Whether you were sipping prosecco or munching on mince pies, one thing about December was inevitable; we were glad to see the back of 2020.
The rollercoaster of COVID-19 and the relentless chopping and changing of Tiers has left everyone feeling frazzled and wondering what on earth the new year will bring us. Hopefully fewer lockdowns, and more time with those we cherish.
But if there was one thing you can guarantee was still a constant, it’s the continuous changes we’ve seen in the realm of SEO and digital marketing. Because to them, change happens every day.
As reports suggest that we’ve spent more time online than ever before due to tightened restrictions and lack of social activity; it only seems obvious that those working in SEO agencies and the marketing arena have been trying to keep up the pace to ensure we remain informed and entertained.
There, haven’t just been small shifts in December, but huge SEO and marketing changes that you may have seen the impact of already. From changes in how your social feeds are looking, the ads that are being displayed, to the ranking of your website. There’s a lot to take in from December 2020.
So let’s begin our whirlwind tour of December 2020, and reveal the changes you should take note from.
Google’s December Core Update
It’s official – in December 2020, Google announced a major core update.
On December 3rd, Google confirmed that a new update would begin to be rolled out, and on December 16th, Google revealed that the rollout was complete.
Rolling out a big algorithm update in the very centre of the holiday period did seem a little unfair on Google’s part – especially as many websites would be relying on online trade during the festive season after such a disruptive 2020.
Like most of Google’s core algorithm updates, this was a global rollout, so would affect every website. There was no limit to the area, language or website category. This was an outright universal update that would make some shifts.
Usually, these bigger core updates are initiated every three months, but this one took a long time to execute with seven months between the December update and the May update.
According to many experts in the SEO world, this Google core update was big and caused some positive and negative fluctuations for a number of big brands. While some got off lightly with a 10% change, others saw up to a 100% alteration to their rankings. To some, it was a gift from Google; to others, it was a lump of coal in the stocking moment.
You can check to see how your own website was affected by looking at any dips in traffic on your Google Analytics or checking your SERP’s results using a ranking tool.
Google has remained traditionally tight-lipped about the circumstances of this core update, and what exactly it is they’ve ‘rolled out’. Of course, among the SEO community, there are whispers that it could be another update to support the BERT update around content but I feel thats unlikely. Web pages naturally rank very differently these days due to technology like natural language processing. No doubt over the next month the information will become clearer regarding the update.
In response to the December core algorithm update, Google’s suggestions remain the same;
- Create high-quality content
- Make use of structured data
- Fix any SEO issues that may hinder user experience
Bing Integrates with Microsoft Clarity
Bing might not be your go-to search engine, but people are still using it, which means it is just as valid as the likes of Google.
In December Bing made progress with its data capability as Microsoft announced that you can now access Microsoft Clarity within Bing Webmaster Tools.
Microsoft Clarity was in trial mode before but released into Beta in December, and now enables site owners to see heatmaps, session playbacks, and metrics to help improve their user experience.
Similar to Google Analytics, Microsoft Clarity has a dashboard where you can find and discover data on how your visitors are engaging with your website.
The integration of Bing Webmaster Tools and Microsoft Clarity means that if you weren’t using Clarity before you can now add it into your Bing Webmaster Tools, and gain access to even more data.
For those who have a heavy user base on Bing, this is yet another step to accessing more information about your user experience, something which can only help you further enhance your website and conversions.
Microsoft has said that this is just the beginning and to watch out as more integrations get rolled out in 2021.
Google Launches FAQs About Core Web Vitals
Core Web Vitals is something that’s been heavily pushed by Google in 2020, and we’ve seen even more of a push on this in December as Google launched an FAQ page specifically about Core Web Vitals (CWV).
If you’re unfamiliar with CWV, they are a specific set of factors that Google uses to consider the webpage’s overall user experience. So, basically, it’s Google’s way of seeing how your pages user experience performs overall.
In December, Google published an FAQ about Core Web Vitals to help people understand what it does measure and what it values.
Among the answers, Google confirms that in 2021, Core Web Vitals will become a ranking factor.
If you haven’t swatted up yet on what Core Web Vitals are, and what they mean for your website you may want to visit the FAQ page to start your action plan.
Google Tests Interactive Search Results
In December, it was revealed that Google has been testing a new type of Search Engine Results Page (SERP) that contain interactive elements that hide and reveal images.
The test SERP features an icon that, when clicked reveals images that are featured on the webpage.
With a feature like this in action, it could help websites gain more visitors, as those with more descriptive images will likely see an increase in click-throughs.
Google hasn’t confirmed whether this will be fully rolled out or advised on what this means for image-related content. All we know right now is that this feature is being tested by Google, and could mean it’s time now more than ever to ensure that images on blog posts and webpages are relevant and descriptive.
For users, an interactive search result with images may help them understand more about what content they will find on the page before they click. Therefore, this could become a major influencing factor for users. As a site owner, This is something to consider if you’ve been getting lazy with your image tags.
Google Reveals the Top Searches of 2020
You’re probably sitting there thinking – “yeah, I know what the top search of 2020 was – coronavirus.”
But Google has a few more interesting insights up their sleeves, and they’ve revealed it all in their report on the Top Searches of 2020.
The beauty of Google’s Trend report is that it allows us to see into what people were looking for, and how they were searching.
According to the report, we broke the record in 2020 for asking “what day is it” – I think we can all relate to that one.
Of course, coronavirus was the top of the subject list, but recipes and crafts are also in the top ten.
No matter your industry or sector, this report is well worth the viewing as you can gain some valuable insight into your target customers, and if any product related searches may help improve your own content strategy in 2021.
Google Ads Unveils Enhancements
Alongside organic improvements, Google also announced in December that Google Ads would have new enhancements to Lead Form Extensions.
If you’re unfamiliar with Lead Form Extensions, ultimately, these are forms that show beneath your ad and allow a user to provide their contact information directly through your ad, rather than needing to visit your website to convert.
Lead forms have already been heavily adopted across most ad platforms, including socials such as Facebook.
The trouble with Google Ads Lead Extension Forms was that there were a few essential features missing to make the process smoother.
The update from Google now means that Lead Extension Forms can be applied and shared among all campaign types, and include pre-made questions on the forms to help direct sales to the right internal team.
Google Ads are also working with third-party email providers, including Webhook and Zapier, to help the automation of this data once it’s been collected.
For those working on improving their ads in 2021, this update may just create more sales in an effortless way.
Apple Changes Data Tracking for Facebook
There’s been a storm brewing in Silicon Valley, as in 2020 Apple released information about their next iPhone update that would allow users to opt-out of targetted ads.
Back in June 2020, Apple announced there would be changes to its IDFA tracking system which would make all data tracking opt-in, with explicit details in each app that explain to users what data each app is taking.
Facebook and many other social platforms have been in a fury about this, as it would dramatically impact their ability to harness data for advertising.
In December, a report was released that Facebook and Snapchat would be the most affected if users were to opt-out of their data tracking due to the number of insights the companies gain.
Right now, iOs users can opt-out of IDFA tracking, but the settings are not easily accessible and do take some digging. But the new feature introduced by Apple would make it easy for users with a pop-up notification about data usage before users could continue using the app.
Ultimately, this could mean reduced effectiveness of ads in the near future as more people will the capability to reduce the use of their data.
Apple has not officially confirmed when these new changes will take effect, but it’s going to be an interesting turn of events when ad transparency grows.
TikTok in Hot Water About Data Usage
Despite GDPR coming into effect in Europe in 2018, it seems that data has been on everyone’s minds over the past year.
In December, it was reported that TikTok was in hot water over its tracking of underage user data.
While TikTok grew in popularity in 2020, it has barely managed to avoid a ban in the US, and now faces a legal challenge around its use of data.
TikTok and its poor use of data have already hit the headlines previously to this challenge.
In 2019, TikTok was fined $5.7 million for illegally collecting the names, email addresses, pictures and locations of under age children.
According to reports, more than a third of TikTok’s users are under the age of 14. This is despite TikTok technically only being available to people over 13 years of age. The only thing stopping users from accessing TikTok’s full experience is a fairly loose age-gate which can be easily manipulated.
The new legal case in the UK against TikTok was reported in Sky News.
“A 12-year-old girl from London, who cannot be identified, plans to bring a damages claim against six firms said to be responsible for TikTok and its “predecessor” app Musical.ly for “loss of control of personal data”. According to a High Court ruling published on Wednesday, the action alleges the firms have “misused the claimant’s private information and processed the claimant’s personal data” in breach of EU and UK data protection laws.”
No doubt there will be some resolution to the challenge, as TikTok continue to dominate the social landscape, but it does once again reveal the lack of transparency around what data these apps are using.