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It’s the one story that Google would like to shake, but can’t seem to, Fake News. In a way, it’s the story that may define this era of search. Fighting fake news encompasses the full spectrum of the meta issues that make search so complex. With underlying ethical underpinnings that bring into question where Google’s content responsibilities begin and end, along with the technical boundaries fighting fake news stirs up, the issue is in a way epic. Over time Google has released a series of statements, and even the announcement of a new project, all indicating it is on top of the Fake News faux pas. But are they really? After taking a hard look at how Google goes about broadcasting information media, that would be news to me…
Google Cannot Effectively Combat Fake News
So where do we currently stand in the battle against fake news? To fight the good fight Google has released Project Owl into the wild. The panacea for all things fake news, the project was birthed at the end of April 2017. With it, Google uses quality raters, actual people, to manually “teach itself” to pick up low quality search results and inaccurate Featured Snippets (as an aside these quality raters have subsequently had their hours slashed by Google). This leads into the next major aspect of the fake news fight, site authority. As you can imagine, less than quality news originates from less than quality sites, at least that’s the going theory. Subsequently, Google has indicated that articles originating from more authoritative sites will be given preference within the results.
My Claim: The Fight Against Fake News Is Not Feasible
On the surface, this sounds all well and good. Google is not putting a machine on the job, but actual people. More so, it is dispensing with low-quality sites and favoring those with authority and prominence. However, as I will show, I believe these methods of dealing with fake news actually arise from Google’s inability to actually combat it. That is, they are examples of Google’s limitations rather than its advancements and potent capabilities.
The limitation being that Google cannot actually determine what is “news content” to begin with, let alone what is “real” or “fake” news content. That is if Google, as I claim, cannot accurately determine what is and what is not news content per se, then how is it possible to differentiate between various forms of news content? To this extent, I will show that Google’s methods of rectification, as mentioned above, arise out of the search engine’s very limitations.
To support my case, I will make use of a long series of Google News Boxes (often referred to as Google Top Stories) to show you that Google indeed has a tremendously difficult time accurately picking up news content. That quite often, Google places content from “news sites” into its News Box that is not actually news.
Ironically, in terms of the SERP, the News Box is obviously the most prominent place for news to appear, yet, almost all discussion related to Google’s take on fake news relates to organic results and/or Featured Snippets, as I indicated earlier. However, as the most fundamental news placement on the SERP, I believe Google’s News Box is at the very center of its inability to deal with Fake News, or as I claim with any news at all. In other words, to determine the effectiveness of Google’s fake news fight we have to see how it is that Google goes about processing a piece of news content and this is most plainly seen by studying the results Google chooses to place within its News Box.
The Case Against Google’s Ability to Fight Fake News
Before I begin I want to ensure that what I present here is not taken the wrong way. I am not trying to catch Google in a web of lies, I am not proposing Google has been less than truthful with the public in any way, as I do not suppose that Google has done anything that even resembles malicious behavior. What I am proposing is, that like any public entity, be it a person or corporation, Google has, and in fact quite wisely, held their full hand of cards quite closely. This, of course, is common practice not just for a corporation but of humanity itself as it’s human nature to preserve one’s image to the best of one’s ability without crossing any ethical boundaries. Thus, all I am simply going to do is provide some insight into what Google has chosen not to reveal publicly at this time.
To accomplish this, and as I mentioned briefly above, I will highlight multiple cases that indicate Google’s lack of ability in discerning true news content, specifically the content Google so chooses to show in its News Box. The end goal is to illustrate a pattern of behavior that directly points to the method Google uses to select content for its News Box. Once a pattern can be established, and Google’s methods broadcasted, it will be possible to show the limitations of such methods and why these limitations preclude Google from being able to combat the fake news problem in any meaningful and direct manner.
With annotation now out of the way, here are the aforementioned cases:
Spam In the News Box
Let’s rock the boat a bit with a wild claim…. Spam appears within Google’s News Box more often than you would suspect, and it does so right under your nose without much of a scent. To showcase this, I selected the keyword, bad credit. With such a query one would expect a News Box containing articles related to whatever credit law is working its way through Congress or whatever legislative body so wishes to tackle finance law. Should there be no news related to credit law and the like, I would expect that Google would not show a News Box.
However, none the two aforementioned options are the case as Google shows a News Box with no actual news within it. This would be a good time to create a working definition of what it is we mean by “news.” When I say news, I mean content that reports on the unfolding of recent events of any nature. That is, for something to be news content, at least part of its significance must be its timing. This is in fact distinguishes what is news from what is history.
To this extent, Google themselves lists an article’s time of publication within the News Box. This is important to note, as many of the examples I will present here show News Box content unconnected to time related events. This, of course, is a contradiction. What purpose does specifically showing how long ago something was published, to the specific hour at times, if the content, and its latent significance, lack any association to time?
In regards to the case at hand, Google is doing just that, showing a News Box with three articles that are not news content in any shape or form:
Let’s begin dissecting this result for a moment. The sites listed within the organic results seem to be sufficiently in order. For example, the first two sites allow those with bad credit to apply for an appropriate credit card, with the second site being a major international credit card company.
The results in the News Box, however, are not only unrelated to news, but they are spam. Here are the problems with this News Box in specific:
1) The Titles: Notice the title of the “article” within the first result: Best place to get a small loan *better credit ok* apply now!. By definition a news article is an informative piece of content that by its nature cannot contain a call to action.
Moving to the second “article” and the title is incomprehensible, as “Faxless 1hr check city” is completely indiscernible. What is a “1hr check city” exactly?
The third title is absolutely astounding as it indicates it is offering a Payday loan. For those who are not aware, Google has banned ads for Payday loans from appearing within AdWords, yet here is a call for such a loan within a Google News Box.
2) The Sites Themselves: It would appear that there are two sites represented within these three results, Oolaogahonline and Palate Pres. This is not true, they are all one site, Sendmycashnow.com:
The site’s name is only the beginning of its spammy nature. The site boasts that it can obtain a fast loan approval even with bad credit as it searches for loans for you from across the web. Of course these are short term loans where “all types of credit [is] considered.”
So then, to recap, Google is not showing news within the News Box. More than that, it is showing sites that are deceiving in their name, and that for all intents and purposes offer a “spammy” sort of service. I would not expect to see such a site within the first 10 pages of organic results, let alone front and center in a SERP feature.
Google News Takeaway
How could this have happened? I’m not going to give an unequivocal answer for this specific instance, simply because I can’t, only Google knows this. However, I can begin to paint at least part of a picture. Looking back at the second result’s title is the first clue, Palate Pres. Despite being spelled incorrectly, I do not think it was an accident that the site employed a name related to news media (i.e. the intended word press). Though it certainly does not explain how such preposterous results landed in a News Box, it’s something to keep in mind moving forward.
A Common Query for Inapt News Results
The idea that Google at times places content within a News Box solely because it is found on a news site and relates to the query is novel. However, it is not uncommon once the query moves away from a trending news topic. In fact, to find such instances, one does not need to employ a set of obscure keywords.
The below is a News Box that appeared on the SERP when the term “SEO” was searched for:
Most noticeably, the three sites shown in the News Box are household digital news names. However, at the same time, we did not need to search far and wide to find a News Box that contains no actual news content. That is, not all of the content on these “SEO news” sites, is actual news coverage. Often, the content shown on these sites relates to tips, how-tos, etc. Such is the case in all three instances within the above News Box, there is no genuine news content.
Going through the listed results themselves:
Article 1- Search Engine Land: The article presented here is a form of self promotion. Search Engine Land has a fantastic guide to SEO that it calls The Periodic Table of SEO Success. Recently, the site updated the guide and what is presented here is their announcement to that effect.
To accentuate the point, having the above results within the News Box would be like Google showing an editorial from the New York Times instead of a true current events article. Logically, the next question would be, why is it that Google, generally speaking, does not tend to show editorials from major news outlets within its News Box?
The answer is actually very straightforward but supports the idea that Google is not able to truly discern news content. Sites like the New York Times have a separate section for opinion pieces, whereas sites like Search Engine Land, do not. All of their SEO “news,” be it actual breaking news or a how-to appear, within the same section of the site. That is Google, when scouring news content on a site, is not aware of the character of the content itself but relies on structural clues to guide its way.
Article 2 – The Next Web: Of the three listed articles, this is certainly the true “odd man out.” The title of the “article” already raises suspicion as it includes a price! Sure enough, upon clicking the site, a promoted piece of content appears (see below). This is a blatant example of Google confusing promotional content with news content solely because of the site’s overall nature and purpose.
Article 3 – Search Engine Journal: Here too, the misinsertion of the article into a News Box is a bit obvious. A simple glance at the title tells you that this is not a time associated piece of news. Rather, it is as it says, a how-to. It almost highlights how linearly Google is operating here. The article, its association with SEO, and its placement on an SEO news site were enough for it to appear within the News Box, despite the fact that a quick review of the keywords within the title would indicate its true character.
Google News Takeaway
The eminent virtue of the above “news” results are the results themselves. As I’ll show, there is no lack of news deficient results. At risk of stating the obvious, the SEO industry is a robust news producing enterprise. The sites shown in the News Box in the example here, are some of the more prominent SEO news sites. What is peculiar is that Google, despite the industry serving up a variety of news stories on a silver platter each and every day and despite the numerous news outlets, could not conjure a single piece of authentic news for its SERP feature. All the more so for the most general of keywords, “SEO.”
This is incredibly incriminating if not altogether bizarre. In fact, it’s the latter quality that perhaps is more pertinent. Observing such strange and if not fickle Google behavior begs further inquiry into how such inadequate search results can even come about. That is to say, such results may be understandable for an outlandish set of keywords within an overly narrow industry or niche, not within Google’s very own habitat, SEO. How then did we get here? Rather, how then did Google get us here?
Call to Actions and Google News Results
Call to actions, by definition, are heavily associated with eCommerce, not news media. While not impossible, the relevancy of a time dependent piece of news content to keywords that are all but calls to action would intuitively be quite sparse. That is, by its very nature, a call to action aims at stimulating a response, not informing, certainly not in the manner in which news content does. Though not necessarily common, at times Google does show its News Box for a keyword that is a call to action. These News Box scorings tend to be “unconventional” and bring into question why their appearance on the SERP is pertinent at all.
The below is what resulted for a query for buy this now:
Glancing at the titles, it becomes apparent that Google matched the query to articles that included the term “buy now” in their title. This is in fact important to note as it will become abundantly clear just how much stock Google places in having keywords within the title, despite both the article’s lack of relevancy and identity as genuine news content. Beyond the evident, there is much by way of insight when looking at the results per se within the above News Box.
Article 1 – Motley Fool: Stating the obvious, the article is not news content, but stock recommendations. The closest the piece comes to being news content is its relation to current stock and commodity trends. Fundamentally, it is not news as no new information was revealed, only how to manipulate what has been disclosed previously, i.e. stock prices, etc. The authenticity of this article, as a piece of news content, is further brought into question by the soft sale at the post’s end, where the reader is called upon to join a mailing list so as to receive stock tips.
Article 2 – Madison.com: Two things stand out. The first is the nature of the site, madison.com. It is a site dedicated to sharing news related to Wisconsin’s capital city of Madison. For the record, the search was not conducted in Madison, nor within 500 miles of Madison. This is important in light of the second notable aspect of the result, its original source. The article was written by a member of Motley Fool’s board of directors. It is beyond coincidental that two articles, both originally sourced to Motley Fool appear next to each other within the News Box.
Here, like the article on Motley Fool itself, the post ends in what is for all practical purposes the same soft sale as found in the previously mentioned article. Thus, as is evident, Google has either ignored, or more likely, was not able to notice the pattern of soft sales that appear at the end of Motley Fool’s content, and as a result has placed sales-like content within the same News Box, twice.
Article 3 – VCCircle: Of the articles presented in this News Box, this is the closest to being actual news. The article is an analysis of a new Flipkart option. Had Google been more accurate here, it would have at least presented content related to the announcement of the new feature, which the site, VCCircle, published a few days prior to this one. What is most peculiar is that the site in question is based out of India, and relates news and other such content within the context of that specific geographical location. Thus its appearance next to a site from Madison, Wisconsin within the News Box is slightly offbeat for a search engine that tends to not only be more precise but rhythmic and patterned as well.
Google News Takeaway
There are numerous oddities and patterns in this instance that require further investigation. That being said, there is an enormous insight presented within these results that drive the conversation forward, namely the significance of keywords within an article’s title. Regardless of the incongruity between the standard use of the language that is the keyword, so long as the keyword is prominent within content that Google believes to be news, it will appear on the SERP. That is, Google, as will be evidenced repeatedly in this post, has tremendous difficulty in the labor that is matching news content with user intent.
Further, and as previously indicated, Google struggles with deciphering content on a news-like site, and as such often cannot distinguish between what is and what is not news content on such a site. The clearest example in this particular instance was the result from the VCCircle site. The site is part of News Corp, which was founded by Rupert Murdoch, and includes news publications such as The Wall Street Journal within its conglomerate. The point is, as the VCCircle site is intrinsically tied to a large newsgroup, Google was in a sense fooled into thinking the content it displayed within this particular News Box was as such genuine news content and not analysis.
News Site Status and Titles Matter – Not Relevancy
At the risk of sounding repetitious (but for the sake of clarity), Google will quite often show content within a News Box based upon two disjointed characteristics:
1) The article’s title, specifically when the keyword for a query exists within it.
2) The nature of the site sourcing the content as being a news media site.
To prove this to be the case, a query for get it was executed and the following News Box was the result:
The query, in a many ways, is incomprehensible from an intent perspective, and should have precluded a News Box from appearing. A notion supported by the very organic results Google displayed on the SERP, which ranged from a definition of the term get it, to a site whose URL includes the phrase get it, to a publication entitled Get It Online. Pointedly, how is it that Google can offer a series of news related content for a term it itself does not understand?
The answer is that it cannot and it did not. Each of the articles shown within the query’s News Box are only present for two reasons:
1) The article’s title, specifically as the keyword for the query exists within it.
2) The nature of the article’s source as a news media site.
The evidence for this assertion lies in the relationship that exists between the three articles, which is none. The articles here are releases of previously undisclosed information, to the exclusion of the first result from CNN, which like many of the articles previously mentioned in this post, is analysis. Despite the authentic news being disseminated, at least via the latter two articles, they are unrelated. That is, none of the articles within this News Box have any connection to each other beyond:
1) Their usage of the keyword in their titles.
2) Their being on a site that publishes news content.
Topically speaking the three articles are entirely unrelated from a specific news matter. It is therefore evident that Google did not display them as a means of sharing news content related to a specific topic. Rather, Google is not able to delve that deeply into either intent or topical anatomy and syntax. Simply, these three articles appear together as result of what it is all but an accident that originates from the shared term within their titles.
This is huge. The fact that Google, when showing News Boxes related to common news topics is able to show a series of related and relevant content… is accidental and is not the result of a prolific ability to discern between various forms of content and their contextual relevancy. Understanding this point is the single most important facet of determining Google’s ability to display news content and subsequently battle against fake news being placed on the SERP.
In the below example, the phrase just released was entered into the search box. Like the term get it, the query is ambiguous and could relate to any one of a million things, as indicated by the diverse organic results. By all appearances, however, the News Box, interestingly enough, seems to be quite on target:
This of course, cannot be the case as the organic results with their lack of cohesion prohibits the possibility. In fact, while more than one of the organic results relates to a news topic, none of them had any connection to the news story presented within the News Box itself to the exclusion of the page’s last result.
The cohesiveness of this News Box is a ruse of sorts. Its topical consistency comes not from Google’s ability to discern news content, but from the fact that all of the results have the keyword (or a synonym of it) within the title and are sourced to a news site. The fact that all three results are related is an “accident of moment.” At the time of the writing of this post, a major piece of legislation was just released by the US Senate. As a result, the titles of an abundance of stories related to this topic included the words just released or some variation of releasing:
In other words, that Google placed three similar stories in one News Box did not come about because Google comprehended the content it was looking at in some sort of act of discernment. Rather, Google saw numerous authoritative news sites producing content related to some sort of release that just happened to relate to one topic. Meaning, had there been a plethora of news stories related to a multitude of “releases” spanning numerous topics, Google would not have been successful in placing successive stories in the News Box. Rather, stories with the keyword “released” relating to multiple news or news-like topics would have appeared.
Google’s Inability to Analyze News Content Even for Direct New Queries
Google’s inability to purposefully place relevant and related news content into a News Box is deeper than the above indicated examples. The fact of the matter is, Google cannot interpret the meaning of news content. It has no way of intelligently interpreting the meaning of a query and evaluating news content in order to present the most relevant news results. This inability to evaluate news content on a qualitative level is pervasive, not limited to outlying News Boxes, but applies to the most centered and core news queries. As a result, and as will become overwhelmingly clear, Google has no real way of providing news results that actually match the intent of the users, even when the query is directly related to news content.
Google Cannot Interpret News Terms
Google can only show news related to a specific topic. Should topical phraseology be absent, Google cannot interpret the query so as to provide adequate results, no matter how common the term, or how clear the intent. To reiterate what has been mentioned earlier, Google, even in cases where indeed relevant news results are supplied, relies on titles and site status to provide news results. Again, that it often succeeds in doing so is the result of titles that happen to match the query, i.e. they are not the product of Google interpreting the intent and analyzing the article qualitatively. It is at its essence an accidental process.
It is precisely for this reason that queries where the intent is clear, the phrase common, and that are directly news indicative, do not produce relevant results without specific topical phraseology.
For example, say a query is done for the term breaking news. It is within reason to assume, if not to expect, Google to interpret the query as meaning the user is searching for the most global, broad, and publicized breaking new stories (with emphasis on most publicized). Plainly speaking, one would expect Google to show the top stories as found on the biggest news sites, i.e. The NY Times, CBS News, CNN, ABC News, etc. (For the record, at the time of the writing of this study, Google does not show a News Box for the query top stories, nor for top news stories, which is self-evidently peculiar, though based on the above, not entirely surprising).
The below is an actual query for breaking news:
What of course stands out is a lack of content from one of the major news publishers. Further, the first result is not topic specific at all but rather is a summary of all breaking news out of Las Vegas as supplied by a local news station (for the record, this search was not done in Las Vegas). The second result is actual breaking news, but not of the universal kind. Rather, the content relates to breaking news out of Amarillo, Texas (again, this search was not executed in Texas either). These two results are present as they include the term breaking news within the title.
Neither the first nor second result, however, are as profoundly indicative of Google’s news placement problems as the third result. Published by a major news organization, and relating to a universally broad and genuine news topic, the third result of this News Box is the most troubling. The article that is the third result was published four days prior to this search, an ominous fact. Ominous in that it is suggestive that Google, is in fact, trying to comprehend the query. The search engine has produced a genuine piece of breaking news, had the search been done four days earlier. As it is in fact four days later, the news is by definition no longer breaking, and since its publication, an entire volume of breaking news stories have been published, yet Google chose this article for its News Box.
In other words, all of this time, Google has been trying to interpret the query and analyze the content, it has just been failing miserably. It is not that Google is derelict in attempting to analyze the content appropriately, but should it make an attempt it could. Meaning, it’s not that for whatever reason Google refuses to put its energies into doing so. The situation is far more dismal in that Google is making an attempt and even at the most basic level, for the most readily understood query that is a staple of news jargon, cannot break the relevant results plane.
Multiple Cases of Google Not Being Able to Determine News Relevancy
The above is not a limited instance. Across the board, for queries that are generic and relate to types of news, not specific news topics, Google is unable to supply relevant results. If a specific news title does not match the query, or if Google cannot simply look at a heading on a news site and pull a story (i.e. US News, where a query for the same will consistently show relevant articles), the results will not match intent.
Take for example the below News Box for most important news:
Regardless of the **** these results appeared for, they are certainly not the most important news stories of the day. It’s self-evident that these articles were placed on the SERP because their titles included the term most important. Google simply tried to match the keyword to news from the most authoritative sites it could.
For the record, the above News Box appeared on June 27, 2017. At the time, the United States government had announced that Syria had plans to use chemical ******* against its own population. CBS News, of course, had the story front and center on its homepage:
Yet, despite the overwhelming importance of the above shown story, or of a plethora of other June 27 new stories, Google did not place it, nor any other of the day’s major stories, into a News Box for a query specifically looking for the most important news.
Just to drive the point home, the below is a News Box that appeared for the keyword big news on June 29th:
Two things are evident; the intent of the query and the inadequacy of the results. The terms big news has an obvious connotation towards news that is of significance. Gordon Hayward’s possible trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers does not qualify (see first article). While the overhaul of the US healthcare system is big news, Trump’s promise of a “big surprise” related to it, is not (see second article). A married pair of San Antonio news anchors sharing that they are again pregnant, is congratulations… not big news in the global sense (best wishes to the couple of course).
Looking again at CBS News, the source of the second article in the above News Box, and expectedly, a series of more important and vastly more significant news headlines appear:
Any of the above headlines would have been a more appropriate fit for the above query. Yet, because neither the keyword big nor news is contained within these headlines, Google chose to supply a set of wholly irrelevant results.
The lack of sophistication in the way Google goes about featuring news stories within its top showing box of news is in many ways unbelievable. However, the above results do not lie and are by their multitude and keyword simplicity, not isolated incidents. However, if you are in search of further evidence, look no further than the Disambiguation Box on the SERP for the keyword big news (see above). Google, in this case, was uncertain whether big news referred to significantly important current events or a news show based in the Philippines that was canceled in 2008!
Don’t be fooled by the occasions where Google “gets it right.” As mentioned earlier, this is accidental. Take for example a query for latest news:
Everything in this News Box looks copacetic. You could even advocate that the sports article appears due to the broad nature of the query. However, upon investigation this notion is quickly dispelled. Google is showing relevant results because latest news, besides for being the keyword used to bring the above News Box to the SERP, is a category of news listed on many websites.
The first article above is the perfect example. Just looking at the SERP and it seems Google simply interpreted both query and content to provide a relevant result from a reputable site. Below however is a screenshot of the Politico website:
What is of course noteworthy is that the site has a category entitled Latest on Politico. Notice the first article listed within the section, it is the same one Google placed in the News Box. You can bet your bottom dollar that had the following article come first in the order of Politico’s latest news, it would have been placed on the SERP in place of Trump’s ripping of the media and mocking of former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Simply, Google did not interpret anything. It took the keyword latest, and found that it is a “category of news” on many sites. The search engine then found an authoritative site with the category and simply plopped the first article under the heading into a News Box. No content interpretation ever took place.
Bad News – What This Means for the Fight Against Fake News
Believe it or not, all of the above was set up. Without undertaking the above investigation, the foundational principles needed to understand Google’s ability to fight fake news would be altogether absent. At this point, it should be overwhelmingly clear, Google cannot determine what is, and what is not news content. Instead, it relies on an archaic means of deciphering news content, if you can call it that. In a way, Google is like a blind person stumbling in the dark, feeling around for markers to make it through. Instead of interpreting, Google matches up keywords to titles, and pulls content from news sites, making use of the headings on these sites in order to put together a series of news results for News Box placement. With such an indictment, Google’s ability to fight fake news is directly challenged.
Google Cannot Fight Fake News – No Way No How – Not Yet
I’ll make this simple…. If Google cannot determine what is, and what is not, news content, then by definition it cannot distinguish between fake and genuine news. How can Google claim to be able to adequately fight fake news, when the search engine itself places absurd and entirely irrelevant content within its own News Box? The answer is… it can’t.
Why did I drag you through all of the above examples of poorly filled News Boxes? Simple. To make it abundantly clear that Google cannot qualitatively analyze news content. To show that it uses coarse methods in stocking its own News Box. Nothing highlights this more than the fact that with the absence of a highly specified keyword, Google cannot even interpret the most basic of news queries. How can Google distinguish between fact and fiction, between rumor and evidenced truth when it can’t even comprehend what the day’s most important news stories are, or what news is breaking at the moment?
I don’t mean to be sarcastic, but ask any 5th grader what the important news of the day is and there’s a pretty decent chance you’ll get a relatively satisfactory answer. Ask the most powerful search engine in the world and you get absurd results. If the most basic, and subsequently most foundational news queries are enigmatic to Google, how then can it be expected to delineate between slight shades of truth, with the difference between them being reality and rumor?
The above case-by-case study points towards one truth… Google does not understand the news it is reading and as such intrinsically cannot fight fake news. Not without employing workarounds.
Google’s Methods of Fighting Fake News – Compensating Inadequacy
Google is in a tight spot and to paraphrase one cigar loving President, I feel their pain. It can’t just let fake news fly, and it can’t, due to what appears to be technical limitations, adequately fight it either. So then what did Google do?…. They passed off their very limitations as the best solution in what was a stroke of pure marketing genius. (Again, it’s hard to blame them.) The reality though is that Google’s solution is merely a band-aid fix, at best.
Google’s method of fighting fake news is twofold. The first element being quality raters, who, to the best of my knowledge, are real live people. Why oh why would this tech giant employ the least technologically oriented solution, people? Where are the advanced algorithms? The machine learning? The AI? Nowhere… because it doesn’t exist (at least not in this context), because it’s not yet possible to employ these methods.
Why is Google using boring old people to fight fake news? Because it has no other alternative, because it has no choice. What comes off as sincere dedication to solving the fake news catastrophe is, in reality, an admission of limitation, of not actually being able to discern news content via algorithm.
So too for the second front of the war on fake news. Here, Google has increased its reliance on site authority. Meaning, news results are more likely to come from high authority sites (think NY Times, ABC News, etc.) than your favorite fake news site which lacks such industry authority. While this sounds reasonable, consider it within the context of Google’s inability to analyze news content qualitatively.
Keeping this in mind it becomes apparent why Google has favored site-wide authority over per piece prudence in combating fake news. It is mainly because the latter, a per article content analysis to determine factual accuracy, is seemingly impossible for Google at this stage of the game. It has no choice but to rely on site-wide mechanisms, such as site authority. Yet another workaround.
Not Yet Ready to Headline
The bottom line is that Google can’t directly deal with fake news and its current processes are for all intents and purposes, workarounds. Do these workarounds have potency to them? Sure. Do these workarounds present a true solution to eliminating fake new’s presence from the SERP? No. Unless Google develops a way to combat fake news head-on, via qualitative content analysis, fake news and most certainly irrelevant “news” results will appear on the SERP. Fake news frauds will work their way around Google’s workarounds. If it’s simply a matter of creating headlines with the right words, on the right site, under the right heading, those proliferating fake news will figure it out. There is no way quality raters, who may I remind you have had their hours cut back, will be able to review enough content to effectuate a shift on the SERP. There is simply too much content out there for raters to feed AI with.
Look, at the end of the day, Google’s best efforts are workarounds meant to conceal a lack of a real and true solution. Until Google can fight fake news directly, without shortcuts of sorts, fake news sites will find a way to get their content on the SERP. Until Google can decipher between shades of truth, those in search of truth and nothing but the truth may be left stumbling in the dark a bit.
After June’s monumental algorithm update you might have figured that Google would lay low for a bit. Not so. The search giant merely shifted its focus from fine-tuning algorithms to adjusting the proportions of its SERP features. More than that, it would seem that Google took this lull in algorithm activity to bring some of its SERP features into the shop for a series of readjustments. Actually, that’s an understatement. I can’t recall a month with as many tests and updates to Google SERP features as this past July. Even I had a hard time getting it all straight, and I spend way too much time tracking these things!
SERP Feature Data Trends – July 2017
Due to the simply enormous volume of changes, tests, reconfigurations, and what have-yous, I’m breaking this post into two sections:
1) SERP feature frequnecy shifts
2) SERP feature tests and alterations
In regards to the former, SERP feature data shifts, July had an unusually high amount of activity. A series of data shifts took place, not just in the US, but across the globe. Accentuating these data changes was the fact that the SERP features in question were generally high-profile. The combination of these two factors made for some interesting and newsworthy SERP features data.
SERP Feature Trajectories Changed as Part of Last Algorithm Update
As you may recall, and as I mentioned above, Google rolled out an monstrous algorithm update towards the end of June. The story however did not end there. Google, per their own statements, has indicated that they find releasing multiple changes at once to be the most efficient method of updating their algorithms and SERP. In the case of the June 2017 update, Google changed the data path of multiple SERP features as it changed its organic ranking patterns.
The shift coincided with the latter part of the algorithm update, and generally began circa June 27th. However, Google will often execute a quick test to the data paths of its SERP features. Meaning, it’s not uncommon to see a one or two day shift in the trajectory of a given feature. Thus, it was not until July that I was able to determine that indeed Google had changed the very trajectory of certain features and that this shift was enduring.
Getting down to the details of the shift, both Local Pack and Knowledge Panel saw the largest changes in 2017.
Local Pack underwent a 7.5% increase that constituted the largest shift of the year:
As Local Pack spiked, Knowledge Panel lost two percentage points. While this may not seem like much, it constituted a nearly 20% decrease and was by far the largest data shift the feature saw all year:
The shifts were relatively consistent on both desktop and mobile (though on mobile AMP also shifted a bit). As an aside, Local Pack did return to its previous trajectory circa July 20th while Knowledge Panel still displays at the reduced levels.
HTTPS Hits a New High
As of July 25th, an astounding 99% of all Page One SERPs contained at least one HTTPS result. On these 99% of Page Ones SERPs, roughly 5 of the sites are HTTPS. With the average organic results per page near 10, half, or 50% of all results on Page One of the Google SERP are HTTPS.
AMP In News Box Reaches New Markets
July saw AMP articles come to News Boxes in multiple new markets. While Google had previously tested showing AMP within the News Box in these markets, the feature had not been rolled out in any substantial way whatsoever. That is, until July 18th. As of then, and per the Mobile SERP Features Tracker, Israel, Poland, Norway, Austria, Switzerland, and New Zealand have received AMP within the News Box. In this case, the latter three countries have a substantial percentage of News Box results that are AMP. In these countries at least 40% of news articles in the News Box are AMP results.
Practically, this means that publishers in the aforementioned countries should weigh the option of going AMP.
At the same time, organic AMP also saw a global spike of its own. Taiwan, Germany, and Norway all saw July AMP spikes within their organic results.
SERP Feature Tests and Changes – July 2017
As I mentioned earlier, I can’t remember a month with more changes to the SERP and its features than July 2017. These changes run the full gamut of what we typically see from Google. Some are/were mere tests, others official changes, while other alterations seem here to stay despite not being officially heralded in. In many of the cases, as I’m fond of mentioning, there are real implications that come with the changes (and I’ll do my best to point them out along the way).
Google’s Mobile Homepage Get Enhanced
What better place to begin than with Google’s homepage on mobile, which underwent a significant change in the US. Mobile users in the US will now notice a set of icons that appear under the search box on the Google homepage.
These are not mere icons. These are a set of customized search categories that consider your previous queries. Tapping on one of the four categories brings up customized results suited to what Google thinks are your needs. This means that the results shown improve with time, i.e. with the additional searches you execute related to the category.
This change comes amid rumors that Google is set to revolutionize its desktop homepage by including “feeds” under the search box. Currently how the homepage appears within the Google app, there has been speculation that the card-like feeds will be coming to desktop as well. Google however has denied it has any intention of doing so.
Google Instant Is Gone
Continuing with the SERP as an entity (as opposed to specific SERP features), Google has done away with Google Instant. As such, Google will no longer show results for a query while it is being typed. The significance of the move is the reasoning behind it. According to Google the feature was removed to bring desktop search more in line with mobile (where instant search results never existed).
What’s interesting is that Google sees a benefit in creating the parallel altogether. Meaning, desktop is its own entity, it has a different context and functionality than mobile does. How then does Google’s reasoning follow? It doesn’t, if you deal with their statement in isolation. However, running with the theory that Google seeks to bring the increased level of engagement that comes with mobile functionality to desktop, moving forward with increased device synthesis is quite logical in its own odd way.
SiteLinks Get a New Mobile Format
Over the last year or so Google has been testing SiteLinks carousels on mobile. On July 25th, Google officially informed Search Engine Land that the carousel format is here to stay. Aside from being more dynamic than the traditional format, the carousel offers Google a distinct advantage, more room. As real estate is a highly desired commodity on the mobile SERP, going horizontal with a SiteLinks carousel frees up some highly coveted space on the mobile SERP. Meaning, Google could throw another organic result in, or perhaps an ad (my bet is on the ad winning out).
Editing Business Information on the SERP
Ensuring that your Google business page has the most up to **** information sounds easy enough to do. Yet many local businesses have either incomplete or inaccurate content shown. That’s why Google’s early July test was so significant. Reportedly, Google was testing giving business owners the ability to edit their profiles right from the SERP. The test had an edit panel appear on the SERP when a business owner searched for their business while logged into their account, thereby significantly streamlining the editing process and making it a bit simpler for the uninitiated.
Google’s New SOS Feature
As firefighters battle summer wildfires, Google has introduced a new mobile feature to help you navigate a natural crisis (when the query is of course relevant). Partnering with agencies such as the Red Cross, Google’s new SOS alerts provide you with what the search engine calls “timely, actionable information” such as maps of affected areas, emergency phone numbers, etc. Google has released similar features in the past, its earthquake feature comes to mind immediately.
Video Stats and Recipes Come to Image Results
Again a mobile-only feature (noticing a pattern?), Google is showing video statistics within its image search. So say an image is sourced to YouTube, Google will show information such as when the video was published, how many views it has, etc.
Similarly, when an image is reflective of a recipe Google will now show the full recipe upon tapping the image. In the case of recipes, having the information here could disincentivize heading over to the site per se.
Local Pack July Updates
It almost seems as if Local Pack is in a constant state of flux as Google continuously modifies the SERP feature. July saw two noteworthy modifications. The first was a test that had a toggle button placed within the Local Finder on mobile. The button allows users to easily switch between the result cards and a map. I personally like the idea since accessing the map on mobile is not as convenient without the toggle button.
A toggle button within the Local Finder on mobile is certainly convenient, a whole new series of results is something else altogether. That’s precisely what happened in July. For certain hotel queries, Google has begun to show an option that enables you to forgo hotel results within the Local Finder in favor of vacation rentals. Once engaged, Google substitutes rentals for hotel listings. Aside for being a sign of the times, this is a big boost to sites offering vacation rentals as Local Finder placement brings with it a tremendous increase in accessibility.
Knowledge Panel July Updates
If Google has a favorite, it is surely Knowledge Panel. No other feature is privy to as many tweaks, updates, improvements, etc. Simply, the feature is constantly morphing. July was particularly heavy on Knowledge Panel adjustments, with five notable revisions taking place (there were in fact too many tests than is appropriate to fully discuss here).
One of the most discussed initiatives was Google’s test of auto-play videos within Knowledge Panel. This limited test was initially spotted by Jennifer Slegg of The SEM Post towards the end of July. The test appears to have been relegated to select TV shows and movies (I personally could not replicate it). What is of course interesting is that auto-play videos are mostly associated with social media, not Google. In fact, traditionally, Google has advocated a non-intrusive sort of user experience. However, auto-play videos run squarely against that philosophy as they offer the user no choice and force a certain level of engagement. I personally highly doubt Google will run with the idea anytime soon, but the fact that they tested it could mean that down the line Google will undertake a philosophical change that will have tremendous implications.
Google has confirmed that is has rolled out a new option that allows businesses to chat with customers via Google My Business. After activating the option and configuring a mobile device, customers will see a messaging option appear within the business’s Local Panel. From there you and your customers can chat it up as you will receive the messages on the previously configured mobile device.
Tagging and Rating Movies in the Knowledge Panel
Google has often used its mobile Knowledge Panel as a means towards engrossing and engaging users. As part of this pattern, Google gave users the ability to rate/describe movies with a new tag voting option. The new feature introduced in July allows users to describe a movie via tags. Users can vote for the tags that best describe the film or suggest a new one. Again, the story here is Google’s continued focus on a highly engaged mobile experience.
Menu Tabs & Other Locations Now in Local Panels
The tabs format within Local Panels on mobile was introduced in June. Along these lines, July saw Google introduce a separate menu tab for selected eateries.
This was not the only change to Local Panels. July also saw Google running a carousel that lists a business’s other locations.
For the SERP It Is A Changing
Like the “times” according to the 1964 Bob Dylan song, the Google SERP is changing. The headline stories for July were of course the changes in SERP feature data trends (HTTPS, AMP, etc.). However, if you really want to understand Google, to see the direction it wants to head in, the changes and additions to its SERP features are far more telling in my opinion.
Google puts in a lot of effort to spruce up its SERP features and taking note of where and how Google allocates that energy can be more insightful than anything. July was unique in the sheer volume of changes to Google’s SERP features, particularly on mobile. That’s the real story here. Google has, is, and will be going all in when it comes to mobile and it has one goal in mind… keeping users engaged within Google’s own ecosystem. Google knows that the mobile experience is more captivating, that users are more engaged, and as a result Google is fully intent on capturing the magic of mobile. The question is, can Google keep its magic touch as time goes on?
Raise your hand if a client or your boss has ever asked you to put Google Analytics on their website to help improve rankings?
Google Analytics isn’t just for website data, oh no – this is to boost our keyword rankings, they say.
But is there any legit research to support these claims?
As it turns out, a lot of SEO experts have covered this topic.
So is Google Analytics use as a ranking factor fact or fiction?
Keep reading to find out.
The Claim: Google Analytics As A Ranking Factor
You may hear the claims that removing Google Analytics from your website will hurt your search engine rankings, possibly even causing Google to penalize you.
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Or, you may have heard that Google uses your Google Analytics data to rank your website.
There are a lot of assumptions, but I’m here to drop some knowledge.
Is Google Analytics A Ranking Factor?
Before we get going, let’s address the obvious:
No, Google Analytics is not a ranking factor.
Google Analytics is a tool that allows you to measure ROI and better understand your customers. Google has been making this clear since way back in 2005 when it acquired Urchin Web Analytics, now known as Google Analytics.
Matt Cutts, former head of Google’s Webspam team, answered the question in a 2010 video:
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“Google Analytics is not used in search quality in any way for our rankings”
Not convinced? Let’s hear it again from Google’s John Mueller, this time via Twitter in 2018.
He continued to clear up any confusion that Google Analytics is not required for search.
Can I Get Penalized For Using Google Analytics On Google?
I know it can be difficult to understand what can and can’t be penalized on Google — especially when you read articles like this from Google Analytics competitors.
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Bill Hartzer, SEO Consultant and my long-time SEO idol, stepped in to ask Mueller for his take on this piece.
This was also confirmed back in 2010, again by Matt Cutts. He said:
“The answer is no. Webspam does not use Google Analytics, and a while ago I went and checked and search quality in general does not use Google Analytics in ranking.
So, you can use Google Analytics, you can not use Google Analytics, it won’t affect your ranking within Google search results.”
Does Google Use Google Analytics To Improve Indexing?
Another ranking factor myth busted: Google does not use Google Analytics for indexing.
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I heard it from Google’s John Mueller himself:
Google Analytics As A Ranking Signal: Our Verdict
There you have it! Google Analytics is not a ranking factor.
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If your SEO agency tells you that your site needs it to rank, you should find another SEO agency.
The conspiracy theories you’re hearing about Google wanting your SEO team to use Google Analytics to get more details about your strategies are completely false.
There is more to Google’s algorithm than pimping its own products out to the algorithm, at least for now.
Featured image: Paulo Bobita
Source link : Searchenginejournal.com
If ever there was one Google ranking factor that should be easy to prove or disprove, it’s .edu links.
Well, not so much.
Misinformation and theories about what may or not be a Google search ranking factor persist far longer than perhaps they should.
Even today, there is an abundance of results for companies selling .edu links and touting their benefits.
Much Quality! Such Authority! Build “TrustRank”!
If you’re wondering whether .edu links are a ranking factor, you aren’t alone. Plenty of people want you to believe they are.
Let’s determine whether .edu links are a Google ranking factor.
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The Claim: .edu Links As A Ranking Factor
Let’s be clear here before we dive specifically into .edu links: Links are a ranking factor, no doubt.
And who those links are from matters.
Links are an endorsement of your content; a signal that someone trusts you and thinks you’re pretty awesome.
Therefore, links from high authority websites with rigorous publishing controls must be super valuable. Right?
And who has more rigorous publishing practices and authority than leading educational institutions and other academia?
This is the premise of the claim – that .edu links are one of the most valuable types of links and therefore are an important ranking factor.
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The Evidence For .edu Links As A Ranking Factor
You want to believe .edu links help your site rank better because it makes good sense.
Governments and educational institutions typically put out a lot of essential information and get a ton of links as a result. They tend to have high-quality content, too.
They tend to have great PageRank, and you want some. Just a little piece.
The Evidence Against .edu Links As A Ranking Factor
The thing is if you’re just catching on to this one, you’re about 15 years late to the party.
All the way back in 2010, Matt Cutts told us, “You don’t just look at the number of links to a site; you look at how reputable those links are. Links don’t really matter whether they come from a .gov or a .edu – and that applies to Twitter or Facebook, as well.”
He continued, “It’s not like a link from an .edu automatically carries more weight.”
The SEO industry had already spammed .edus to death by then.
The only way .edu links are a ranking factor today is in the sense that they’re links.
If you’re getting a link from a .edu site based on the merit of your content, the value of that link is determined by all of the same elements as if it were a link from a .com, .gov, or any other site.
And you’re going to benefit from all of the positive PR, branding, and thought leadership that excellent content entails.
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For example, if you’re alumni and have an opportunity to share thought leadership on your alma mater’s site, go for it.
If you teach at a college or university, are giving a presentation at one, run a scholarship fund, or otherwise have an authentic relationship with a .edu site’s organization, you should, by all means, create relevant top-quality content that serves your audience to maximize that opportunity.
But if you aren’t earning .edu links (i.e., if you’re buying or comment spamming them instead), any potential value that link might have held for you is wasted.
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As Google’s John Mueller has explained:
Considering all of the various expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness signals Google has at its disposal for evaluating content quality, it’s probably pretty easy for the algorithm to sniff out poor quality content, even on an .edu site.
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If you did manage to sneak it in there somehow, chances are the link will be ignored.
.edu Links As A Ranking Factor: Our Verdict
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A link is a link. And links are a confirmed Google ranking factor.
However, the specific question here we are investigating is whether .edu links are more powerful, or somehow treated differently for the purposes of ranking, than other types of links.
The answer to that question: definitely not.
Sure, .edu links may be considered (or even completely ignored) for the purposes of ranking. But it’s because they’re links. It has nothing to do with the top-level domain (TLD).
In fact, the only TLD Google is going to consider any differently are those that are country-coded, and that has to do with localization.
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So if you try to game this one, you’ll void any value that content may have generated for you on a site where it actually belongs, as Google will just tune you out.
Bottom line: This one is confirmed. Google does not use a link’s .edu extension as a search ranking signal.
Featured image: Paulo Bobita
Source link : Searchenginejournal.com
Though it goes without saying, scoring a Featured Snippet can put you at a significant advantage. With zero ranking superiority being so significant, tracking your Featured Snippet progress, especially as compared to the competition, becomes a central priority of any sound SEO strategy. To facilitate this process we’ve designed a comprehensive Featured Snippets center of sorts where you can track your Featured Snippet performance across all of your keywords. The all-new Featured Snippet Tool provides you with deep and comprehensive daily insights that cover your, and your competition’s, Featured Snippets across all of your keywords.
Featured Snippet Rank Distribution Insights
Found in the Rank Ranger user interface under the Research tab and covering both Google Desktop as well as Google Mobile, the Featured Snippet Tool begins by showing the rank distribution of the Featured Snippets that appear for the keywords you are tracking. As a result, you can easily see if Google tends to favor specific ranking positions when displaying a Featured Snippet in reference to your own keywords.
Analyze Featured Snippet rank position distribution across the keywords you are tracking
This data becomes significant as Google indeed does favor different rank positions from which to pull Featured Snippets across various niches. In other words, it is not always the case that Google favors the #1, or even the #2 position, for its Featured Snippets. More so, the specific set of keywords you are tracking may in fact buck any of the overall or niche trends in favor of a wholly unique pattern.
Knowing from which positions Google is pulling content for its Featured Snippets is invaluable, particularly if the search engine is favoring the top one or two positions. Having this insight clues you in as to just how competitive scoring a Featured Snippet for a particular keyword or group of keywords is.
With the tool, you can select to see data on just one keyword that you may be highly interested in scoring a Featured Snippet for. In this case you can see exactly which rank positions Google is pulling content from for its Featured Snippets, thereby allowing you to create a keyword-by-keyword Featured Snippet strategy.
Conversely, knowing that Google is spreading its Featured Snippet across multiple ranking positions is also extremely helpful. Having access to this information can help you determine how to best allocate your limited SEO resources. In other words, should Google favor multiple positions with great regularity for a specific keyword or group of keywords, it may be more advantageous to work on improving the rank of those keywords where Google is more position selective.
Featured Snippet Market Share
One of the hardest aspects of tracking your Featured Snippet success is viewing it in context of your competitors’ performance. To help you know how your
Presented as a pie chart, the data shows you the percentage of Featured Snippets allocated to the competition’s domains across the keywords your are tracking as compared to your own. Hovering over the chart will provide you with the actual number of Featured Snippets that are included within each section of the pie chart.
This is significant information to have. Primarily, it gives your success some context. While knowing the raw quantity of Featured Snippets that include your URL is of course essential, it doesn’t fully qualify your performance. To have a true understanding of how you are faring in scoring Featured Snippets for keywords, seeing your relative performance is paramount. That is, seeing what share of Featured Snippets include your site’s URL relative to the competition gives you genuine insight into the overall power and effectiveness of your Featured Snippet strategy.
Analyzing the Featured Snippet Competition Keyword by Keyword
After providing you with a general look at your Featured Snippet performance relative to the competition, the Featured Snippet Tool provides a highly detailed keyword-by-keyword look at Featured Snippet scorings. The Competition Analysis section of the tool presents a table that lists each of the keywords that you have selected to appear, providing you with a comprehensive set of insights.
For each keyword, the tool shows the domain which appears within the associated Featured Snippet (the tool even provides an active link to the site placed within the Featured Snippet). The table then indicates the organic rank of the site that appears in the Featured Snippet for the keyword. The rank is then accented by keyword’s search volume to help you qualify its value and the significance of scoring a Featured Snippet for that specific keyword.
Compare your Featured Snippet scorings to that of the competition on a per keyword basis
Since tracking your Featured Snippet performance is your main concern, the table here clearly indicates (via a green check mark) when your domain appears within the SERP feature. Particularity pertinent for those instances when the primary domain does not appear within the Featured Snippet attached to a keyword, the table consists of a separate column that indicates the rank of your domain on the SERP. That is, the tool allows you to compare your rank to that of the domain that currently appears within the Featured Snippet.
Lastly, the tool’s table gives you the ability to see how a keyword’s SERP actually appeared. By engaging the SERP Snapshot feature that is presented within the table’s last column, you can view the SERP for the keyword as it actually exists. To that extent, by launching the SERP Snapshot you can see the title, URL, and description for the top 20 search results. Further, you can also see the SERP features that appeared on the page. For Featured Snippets, the SERP Snapshot will show a box that appears above the organic results with the title Featured Snippet that also includes the associated URL.
Seeing data for multiple keywords simultaneously, aside for its efficiency, is helpful in refining a Featured Snippet scoring strategy in that it enables you to isolate both areas for improvement and any scoring patterns that may exist. That is, via the tool’s table there is the possibility of determining commonality between either those keywords that do or don’t show a Featured Snippet with your domain within it. Being able to establish such commonality is significant in that it allows you to more readily isolate what works and what does not work when it comes to scoring Featured Snippets for your specific keywords.
Putting a Spotlight on Featured Snippet Performance
Developing a great strategy to dominate the Featured Snippet market is an integral part of SEO as it currently stands. Measuring and advancing that strategy takes careful monitoring based on a foundation of thorough data and trend analysis. More than that, keeping track of your Featured Snippet performance means keeping tabs of the competition. While the industry is focused on determining the nature of Featured Snippets and how to score them, much in the way of tracking actual progress has been overlooked, especially in the context of competition analysis. This is what makes the Featured Snippet Tool so unique, real insight into your Featured Snippet performance that allows you to identify scoring patterns all within the context of competition analysis. The Featured Snippet Tool puts a spotlight on your Featured Snippet performance one keyword (or more) at a time!
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Transcript: Moving You Past the Myths of Competition Analysis
Mordy: Welcome to the SEO lounge, actually welcome to the first ever SEO Lounge. I’m Mordy from Rank Ranger…
Joel: I’m Joel.
Mordy: … from Rank Ranger. Together we are Rank Ranger? Part of Rank Ranger?
Joel: Some of them.
Mordy: We’re some of the people from Rank Ranger. In the SEO Lounge we’re going to discuss some topics, some common topics, some popular topics, and the misconceptions we have about these popular topics. Today we’re going to discuss competition analysis and two myths about competition analysis. Let’s just get right to it.
First myth. The first myth is all I need is data. More data. Good quality data. As long as I have enough data I can outsmart the competition.
Joel: But that is not the case.
Mordy: No it’s not the case. I don’t even know what outsmarting the competition actually means, do you?
Joel: Not entirely!
Mordy: That’s really the myth, the preconceived notion that we can outsmart the competition. It has sort of become a slogan that people use to get you to buy something but it doesn’t really have any teeth to it.
The first thing we are going to look at is strategic data. In other words, it’s data, competitive data where you can actually look at your competition’s strategy. Get inside of their heads a little bit. There are of lot reports out there, a lot of tools out there, a lot of whatever out there that does this, that gets you inside of your competition’s head so that you can see their strategy.
The first problem that people have with this, or the first mistake that people tend to make, no fault of their own is, well if I have the competition’s strategy I can just…
Joel: Do what they do…
Mordy: … and outsmart them.
Joel: But that’s not the solution though.
Mordy: No, it’s not the solution. You can’t really just outsmart the competition. [As if to say] “Oh. I’ll do some magical maneuver and get of ahead them one day”- because the next day…
Joel: …they will be ahead of you!
Mordy: Right. Do you really think you’re the only one out there with some sort of competitive tool looking at competitive analysis, etc.? Of course not! Everyone has it. So one day you’ll outsmart them…
Joel: … and the next day they’re going to do the same to you!
Mordy: And it becomes a vicious cycle. So how do we get out of this vicious cycle?
Joel: We’ll actually have to look at ourselves. Instead of just looking at the competitors, what they are up to, what they are doing, what they are optimizing [for], we must look at them and take some of these elements and apply them to ourselves. Because the only way for us to actually get ahead of the competition is to optimize ourselves.
Mordy: “Optimize ourselves,” it’s like a slogan!
Joel: It is, because that’ s what it’s all about!
Mordy: What Joel is trying to say, correct me if I’m wrong, is that you can’t outsmart the competition. What you can do, what you should do when you have insight into your competition’s strategy, is to learn from it. The goal is not to outsmart your competition, the goal is to become better at what you do.
Joel: Take advantage of your knowledge about their strategy.
Mordy: That’s a great way to say it. It’s to take advantage of the knowledge that you have about what they are doing. Learn from them. It’s not to outsmart your competition, it’s to learn from your competition so that you can be a better digital marketer, a better SEO… whatever it is that you do, you can just do it better. It also means that it’s long-term. It’s not that tomorrow I’ve outranked them, or I’ve outdone them, I’ve out “whatevered” them. It’s that I’ve become better at what I do now and that’s a long-term solution.
Joel: And it’s better to be behind for a while until you can eventually pass by them and stay there.
Mordy: For good. Hopefully.
Joel: That’s the plan.
Mordy: Let’s get to point number two. We have strategic data, great. There’s also another kind of data where you are tracking your competitor’s progress. Think about rank for a second. I can track who is ranking ahead on whatever keyword. Am I ranking ahead? Is my competitor ranking ahead? You’re not really getting into what they’re doing so much as you’re tracking their progress, or your progress relative to their progress. And there’s a big mistake people make with this kind of data. And that is, “Well, if I’m ranking below a certain competitor, it must be…”
Joel: That he’s better than I am and that he’s doing things that I’m not doing, and that his technical SEO is better than mine.
Mordy: Did you say their technical SEO is better than yours? It could be… and that’s our first reaction – that if there’s a problem it’s always a technical solution. If my competitor is doing better than me over here, then there’s some sort of technical thing I can do better. In the case of SEO it’s optimizing titles or keywords…. [As if to say] his H2 is better than my H2 so therefore he’s ranking better than me.
Joel: SEO is so much more than technical these days. It involves so many departments and so many elements. That’s what people are often times missing. If my competitor is doing way better than me on certain keywords it doesn’t mean that my technical optimization with these specific keywords is the lacking element. And that’s where I would like your input as to what should be done to actually boost yourself.
Mordy: I’m going to put some words into your mouth. I’m going to take what you’re saying and go one step further. It could be your technical SEO is not jibing. Let’s think about it for a second. Most people, anyone who is anyone, you’re thinking about your SEO from time to time correct? You know you need to optimize your H2s, you know you know to have your keywords in there, you know your meta-descriptions needs to be up to par, right? If it’s between a solution that you’re constantly thinking about, that you’re constantly trying to worry about, that you’re constantly trying to make better… versus a problem that you’re not really thinking about at all…. I would think it’s the problem you’re not thinking about at all right? It’s a rhetorical question!
Joel: I believe that often times… let’s say it’s technical, you can see the issue. You can see that your title isn’t good. But in most cases, you might not be able to at least to see the issue. Because the issue can be a combination of many elements. It can be within your team, it can be either within management, it can be within your social team that they’re aren’t pushing your content. It can be anything within the marketing, it doesn’t have to be within the actual SEO department. That’s what people might miss.
Mordy: That’s actually interesting in reality. What you’re saying is, it could be a technical problem, it could be I didn’t optimize my title, but most likely not, it’s something we’re pretty much on top of usually. It’s like a red herring, it distracts us from the real problem. The real problem could be (a lot of the time) what we’re really not worried about, which is: How’s my brand doing? How’s my authority? And authority is a big deal because Google now (because of all the whole fake news 4.0 problems) is saying that we’re going to rank sites with higher authority above the sites with lower authority.
So those more global issues are a real problem and sometimes you don’t really worry about them. We don’t really worry about, “Is my brand awareness up to par?” or “Am I authoritative as I could be?”… and what you just said, you don’t really look in the mirror and look at yourself… and that’s a problem because we don’t really want to do that because that could be painful. It could be, you wake up in the morning, you look in the mirror and you say, “You know [what] the reason is why I’m not ranking above so and so? It could be because I’m just not managing my team well.”
We could do the best SEO… we could have the best brand… we could be the most authoritative whatever, whatever… but we’re not executing properly. We’re not working cohesively, efficiently, for the best, and it could be just as simple as that. But if you’re so wrapped up in your technical SEO, or your technical problems, you’ll never ask that. And you won’t ask that because it’s painful sometimes to actually deal with that and make things better. It’s much easier to go, “Hey you know what? I want you to fix the SEO on this.” versus going in and saying, “Guys we got to get together and I need to be a better manager, or better whatever, so we can get it all together.” Right?
Joel: That’s a good point.
Mordy: I guess the last point we want to to make is… think long-term. Think about yourself, look at yourself. Think how you can learn, think how you can grow, think how you can do things better outside of technical issues. But mainly go with your gut.
Joel: Go with your gut and keep in mind that the issue might be closer to yourself than you would have thought initially.
Mordy: Right, because really at the end of the day know how you’re performing. I mean, the data could say one thing. The data can tell you x, y, and z, but if you know in your gut something might be off here, “I really want to go a different way. I really know the problem.” You really know the problem. You don’t have to always go with the technical data. You can say, “You know what, the data says one thing.” But the data is really a small picture within a much larger picture that you, and only you, are aware of. And it starts with you, and it ends with you… and we’ll end here I guess.
Mordy: So until next time, well thank you for joining us.
Joel: Thank you.
Mordy: Hope you enjoyed the SEO Lounge.
Joel: And our company.
Knowing Google’s Knowledge Panel – Ignite SEO Series Transcript
I’m Mordy from Rank Ranger & welcome to the second installment of the SEO Ignite series where we’ll trek through the boundlessly brilliant and downright brazen Google Knowledge Panel lickety-split in line with the ignite format.
Knowledge & Panel, What is Knowledge Panel?
Good question. If a query relates to an entity (think companies, people, movies, stores, restaurants, etc.) Google may show a panel chock full of information related to that entity… hence KNOWLEDGE PANEL… a Panel of Knowledge…
Know Thy Knowledge Panel, What’s Under Thine Hood?
What’s in a Knowledge Panel? What’s not?! There’s more variety here than in my mom’s magazine collection! Corporate info, movie showtimes, team rosters, song release dates, reviews, critic’s lists, menus, TV schedules, popular shopping times, prices, available in store products, hotel amenities…
Tailored to Perfection
Before we go on, it’s important to remember that what shows up within a Knowledge Panel, heck what kind of panel you get is all dependent on the entity. For example, Google shows local movie times in the panel…. If you queried Bill Gates do you think Google tells you what time he gets to work? No, no… well not yet.
Just Your Basic Facts
Let’s get more specific… In a lot of ways Knowledge Panels are like your local 6 o’clock news, they offer the basic facts without much color. Think contact info, entity summaries, hours of operations, reviews, & so forth.
Suffering from shopping addiction? You may want to stay away from local store Knowledge Panels. How long do people spend at a store, how busy is the store RIGHT NOW, what products are available… it’s shopping Shangri-la.
Food Glorious Food!
Oh How Google Loves It!
Google knows the way to your heart is through your stomach. That’s why panels for local eateries are constantly evolving… With critic lists, menus, establishment highlights, actual pictures of the food, carousels of similar eateries, & the ability to make a reservation, these panels are good enough to eat… Which would just be weird if you tried to.
Hotels in Knowledge Panel
If this were 1966 I would say something like, holy hotel info Batman… Good thing it’s 2017. And in 2017 we can check availability, compare rates, analyze price trends, look at amenities, see transportation options, & access the most prolific set of reviews in the Google-verse.
A Mobile **** Fest
Sidebar your honor! A lot of the items I’ve listed here are only within MOBILE Knowledge Panels. Google tweaks its mobile panels more often than Hollywood releases a movie that horrifically kills another part of what was once a nostalgic part of my childhood. It’s all part of Google’s larger mobile strategy.
And the Oscar Goes to…
This is no B movie, Google rolls out the red carpet when it comes to movie panels. Links to trailers, showtimes for current flicks, ratings and reviews, cast lists, awards wins, carousel after carousel of related movies….most of which only appears within mobile panels. Either way we are not in Kansas anymore!
Following Mobile Movie Panels Down the Rabbit Hole
Unlike Alice’s trip, there is nothing chaotic or strange here, but MOBILE movie panels are the perfect place to get endlessly lost. Any actor or other movie you tap on in the mobile panel just takes you to another mobile panel. So you can go from Spielberg to Indiana Jones to the Frisco Kid to Gene Wilder in four taps and without EVER hitting a real site!
A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing
Dangerous to websites that is. Since the panels are so prolific, and being that you can hop from panel to panel on mobile without ever visiting an actual site, websites can end up on the short end of the stick with less visitors… just like they did during the last Olympics games (wait for it, wait for it…).
The Olympics – A Shining Example for Us All
So glad you waited! Did you know Google created what was all but a mobile Knowledge Panel, threw it on desktop, & used it to cover the Olympics? You could move from sport to sport, country to country, athlete to athlete endlessly getting totally lost in Googleverse. I never once visited the actual official Olympics site. Case in point! (And it’s not the only case.)
Pure Knowledge Panel Genius
We **** our five inches of screen and can’t pull our eyes away. Mobile Knowledge Panels are the perfect tool to keep our eyes glued and tuned into Google. With an endless amount of info and the propensity to hop from one panel to the next, Google’s got the goods to help us get lost in their world. Which is the whole point.
Everyone Loves This Know-It-All!
Ah, Knowledge Panel, it’s the one know-it-all we actually ****… Google wants us to see them as a provider of information. In doing so, Google becomes the go-to source for information, an authority on all things. Smart eh?
And with that I hope you’ve enjoyed our time together. Until the next installment of Rank Ranger’s Ignite SEO series… toodles.
The race to grab Featured Snippets, those short answers that appear at the very top of Google’s search results, has turned into somewhat of a feeding frenzy in the SEO industry. The following article will tell you all the essential information you need to know about Featured Snippets and provides detailed guidelines on how to obtain them.
What are Featured Snippets?
Featured Snippets are short, direct answers shown by Google at the top of the first page of search results in response to search queries in the form of questions, or which imply a search for specific information. Featured Snippets usually provide answers to questions like Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How, but the search phrase does not have to include one of these words, and certainly doesn’t need a question mark because Google’s algorithm does a pretty good job of interpreting the searcher’s intent.
An example of a Featured Snippet in response to the query “best laptop brands list”
The Evolution of Featured Snippets
Originally, Google began providing short answers to questions posed in search queries directly on the search results page in the Knowledge Panel appearing to the right of the search results, and later above the search results in the main column. These short answers were informational factoids provided in response to queries requesting information like the age of a particular celebrity or the population of Uganda, and they were referred to as Quick Answers. The information in these quick answers was manually curated content usually provided without a link to a source (although sometimes there would be a link to Wikipedia).
Quick Answer, publicly available information, generally with no link to a third-party website
At the beginning of 2014, Google rolled out another similar type of quick answer at the top of Page 1 of the search results. These too were short answers to searchers’ questions but with one difference – they were extracted from websites around the web and a link was provided to the source. There was no official Google announcement about the feature, but when asked about it early on, Google’s spokesmen used the name Quick Answers for these as well.
A featured snippet with an ordered how-to list
Over time, as discussion about the new feature progressed, the SEO industry used various names to refer to it such as Direct Answers, Quick Answers, Rich Answers, Answer Boxes and Featured Snippets. In June 2015, as part of an exchange of tweets about the naming of different SERP features Gary Ilyes wrote that the official term used by Google is Featured Snippets and that made the name official.
When Does Google Link to the Source of the Answer?
Originally there was a lot of confusion around Google’s policy of when they provide a link to the source of the answer and when not. In response to a question posed by Barry Schwartz, founder of the Search Engine Roundtable and News Editor of Search Engine Land, back in 2014, Google explained their policy by saying that information that appears in many places is considered to be in the public domain and therefore they do not provide a link to a source. On the other hand, when the content is “not widely-known information” or when they “show relevant snippets from web pages,” Google will “typically show the source”, unless they are licensing the information from the source in which case it depends on their licensing agreement.
Featured Snippets Appear in the Following Formats:
- Paragraphs – a short excerpt of text, normally between 40-50 words. This is the most prevalent format for featured snippets. Oftentimes a thumbnail image appears alongside the text snippet.
- Lists (ordered or bulleted) – snippets formatted as lists are very common to present a list of items, the steps of a recipe or a process
- Tables – tables oftentimes appear in response to queries that request comparisons or pricing for different ******, i.e., when the data is best presented in columns and rows
- Videos – a Youtube video player that often appears in response to searches for popular songs or movies
Examples of the different formats are shown below.
Featured Snippet in paragraph format
Featured Snippets in paragraph format are triggered by explicit or implicit questions of many types for instance “What is the life expectancy of a solar panel”, “Is WordPress free”, or implied questions such as “Ford Model-T years production”, “image alt tags” etc.
An example of a featured snippet with an ordered list
Featured Snippets with ordered lists most commonly show up in response to questions about any multi-step process such as a recipe or a DIY task — examples being “How to fill out a 1040ez” or “Creating a pivot table in excel 2013.” Bulleted lists are normally triggered when there is a need for a list of items which have no particular order such as “Tools needed to change a tire.”
Featured Snippet in tabular format
Featured Snippets in tabular format show up for queries that request numerical or other data which is best presented in a structured format. Example search queries are “USPS prices” “Largest hi tech companies” and “inflation rates by country.” This format is much less common than the other formats and that’s partly due to the lack of content properly optimized in this format.
A Featured Snippet with a video from YouTube
Google shows a full-sized YouTube video player most commonly in response to searches for songs such as “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back,” commercials like “Audi duel” and DIY guides This is a relatively newer format and certainly fits in with Google’s goal of promoting YouTube.
Google Also Takes Textual Featured Snippets from YouTube Descriptions
Google also pulls Featured Snippets in paragraph format from the descriptions of YouTube videos. The text intended for the snippet should be put at the beginning of the video’s description.
Featured Snippet with paragraph taken from YouTube video description
Description from YouTube video chosen for Featured Snippet
The Growing Prevalence of Featured Snippets
Over time, Google has added different types of Featured Snippets and has modified existing ones, but the most dramatic change has been the tremendous increase in the number of search queries that trigger Featured Snippets.
In December 2015, the percentage of queries that produced Featured Snippets stood at a mere 3.8%. Six months later in June 2016, the percentage rose to 8.7% and as of May 2017, 21.9% of search queries display Featured Snippets.
Widely varying figures for this metric have been reported on various sources around the web. The reason for the divergent results lies in the types of keywords included in the study. Case studies based on keywords with a higher average monthly search volume will return a higher percentage of Featured Snippets. In addition, if the keywords in a study are predominantly from certain niches, that affects the resulting frequency figures because among the niches there is a wide variance. Data on the frequency of Featured Snippets in 20 different niches is presented further on this article.
To demonstrate the abovementioned variance note the following graph from Rank Ranger’s Google SERP Features Tracking Tool based on a database of over 100,000 keywords. In May 2017, the percentage of queries that triggered Featured Snippets was 9.7%. This stands in contrast to the 21.9% reported in Rank Ranger’s Search Engine Labs Project which includes 20,000+ keywords from 20 niches. The reason for the difference is simple. The keywords in the Search Engine Labs Project are more optimized and have on average a higher search volume and therefore they trigger more Featured Snippets.
Percentage of search queries that trigger Featured Snippets Dec 2015-May 2017 (Source: Rank Ranger’s Google SERP Features Tracking Tool)
Which Niches Have the Most Featured Snippets?
There are wide variations in the prevalence of Featured Snippets between different niches. According to Rank Ranger’s Search Engine Labs Project, the keywords belonging to the following niches produced the highest percentage of Featured Snippets in May 2017:
|1. Health and Fitness:||40.6%|
|2. Financial Services & Personal Finance:||36.7%|
|3. Business Services:||35.5%|
|4. Technology & Computing:||34.6%|
The niches with the lowest prevalence of Featured snippets were:
|1. Consumer Goods & Services:||3.2%|
|2. Style & Fashion:||4.3%|
The results for the complete list of niches appears below.
Prevalence of Featured Snippets by Niche (Source: Rank Ranger Search Engine Labs Project)
Which Positions on the SERP do Featured Snippets Come From?
Based on data from the Search Engine Labs Project, the overwhelming number of Featured Snippets today are found in the top ten search results. There are some outliers below that, but they are statistically insignificant.
The key findings vis-a-vis the organic position of Featured Snippets are as follows:
- The top organic result is chosen as the Featured Snippet almost one third of the times
- The top three results account for 69% of the Featured Snippets
- Each of the results in positions 6-8 are shown less than 3% of the time
- Positions 9 and 10 are both below 1%
- Search results below position 10 are rarely chosen as featured snippets
Organic Positions of Featured Snippets – September 2017 (Source: Search Engine Labs Project)
A review of historical data shows that the dominance (over 31%) of the top organic search result in Featured Snippets has remained consistent (see graphs from May 2016 and December 2015 below). In Dec. 2015, Google was pulling a significant percentage of Featured Snippets (12.59%) from below the top ten search results. By May 2016, that percentage had dropped to .68% and in May 2017 those results were chosen only .07% of the time.
Another clear trend transpired within the page one results. Originally there was no clear hierarchy among the top ten results, whereas today Google has adjusted its algorithm to achieve a clear gradation among the results in the various positions.
Organic Positions of Featured Snippets – May 2016
Organic Positions of Featured Snippets – December 2015
Pluses and Minuses for Website Owners
When Google first rolled out Featured Snippets, the general reaction was one of serious concern. Website owners felt that Google was “hijacking” their content and using it for their own benefit, and since Google was providing the answer people sought right on the SERP, there was a concern that there would be little reason for searchers to click through to the source website.
During that early period, people were truly worried, and some still are, about how far Google was planning on going with providing answers taken from others on the top of the SERP. The following dialog, between Danny Sullivan (Founding Editor of Search Engine Land) and Amit Singhal (former Senior VP of Search and software engineer at Google), took place in March 2014, several months after Featured Snippets appeared. Danny’s question was indicative of the atmosphere of anxiety regarding Google’s moves. Singhal’s Swiss army knife analogy didn’t do much to assuage people’s fears.
DS: Are we gonna get to a point where every search gives a direct answer?
AS: If you look at a search engine, the best analogy is that it’s an amazing Swiss Army Knife. It’s great, but sometimes you need to open a wine bottle. Some genius added that to the knife. That’s awesome. That’s how we think of the Knowledge Graph. Sometimes you only need an answer.
The world has gone mobile. In a mobile world, there are times when you cannot read 20 pages, but you need something — an extra tool on your Swiss Army Knife. When you build a better tool, you use it more.
Blowback Against Featured Snippets
The blowback against Google for scraping content from websites and posting it as Featured Snippets swelled when Dan Barker, a Digital Marketing Consultant, cleverly caught Matt Cutts, former head of the web spam team at Google, in an embarrassing exchange of tweets. Cutts asked for help finding websites that violate Google’s policy against scraping and posting content taken from others (see below). Barker proceeded to send Cutts a screenshot of a Featured Snippet about scraper sites that Google scraped and posted from another site. Barker’s tweet was retweeted over 32,000 times.
— dan barker (@danbarker) February 27, 2014
In their documentation, Google explains that Featured Snippets are obtained through a process where the content is “extracted programmatically”.
Google’s explanation of where Featured Snippets come from
How Featured Snippets Affect Organic Traffic
The initially ambivalent response to Featured Snippets, centered on the concern that they would negatively affect website traffic, has since transformed into a race to obtain as many snippets as possible, as people realized that many times they can drastically boost web traffic and brand visibility. This traffic boost is particularly pronounced if the URL appearing as the Featured Snippet is positioned below the top three organic search results.
Featured Snippets – What’s in it for Google?
The appearance of Quick Answers followed by Featured Snippets on the SERP stage raises the question of what Google’s goal was in introducing these features. As documented above, Google has taken some serious heat about Featured Snippets and so they must see a significant future benefit to the company in order to justify the criticism and embarrassments.
An embarrassing Featured Snippet giving step-by-step instructions on how to shoot up Heroin
One benefit to Google from both Quick Answers and Featured Snippets is that searchers find an answer to their question quickly without having to go any further. The benefit from Quick Answers is more clear-cut since the answers are human-curated factoids which definitely save searchers time and energy. And even Featured Snippets, despite certain problems of reliability and accuracy, often provide a useful service, particularly in how-to queries, presenting answers to questions right away or least a preview of the answer with the complete answer just a click away.
Theoretically, one could say that Google developed Featured Snippets just to stay ahead of the competition with a user-friendly SERP, but with Google dominating 63.4% of the search market versus Microsoft, its closest competitor with 22%, the search giant has no serious competition to be concerned about.
What then was Google’s main motivation in developing Featured Snippets?
Voice Search and Google Home
The overriding motivation behind Google’s development of Featured Snippets may be the centrality the company sees in voice search on both computers and smartphones as well as the potentially massive market for home assistants. Google’s home assistant, called Google Home, was released in the US in Nov 2016, and it is competing head to head with the more veteran Amazon Echo.
Quick Answers and Featured Snippets serve as a central data source for Google Home to provide answers to questions posed to it.
Google Home Assistant
Danny Sullivan did an excellent job of comparing the performance of Google Home to Amazon’s Echo and found that although Echo has some extra features that Google Home lacks, Google’s gadget beats Echo hands-down in providing answers to questions posed to it. The best example was when he asked both devices “Can guinea pigs eat grapes?”. Amazon’s Echo was completely stumped, whereas Google Home replied that they can eat grapes, but only the seedless kinds (Google Home still has it’s embarrassing moments like when Sullivan asked who is the king of the United States, it replied “Barack Obama”).
This type of competitive advantage definitely can explain and justify Google’s development of Featured Snippets despite the obstacles.
Featured Snippets – Best Practices
Obtaining Featured Snippets has become a significant part of SEO professionals’ efforts to increase organic traffic to their client’s websites. The goal of this section will be to outline the current best practices for obtaining Featured Snippets and also to provide a deeper understanding of what Google’s algorithm is ultimately looking for.
How to Obtain Featured Snippets
- Look for search queries that explicitly or implicitly request information that is not public knowledge and that can be provided in a short answer format
- Place the query and the answer adjacent to each other on a page which focuses on the topic
- Focus on creating quality content for the article and the snippet text in particular
- Format the answer as a paragraph, list or table based on the content type:
- Paragraphs for definitions or explanatory answers
- Bullets or numbered lists for a list of items or a multi-step process
- Tables for the presentation of data or comparisons
- For lists and tables, present the information in the order of importance
- Add an attractive, illustrative image near the Q&A to be included with the snippet
How to Find Keywords for Featured Snippets
Finding potential keywords for Featured Snippets involves performing some keyword research, but by using the following approaches you can discover some really valuable opportunities.
- Use Rank Ranger’s Keyword Finder which is a keyword research tool with a database of half a billion keywords. Keyword Finder lets you search for keywords and phrases that are in question format and those are great leads for Featured Snippets.
- Mine the questions from Google’s “People Also Ask” feature Search for keywords in your niche and look for search engine results pages with the People Also Ask Feature.
- Utilize Rank Ranger’s Featured Snippets Tool that provides a list of all the keywords included in a rank tracking campaign which trigger Featured Snippets
Now we’ll dive into the details of how to take advantage of each of these methods to discover keywords that already have Featured Snippets or have potential to do so.
Discovering Keywords in Question Format Using Keyword Finder
Searching for potential keywords for Featured Snippets requires research, and an excellent way to begin is to find keywords in question format in the relevant website’s niche. Rank Ranger’s Keyword Finder, based on a database of over half a billion keywords, has a search option that filters the results to show the keywords in question format. For example, if one searches for the keyword “cheap flights”, and activates Keyword Finder’s “Questions” Quick Filter, one receives 239 keyword phrases with the term cheap flights in question format.
Search query in Keyword Finder with Questions filter activated
The results can be ordered by search volume, and they can also be narrowed down further using additional filters for example if the goal is to focus just on long tail or short tail keywords.
Some of the results provided by Keyword Finder in question format
Once you have the list, download it as a CSV (click on the down arrow), and open it in Excel or Google Sheets. The next step would be to check which keywords trigger a Featured Snippet and the last step would be to prioritize the keywords and to decide which are most relevant to your existing content or content that you would be interested in developing.
Using Google’s ‘People Also Ask’ Feature to Find Keywords
Google’s ‘People Also Ask’ feature provides on average four additional questions which are similar to the present search query. Clicking on a question displays snippets which look just like a Featured Snippet below the question. Although not all of these questions trigger a Featured Snippet if one searches for them – many do – and that is a great way to discover Featured Snippets.
People Also Ask feature – a useful tool to discover related keywords that trigger Featured Snippets
It’s important to note, the fact that Google is able to produce snippets for all of the People Also Ask queries, points to the notion that in the future many, many more queries will generate Featured Snippets.
Using the Featured Snippets Tool for Tracked Keywords
Another tactic to discover Featured Snippets involves using the Featured Snippets Tool in Rank Ranger. It provides a list of all the keywords tracked for your domain that trigger Featured Snippets. The report has a column that lists all the keywords that produced Featured Snippets. Next to each keyword is the domain name that appears in the snippet, its organic rank and the keyword’s search volume.
You can prioritize which keywords to target based on search volume, or based on another factor such as the organic rank of the domain presently holding the Featured Snippet. It probably will be easier to snatch a snippet from a site ranking 7 rather than one ranking in position 1.
Adjacent to the domain name is a jump-off arrow that you can click to view the source landing page for the Featured Snippet. The landing page can then be analyzed with the intent of gaining insights that can be used to improve your own landing page.
How to Optimize Content for Featured Snippets?
Google does not require that the question and answer be assigned particular HTML tags in order for it to successfully recognize and extract the content and create a featured snippet. That being said, optimizing the content and using the proper HTML tags can vastly improve the chances that a landing page will be chosen by Google for a featured snippet.
An Example of Google’s Prowess in Extracting Snippets Despite Lack of Optimization
The Featured Snippet shown below is based on content that is not optimized for Featured Snippets at all.
Featured Snippet based on an unoptimized landing page
The answer provided for search query above “Are dual sports bikes street legal?” is clearly of poor quality since the question is about sports bikes in general whereas the answer relates to a specific Suzuki motorcycle model. That being said, this example demonstrates that Google was able to locate and extract relevant content from the landing page despite the following difficulties:
- The search query “Are dual sports bikes street legal?” does not appear separately on the page
- The answer appears in mid-sentence in the middle of a paragraph marked with a paragraph tag so no semantic or HTML demarcation exists
- The answer is mentioned only in passing regarding a specific motorcycle model.
Snippet taken from inside a paragraph tag from an article entitled Best Bang For Your Buck: Top 5 Dual Sport Motorcycles
Optimizing the Content Can Bring Results
Despite the impressive capabilities of Google’s algorithm to extract content from unoptimized pages, optimizing the content and HTML can drastically improve the chances of being chosen for the snippet. The featured snippet for the query “GDP by country” (shown below) exhibits the point.
Featured Snippet with table showing GDP by country
The original source for the GDP data is the International Monetary Fund’s website, but Google instead chose the table appearing on statisticstimes.com (which links to the IMF as its source) for the featured snippet.
Table chosen by Google for the featured snippet from statisticstimes.com
Why was a small, unknown website chosen over the ultimately authoritative IMF which is the source of the data? The answer lies in the presentation, or more specifically in this case, the prioritization of the data. On the IMF website, the GDP table is sorted alphabetically by country name, whereas on statisticstimes.com the data is sorted by GDP, presenting the countries with the largest GDP at the top.
The original source table from the IMF’s website
The resulting snippet from statisticstimes.com shows the GDP figures for the US, China and Japan whereas the IMF’s table would have shown Afghanistan, Albania and Algeria. Certainly the GDP of the largest economies is more likely to interest people rather than the three countries starting with the letter A which are at the bottom of the barrel of world GDP.
So we see that presenting content in a prioritized fashion can help an unknown website beat out an authoritative website which is also the source of the data itself!
Optimizing the landing page’s HTML to clearly demarcate the query and the answer will also increase the chances of being chosen for a Featured Snippet. As shown above, Google can fish out the elements from a page even when the HTML code doesn’t demarcate them, but that creates a certain risk for Google that the algorithm will make a mistake in identification. Therefore, all other things being equal, a page with optimized HTML is likely to be the winner.
Recommended HTML Guidelines for Featured Snippets
It is recommended to place the text of the search query in an H tag (H1, H2, H3 etc) and the answer in the relevant format as laid out below:
- Regarding snippets in paragraph form, the answer should be placed in a paragraph tag
- For lists, numbered and bulleted, the best practice is to format the items in an ordered or unordered list using the tags <ol> or <ul>.
- The table tag should be used to format comparisons and presentations of data and the column headers should be bolded
Structured Data Markup Isn’t Necessary
There is no need to format your content with Schema.org markup. The overwhelming majority of URLs with featured snippets do not use structured data markup and Gary Illyes, a Webmaster Trends Analyst for Google, stated that using structured data is not a requirement for Featured Snippets.
“Sneaking” into Competitive Featured Snippets with Images
One of the best practices listed above is to include an image in proximity to the answer on the landing page. If Google doesn’t find an image, it oftentimes will take an image from another source and append it to the content. This presents an interesting opportunity in some cases.
What if you find a Featured Snippet for a keyword you’re interested in, and you don’t think you can dislodge the present snippet owner because your landing page isn’t in the top 10 results? In that case, you can try to win the adjacent image spot by producing a well thought out visual summarizing the information in the snippet.
See the example below in which the content was taken from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but since there is no image on their landing page, Google took a relevant image from a Pinterest account. Although clicking on the image displays the image on Google images, another click on the image takes one to the host landing page.
Featured Snippet showing an image from a different source (an image from a Pinterest account).
Two Tips Regarding Featured Snippets in List Format
- Google shows a maximum of eight items in Featured Snippets appearing in list format. If there are additional items, a link to “More items” appears at the end of the list. That fact can be taken advantage of to increase the click throughs to your website by adding more than eight items when possible.
- Google also limits the number of words displayed for each item in a list. If the item exceeds that limit an ellipsis (three dots) is displayed to indicate that the text was truncated. Although the ellipsis is not clickable, searchers may be more prone to click on the link of the landing page to read the entire texts.
Featured Snippet with ‘More items’ link
Additional considerations when optimizing for featured snippets:
1. Google can pre-process and display Featured Snippets very quickly based on breaking news
2. Google personalizes the featured snippets based on the searcher’s location
3. Google’s algorithm changes the featured snippet for queries regularly so obtaining a snippet does not ensure that it will be retained
4. Slightly changing a search query can produce a different featured snippet
Featured Snippets – Where’s All This Heading?
Featured Snippets are far more than just a direct answer to save searchers another click into one of the organic search results. They are part of a much bigger plan that Google envisions for the evolution of search in the years to come. That plan certainly includes the continued development of voice search, home assistants and other applications. What this means for websites is that the demand for optimized content will continue to grow, and the competition to provide that featured content will grow as well.
The job of SEO professionals is to always stay ahead of the curve, and after understanding where all this is leading, allocating the necessary time and energy into optimizing for Featured Snippets is not a luxury, it’s a must.