If you’re an SEO, you’re not alone in the feeling that magma is bubbling below the surface of search engine results pages (SERPs), ready to explode at any second. Google updates have been relentless over the past year, from a product page update, title tag update and multiple spam updates to a two-part core algorithm update and the all-important Page Experience update. But among all these announcements, one has stood out as having the potential to change search as we know it: MUM.
Quick refresher: Google’s Multitask Unified Model (MUM) was introduced at Google’s I/O conference back in May, where senior VP Prabhakar Raghavan showed off the model’s jaw-dropping capabilities and nuanced language understanding. A successor to BERT and SMITH, both highly advanced machine learning techniques in their own right, MUM was dubbed “1000X more powerful” than BERT. And when you consider just how much BERT has transformed Google Search, you start to understand what MUM could mean.
Well, we don’t have to wonder for much longer because the era of MUM is upon us. On Wednesday, Google announced a Search redesign using the MUM algorithm. According to Google, MUM will be integrated into some searches on Google Search, while the SERPs are undergoing changes that will introduce new, more intuitive ways to explore topics.
So, just how different will this new Search experience be? In a word: very! MUM is changing SERPs in three significant ways:
- “Things to know:” To make it easier to explore new yet relevant topics, this feature will take a search query and identify the most popular “paths” users take when exploring the topic. As such, it will be able to surface content that relates to that path – content that would otherwise have taken much longer for users to find.
- “Topic zoom:” For the topic zoom update, Google will introduce features to “refine or broaden searches.” How will this look? A user will now easily be able to jump in and out of related topics, either broadening the topic or zooming in on a sub-topic for a more granular approach.
- “Visual exploration:” The third feature may be something you’ve already come across in search results, but it’s not available for all searches. This change sees a newly designed and highly visual results page that is image-heavy and designed for searches looking for inspiration (for example, “kids’ birthday party ideas.”)
Google also dropped an announcement on Twitter that MUM will be coming to Google Lens early next year, enabling users to “snap a photo AND ask a question” and proving yet again that we are, in fact, in the year 3021.
As Roger Montti points out in a Search Engine Journal (SEJ) blog, this update is huge. It points to a Search experience that’s moving away from the limiting “10 blue links”. With MUM, Google is finding new ways to surface content that may not necessarily have been on the first page of SERPs but that its algorithm determines may be most helpful to users. And if MUM is, indeed, able to achieve this, our SEO efforts can only become more valuable, not less.
More SEO News You Can Use
Google Is Allegedly in Talks With Instagram and TikTok To Index Videos: Google is reportedly in conversation with Instagram and TikTok to index both social media platforms’ content in search results – a move which would strengthen the relationship between social media and SEO significantly. Three sources told The Information that early discussions are being had between Google and the social media platforms’ parent companies, Facebook and ByteDance. These discussions revolve around Google getting the data it would need to index and rank these social media videos. As a reminder, tweets, which are now ubiquitous in search results, have become so from a similar deal that was struck in 2015. Should this new deal go through, Instagram and TikTok videos would be just as prevalent – and these platforms will become that much more impactful for SEO. The jury is still out on how likely this is to happen, but we’ll certainly be keeping our eyes peeled for updates.
Google Publishes a Best Practices Guide for eCommerce Stores: Calling all eCommerce publishers! Google on Monday published an impressively comprehensive seven-page guide to eCommerce optimization – specifically from a technical SEO standpoint – that features SEO best practices for a successful eCommerce website. While the guide is aimed at developers, the information contained in it is useful for any site owner that sells products online. The content covers several helpful topics, including where eCommerce content can appear on Google (there are six surfaces in total), structured data tips and optimal URL structure. Google goes back to basics in many ways with the information shared, but even the most grizzled developer should be able to learn something new. If you own or manage an eCommerce website, be sure to check out all seven pages for yourself.
John Mueller Reminds Site Owners That URLs Are Case Sensitive: It’s something we tend to forget (or just not think about), but Google’s John Mueller has once again clarified that it does matter whether URL characters are uppercase or lowercase. Variations in case can, as a result, act as a differentiator between two otherwise identical URLs. In an #AskGooglebot video, Mueller goes into detail, explaining that if Google recognizes multiple versions of the same URL, it crawls all of them to decide which one to surface on SERPs. But this can slow down the crawling process because if Google is crawling all variations of a single URL, it takes longer to find other useful content on your site. Mueller goes on to explain “canonicalization” – the process of search engines finding multiple URLs and deciding which to keep. The full video is worth the watch for a quick explanation of the process search engine spiders follow.
Captchas That Block Content Can Affect SEO Negatively: Content-blocking captchas are an SEO no-no. This is what Mueller said in the latest Search Central office-hours hangout. If you hide content behind captchas, Googlebot a) can’t see it and b) won’t crawl it. Remember, Googlebot doesn’t interact with anything when it crawls web pages, so if it lands on a page where a captcha is blocking the main content, it will assume the page consists of the captcha and nothing else. But it’s not all bad – there is a way to use content-blocking captchas that won’t affect the crawling or indexing of a page. You can still use captchas provided the main content is accessible. To do this, Mueller suggests using Search Console’s Inspect URL tool or serving Googlebot a different, captcha-free version of the page that can be used for ranking. That second option sounds a bit dodgy, but the tactic is Mueller-approved, so there you go!
Google Says Its “200 Ranking Signals” Number Is Inaccurate and Misleading: If you’re an SEO, you’ve likely come across the claim that Google’s algorithm looks at 200 ranking signals – but finding a list of those 200 signals is impossible. (SEJ recently released an eBook looking at 88 potential signals, but that’s about as comprehensive a list as you could find.) Well, it turns out Google has moved away from the number 200. During the same office-hours hangout, a viewer asked Mueller which of the 200 signals are most important. Mueller first refused to rank the signals, then went on to say that having a number is “misleading” and creates the impression of Google having “a spreadsheet with all of the ranking signals and they can just sort them by importance.” Granted, the notion of 200 signals dates back to as early as 2005, and we all know how much Google’s algorithm has advanced since then. The fact that it doesn’t hold true today – especially with what we know about BERT and MUM – should come as a surprise to nobody.
Editor’s Note: “SEO News You Can Use” is a weekly blog post posted every Monday morning only on SEOblog.com, rounding up all the top SEO news from around the world. Our goal is to make SEOblog.com a one-stop-shop for everyone looking for SEO news, education and for hiring an SEO expert with our comprehensive SEO agency directory.