Google Algorithm Change Roundup: July, August & September 2014

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October 29 2014

It’s October! We can’t believe how quickly the year has flown by and all the change that is happening. At TopSpot Internet Marketing, we just moved into a big, new, awesome office space down the road from our previous office. (Our address has changed but our phone number hasn’t.) In the search world, there has also been a lot of change in the last few months with how Google search results are being displayed. Below we’ve detailed some of the Google changes with how they are impacting results and our integrated marketing strategies.

July 2014

Surge in In-Depth Articles

Almost a year ago, Google introduced “in-depth articles” which show up often in informational type organic results and offer additional information on a subject to explore more. According to Google, these results are ranked algorithmically based on many signals which look for high-quality, in-depth content. Common methods for encouraging in-depth content to be added would be to use Schema “article” and “logo” markup and actually creating compelling, in-depth content.

Here’s an example of what In-Depth Articles look like:

Photo credit: http://insidesearch.blogspot.com/2013/08/discover-great-in-depth-articles-on.html

In early July, SEOs noticed a bit of a surge in the presence of in-depth articles in results. Nothing official has been communicated, so right now the surge is attributed to Google doing some testing.

How do I get featured as an in-depth article?
We’ve always encouraged putting together great, detailed content. When our clients have detailed, informational content about a topic, we mark up the article using Schema article markup to increase the likelihood of getting picked up as an in-depth article.

Vanishing Video Thumbnails

Mid-July, there were reports of a shake-up in video results, with many results losing video thumbnails. It’s an interesting occurrence when you consider how historically, there were similar, incremental drops in Authorship photos. Coincidence? Video snippets may be completely on their way out, but interestingly enough it does seem that some sites like YouTube and big brands still have them.

Youtube video snippet from TopSpot.

YouTube should be part of your video strategy as these video snippets seem to be taking priority in search engine results. As always, a strong video strategy is one that has videos that contain relevant and valuable content.

YouTube should be part of your video strategy as these video snippets seem to be taking priority in search engine results. As always, a strong video strategy is one that has videos that contain relevant and valuable content.

Google gives and Google takes. Whether video snippets are present in results or not, video is still important especially YouTube), but it should be looked at as an asset to a website that first contains great content.

Additional reading on video thumbnails: https://wistia.com/blog/where-did-my-video-snippets-go

Pigeon

On July 25, it was reported that Google released an algorithm update to provide more useful, relevant and accurate local search results with enhanced distance and location ranking parameters. It’s been named “Pigeon” by Search Engine Land (SEL). From SEL:

“Google told us that the new local search algorithm ties deeper into their web search capabilities, including the hundreds of ranking signals they use in web search along with search features such as Knowledge Graph, spelling correction, synonyms and more. In addition, Google said that this new algorithm improves their distance and location ranking parameters.”

So far, we’ve seen two noticeable differences in SERPs attributed to Pigeon:

  • Fewer 7-pack local results for queries, and in some cases no local results packs.
  • Local and niche industry directories seem to have received a boost in visibility.

3-pack local results for running shoes

3-pack local results for running shoes

 At this point, it’s still very early in determining the effect this will have on local businesses as there will probably be some adjusting to the algorithm over time. But this does continue to make the case that any business that cares about local customers should have a local SEO strategy.

August 2014

HTTPS is now a ranking signal

It’s no secret Google has been moving towards more security and privacy on the web, especially with last year’s not provided announcement to completely encrypt all organic search activity. At Google I/O a few months ago, they also called for “HTTPS everywhere” for a more secure web. Announced on August 6, HTTPS will be used as a lightweight ranking signal. HTTPS or Hypertext Transport Protocol Secure, helps protect the confidentiality of user data.

Who is affected?
Google gave an estimation that this new signal will affect fewer than 1% of global queries.

Do I need to change to HTTPS?
Google mentioned that this is a small signal and it carries less weight than other signals like high-quality content. It may strengthen over time but right now it’s speculated that it will only impact a narrow set of queries for sites that actually need to encrypt user information like e-commerce stores, financial sites, etc. Just because Google says it’s a ranking signal doesn’t mean you need to immediately switch over to HTTPS as there are some drawbacks as well including cost, implementation and slower site speed (also a ranking signal).

For right now, think about your users. If you sell products and/or take sensitive information from users like credit card numbers, you should be using HTTPS.

June – August 2014

Farewell Authorship

Google’s John Mueller announced at the end of June that Google Authorship photos would be making their way out of search results, leaving only the author byline. Here’s what he said:

“We’ve been doing lots of work to clean up the visual design of our search results, in particular creating a better mobile experience and a more consistent design across devices. As a part of this, we’re simplifying the way authorship is shown in mobile and desktop search results, removing the profile photo and circle count. (Our experiments indicate that click-through behavior on this new less-cluttered design is similar to the previous one.)”

At the end of August, Mueller came back to be the bearer of more Authorship news on Google+ announcing that Google would stop showing authorship altogether in search results, meaning no photos or bylines. Within a day, authorship vanished from search results.

Should I  take off Authorship markup on my site?
Google has mentioned that there’s no harm in keeping the markup there. It will just be ignored. There is still the concept of Author Rank however, which Matt Cutts said is used for In-Depth Articles. Google has said that their recent dropping of Authorship shouldn’t impact how In-Depth articles work or other efforts to explore how authors can get rewarded for their content.

Should I still use Google+?
Yes! Google+ is still a great place to:

  • share content (impacting personalized search)
  • find communities that are interested in your content
  • optimize your map listing
  • monitor and respond to reviews

Additional reading on Google+ and Authorship: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+JohnMueller/posts/HZf3KDP1Dm8

August – September 2014 (Paid Search Update!)

Close Variant Matching on Exact Match Keywords

Don’t think Google only makes changes to shake things up on the organic side of things. Google is also keeping our paid search managers on their toes. On August 14, Google announced that in late September, they will be applying close-variant matching to all exact and phrase match keywords.

Previously if advertisers were bidding on exact match keywords, Google would only show your ads if someone searched for that exact keyword. Starting late September, Google will no longer allow advertisers to opt out of close variant keyword matching to exact and phrase match keywords, meaning those exact keywords you bid on will also include “misspellings, singular and plural forms, acronyms, stemmings (such as floor and flooring), abbreviations, and accents.”

How does this impact our Paid Search Strategy?
As always our team of paid search managers are refining campaigns by adding negatives to avoid irrelevant traffic and clicks. There is opportunity to find close variant gems in query reports, which are added back into your account to reduce cost per click (CPC). While you can rely on auto matching, the best bet is to include the variations of relevant terms in your program. This will allow you to avoid potentially paying a premium for keywords.

Although the last few months were chock full of Google changes, it’s quite common. Google search results are in constant metamorphosis. In a Google+ post from Google head of search Amit Singhal, Google shares they have made “more than 890 improvements to Google Search last year alone.” As digital marketing experts, it is our job to stay on top of these changes and alter our integrated internet marketing strategies accordingly.