listed a few things by room: kitchen, bedroom, living room, etc., although it’s pretty limited right now. Spaces let you organize devices how you see fit. For instance, you can set up a baby monitor in one room and set a different room’s camera to focus on an area the baby often plays. With Spaces, you can categorize these two devices into one Space category called ‘Baby.’

Google Home app Spaces

  • Favorites: This one is pretty self-explanatory. It allows you to make certain gears as a favorite that you frequently use. Doing so will bring those devices into the limelight within the Google Home app for easier access. 

Google Home app

  • Media: Google adds a new media widget at the bottom of your Home feed. This will automatically determine what media is playing in your home and provide you with the appropriate controls as and when needed. There will be song controls if you listen to music on your speakers. There will be television remote controls if you’re watching TV. 

Google probably won’t roll out this Home app makeover anytime soon. But you can try it for yourself in the coming week by enrolling in the public preview, available in select areas.

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