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Big Update To Google’s Ranking Drop Documentation

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Google updates documentation for diagnosing ranking drops

Google updated their guidance with five changes on how to debug ranking drops. The new version contains over 400 more words that address small and large ranking drops. There’s room to quibble about some of the changes but overall the revised version is a step up from what it replaced.

Change# 1: Downplays Fixing Traffic Drops

The opening sentence was changed so that it offers less hope for bouncing back from an algorithmic traffic drop. Google also joined two sentences into one sentence in the revised version of the documentation.

The documentation previously said that most traffic drops can be reversed and that identifying the reasons for a drop aren’t straightforward. The part about most of them can be reversed was completely removed.

Here is the original two sentences:

“A drop in organic Search traffic can happen for several reasons, and most of them can be reversed. It may not be straightforward to understand what exactly happened to your site”

Now there’s no hope offered for “most of them can be reversed” and more emphasis on understanding what happened is not straightforward.

This is the new guidance

“A drop in organic Search traffic can happen for several reasons, and it may not be straightforward to understand what exactly happened to your site.”

Change #2 Security Or Spam Issues

Google updated the traffic graph illustrations so that they precisely align with the causes for each kind of traffic decline.

The previous version of the graph was labeled:

“Site-level technical issue (Manual Action, strong algorithmic changes)”

The problem with the previous label is that manual actions and strong algorithmic changes are not technical issues and the new version fixes that issue.

The updated version now reads:

“Large drop from an algorithmic update, site-wide security or spam issue”

Change #3 Technical Issues

There’s one more change to a graph label, also to make it more accurate.

This is how the previous graph was labeled:

“Page-level technical issue (algorithmic changes, market disruption)”

The updated graph is now labeled:

“Technical issue across your site, changing interests”

Now the graph and label are more specific as a sitewide change and “changing interests” is more general and covers a wider range of changes than market disruption. Changing interests includes market disruption (where a new product makes a previous one obsolete or less desirable) but it also includes products that go out of style or loses their trendiness.

Graph titled

Change #4 Google Adds New Guidance For Algorithmic Changes

The biggest change by far is their brand new section for algorithmic changes which replaces two smaller sections, one about policy violations and manual actions and a second one about algorithm changes.

The old version of this one section had 108 words. The updated version contains 443 words.

A section that’s particularly helpful is where the guidance splits algorithmic update damage into two categories.

Two New Categories:

  • Small drop in position? For example, dropping from position 2 to 4.
  • Large drop in position? For example, dropping from position 4 to 29.

The two new categories are perfect and align with what I’ve seen in the search results for sites that have lost rankings. The reasons for dropping up and down within the top ten are different from the reasons why a site drops completely out of the top ten.

I don’t agree with the guidance for large drops. They recommend reviewing your site for large drops, which is good advice for some sites that have lost rankings. But in other cases there’s nothing wrong with the site and this is where less experienced SEOs tend to be unable to fix the problems because there’s nothing wrong with the site. Recommendations for improving EEAT, adding author bios or filing link disavows do not solve what’s going on because there’s nothing wrong with the site. The problem is something else in some of the cases.

Here is the new guidance for debugging search position drops:

Algorithmic update
Google is always improving how it assesses content and updating its search ranking and serving algorithms accordingly; core updates and other smaller updates may change how some pages perform in Google Search results. We post about notable improvements to our systems on our list of ranking updates page; check it to see if there’s anything that’s applicable to your site.

If you suspect a drop in traffic is due to an algorithmic update, it’s important to understand that there might not be anything fundamentally wrong with your content. To determine whether you need to make a change, review your top pages in Search Console and assess how they were ranking:

Small drop in position? For example, dropping from position 2 to 4.
Large drop in position? For example, dropping from position 4 to 29.

Keep in mind that positions aren’t static or fixed in place. Google’s search results are dynamic in nature because the open web itself is constantly changing with new and updated content. This constant change can cause both gains and drops in organic Search traffic.

Small drop in position
A small drop in position is when there’s a small shift in position in the top results (for example, dropping from position 2 to 4 for a search query). In Search Console, you might see a noticeable drop in traffic without a big change in impressions.

Small fluctuations in position can happen at any time (including moving back up in position, without you needing to do anything). In fact, we recommend avoiding making radical changes if your page is already performing well.

Large drop in position
A large drop in position is when you see a notable drop out of the top results for a wide range of terms (for example, dropping from the top 10 results to position 29).

In cases like this, self-assess your whole website overall (not just individual pages) to make sure it’s helpful, reliable and people-first. If you’ve made changes to your site, it may take time to see an effect: some changes can take effect in a few days, while others could take several months. For example, it may take months before our systems determine that a site is now producing helpful content in the long term. In general, you’ll likely want to wait a few weeks to analyze your site in Search Console again to see if your efforts had a beneficial effect on ranking position.

Keep in mind that there’s no guarantee that changes you make to your website will result in noticeable impact in search results. If there’s more deserving content, it will continue to rank well with our systems.”

Change #5 Trivial Changes

The rest of the changes are relatively trivial but nonetheless makes the documentation more precise.

For example, one of the headings was changed from this:

You recently moved your site

To this new heading:

Site moves and migrations

Google’s Updated Ranking Drops Documentation

Google’s updated documentation is a well thought out but I think that the recommendations for large algorithmic drops are helpful for some cases and not helpful for other cases. I have 25 years of SEO experience and have experienced every single Google algorithm update. There are certain updates where the problem is not solved by trying to fix things and Google’s guidance used to be that sometimes there’s nothing to fix. The documentation is better but in my opinion it can be improved even further.

Read the new documentation here:

Debugging drops in Google Search traffic

Review the previous documentation:

Internet Archive Wayback Machine: Debugging drops in Google Search traffic

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Google Clarifies Organization Merchant Returns Structured Data

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Google updates organization structured data for merchant returns

Google quietly updated their organization structured data documentation in order to clarify two points about merchant returns in response to feedback about an ambiguity in the previous version.

Organization Structured Data and Merchant Returns

Google recently expanded their Organization structured data so that it could now accommodate a merchant return policy. The change added support for adding a sitewide merchant return policy.

The original reason for adding this support:

“Adding support for Organization-level return policies

What: Added documentation on how to specify a general return policy for an Organization as a whole.

Why: This makes it easier to define and maintain general return policies for an entire site.”

However that change left unanswered about what will happen if a site has a sitewide return policy but also has a different policy for individual products.

The clarification applies for the specific scenario of when a site uses both a sitewide return policy in their structured data and another one for specific products.

What Takes Precedence?

What happens if a merchant uses both a sitewide and product return structured data? Google’s new documentation states that Google will ignore the sitewide product return policy in favor of a more granular product-level policy in the structured data.

The clarification states:

“If you choose to provide both organization-level and product-level return policy markup, Google defaults to the product-level return policy markup.”

Change Reflected Elsewhere

Google also updated the documentation to reflect the scenario of the use of two levels of merchant return policies in another section that discusses whether structured data or merchant feed data takes precedence. There is no change to the policy, merchant center data still takes precedence.

This is the old documentation:

“If you choose to use both markup and settings in Merchant Center, Google will only use the information provided in Merchant Center for any products submitted in your Merchant Center product feeds, including automated feeds.”

This is the same section but updated with additional wording:

“If you choose to use both markup (whether at the organization-level or product-level, or both) and settings in Merchant Center, Google will only use the information provided in Merchant Center for any products submitted in your Merchant Center product feeds, including automated feeds.”

Read the newly updated Organization structured data documentation:

Organization (Organization) structured data – MerchantReturnPolicy

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What Is It & How To Write It

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What Is It & How To Write It

In this guide, you will learn about alternative text (known as alt text): what it is, why it is important for on-page SEO, how to use it correctly, and more.

It’s often overlooked, but every image on your website should have alt text. More information is better, and translating visual information into text is important for search engine bots attempting to understand your website and users with screen readers.

Alt text is one more source of information that relates ideas and content together on your website.

This practical and to-the-point guide contains tips and advice you can immediately use to improve your website’s image SEO and accessibility.

What Is Alt Text?

Alternative text (or alt text) – also known as the alt attribute or the alt tag (which is not technically correct because it is not a tag) – is simply a piece of text that describes the image in the HTML code.

What Are The Uses Of Alt Text?

The original function of alt text was simply to describe an image that could not be loaded.

Many years ago, when the internet was much slower, alt text would help you know the content of an image that was too heavy to be loaded in your browser.

Today, images rarely fail to load – but if they do, then it is the alt text you will see in place of an image.

Screenshot from Search Engine Journal, May 2024

Alt text also helps search engine bots understand the image’s content and context.

More importantly, alt text is critical for accessibility and for people using screen readers:

  • Alt text helps people with disabilities (for example, using screen readers) learn about the image’s content.

Of course, like every element of SEO, it is often misused or, in some cases, even abused.

Let’s now take a closer look at why alt text is important.

Why Alt Text Is Important

The web and websites are a very visual experience. It is hard to find a website without images or graphic elements.

That’s why alt text is very important.

Alt text helps translate the image’s content into words, thus making the image accessible to a wider audience, including people with disabilities and search engine bots that are not clever enough yet to fully understand every image, its context, and its meaning.

Why Alt Text Is Important For SEO

Alt text is an important element of on-page SEO optimization.

Proper alt text optimization makes your website stand a better chance of ranking in Google image searches.

Yes, alt text is a ranking factor for Google image search.

Depending on your website’s niche and specificity, Google image search traffic may play a huge role in your website’s overall success.

For example, in the case of ecommerce websites, users very often start their search for products with a Google image search instead of typing the product name into the standard Google search.

Screenshot from search for [Garmin forerunner]Screenshot from search for [Garmin forerunner], May 2024

Google and other search engines may display fewer product images (or not display them at all) if you fail to take care of their alt text optimization.

Without proper image optimization, you may lose a lot of potential traffic and customers.

Why Alt Text Is Important For Accessibility

Visibility in Google image search is very important, but there is an even more important consideration: Accessibility.

Fortunately, in recent years, more focus has been placed on accessibility (i.e., making the web accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities and/or using screen readers).

Suppose the alt text of your images actually describes their content instead of, for example, stuffing keywords. In that case, you are helping people who cannot see this image better understand it and the content of the entire web page.

Let’s say one of your web pages is an SEO audit guide that contains screenshots from various crawling tools.

Would it not be better to describe the content of each screenshot instead of placing the same alt text of “SEO audit” into every image?

Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Alt Text Examples

Finding many good and bad examples of alt text is not difficult. Let me show you a few, sticking to the above example with an SEO audit guide.

Good Alt Text Examples

So, our example SEO guide contains screenshots from tools such as Google Search Console and Screaming Frog.

Some good examples of alt text may include:

”The
”Google
”List
”Screaming

Tip: It is also a good idea to take care of the name of your file. Using descriptive file names is not a ranking factor, but I recommend this as a good SEO practice.

Bad And/Or Spammy Alt Text Examples

I’ve also seen many examples of bad alt text use, including keyword stuffing or spamming.

Here is how you can turn the above good examples into bad examples:

”google search console coverage report
”google
”seo
”seo

As you can see, the above examples do not provide any information on what these images actually show.

You can also find examples and even more image SEO tips on Google Search Central.

Common Alt Text Mistakes

Stuffing keywords in the alt text is not the only mistake you can make.

Here are a few examples of common alt text mistakes:

  • Failure to use the alt text or using empty alt text.
  • Using the same alt text for different images.
  • Using very general alt text that does not actually describe the image. For example, using the alt text of “dog” on the photo of a dog instead of describing the dog in more detail, its color, what it is doing, what breed it is, etc.
  • Automatically using the name of the file as the alt text – which may lead to very unfriendly alt text, such as “googlesearchconsole,” “google-search-console,” or “photo2323,” depending on the name of the file.

Alt Text Writing Tips

And finally, here are the tips on how to write correct alt text so that it actually fulfills its purpose:

  • Do not stuff keywords into the alt text. Doing so will not help your web page rank for these keywords.
  • Describe the image in detail, but still keep it relatively short. Avoid adding multiple sentences to the alt text.
  • Use your target keywords, but in a natural way, as part of the image’s description. If your target keyword does not fit into the image’s description, don’t use it.
  • Don’t use text on images. All text should be added in the form of HTML code.
  • Don’t write, “this is an image of.” Google and users know that this is an image. Just describe its content.
  • Make sure you can visualize the image’s content by just reading its alt text. That is the best exercise to make sure your alt text is OK.

How To Troubleshoot Image Alt Text

Now you know all the best practices and common mistakes of alt text. But how do you check what’s in the alt text of the images of a website?

You can analyze the alt text in the following ways:

Inspecting an element (right-click and select Inspect when hovering over an image) is a good way to check if a given image has alt text.

However, if you want to check that in bulk, I recommend one of the below two methods.

Install Web Developer Chrome extension.

Screenshot of Web Developer Extension in Chrome by authorScreenshot from Web Developer Extension, Chrome by author, May 2024

Next, open the page whose images you want to audit.

Click on Web Developer and navigate to Images > Display Alt Attributes. This way, you can see the content of the alt text of all images on a given web page.

The alt text of images is shown on the page.Screenshot from Web Developer Extension, Chrome by author, May 2024

How To Find And Fix Missing Alt Text

To check the alt text of the images of the entire website, use a crawler like Screaming Frog or Sitebulb.

Crawl the site, navigate to the image report, and review the alt text of all website images, as shown in the video guide below.

You can also export only images that have missing alt text and start fixing those issues.

Alt Text May Not Seem Like A Priority, But It’s Important

Every source of information about your content has value. Whether it’s for vision-impaired users or bots, alt text helps contextualize the images on your website.

While it’s only a ranking factor for image search, everything you do to help search engines understand your website can potentially help deliver more accurate results. Demonstrating a commitment to accessibility is also a critical component of modern digital marketing.

FAQ

What is the purpose of alt text in HTML?

Alternative text, or alt text, serves two main purposes in HTML. Its primary function is to provide a textual description of an image if it cannot be displayed. This text can help users understand the image content when technical issues prevent it from loading or if they use a screen reader due to visual impairments. Additionally, alt text aids search engine bots in understanding the image’s subject matter, which is critical for SEO, as indexing images correctly can enhance a website’s visibility in search results.

Can alt text improve website accessibility?

Yes, alt text is vital for website accessibility. It translates visual information into descriptive text that can be read by screen readers used by users with visual impairments. By accurately describing images, alt text ensures that all users, regardless of disability, can understand the content of a web page, making the web more inclusive and accessible to everyone.

More resources: 


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Google Dials Back AI Overviews In Search Results, Study Finds

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Photo of a mobile device in mans hand with generative google AI Overview on the screen.

According to new research, Google’s AI-generated overviews have undergone significant adjustments since the initial rollout.

The study from SE Ranking analyzed 100,000 keywords and found Google has greatly reduced the frequency of AI overviews.

However, when they appear, they’re more detailed than they were previously.

The study digs into which topics and industries are more likely to get an AI overview. It also looks at how the AI snippets interact with other search features like featured snippets and ads.

Here’s an overview of the findings and what they mean for your SEO efforts.

Declining Frequency Of AI Overviews

In contrast to pre-rollout figures, 8% of the examined searches now trigger an AI Overview.

This represents a 52% drop compared to January levels.

Yevheniia Khromova, the study’s author, believes this means Google is taking a more measured approach, stating:

“The sharp decrease in AI Overview presence likely reflects Google’s efforts to boost the accuracy and trustworthiness of AI-generated answers.”

Longer AI Overviews

Although the frequency of AI overviews has decreased, the ones that do appear provide more detailed information.

The average length of the text has grown by nearly 25% to around 4,342 characters.

In another notable change, AI overviews now link to fewer sources on average – usually just four links after expanding the snippet.

However, 84% still include at least one domain from that query’s top 10 organic search results.

Niche Dynamics & Ranking Factors

The chances of getting an AI overview vary across different industries.

Searches related to relationships, food and beverages, and technology were most likely to trigger AI overviews.

Sensitive areas like healthcare, legal, and news had a low rate of showing AI summaries, less than 1%.

Longer search queries with ten words were more likely to generate an AI overview, with a 19% rate indicating that AI summaries are more useful for complex information needs.

Search terms with lower search volumes and lower cost-per-click were more likely to display AI summaries.

Other Characteristics Of AI Overviews

The research reveals that 45% of AI overviews appear alongside featured snippets, often sourced from the exact domains.

Around 87% of AI overviews now coexist with ads, compared to 73% previously, a statistic that could increase competition for advertising space.

What Does This Mean?

SE Ranking’s research on AI overviews has several implications:

  1. Reduced Risk Of Traffic Losses: Fewer searches trigger AI Overviews that directly answer queries, making organic listings less likely to be demoted or receive less traffic.
  2. Most Impacted Niches: AI overviews appear more in relationships, food, and technology niches. Publishers in these sectors should pay closer attention to Google’s AI overview strategy.
  3. Long-form & In-Depth Content Essential: As AI snippets become longer, companies may need to create more comprehensive content beyond what the overviews cover.

Looking Ahead

While the number of AI overviews has decreased recently, we can’t assume this trend will continue.

AI overviews will undoubtedly continue to transform over time.

It’s crucial to monitor developments closely, try different methods of dealing with them, and adjust game plans as needed.


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