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Google’s Advice for Surviving Algorithm Changes

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In case you missed it, Google just published advice for SEOs on how to continually do well throughout their algorithm changes.

Now, what most people don’t know is Google doesn’t just push out a handful of algorithm changes per year.

They publish substantially more.

Just to give you an idea of how often Google changes, they had 3,200 algorithm changes in just 1 year.

You heard me right, 3,200 changes.

That’s a lot!

So instead of focusing on one algorithm update that you may read about, you need to focus on making your site compatible with Google’s core goal.

First I’ll go over the advice they are telling us all to follow… and then I’ll break down what it really means.

Google’s advice to SEOs

Just like most of their announcements, Google tends to be vague. But of course, they did mention that you should focus on content.

What’s interesting, though, is they did give a list of questions that you should ask yourself with your existing and new content.

But as I mentioned they are vague… so I decided to do something a bit unique. Next to each question that Google provides (in the color black), you’ll find my thoughts on what I think Google is trying to tell you (in the color orange).

Here goes:

Content and quality questions

  • Does the content provide original information, reporting, research, or analysis? – Although Google doesn’t penalize for duplicate content, they are looking for new, fresh content. With over a billion blogs on the Internet, there is a lot of regurgitated content out there these days.
  • Does the content provide a substantial, complete, or comprehensive description of the topic? – When a user performs a search, Google wants to give them what they are looking for with the least amount of work. They don’t want to have the user go to multiple sites to get their answer. Pages that are thorough and answer all parts of the user’s search query are more likely to rank. In other words, if you write thin content, it probably isn’t satisfactory for the searcher, which means you may not rank as high as you want.
  • Does the content provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious? – Does your content have more to offer than what your competition is producing? Go above and beyond by providing additional analysis or drawing your own conclusions using additional data that may be helpful to the reader.
  • If the content draws on other sources, does it avoid simply copying or rewriting those sources and instead provide substantial additional value and originality? – Don’t just copy and paste someone else’s content then link to them and provide a few lines of commentary. If you are going to reference someone else’s content, make sure you draw your own conclusions and the majority of the text on that page is unique and useful.
  • Does the headline and/or page title provide a descriptive, helpful summary of the content? – 8 out of 10 people read a headline and only 2 out of 10 people click through to read the rest. Your headlines not only need to be appealing, but they need to summarize the content. Don’t just focus on keywords or clickbait, focus on user experience with your headlines.
  • Does the headline and/or page title avoid being exaggerating or shocking in nature? – Google can tell if you are using clickbait as that typically causes a high bounce rate. If they see that people are going back to the SERP listing, it means that your content wasn’t up to par and you just used clickbait to trick searchers.
  • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend? – As Eric Schmidt, the ex-CEO of Google, once said, brands are the solution. Google prefers ranking brands, so don’t prioritize SEO. Focus first on your user. Make them love your content, your product, and your service.
  • Would you expect to see this content in or referenced by a printed magazine, encyclopedia, or book? – If you think your content is so great you are willing to print it out and hang it up on your wall, you have done a great job. If you are just creating content for the sake of it, people will be able to tell.
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Expertise questions

  • Does the content present information in a way that makes you want to trust it, such as clear sourcing, evidence of the expertise involved, background about the author or the site that publishes it, such as through links to an author page or a site’s About page? – The best way to position yourself as an expert is to use data and cite your sources. In addition, if you are going to be an expert, make sure you have your name on the page and even link to your bio.
  • If you researched the site producing the content, would you come away with an impression that it is well-trusted or widely-recognized as an authority on its topic? – Compared to your competition how are you seen? If you are more respected and more popular, it shows that you are potentially an expert. You should work on your brand queries as it will help get you more visibility.
  • Is this content written by an expert or enthusiast who demonstrably knows the topic well? – Are you faking it or are you clearly an expert on this topic? Sure, I can research the law and write content about the law, but I am not a lawyer and it would be obvious. Write about what you know, and if you don’t know it, go learn it really well first before writing about it.
  • Is the content free from easily-verified factual errors? – Creating fake news will hurt you. Don’t contribute false information to the web. If you write a few pieces with false information and Google catches on, it could potentially damage your whole site.
  • Would you feel comfortable trusting this content for issues relating to your money or your life? – If someone does a search on Google and lands on your site, what will happen if they read your content? If they continue on to another site and continually researches, it means that they don’t trust you enough yet. Not only is it important for you to create amazing content, but you need to show the reader why you are a credible source and why they should pay attention to you instead of someone else in the space.
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Presentation and production questions

  • Is the content free from spelling or stylistic issues? – Check your content for grammar and spelling errors. Once you do that, make sure your content is easy to read. For example, having a neon font color on a white background is hard to read.
  • Was the content produced well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced? – Spend time making sure the content you put out on the web is polished. From custom graphics and videos to images and podcasts, make sure the overall experience is great. Writing good content isn’t enough as everyone is doing that these days.
  • Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care? – Google wants individual pages to fully answer searchers questions. If someone is looking for an answer and you link out to a lot of other sites to explain your answer, then you aren’t creating the best experience. Focus on creating an amazing experience not only from a site level but from an individual page level too.
  • Does the content have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content? – Your website needs to load fast. Ads slow down a site and can ruin the user experience. Monetizing shouldn’t be the core focus of your site, instead, it should be to educate and help visitors.
  • Does content display well for mobile devices when viewed on them? – Roughly 60% of searches on Google happen on mobile devices. Your content needs to be mobile and tablet friendly.
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Comparative questions

  • Does the content provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results? – If you are trying to rank for a keyword, look at the top 10 pages that currently take up page 1 and make sure your content is better and more thorough than what is already ranking. If you don’t create something that is superior in quality, there is no reason for Google to place your site above the competition.
  • Does the content seem to be serving the genuine interests of visitors to the site or does it seem to exist solely by someone attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines? – Don’t write content for search engines. Write for humans first as Google’s goal is to satisfy humans. Even in the short run if this means you won’t rank as high, that’s fine. Eventually, Google will figure it out and your content will rank higher over time as long as you are focusing on the end-user.

Conclusion

There were a few other things Google mentioned, such as their quality guidelines, but there was one really important thing that they mentioned.

It’s also important to understand that search engines like Google do not understand content the way human beings do. Instead, we look for signals we can gather about content and understand how those correlate with how humans assess relevance.

Google’s wants to please you, not the version of you that is a marketer or an entrepreneur, but the version of you that uses Google on a daily basis.

When you perform a Google search, are you happy with the results?

If you aren’t, you aren’t going to tell Google with your words as there isn’t an easy way to do that. That’s why they look at signals, such as click-through-rates or how many people hit the back button so they can go back to Google and click on the next listing.

Instead of focusing on SEO, the real trick to winning is to focus on the user.

Go above and beyond and do what is best for them even if you feel it will hurt your rankings in the short run. Because in the long run, Google will figure it out and you should rank better if you are genuinely putting the user first and doing a better job than your competition.

So, what do you think of Google’s advice to SEOs?

NEWS

Google December Product Reviews Update Affects More Than English Language Sites? via @sejournal, @martinibuster

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Google’s Product Reviews update was announced to be rolling out to the English language. No mention was made as to if or when it would roll out to other languages. Mueller answered a question as to whether it is rolling out to other languages.

Google December 2021 Product Reviews Update

On December 1, 2021, Google announced on Twitter that a Product Review update would be rolling out that would focus on English language web pages.

The focus of the update was for improving the quality of reviews shown in Google search, specifically targeting review sites.

A Googler tweeted a description of the kinds of sites that would be targeted for demotion in the search rankings:

“Mainly relevant to sites that post articles reviewing products.

Think of sites like “best TVs under $200″.com.

Goal is to improve the quality and usefulness of reviews we show users.”

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Google also published a blog post with more guidance on the product review update that introduced two new best practices that Google’s algorithm would be looking for.

The first best practice was a requirement of evidence that a product was actually handled and reviewed.

The second best practice was to provide links to more than one place that a user could purchase the product.

The Twitter announcement stated that it was rolling out to English language websites. The blog post did not mention what languages it was rolling out to nor did the blog post specify that the product review update was limited to the English language.

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Google’s Mueller Thinking About Product Reviews Update

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Product Review Update Targets More Languages?

The person asking the question was rightly under the impression that the product review update only affected English language search results.

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But he asserted that he was seeing search volatility in the German language that appears to be related to Google’s December 2021 Product Review Update.

This is his question:

“I was seeing some movements in German search as well.

So I was wondering if there could also be an effect on websites in other languages by this product reviews update… because we had lots of movement and volatility in the last weeks.

…My question is, is it possible that the product reviews update affects other sites as well?”

John Mueller answered:

“I don’t know… like other languages?

My assumption was this was global and and across all languages.

But I don’t know what we announced in the blog post specifically.

But usually we try to push the engineering team to make a decision on that so that we can document it properly in the blog post.

I don’t know if that happened with the product reviews update. I don’t recall the complete blog post.

But it’s… from my point of view it seems like something that we could be doing in multiple languages and wouldn’t be tied to English.

And even if it were English initially, it feels like something that is relevant across the board, and we should try to find ways to roll that out to other languages over time as well.

So I’m not particularly surprised that you see changes in Germany.

But I also don’t know what we actually announced with regards to the locations and languages that are involved.”

Does Product Reviews Update Affect More Languages?

While the tweeted announcement specified that the product reviews update was limited to the English language the official blog post did not mention any such limitations.

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Google’s John Mueller offered his opinion that the product reviews update is something that Google could do in multiple languages.

One must wonder if the tweet was meant to communicate that the update was rolling out first in English and subsequently to other languages.

It’s unclear if the product reviews update was rolled out globally to more languages. Hopefully Google will clarify this soon.

Citations

Google Blog Post About Product Reviews Update

Product reviews update and your site

Google’s New Product Reviews Guidelines

Write high quality product reviews

John Mueller Discusses If Product Reviews Update Is Global

Watch Mueller answer the question at the 14:00 Minute Mark

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Survey says: Amazon, Google more trusted with your personal data than Apple is

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MacRumors reveals that more people feel better with their personal data in the hands of Amazon and Google than Apple’s. Companies that the public really doesn’t trust when it comes to their personal data include Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram.

The survey asked over 1,000 internet users in the U.S. how much they trusted certain companies such as Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, WhatsApp, YouTube, Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon to handle their user data and browsing activity responsibly.

Amazon and Google are considered by survey respondents to be more trustworthy than Apple

Those surveyed were asked whether they trusted these firms with their personal data “a great deal,” “a good amount,” “not much,” or “not at all.” Respondents could also answer that they had no opinion about a particular company. 18% of those polled said that they trust Apple “a great deal” which topped the 14% received by Google and Amazon.

However, 39% said that they trust Amazon  by “a good amount” with Google picking up 34% of the votes in that same category. Only 26% of those answering said that they trust Apple by “a good amount.” The first two responses, “a great deal” and “a good amount,” are considered positive replies for a company. “Not much” and “not at all” are considered negative responses.

By adding up the scores in the positive categories,

Apple tallied a score of 44% (18% said it trusted Apple with its personal data “a great deal” while 26% said it trusted Apple “a good amount”). But that placed the tech giant third after Amazon’s 53% and Google’s 48%. After Apple, Microsoft finished fourth with 43%, YouTube (which is owned by Google) was fifth with 35%, and Facebook was sixth at 20%.

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Rounding out the remainder of the nine firms in the survey, Instagram placed seventh with a positive score of 19%, WhatsApp was eighth with a score of 15%, and TikTok was last at 12%.

Looking at the scoring for the two negative responses (“not much,” or “not at all”), Facebook had a combined negative score of 72% making it the least trusted company in the survey. TikTok was next at 63% with Instagram following at 60%. WhatsApp and YouTube were both in the middle of the pact at 53% followed next by Google and Microsoft at 47% and 42% respectively. Apple and Amazon each had the lowest combined negative scores at 40% each.

74% of those surveyed called targeted online ads invasive

The survey also found that a whopping 82% of respondents found targeted online ads annoying and 74% called them invasive. Just 27% found such ads helpful. This response doesn’t exactly track the 62% of iOS users who have used Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature to opt-out of being tracked while browsing websites and using apps. The tracking allows third-party firms to send users targeted ads online which is something that they cannot do to users who have opted out.

The 38% of iOS users who decided not to opt out of being tracked might have done so because they find it convenient to receive targeted ads about a certain product that they looked up online. But is ATT actually doing anything?

Marketing strategy consultant Eric Seufert said last summer, “Anyone opting out of tracking right now is basically having the same level of data collected as they were before. Apple hasn’t actually deterred the behavior that they have called out as being so reprehensible, so they are kind of complicit in it happening.”

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The Financial Times says that iPhone users are being lumped together by certain behaviors instead of unique ID numbers in order to send targeted ads. Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg says that the company is working to rebuild its ad infrastructure “using more aggregate or anonymized data.”

Aggregated data is a collection of individual data that is used to create high-level data. Anonymized data is data that removes any information that can be used to identify the people in a group.

When consumers were asked how often do they think that their phones or other tech devices are listening in to them in ways that they didn’t agree to, 72% answered “very often” or “somewhat often.” 28% responded by saying “rarely” or “never.”

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Google’s John Mueller on Brand Mentions via @sejournal, @martinibuster

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Google’s John Mueller was asked if “brand mentions” helped with SEO and rankings. John Mueller explained, in detail, how brand mentions are not anything used at Google.

What’s A Brand Mention?

A brand mention is when one website mentions another website. There is an idea in the SEO community that when a website mentions another website’s domain name or URL that Google will see this and count it the same as a link.

Brand Mentions are also known as an implied link. Much was written about this ten years ago after a Google patent that mentions “implied links” surfaced.

There has never been a solid review of why the idea of “brand mentions” has nothing to do with this patent, but I’ll provide a shortened version later in this article.

John Mueller Discussing Brand Mentions

John Mueller Brand Mentions

John Mueller Brand Mentions

Do Brand Mentions Help With Rankings?

The person asking the question wanted to know about brand mentions for the purpose of ranking. The person asking the question has good reason to ask it because the idea of “brand mentions” has never been definitively reviewed.

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The person asked the question:

“Do brand mentions without a link help with SEO rankings?”

Google Does Not Use Brand Mentions

Google’s John Mueller answered that Google does not use the “brand mentions” for any link related purpose.

Mueller explained:

“From my point of view, I don’t think we use those at all for things like PageRank or understanding the link graph of a website.

And just a plain mention is sometimes kind of tricky to figure out anyway.”

That part about it being tricky is interesting.

He didn’t elaborate on why it’s tricky until later in the video where he says it’s hard to understand the subjective context of a website mentioning another website.

Brand Mentions Are Useful For Building Awareness

Mueller next says that brand mentions may be useful for helping to get the word out about a site, which is about building popularity.

Mueller continued:

“But it can be something that makes people aware of your brand, and from that point of view, could be something where indirectly you might have some kind of an effect from that in that they search for your brand and then …obviously, if they’re searching for your brand then hopefully they find you right away and then they can go to your website.

And if they like what they see there, then again, they can go off and recommend that to other people as well.”

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“Brand Mentions” Are Problematic

Later on at the 58 minute mark another person brings the topic back up and asks how Google could handle spam sites that are mentioning a brand in a negative way.

The person said that one can disavow links but one cannot disavow a “brand mention.”

Mueller agreed and said that’s one of things that makes brand mentions difficult to use for ranking purposes.

John Mueller explained:

“Kind of understanding the almost the subjective context of the mention is really hard.

Is it like a positive mention or a negative mention?

Is it a sarcastic positive mention or a sarcastic negative mention? How can you even tell?

And all of that, together with the fact that there are lots of spammy sites out there and sometimes they just spin content, sometimes they’re malicious with regards to the content that they create…

All of that, I think, makes it really hard to say we can just use that as the same as a link.

…It’s just, I think, too confusing to use as a clear signal.”

Where “Brand Mentions” Come From

The idea of “brand mentions” has bounced around for over ten years.

There were no research papers or patents to support it. “Brand mentions” is literally an idea that someone invented out of thin air.

However the “brand mention” idea took off in 2012 when a patent surfaced that seemed to confirm the idea of brand mentions.

There’s a whole long story to this so I’m just going to condense it.

There’s a patent from 2012 that was misinterpreted in several different ways because most people at the time, myself included, did not read the entire patent from beginning to end.

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The patent itself is about ranking web pages.

The structure of most Google patents consist of introductory paragraphs that discuss what the patent is about and those paragraphs are followed by pages of in-depth description of the details.

The introductory paragraphs that explain what it’s about states:

“Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs… for ranking search results.”

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Pretty much nobody read that beginning part of the patent.

Everyone focused on a single paragraph in the middle of the patent (page 9 out of 16 pages).

In that paragraph there is a mention of something called “implied links.”

The word “implied” is only mentioned four times in the entire patent and all four times are contained within that single paragraph.

So when this patent was discovered, the SEO industry focused on that single paragraph as proof that Google uses brand mentions.

In order to understand what an “implied link” is, you have to scroll all the way back up to the opening paragraphs where the Google patent authors describe something called a “reference query” that is not a link but is nevertheless used for ranking purposes just like a link.

What Is A Reference Query?

A reference query is a search query that contains a reference to a URL or a domain name.

The patent states:

“A reference query for a particular group of resources can be a previously submitted search query that has been categorized as referring to a resource in the particular group of resources.”

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Elsewhere the patent provides a more specific explanation:

“A query can be classified as referring to a particular resource if the query includes a term that is recognized by the system as referring to the particular resource.

…search queries including the term “example.com” can be classified as referring to that home page.”

The summary of the patent, which comes at the beginning of the document, states that it’s about establishing which links to a website are independent and also counting reference queries and with that information creating a “modification factor” which is used to rank web pages.

“…determining, for each of the plurality of groups of resources, a respective count of reference queries; determining, for each of the plurality of groups of resources, a respective group-specific modification factor, wherein the group-specific modification factor for each group is based on the count of independent links and the count of reference queries for the group;”

The entire patent largely rests on those two very important factors, a count of independent inbound links and the count of reference queries. The phrases reference query and reference queries are used 39 times in the patent.

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As noted above, the reference query is used for ranking purposes like a link, but it’s not a link.

The patent states:

“An implied link is a reference to a target resource…”

It’s clear that in this patent, when it mentions the implied link, it’s talking about reference queries, which as explained above simply means when people search using keywords and the domain name of a website.

Idea of Brand Mentions Is False

The whole idea of “brand mentions” became a part of SEO belief systems because of how that patent was misinterpreted.

But now you have the facts and know why “brand mentions” is not real thing.

Plus John Mueller confirmed it.

“Brand mentions” is something completely random that someone in the SEO community invented out of thin air.

Citations

Ranking Search Results Patent

Watch John Mueller discuss “brand mentions” at 44:10 Minute Mark and the brand Mentions second part begins at the 58:12 minute mark

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