Get set to explore another wild month on the Google SERP as the search engine continues its trend of both confirming algorithm updates (with what is perhaps some ambiguity) and making major changes to what the SERP and its features look like. April, in particular, came with a change that has some serious potential to alter how users interact with sites on the mobile SERP.
Ready… set… go!
Another Long and Confirmed Google Algorithm Update
Is it just me or are these updates just getting longer and longer and longer and longer (I could go on)? Starting on April the 13th, our rank fluctuation weather tool, the Rank Risk Index, began picking up increases in rank fluctuations. Though moderate to the exclusion of April the 18th, the fluctuation increases lasted 10 full days. Then after, a two-day break, we tracked another four days of moderate to
high rank fluctuations.
The Rank Risk Indexing showing a prolonged Google Updated that ran from the middle of April and on
What’s more, and like the Google update tracked in March, Google on April the 20th again confirmed that indeed they had rolled out an update. Nice as this is, and it is nice, I believe there is more than meets the eye here. Both here and back in March, Google’s search liaison, one Daniel Sullivan, informed sites to suck it up because if their rankings dropped, there’s nothing they could do… i.e., this one was not about quality. On top of that, Google’s John Mueller said that the March update was “more around relevance” as opposed to quality. He went on to explain that older content may no longer be relevant, etc., etc., etc.
That’s all fine, but I don’t think that the only pages hit were ones from the Stone Age. As opposed to how Google is portraying it, I think the “relevance” they are referring to has less to do with reevaluating the applicability of certain sites within the modern age and more to do with improving how Google understands query intent. With that, of course, comes the ability to better determine relevance. In other words, I suspect that these updates are more about machine learning recalibrating itself than anything else.
Google Goes With a ‘More Results’ Button on Mobile Doing Away with Pagination
After the algorithm update, I think this is the biggest news
off the April SERP… which is why I put it here… right under the algorithm update. We first got a whiff that Google was doing away with mobile SERP pagination when the news broke that the search engine was expanding its testing of the ‘More results’ button.
The ‘More results’ button on mobile replaces pagination
The button, which loads more organic results without having to go to another independent page, was a long-standing test on the mobile SERP. For some time there had been speculation that this format would replace pagination on the mobile SERP. Which is exactly what happened. On April 11th, we got official word that pagination was a thing of the past and that we would be solely seeing the ‘More results’ button on mobile.
While this seems like a relatively benign change, the implications are potentially immense. How so? Well, the data shows that the faster and easier more results load, the more results users will look at. Not only that, but the faster users can scroll down to see more and more results, the less they notice and read. That is, as users can more easily access results, they tend to not read as much as they do skim. Thus, and in a nutshell, Google’s “More results’ button means users will most likely look at more results than with pagination, but not read the titles and/or meta-descriptions as closely.
Here’s a full analysis of the implications of the ‘More results” button along with the winners and losers of the new mobile SERP format.
New Data Points to Intentional Local Pack Listing Clustering
In early April, we released a study that points to Google giving perhaps too much weight to search location within its local algorithm. After running 226 local searches, I found that Google prefers to show two local listings within close proximity to each other (and the actual search location), with one last result further away.
The Local Pack clustering pattern as seen for the keyword ‘car wash
Besides this pattern being interesting in its own right, I found that Google does not discriminate between searches that are specifically intended to cover wide geographical areas and those that are not. That is, Google shows the same 2:1 clustering pattern both within cities as well as entire states. For example, queries covering the entire state of Texas (which covers 268,597 square miles) showed the same two clustered results shown in cities like Boston (89.63 square miles).
The 2:1 Local Pack clustering pattern as seen for a query that lacks refined location intent
The issue here is that Google seems to offer the same local listing pattern no matter the intention of the query. None of the queries I performed were done within 500 miles of any of the locations searched for. Yet, Google still ascribed me a location within the city or
state, and showed me the 2:1 clustering pattern roughly 65% of the time. While the pattern is helpful to local users looking for the closest location, what about tourists doing a search from halfway around the world? Do they really want clustered locations centered around a local, and in this case ascribed, search location or do they want to scour the best the given city has to offer?
Get the full results and read the full analysis of our Local Pack study here.
Google Ups Autocomplete Scrutiny and Downgrades Your Custom Made Meta-Descriptions
Two interesting tidbits here:
1) Google to Remove More Autocomplete Predictions: Google’s autocomplete feature is one the elements that have given the search giant some trouble within the recent past along with fake news results and the like. As part of Google’s recent efforts to offer up a bit more by way of transparency, an official blog post released in April highlights how the feature functions and why sometimes controversial content appears within it. As part of its write-up, Google also committed to taking new and stronger action to prevent *** topic controversy from making its way into the autocomplete suggestions.
Google’s autocomplete SERP feature offering ten query suggestions
2) Google Tends Not to Use Your Custom Created Meta-Description: Despite giving sites more room to express themselves within the meta-description, a study released towards the end of April shows that Google doesn’t really use them. Instead, quite often the search engine creates its own meta-description for you. The study indicated that when doing so Google tends to use content from the first paragraph on the associated page.
April’s Changes to Google’s SERP Features
It’s that time again. Time to take a hard look at what changes Google made to its ever-important special search features. From Featured Snippets to ads, April, like every month before it and most likely after it, had some real doozies.
Featured Snippet Titles and Refinement
Two interesting pieces of news on everyone’s favorite SERP feature, Featured Snippets:
Multiple Featured Snippets Under One Title: Mobile Featured Snippets, per an update to the feature announced back in December 2017, can now contain a title that the snippet “falls under.” The funny thing is, that while doing some research, I came across the same title, but for different (but highly related) Featured Snippets:
Featured Snippet Refinement Bubbles: In the past, Google has tested multiple versions of “bubbles” that allowed users to refine the Featured Snippet being shown in various ways. April saw reports of these Featured Snippet “refining” bubbles come flooding in. It would appear, that Google has released this feature for all Featured Snippets where clarification and further segmentation are applicable.
new Featured Snippet refinement bubbles set to show necktie tying instructions that are easy to follow
Ads on the April SERP
I haven’t talked about ads on the SERP much in the recent past. That said, and like Featured Snippets, there were two interesting pieces of news for ads on the SERP last month.
Advertising One-Liners on the Google SERP: No, this is not a joke. On April 24th, SERoundtable reported that Google was testing one line ads on the SERP. The ads were shown in a box that contained a series of URLs and the associated favicon of those URLs. It’s an odd format, that I can’t imagine will become part of the AdWords package, but you never know.
A one-line AdWords ads test (Image Source: seroundtable.com)
Addiction Treatment Ads on the SERP: Back in September of 2017, Google had decided to sweepingly limit ads for addiction treatment on the SERP. In a nutshell, Google was worried about ads that were misleading to some of its most vulnerable users. Late in April however, the search engine announced that addiction treatment ads will be reintroduced. This time around, advertisers must undergo an extensive certification process before their addiction treatment ads will show.
Multiple Product Carousels
In this test, Google experimented with two successive product carousels on mobile. Over the course of April, I saw multiple sources discussing this format’s appearance on the mobile SERP. Obviously, having two product carousels in succession significantly increases the chances of a user engaging with a sponsored product posting.
Two PLA carousels shown in succession as part of a mobile SERP test (Image Source: thesempost.com)
Service Menus Come to More Local Panels
In early April, Google gave businesses the ability to add a listing or “menu” of services to the Local Knowledge Panel on mobile. Until now, “menus” quite logically appeared for restaurants, but not for general businesses. Now, with the new Services tab, the broader local business community can showcase their services inside the Local Panel.
The New ‘Interesting Finds’ Feature
Last, but not least, a never before seen SERP featured was spotted on the April SERP. Called ‘Interesting Finds‘, the feature seems to present articles related to the query in a box that contains four results. The box does allow access to more such results, which appear to usually consist of AMP-optimized pages.
The newly spotted ‘Interesting Finds’ feature (Image Source: seroundtable.com)
What’s Your Take on April’s Google SERP?
Are these “confirmed” Google updates really about Google improving its ability to interpret intent? Should Google update its local algorithm to better handle searcher location when proximity is not a factor? Are Local Pack listings too focused on the searcher’s location? Who stands to lose the most from the mobile SERP’s ‘More results’ button and who is likely to benefit from the loss of pagination? What do you think of Featured Snippet refinement? Do you think Google will ever go with one line AdWords ads?
Mordy is the official liaison to the SEO community for Wix. Despite his numerous and far-reaching duties, Mordy still considers himself an SEO educator first and foremost. That’s why you’ll find him regularly releasing all sorts of original SEO research and analysis!
While Amazon has grown to an online superpower, so have the number of Amazon Facebook groups. Being a part of an Amazon Facebook group can be a lifesaver when something unexpected comes up. Getting to know a group of like-minded people looking for innovative ways to scale an Amazon FBA business can only help you along your selling journey. With so many groups and mentorship programs available, it’s hard to know the most reliable ones that have the best authentic communities. We’ll unleash the Top 5 Amazon Facebook groups you need to check out in 2021.
Organic is old news. If I would have said something like that five years ago, you might be looking at me all cross-eyed. However, in today’s SEO world, one in which SERP features dominate, such a statement actually contains an air of viability. I mean, for crying out loud, Google has tested zero organic result SERPs. Why? Why does it feel as if Google is increasingly giving more weight to its own SERP properties? Why would Google even test a SERP with no results?
I have a theory.
Death to Organic Results! Voice Search is the Future!
Everything I’m about to share with you hinges on voice search. That’s right, Google’s SERP strategy and
its “odd” behavior when organic results are concerned hinges on voice search. But how and why does voice search dictate organic result policy at the Googleplex? How do we get from an interest in advancing voice search to a serious Google test that showed no initial organic results on the SERP? (For those of you who aren’t familiar with what I am referring to, in March 2018 Google ran a test that showed only a Direct Answer Box on the SERP for specific queries. Users had to specifically click on a button to see actual organic results.)
What We Know About How Google Sees Voice Search
Let’s start off with what Google has said and done vis a vis voice search with the intention of gaining insight into how the search giant relates to the search format.
In fact, Google CEO Sundar Pichai has said some interesting and perhaps out of character things about voice search. Contrary to the mobile-first craze within the SEO world, Google has left mobile behind. Back in May 2017, Pichai declared “an important shift from a mobile-first world to an AI first world.” Meaning, that despite the immediate implications of mobile, Google is looking beyond the device when considering the future. The future, for Google, is synonymous with AI.
It’s important to understand what this means. Yes, AI opens new doors within search in so far as user intent and search algorithms are concerned. At the same time, forget new doors, AI opens entirely new vistas to Google. With the entrance of AI into the center ring, Google transcends search by becoming the king of personalization. We live in the age of personalization, from anything from ad targeting to coke bottle labels. The world is quickly moving away from being multi-faceted (which search is, as it offers a variety of results) to becoming far more idiomatic. It makes sense, with the increased demands on our time, variety is no longer a luxury we can afford. Personalization is merely an outgrowth of a desire for greater self-efficiency.
At the center of this enormous demand and market, at least for the moment, sit home assistant devices (such as Google Home) that of course function via voice command and that aim towards offering highly personalized information (which is an entirely different paradigm than traditional search). The home device market is just the tip of the iceberg. Again, new vistas, not new doors. The market is ripe for the expansion of AI technologies aimed at helping improve and making more efficient that which is your life.
Don’t take my word for it, take Sundar’s. In January 2017 Google’s CEO was quoted as saying that voice search was still in its “very early days” and that he sees voice search working “from many different contexts.” Specifically, Google sees the voice personalization world hitting on all aspects of a user’s life, and as such is “trying to drive the ecosystem that way.”
Find me a quote or make me an argument that Google is trying to “drive the ecosystem” towards the organic results that traditional search presents. Voice search, and the AI behind it all, brings Google into a new future.
OK Voice Search, Show Me Your Stats
There’s plenty of sound evidence (i.e., data, aka “The Big D”) to support the notion that voice search and the implications that come with it are where we’re all heading. And now, for effect, I shall ramble off such data:
Actions Speak Louder Than Organic Results
I don’t need stats to show you how seriously Google is taking voice search, I don’t even need quotes from its CEO. All you need to do is look at how Google has behaved, since after all, and
like your 2nd-grade teacher told you, actions speak louder than words.
For starters, Google, when its voice properties are concerned, has and continues to make what seems like endless changes, upgrades, and improvements.
Here’s a great example of this – On February 28th Google made it possible to connect Google Home to Bluetooth devices. Meaning, you can now use the home assistant to play music on speakers around the house. Just one month later, Google made another announcement. This time Google gave you the ability to swap an annoying alarm sound with a song of preference. That is, when you use Google Home, you can instruct the device to wake you up at 5 am to the soothing crooning of a 70-year-old Bob Dylan.
For All the AI in China
You could certainly make the case that Google feels quite strongly about voice search by gauging the amount of effort the search giant puts into improving the services that employ the format, but we’re going to go a bit deeper.
Way back in forever ago (2010), Google left China so as to avoid censorship. Instead, we got the Hong Kong search engine, Google.com.hk. However, in 2015 Google’s apprehensive relationship with the country began to ease up. That’s when Google invested in
Mobvoi. The Beijing startup was the first such investment within China made by Google, ever. Does
Mobvoi help provide more accurate organic results? No. So why did Google make this investment? Because
Mobvoi developed Chumenwenwen, which is a “voice-activated AI assistance app.”
Mobvoi also helped launch Moto 360, “the first
wear device to carry Chinese voice search”. Simply,
Mobvoi is perhaps the most unique and innovative voice search tech firm in China.
What’s more telling is that this was not a one-shot deal. Since 2015 Google has been looking to China to further develop its ability to show highly relevant organic results its AI program. Google has been on the prowl for AI experts and AI investment opportunities inside of China, or as Mr. Pichai put it, “I’m committed to engaging more in China.”
Where Do Limited Organic Results Fit Into All of This?
My goal is not to provide you with a nice summary of how gushy Google gets when it comes to voice search and the AI that makes it happen. We’re here to see if we can develop a plausible theory that explains why Google’s zero organic results test made perfect sense and why the search engine’s inertia on the SERP seems to be moving away from organic results (and more towards its SERP features).
At this point, we know that Google has placed AI and voice search at the center of its blueprint for the future. The question is, how do organic results conflict with Google’s AI and voice search game plan?
The answer is trust.
Voice search, or Google voice search in specific, faces trust issues on three separate fronts; fears of data collection, brand sentiment, and voice result accuracy (which goes well beyond accuracy per se).
Voice Search and Data Collection Fears
I’m not going to spend a ton of time on this one because the fear of ambiguous data collection policies and the fears that result is a well-known and broad issue. That said, home assistant devices are like kerosene to a fire when it comes to data collection fears. The very first line in CNET’s guide to deleting Google Home voice recordings is, “It should come as no surprise that an always-on connected speaker in your home comes at the cost of quite a bit of privacy.” After telling you that indeed you can delete the recordings of your voice that Google Home stores, CNET goes on to say, “Still, it’s unnerving knowing that everything you say is stored, be it sensitive, personal information or not.”
Why so serious CNET? Because it’s not your “preferences” that Google is storing here (as opposed to traditional search), but your very voice, and that’s both intimate and freaky.
Certainly, an incident in October of 2017 that revealed a bug in the newly released Google Home hasn’t helped Google’s “voice security image.” Turns out, the bug had the device spying on users 24/7. Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t think Google did this on purpose in any way, shape, or form. What I am saying is that CNN running a story on this does not bode well optically for Google’s voice search aspirations.
Do People Trust the Google Brand?
When it comes to consumer trust in Google, the data is a bit of a mixed bag. Many studies show that consumer confidence in Google is relatively healthy. At the same time, you can find surveys where Google’s trust factor falters. Without getting too lost in the ether of consumer confidence data, there are two points I want to make:
However well Google does in a given consumer trust survey, it’s not enough to top Amazon.
Despite whatever a particular survey says, there has been a growing sense of concern around just how reliable and trustworthy Google actually is.
In Amazon We Trust
When it comes to trust, Amazon is prime! (That was a legitimately terrible pun. Then why did I write it? Oops, just broke the fourth wall.) I’m just going to throw some data your way:
Who cares about Amazon? Well, Google does. Here are some stats that show you why:
Estimates put Amazon’s home device market share somewhere between 70% – 75%. Those same estimates give Google a home device market share of just a 15% – 25% (despite Google Home outperforming Alexa in terms of answer accuracy).
Over the past two years or so, Google, whether correctly or incorrectly (which vis a vis perception does not matter), has faced some serious questions about its credibility. During this time Google has had to do some significant damage control after a slew of trust altering incidents. Arguably, the most pronounced of such has been Google’s inability to directly deal with fake news on the SERP. There have been a series of incidents that have eroded consumer confidence when it comes to trusting Google to show accurate news on the SERP and within its Top Stories SERP feature. The result has been an undercurrent that strongly questions Google’s trustworthiness.
Moving on from “news” and onto advertising. Here, Google has had to deal with more than an undercurrent of murmurings, but rather a tidal wave of “trust dissent.” In March 2017 the UK news outlet The Guardian found its YouTube ads were appearing next to some “undesirable” content. The result was the news giant pulling its ads from Google properties, which then resulted in a monsoon of distrust.
Needless to say, Google showing Hitler in its carousel of “best German authors” didn’t win over any critics either.
Voice search and Google Home have seen a tad of controversy themselves. Back in March of 2017, upon asking Google Home to lay out the day ahead of them, users heard what sounded suspiciously like an ad for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, which was out in theatres. Sneaking an ad into voice search results is a big no-no for consumer confidence. It’s a huge issue within organic search, it’s a whopper within voice search. Google denied that the information telling users that the movie was out in theatres was an ad. However, its denial had the opposite effect and opened the floodgates for suspect and suspicion.
Google’s Featured Snippets (which supply a great many answers to Google Home) fell prey to a bit of controversy as well. March 2017 was not a good month for Google. Early in the month, now Google spokesperson and former search journalist par excellence Danny Sullivan published an article that highlighted a long series of some pretty “inaccurate” Featured Snippets over time. The problem, other than the erosion of trust these Featured Snippets created, is that Google heavily (and that’s an understatement) relies on them to supply Google Home with answers (read our guide about Featured Snippets to learn more).
And now we have reached the heart of the trust issue that Google must deal with.
Can There Be Only One? Does the Voice Search Paradigm Breed Mistrust?
Google has a problem, and it’s that it can only give one answer. When responding to a voice query, Google can only give one response. When seeking out a home device, people are not looking for access to the wide world of possibilities in their quest for clarity. But is that what people want, one true answer? Yes, but perhaps not from Google.
Here comes Google, with its fake news faux pas, with its poor ad placement predicament, with its history of what are at times faulty Featured Snippets, with Hitler being considered one of Germany’s best authors for God’s sake, to offer you the one true answer, no questions asked.
Now, I am not saying that the above
are necessarily legitimate issues that should make you concerned. In fact, I would say not. Most of the answers Google Home will give you are great. Except I don’t care about that right now. What I care about are the optics. What do people feel, and what must Google consider if it wants to score a win with voice search?
Why did I bring up all of these different “trust issues” above? Simple, because home devices ask us to trust them with the one true answer they offer. How is that supposed to work, however, if, as I’ve laid out quite well I think (pat on the back to me), and much like my parent’s marriage, Google has some significant trust issues?
To be fair (and clear), I am not singling out Google here. I think that people have an issue relying on the information home devices offer. I call it “passenger syndrome.” When my wife drives, I often find myself clenching the door handle for dear life. It’s not just because my wife is a terrible driver. I often drive like an idiot, and it doesn’t faze me. Why? Because I’m in control. It’s the lack of control that scares me when my wife drives. When a user goes to a search engine for information, they’re in control. They can choose which information to view or not to view. Not so with a home device. Whether it’s Amazon, Google, or Apple, the user is not in control of the information.
Jacob Davis, the head of
search at iCrossing, perhaps put it best when speaking with TechCrunch saying, “When you can see multiple search results on a screen, a user has options
…. With voice alone, they might only be served one or two results without further prompting.
sit well with people? Likely not.”
Google’s One True Answer Self-Awareness
If for whatever reason, you still have any doubt that the one true answer home device paradigm is inherently problematic within the context of the extent to which users trust providers such as Google, consider this: Google themselves is quite aware of the problem. In fact, search engines, in general, are aware of the problem. That’s why you have Bing using AI to offer multiple perspective answers (aka Bing’s version of Featured Snippets).
Google has also moved in the same direction, releasing Multi-faceted Featured Snippets. Here, Google offers multiple “snippets” that target the multiple ways you could possibly interpret the intent of a query. Moreover, the search engine has said it plans to offer Featured Snippets that present “diverse perspectives.” Why? Because Google knows that users are not comfortable with the one true answer it uses for Google Home queries. With these “advances” Google is all but admitting that it has a “trust issue” and that voice search only exacerbates the problem.
How Less Visible (or no) Organic Results Solves Google’s Trust Problems
Should it be that users explicitly trust a search engine (or really anyone providing them with information), then receiving the one true answer is not only “OK,” it’s exactly what the user
wants. As voice search guru Duane Forrester points out, “Those rich experiences we have on mobile devices, and the faith we put in a single spoken answer, come from the trust a search engine has established with us — that it has THE best answer for our needs. ” But as we’ve established, as things stand currently, there is a trust issue both related to Google and with the voice search format per se.
So what does Google do to solve this, to better foster trust in its answers? Why it tests not showing any organic results at all of course!
Follow me here.
Google’s Dual Identity
Google has multiple personalities. The personality that most people associate Google with, and especially
those outside of the SEO industry, is that of a facilitator. Google connects users with the information they want. It’s like a modern-day version of a matchmaker.
This persona does not help Google vis a vis voice search.
Google has yet another persona and that is of a content provider. Google, via features like the Knowledge Panel, Featured Snippets, Related Questions (aka People Also Ask), a variety of Answer Boxes, and even carousels at times, gives you the information you desire.
This persona does help Google vis a vis voice search.
In the context of voice search, Google is not acting as a facilitator, but as a provider. Thus, when Google, as it has, increases the proliferation of some of the SERP features mentioned-above, it also increases the association users have with the brand as a provider of content.
More Than an Association
It is true that a central part of Google’s strategy, as I’ve often talked about, is to brand itself as a content provider, to expand user association beyond its role as a facilitator. However, that’s only one part of the equation. Like any association, the way users relate to Google as a content provider could either be positive or negative. Google, in its quest to be a content provider, is not only worried about creating such an association but ensuring it is one that is positive.
Simply, Google wants to tell its users, “you can trust me.”
Pushing Back on Organic – What Google Needs to Succeed in Voice Search
When Google pushes more of its SERP features, when it upgrades them, when it adds new elements and new tidbits of information, they are driving home the concept of
their being a content provider. Succinctly put, doing so creates a certain image, one that says, “we’re here to help you.”
More important than anything is that the user feel Google is there to help them know more (as opposed to find more).
Why does Google make so many noticeable changes to its content providing features? Because it creates an optic of trust. It creates the image of Google constantly looking for ways to provide you with better information. It’s not only the information per se that is significant but also the appearance that Google very much seeks to help you obtain better quality information.
Of course, doing so means pushing organic to the backburner a bit. I don’t think there’s any malicious intent in overshadowing organic results by way of search features. Rather, it’s simply the natural result of Google focusing in on an area that demands such results be ‘demoted’, for lack of a better word.
Google needs to bolster its own content in order to build and reinforce trust in the one true answer it offers users. It must do so in order to capture more of the home device market share, in order to further the possibilities that voice search brings, in order to remain the dominant figure 50 years from now, and as such it needs to move its attention away from organic results despite some backlash in the here and now. Google is in it (it being voice search and voice technology possibilities) for the long haul, and it’s not going to let some immediate backlash from within the SEO industry stop it. Nor should it really, because from Google’s perspective that would be penny wise, pound foolish.
Where Zero Organic Results Come in
Considering Google’s substantial trust problems, and its very real need to overcome them, running zero organic
result SERPs makes a lot of sense from the search engine’s perspective. What better way to instill a sense of user confidence, to create an association of being a content provider, to build trust in its ability to serve correct answers than to run no organic results on the SERP for very direct and easy to answer queries?
What better way to test one true answer
waters than by simply taking organic results off the SERP?
I believe the purpose of the zero organic result SERP test was twofold:
To foster the association of Google as a content provider in a positive way
To gauge if users felt comfortable with Google as the sole content provider
Regarding the latter, there was a way to access organic results, you just had to click a button to get to them. Don’t you think Google was tracking how often users hit the button?
The proof is in the pudding. Upon announcing the test was over, Danny Sullivan tweeted, “…We have enough data and feedback…”
What data could there be other than the number of times users were not satisfied with Google’s one true answer and clicked to see actual organic results? (OK, there could be other metrics, but you know this is the metric of note.)
What better way to know how much people trust or even like you offering one and only one information option than to do just that and check the CTR on that button that gave access to the organic results?
How interesting that in the context of voice search and in consideration of Google’s “trust needs” that running a SERP without organic results makes just so much sense.
And that is why I think Google ran the zero results SERP test and why I think you will see more of the same once the industry cools down and forgets the test ever happened.
Is Voice Search Behind Google’s Organic Strategy? What do you think?
When you put it all together, it all makes sense. Voice search and the AI that comes with it is the future in many ways. From giving you directions on your way out the door to turning off the kitchen lights despite you being halfway around the world, there’s a lot to be said for voice
being the next big thing. When you consider the uneasiness users may feel when getting that one true answer from a home assistant device, and when you consider Google’s trouble with trust over the past two years, it’s pretty easy to understand why the search engine would take measures to improve its image and to engender a more positive association.
It’s then an easy jump to organic results. The
perhaps only way that Google can convince users of its one answer worthiness is by promoting itself as a content provider. The best, and perhaps the only way to do that is by promoting its content bearing SERP features, which inherently means a move away from organic results. Subsequently, the best and perhaps the only way to gauge where it stands is to run SERPs that contain absolutely no organic results and see how often users click to access those listings.
That said, at the end of the day I don’t work for Google. I’m not privy to their inner-workings. The best I have is some pretty good evidence stringed together by my own creativity.
So what do you think? Is voice search success Google’s goal for now and for the future? Is it behind Google limiting the presence of organic results on the SERP? Let me know!
About The Author
Mordy is the official liaison to the SEO community for Wix. Despite his numerous and far-reaching duties, Mordy still considers himself an SEO educator first and foremost. That’s why you’ll find him regularly releasing all sorts of original SEO research and analysis!
There have been an ongoing discussions over the past few weeks across social media that Googlebot has dramatically reduced its crawling. For example, the founder of a web crawl analysis service tweeted a graph showing how Google’s crawl activity has declined since November 11, 2021.
Although the indexing slowdown doesn’t affect all sites, many on Twitter and Reddit agree that something changed at Google with respect to indexing and prove it with screenshots of Googlebot activity.
Evidence of Reduced Crawling
Anecdotal evidence of Google crawling anomalies have been stacking up on social media. The problem with social media is that one can literally make any observation about Google and nearly be guaranteed to receive agreement.
Anecdotal is interesting but not as good as data backed observations, which is what appeared recently on Twitter.
A founder of crawler and log analysis service Seolyzer (@Seolyzer_io) posted a graph of Google crawling behavior that showed a dramatic drop off of crawling activity beginning on November 11th.
Continue Reading Below
“Googlebot is on strike! Googlebot has drastically reduced its crawl activity on many large sites since November 11 at 6PM (GMT).”
🔥 Googlebot is on strike! 😱 Googlebot has drastically reduced its crawl activity on many large sites since November 11 at 6PM (GMT). Are you concerned? It requires a thread! 🔽 pic.twitter.com/ugLmCZbC1O
Some have noted a pattern with Googlebot suddenly no longer crawling pages that serve a 304 server response code.
A 304 response code means 304 (Not Modified).
That response code is generated by a server when a browser (or Googlebot) makes a conditional request for a page.
That means that a browser (or Googlebot) tells the server it has a web page saved in cache so don’t bother serving it unless that page has been updated (modified).
Here is a definition of the 304 (Not Modified) server response code from the HTTP Working Group:
“The 304 (Not Modified) status code indicates that a conditional GET or HEAD request has been received and would have resulted in a 200 (OK) response if it were not for the fact that the condition evaluated to false.
In other words, there is no need for the server to transfer a representation of the target resource because the request indicates that the client, which made the request conditional, already has a valid representation; the server is therefore redirecting the client to make use of that stored representation as if it were the payload of a 200 (OK) response.”
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304 Response Causes Less Googlebot Crawling?
One person tweeted confirmation (in French) that on several sites with AMP that he monitors experienced a drop on pages that responded with a 304 response.
Je confirme ici aussi dans la search console sur plusieurs sites avec amp baisse flagrante des 304 le 12 novembre
Here’s what Google’s official documentation advises:
“Googlebot signals the indexing pipeline that the content is the same as last time it was crawled.
The indexing pipeline may recalculate signals for the URL, but otherwise the status code has no effect on indexing.”
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Is it possible that Google has changed (permanently or temporarily) and that developer page is outdated?
Cookie Consent Theory
The 304 Server Response theory is one of many theories and solutions to explain why Googlebot might not index a web page.
One person tweeted that Google increased indexing after removing a cookie consent bar.
Google not crawling and indexing new pages anymore? I had the same problem and removed the cookie consent bar (Cookiepro) to test. Guess what – problem solved. @JohnMu – any ideas why Google might not crawl and index new pages with a cookie-consent popup?
“I don’t see anything broken in the way Google indexes stuff at the moment. I do see us being critical about what we pick up for indexing though, as any search engine should.”
Is Google Testing New Crawling Patterns?
Bing in October announced an open source indexing protocol called IndexNow whose goal is to reduce how often crawlers crawl web pages in order to reduce how much energy is used at data centers for crawling and at servers for serving web pages. The new protocol benefits publishers because it speeds up the process of notifying search engines when pages are updated or created, resulting in faster indexing of quality web pages.
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In November Google announced that it would test the new IndexNow indexing protocol to see if there are benefits to it.
Saving energy and reducing the carbon footprint is one of our most important issues of today. Could it be that Google is improving on ways to reduce crawling without radically changing to a new protocol?
Has Google Reduced Web Page Crawling?
There are some claims that Google has stopped indexing altogether but that is incorrect. However there is significant discussion on social media backed with data to support that Googlebot indexing patterns have changed.
The peak holiday season is rapidly approaching – in fact, for many, it’s already in full swing.
E-commerce sales for November 2021 to January 2022 are forecasted to rise 11%-15% to between $210 billion and $218 billion this year.
In-store shopping is also anticipated to rebound to a 33% share in 2021 from 28% in 2020, coming close to the 36% estimated for 2019.
To keep up with the surge in sales expected this holiday season, businesses must prepare their Google Business Profile (GBP, formerly Google My Business) to aid shoppers in their searches by presenting the most accurate, detailed information possible.
Here, you’ll find 8 Google Business Profile optimizations to bring your profiles up to ****, set yourself apart from the competition, and improve local visibility in time for holiday shoppers.
Want to enjoy a breezy beach-like feel while living miles away from the ocean? It is almost possible with the coastal home decor. Studies have proved that living in these kinds of interiors actually improves your mental health. The coastal interior decor is mostly confused with Hamptons interior design but what makes a coastal design distinguish is; its calm yet chic appearance.
Recently, online reviews have increasingly become an important and non-negotiable part of a business marketing strategy. The volume and number of review websites have grown, so have the rates that customers write and refer to reviews. Essentially, reviews help customers decide about where they should buy products and services.
Online reviews are gradually becoming a key part of business, making it necessary to have effective review management. As more studies are being carried out to assess the impact of positive and negative reviews on sales, profitability, product awareness and conversion rates, initial studies have suggested that there’s more to online reviews, as they can improve local ranking and general search engine results.
What Is Local SEO?
As the name suggests, local search engine optimization (SEO) is a search engine strategy that makes your business more visible on local Google search engine results. They are best for local businesses, such as restaurants, shops, or agencies targeting the local audience. Optimizing your business for local SEO makes it easier for people to find your business online and offline.
Local SEO slightly differs from general SEO. Essentially, local SEO is a sub-discipline of general SEO. While general SEO focuses on improving your website rankings without local components, local SEO improves rankings for specific areas, such as cities or towns. That said, to rank better for local Google searches, you should go beyond optimizing your website. For this, you should begin by creating and updating all the relevant details to your Google My Business (GMB) account.
Review Management for Local SEO
Before delving into how online reviews improve local SEO, it is important to discuss online review management. Online review management is the process of analyzing, monitoring and responding to online reviews to improve your business performance and support your business’s marketing strategy.
With more than 72 percent of customers attesting that they won’t take action before reading reviews and94 percent saying that negative reviews make them avoid businesses, review management is important both for small businesses and established businesses with multiple locations. Having highlighted the concept of review management, below are its components:
1. Create a Google My Business Page
Ranking with online reviews is impossible if you haven’t created a Google My Business Page for your local company or business. You should create a GMB page and complete your profile with detailed and accurate information to improve your local SEO. Ensure that you provide all the relevant details about your venture.
These details include describing your business, selecting the right business category, opening and closing hours, local contacts and business address. Remember to claim your GMB page so that you can begin collecting reviews.
2. Ask Customers for Reviews
Unfortunately, most businesses think online reviews will stream in organically. However, this isn’t always the case. Your review management strategy will perform better if you device effective ways toask your customers for reviews. If you aren’t sure of how to do this, email is the best place to begin. More than 70 percent of online reviews originate from reviews requests sent from emails. However, other channels to consider include review landing pages, customer surveys, short message services (SMS) and review request automation tools.
3. Monitor Online Reviews
After asking for reviews from your customers, ensure that you monitor incoming reviews, especially on priority review sites. Monitoring your reviews allows you to mitigate the impact of negative reviews, especially how they can damage your online reputation and search engine rankings. Fortunately, monitoring tools, such as Google Alerts, make monitoring reviews a breeze.
4. Respond to Online Reviews
Succeeding in online review management begins with committing to responding to customer reviews. You should make a habit of responding to both positive and negative customer reviews. For this, thank your customers for taking their time to share positive reviews. While doing this, ensure that you personalize your responses to enhance engagement.
On the other hand, dealing with negative reviews requires that you address valid customer concerns. Be empathetic to affected customers and show them that your business cares and takes these concerns seriously.
5. Claim Your Business on Relevant Review Platforms
Apart from having a GMB page, don’t forget to claim your online business on other relevant review websites. Claiming your business on these platforms will enable you to control what can be posted and help improve rankings. Even though some review websites use information already available online to create business pages, others only create pages when customers review the business.
Review sites to consider are Zomato, Yelp and Trip Advisor, depending on the industry that your business falls into. Note that having reviews across multiple platforms makes it easy for search engines to establish quality and relevance before sharing with local online searchers.
6. Use Reviews as a Marketing Tool
You can integrate online review management into your marketing strategy. This is because online reviews help build trust and credibility. Therefore, integrating online reviews into your marketing strategy, be it website, search ads or Facebook page, can significantly improve your marketing results.
How Do Online Reviews Affect Local SEO?
A survey on local search engine ranking factors concluded that review signals contribute more than 16 percent of search engine’s decision-making analogy, especially local pack results ranking. According to digital marketing experts, several review metrics, such as the number, velocity and diversity of reviews, are taken into account by search engine algorithms.
That said, as a business, accumulating reviews on multiple platforms, having positive sentiments within reviews and featuring keywords, products and services within review texts are difference makers.
Positive reviews affect local SEO in the following ways:
Reviews Feed SEO Bots
When building your business website, ensure that you have detailed descriptions of your web pages for good SEO. These descriptions enable Google to recognize and crawl your site, increasing the chances of being served to online searchers. Google reviews feed SEO bots with content that you may have missed.
If your business has an excellent online reputation, you’ll definitely be gaining fresh reviews regularly. If you’ve worked with local SEO agencies or talked to SEO experts, you understand that fresh content is the backbone of SEO. This is why you are encouraged to upload blog posts, build new landing pages and focus on content marketing.
Reviews work similarly. If you acquire them regularly, online reviews provide fresh content that search engine spiders keep digesting. If your business is constantly reviewed on authoritative platforms, such as Google My Business, TrustPilot and Yelp, the better the impact.
Reviews Ticks SEO’s Quality Box
Improving your search engine rankings isn’t all about impressing automated bots. Google also has a human quality control department, which randomly reviews digital content. Human teams, better referred to as search quality raters, evaluate your website’s reputation and assess your expertise, content truth and authority.
With this, strong positive reviews are valuable SEO tools. Any content left by your clients gives your website great legitimacy and earns your site some juice from manual and automatic systems.
Reviews Build Customer Trust
SEO basically entails gaining Google’s trust. However, keep in mind that Google trusts customers more than it trusts marketers. In this sense, Google acts like a typical customer when searching for your business. Therefore, a positive online review informs Google about your business by providing third-party validation or social proof.
Reviews Improve User Experience
Before giving recommendations about a business to users, Google puts its weight and reputation behind these recommendations. Online reviews go a long way in optimizing customer experience in several ways. For starters, reviews enable you to assess how customers are reacting to your products and services.
Online reviews provide an invaluable opportunity to gauge the satisfaction levels of your audience and what you are doing right or wrong. For instance, if users raise complaints of delayed services, fixing them improves customer experience.
How To Respond to Negative Reviews
Your business can get negative reviews occasionally due to unsatisfied customers for several reasons. When it happens, use it as an opportunity to make peace and win the customer back. Unfortunately, most business owners ignore negative comments or respond to them with angry and unprofessional responses.
Instead of doing this, reach out to the customer directly to make up for their bad experience. You can do this either by replying to the comment or messaging the customer privately. By doing so, you will have identified areas in your business that need improvement and retained an otherwise former customer. Actually, you will be surprised by how customers can change tune after reaching out.
Online reviews are among Google’s “local three-pack.” While it may not be easy for your business to rank among the local three-pack, online reviews can make the difference. Since the local three-pack ranks above other organic search results, appearing among them highly improves your business’s organic traffic and click-through rates. However, proper online review management is necessary if you want to enjoy these benefits.