Let’s get straight into the news this month in July. All the changes Google is making to its search engine have one thing in common: mobile.
Mobile-first index news
John Mueller, a Webmaster Trend Analyst at Google, discussed how the mobile-first index might be rolled out in a Webmaster hangout on YouTube at the end of June. What he said left many in the SEO community slightly worried.
“When Google rolls out mobile-first indexing, they will look at sites individually and switch over the sites which are ready for mobile-first before sites which are not ready.”
“Google won’t notify sites when they have been switched over to mobile-first indexing, but will consider sending messages via Search Console to help with any issues.”
The reason why so many SEOs are concerned is because Google could flick a switch and suddenly a competitor within the SERPs is given more of an advantage over others. This is because at the moment Google bases all its rankings off desktop content, even when a user is on a mobile device.
If Google decided to switch a website to the new mobile-first index and base rankings off the mobile content, while competitors have their rankings based off desktop content, it could give the mobile-first indexed website more of an advantage.
While this volatility is happening within the search results due to the switch and some websites benefit, Google won’t even tell webmasters what is going on. Which is very frustrating if you’re relying on your website for sales and revenue. It’s also no secret that Google ranking engineers prefer brands over smaller website owners, so it could be that Google gives brands a boost when it’s switching to the mobile-first index.
Of course, Googlers may do a U-turn and alert everyone of the switch to the mobile-first index. They’ve given webmasters an update when Penguin 4 became part of the core algorithm and when rolling out the interstitials penalty in January 2017.
As we mentioned in the June SEO news update, the safest thing to do to get ready for the Google mobile-first index is to go responsive. If your mobile website is still on a m. subdomain then we strongly recommend moving to a responsive website.
If you’re still unsure of how to make a mobile SEO-friendly site, then I’d recommend reading how to make a website mobile friendly by Andrew Parker (Head of SEO at Branded3).
Dictionary cards get a search box
Google has officially rolled out a search box within dictionary cards, as you can see from the screenshots for the keyword “spread betting”.
The search bar also tries to predict a user’s query while they type.
This now means that for any definition keyword, a user can now search within the dictionary card and won’t need to do another search. This feature makes sense from Google’s point of view as it keeps users on their search result pages and helps answer a user’s question. As you can see from the screenshots, the search bar is quite prominent on mobile devices.
From a SEO point of view, this could impact on click-through rate (CTR) from organic results as users don’t have to visit a website to get an answer to a question. Again, if we take the example from the screenshots, the keyword “spread betting” could be a high traffic driving keyword for organic search but many users might just stop at the definition card.
This new dictionary card search feature might also mean a missed opportunity for businesses who rank for “spread betting” and wish to retarget display ads to users who show an interest in spread betting.
For now, the dictionary card is only appearing for keywords which Google thinks you are asking for a definition. However, we strongly recommend monitoring your keywords to identify if Google is displaying a dictionary card and the impact these features have on your organic CTR performance.
New mobile sitelinks design
Google officially rolled out the new sitelinks design carousel on mobile devices. Instead of the traditional desktop design, users can now scroll through sitelinks on a mobile device.
Interestingly this change has not been rolled out for branded keywords. It could be that Google will be testing a new design for branded keyword sitelinks on mobile devices.
Instant Search removed from Google
Google has removed the Instant Search feature from its Search product. For those of you who are not aware of what Instant Search was, it was a feature that autocompleted a user’s search for them within the search bar.
Image source: http://www.independent.co.uk/
“We launched Google Instant back in 2010 with the goal to provide users with the information they need as quickly as possible, even as they typed their searches on desktop devices. Since then, many more of our searches happen on mobile, with very different input and interaction and screen constraints. With this in mind, we have decided to remove Google Instant, so we can focus on ways to make Search even faster and more fluid on all devices.”
– Google Spokesperson
When you type on both desktop and mobile you will only see suggestions related to the search query you type into Google. As the Google spokesperson said this has been done to improve the mobile experience on Google. Now a user must tap and select a suggestion they want rather than have a search be autocompleted for them.
Branded3’s Director of Search talks more about Google Instant Search.
Google.com to add ‘news feed’
Google is adding a Facebook-style news feed to it’s homepage on Google.com, which will provide users with a more personalised experience based on what they have searched for historically.
Image source: BBC
This is an obvious move to compete with Facebook, one of its biggest rivals, as the content and newsfeed is a big threat to users using Google (and displaying ads to users).
The news feature will be rolling out in the US first and users will be able to “follow” a search result to make their news feed more relevant.
Image source: BBC
If you use the Google Search app on a Android or iOS smartphone then you’ll be familiar with the news feed style layout. It seems Google has been using this as a test to how users interact with this style of news feed and wants to bring it to Google.com.
If this personalised news feed is rolled out globally, the ability for users to follow topics or keyword sets within Google’s Search product might need to be incorporated into your SEO strategy.
Accelerated Mobile Page news in Q3
Accelerated Mobile Pages or AMP is a bit of a debated topic in the SEO community. No matter what you think of AMP, you can’t deny the hard work that the engineers on the AMP project are putting in to make it work.
The engineers recently announced some of the long-term features coming to AMP pages. These include:
- Client-side sorting, filters and date pickers for e-commerce pages
- A revamped sidebar component that has the ability to change display format based on the width of the viewport for those wanting more responsive AMP
- The ability to embed content in AMP
- Video analytics support
- Better ad targeting.
Google boosts AMP internationally
Rank Ranger recently noticed a spike in the number of AMP pages being displayed in News Cards in Google across multiple international markets.
— Rank Ranger (@RankRanger) 24 July 2017
The SEO platform also noticed a spike in the number of AMP results on page 1 of Google for German, Norway and Taiwan markets.
— Rank Ranger (@RankRanger) 24 July 2017
Either Google is rolling out AMP across different international markets or webmasters are beginning to adopt AMP in these markets. Whichever it is, it seems AMP is getting more adoption overseas.
Twitter begins to link to Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
Twitter has begun to link to AMP pages within its native Android and iOS apps, which is moving referral traffic away from standard mobile web pages and toward Accelerated Mobile Pages.
Twitter hasn’t made any official announcements about this switch and it is unclear whether the rollout is 100% complete according to Search Engine Land.
Image source: http://searchengineland.com
Above is a graph that shows the increase in traffic from AMP referral traffic from Relay Media. To quote Barb Palser about the graph:
“This graph shows the growth in Twitter traffic to AMP content among the national and local news publishers using Relay Media, Inc.’s AMP converter. (Disclosure: Relay Media is my employer.) Twitter referrals grew from less than 1 percent of AMP sessions in December 2016 to more than 12 percent at the end of June, when Twitter expanded AMP links from its mobile web app to its Android and iOS apps.”
-Barb Palser Head of Product for Relay Media, Inc
What’s really interesting is Twitter do not need permission to link to a publisher’s AMP resources, as they can be accessed by the public. Barb Palser also notes that Twitter is choosing to link to the publisher’s AMP URLs instead of the Google cached version. This might cause a bit of a headache for your digital analytics team.
At SearchLeeds, Jon Myers, the Chief Growth Officer at DeepCrawl, actually did a talk on the complications of the mobile-first index and different pages for mobile and desktop. So, although Twitter may be improving the mobile experience for users, if the AMP resources are not technically setup correctly to be discovered by Google it could cause a headache for publishers.
In addition, if Twitter and other platforms link to AMP resources it means that in the future Google Search might not be the only source of traffic for AMP resources. If other platforms choose to link to AMP pages as well, to improve the mobile experience of the user, then this means that webmasters who share a lot of content via social media platforms might need to also think about AMP.
If you want to understand what AMP is all about, I’d recommend reading what AMP actually is and the benefits of implementing it by Mat McCorry a Search Strategist at Branded3.
Other interesting news in July
Google pushing further changes to holiday search results – http://searchengineland.com/google-adds-vacation-rentals-filter-hotel-search-results-279576
Study of 4 million Google searches charts the CTR payoff that came from eliminating right-side ads but bad for SEO – http://searchengineland.com/study-impact-google-removing-right-side-ads-2-million-searches-279353
All of Google’s Recent Changes to the Mobile SERP – http://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2017/07/27/google-mobile-serp
Google My Business and messaging – http://searchengineland.com/google-begins-rolling-messaging-feature-within-google-business-278790
Reserve with Google – https://www.blog.google/products/maps/reserve-google-summer-bookin-happens-so-fast/
Helping people in a crisis – https://www.blog.google/products/search/helping-people-crisis/