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Google on How to Rank Category Pages

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Google’s John Mueller answered a question about how to rank a category page over a product page. Along the way he discussed how links are viewed by Google and the negative ranking effect of keyword stuffing.

How to Rank a Category Page?

The publisher’s product page was ranking for a keyword phrase. But they felt that the appropriate page should be the category page. The publisher confirmed that the category page was indexed.

Internal Linking for Ranking a Category Page

John Mueller answered:

“Some of the things I think you should look at here, one thing is to make sure that the category page is well-linked within your website.

So if you have multiple products that are all in the same category or related to that category then link to that category page so that when we crawl the website we can really understand this category page is actually really important.”

Less than optimal site architecture is something I have seen in client website audits. A poor navigational structure can keep users and bots from reaching the pages you want them to find. This can add an unnecessary one or two clicks toward reaching a category page.

Category pages are useful pages for users and for ranking, particularly for the more general two word phrases.

User Intent and Product Pages that Rank

Something John Mueller didn’t discuss, perhaps because he was taking the publisher at their word, is that Google’s algorithm may sometimes understand that a certain percentage of users are looking for a specific product when they use a general phrase.

In that case, the publisher’s specific page may be the right page to show, better than the category page.

Of course, the best outcome would be to show both pages, the category page and the product page. The point I want to make is that the reason a specific page is shown may be a reflection of what users want.

Keyword Stuffing can Cause Inability to Rank

Mueller then goes on to suggest that a reason a category page might not rank is because of too many keywords. This is called keyword stuffing (or term spamming).

There is a lot of nuance to this topic and maybe it’s best for it’s own article about keyword best practices. The key point is that excessive keyword use, according to John Mueller, can cause the page to be less trusted and affect it’s ability to rank.

John Mueller said:

“Another thing that I sometimes see, especially with e-commerce sites that kind of struggle with this kind of a problem is that they go to an extreme on the category page in that they include those keywords over and over and over again.

And what happens in our systems then is we look at this page and we see these keywords repeated so often on that page that we think well, something is kind of fishy with this page, with regards to these keywords, well maybe we should be more careful when we show it.”

What do you think Mueller mean by a page being fishy? I believe it mostly means that a page has the appearance of being untrustworthy.

Mueller then goes on to recommend moderation in the use of keywords.

“So it might be that you’re… kind of overdoing it with the category page in that it would perhaps make sense to kind of move back a little bit and say, I will focus my category page on these keywords and make sure that it’s a good page for that but not go too far overboard.

So that when we look at this page we’ll see… this is a reasonable page, there’s good content here, we can show it for these terms. We don’t have to worry about whether or not someone is trying to unnaturally overdo it with those keywords. “

Link Building to Help Rank a Category Page

The publisher then asked if building external links into the category page, as well as to the website home page, would be helpful.

At this point, when the discussion turned to building links, Mueller appeared to become somewhat measured in his response. He affirmed that yes, links can help a category page rank in Google. But his voice contained what I felt was a guarded affirmation. His full response included his advice against building artificial links.

“Yeahhh… I… I mean… that’s that’s something doesn’t… doesn’t cause any problems and from our point of view, uhm…in general backlinks from other websites are something that we would see as something that would evolve naturally over time.”

Interesting answer, right? Links, from Google’s point of view, are something that evolve (naturally) over time.

There is so much that can be inferred from that statement with regards to the speed and pace of link building.

However, it’s just one sentence with no further discussion to give it more context. Best to not read too much into that sentence. Yet it is still worth taking note of it.

John Mueller Advises Against Artificial Links

Mueller goes on to advise against building artificial links. Google has published a Webmaster Help Page about link schemes that is worth reading if there’s a question about what constitutes “artificial links.”

This what Mueller advised:

“So I don’t think you’d need to go out and kind of artificially go out and artificially build backlinks to a category page like that.”

Fixing a Category Page Ranking is a Long Term Project

John Mueller advises that fixing the category page ranking issue should be considered as a long term project. I believe many in the search community would find that statement debatable. Changes to a page can lead to ranking change within days. I know this for a fact as I have experienced this as recently as the past month.

Nevertheless, I tend to agree with Mueller that it’s best to see ranking a category page as a long term project. Internal linking patterns and (lack of) links from outside the site can play a role.

Here’s what Mueller said:

“I think, what I would also do in a case like this is kind of go with the assumption that you won’t be able to fix this very quickly. Not, not that it’s impossible but kind of assume that it’s… it’s going to stick around a little bit because sometimes our algorithms do take a bit of time to adjust.

And… find a way to make it so that when users land on that product page that they realize there’s actually a category page that might be more useful to them.

So, something like a small banner or some other visual element on the page so that when users go to that product page they can find their way to the category page fairly easily… so that you don’t have to worry about the short term problem that maybe the wrong page is ranking.

And in the meantime you can kind of work on creating a reasonable solution for the category page itself.”

Takeaways for Ranking Category Pages

Here are the key points:

1. Optimize internal linking.
Make sure category page is well linked to within site

2. Don’t keyword spam
Repeating keywords can cause Google to regard the page with caution

3. Links are Good. But…
Mueller agreed that links are good but cautioned against artificially creating inbound links.

4. Make it easy for users to find the category page
When the product page is ranking where the category page should rank, Mueller suggests adjusting the product page to make it easier for users to find the category page.

I have reservations on that last point. I’m not saying that John Mueller is wrong. I’m simply adding additional observations based on my experience.

Google tends to show specific product pages for specific search queries (like sizes, colors and models). Google tends to show more category or informational pages for vague queries.

It’s odd for Google to show a product page for a general term. To me it makes sense to rank a product page for a general search term if there’s evidence that a percentage of users seek a specific product when searching with a general phrase. In that case,

Watch the Webmaster Hangout:
https://youtu.be/rwpwq8Ynf7s?t=474

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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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Student writing on computer

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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