While we’re all still wondering if we’ll get our lives back in 2021, the world of SEO and marketing still keeps turning; and even creating waves which have got many of us wondering how things might look by the end of the year.
As the old saying goes – “change is the only constant” – and never has a phrase been more relevant than with the realm of digital.
Do you ever wonder how we would have survived without Google over the past year?
We’ve quite literally Googled everything; from how to keep motivated in lockdown, how to cut our hair, to how to homeschool. It’s been a scary time. But for every dilemma, Google has been there to catch us.
The power of search has never been greater, and as 2020 has proved our need to search is only growing. This means staying in the know about the latest SEO news is critical to remaining relevant and in front of your customers.
Google Testing ‘About This’ Result
On February 1st 2021 Google announced it is rolling out a new search feature that will tell users more information about the search result before they click on it.
The “about this result” box can be seen if the user taps on the three dots on the right top corner of the search result snippet.
This new Google feature aims to help users gain more information about the search result, and ultimately determine if they trust the source of the information.
Google will also show if the site is secure, if Wikipedia has information on that site, and if the listing is paid for. If no Wikipedia information is provided, Google will provide data on when the site was first listed in the search engine.
At present Google has confirmed that this feature is in BETA and that they have been testing this in 2019 and 2020. Most importantly Google has been conducting several tests on the feature to ensure that people find this feature useful.
The full roll of this feature will begin in 2021, with English and U.S search results on mobile web, desktop and Android Google app.
What’s interesting about this addition is whether searchers do use it and if they are being influenced by the information in the box. ‘
Google Updates Core Web Vitals in Search Console
If you haven’t heard already, Google’s Core Web Vitals will now become a factor in the way Google ranks your website.
First of all, it’s incredibly rare for Google to give away this much information about a ranking factor. But with the roll out of core vitals happening in May 2021, they know that many websites will need to prepare, as there are whispers in the SEO world that this could see some big shifts in ranks across the board.
Core Web Vitals (CWV), have been a consistent feature in our SEO news for the past year as Google have explained the how, the why and the when around this algorithm.
The algorithm update will be known as the Google Page Experience Update, as ultimately this is what Google is trying to improve – the experience a user has when interacting with your website.
If you haven’t heard of the specifics here’s a breakdown of what it all means in human language;
LCP (Largest Contentful Paint)
LCP is how long it takes for your web page to load when a user has clicked on your url.
In simple terms, it’s the time from clicking on a link to the page loading.
FID (First Input Delay)
FID is the time it takes for a user to interact with your page. For example, this could be clicking on a menu. So to simplify, FID measures how long it takes for something to happen on a page.
CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift)
CLS is how stable your page is at loads. For example, if an element on your page movers around as the page loads, then you’ve got a high CLS which is not good.
In February, Google revealed that they have made some more changes to the metric boundaries of how the three core areas will be measured.
Google has disclosed the specific boundaries in the chart we’ve featured. The metrics defining the boundarides for LCP, FID, CLS, are now defined as <=(less than or equal to).
Ideally, Google wants to ensure our sites all get in the green with these areas. How big the ranking change will be when this is officially rolled out, is obviously unknown, but we believe anything that enhances the user experience will always create happier users, and therefore better site conversions.
Google Featured Snippets Becoming Less Prominent
Ever since Google launched featured snippets everyone has wanted the prize of the top spot on the search results. But now it appears that Google aren’t quite making this feature as prominent as it once was.
Research in February, suggests that feature snippets are showing up less in Google’s search results.
Many SEO tools who track feature snippets have revealed a significant decline. Below are just two examples of tools who have discovered the data.
If your website gets a lot of traffic from featured snippets, this may dramatically begin to impact your traffic. You may want to keep an eye on your analytics, and see how your own featured snippets are performing.
It’s unknown yet why this is happening, and Google have not said anything about changes to featured snippets, so it may be a bug.
Google My Business Adds Messaging
It’s clear from the past year of reporting on Google’s My Business feature that this part of Google is not going anywhere. In fact, we think there’s been some new addition or enhancement to Google My Business almost every month – which just goes to show how much Google is investing in this feature. So if you haven’t claimed your My Business profile – what are you waiting for?
In February Google revealed that they would now be adding a messaging functionality to the My Business desktop interface.
While this is not live yet, you will soon be able to find ‘Messages’ in your desktop dashboard of Google My Business.
When you log in to Google My Business on your desktop, you will see a ‘Messages’ button on the left side navigation. Once you click on messages, it loads a messaging chat box tool. You can then see messages from customers and chat to them.
For many businesses that are customer service heavy, this will be a welcome addition, as people will be able to instantly chat to potential customers via the messaging chat.
Google and Australia Drama Has Implications
It’s been hard to ignore the drama between Google and Australia, as it’s been heavily reported on in both the general media, and the digital press.
In January, Google threatened to shut down its search engine in Australia, if the country were to pass a law which seeks to compensate news publishers for links to their content in Google’s search results.
To put it in simple terms, Australian legislators have been working to create a new law that would effectively force Google to pay for the privilege of displaying links to Australian news.
However in February an unprecedented agreement was finally made.
Google has announced that they have negotiated to begin paying for Australian News with publishers who have agreed to participate in the Google News Showcase program.
There is no clarity on whether Google’s approach will stop the Australian law going through, so we could see more shifts happening over the coming months.
Google Confirm It’s Quality Not Quantity Factor
Word count has long been a contentious subject in the realm of content marketing and SEO. The overarching question has always been, does word count matter?
Well, Google has spoken.
John Mueller confirmed in a session on Google’s Office Hours that it’s not about how many words you put on a page, but context and quality.
John said, “ From our point of view the number of words on a page is not a quality factor, not a ranking factor. So just blindly adding more and more text to a page doesn’t make it better.”
Jon continued by saying, “It’s a bit like if you want to present something to a client who’s walking in, you can give them a one or two page brochure or you can give them a giant book of information. And in some cases people will want a book with a lot of information. And in other cases people want something short and sweet. And that’s similar to search.
If you have the information that you need for indexing for …kind of making it so that users and Googlebot understands what this page us about, what you’re trying to achieve with it uh… in a short version then fine, keep a short version, you don’t need to make it longer. Just blindly adding text to a page doesn’t make it better.”
So there we have, as always it’s about understanding what your audience wants from the content. Not just mindlessly adding more content to a page because you think it will help you rank.
Google Adds to Manual Penalties
In early February Google announced that violations of Google News and Google Discover can now result in manual action penalties. Ie, Google can remove you!
This is a first for Google, as manual penalties were only previously given if you violated Google Search. However, the new penalties now include News and Discover policies.
If you’re unclear about what this means. A manual penalty, unlike an automated penalty, is where a real person at Google reviews your actions and decides whether you need to be removed. It’s a very serious process that Google doesn’t take lightly.
Traditionally, for a manual penalty from search results violations, your website would either be ranked significantly lower in Google search, or in extreme circumstances removed from the search engine entirely.
However, with these new policies it’s unclear what the repercussions will be.
It’s in every site owner’s interests to avoid penalties, as manual actions in particular are the most serious of all Google penalties, and take a considerable amount of time and effort to recover from.
Google Says Lots of Links Are Irrelevant
Are you on a linking building or digital PR campaign right now? You may want to hear this news.
In a Google Hangout session with John Mueller in February, John confirmed that, “the total number [of backlinks] essentially is completely irrelevant” to rankings in Google.
To be honest, it’s quite surprising that this topic is still coming up, almost twenty years after the discussion first started. Quality over quantity has been Google’s emphasis for a long time, and as John said, counting your links may make you happy, but it won’t making the ranking algorithm happy.
As always with link building it’s about quality and relevance, over quantity.
Social media is a hive of activity right now as people continue to try and stay connected with family and friends, so it’s no surprise that the social giants have been busy trying to make the platforms work for everyone.
While it may feel noisy out there on the social channels, you have to be there if you want to be found. Take note of what you need to know and be conscious of how you’re putting your message out to the masses.
Facebook Come to a Compromise with Australia
Australia really is cracking down on the tech giants about their news!
In February, Facebook announced an agreement with the Australian government to pay Australian news publishers for news articles.
Originally, Facebook were going to throw their toys out of the pram and remove Australian news from its feed for Australian users, over the new law that the Australian government are trying to enforce.
Now Facebook and the Australian government have come to a compromise.
Instagram Trials New Auto Captions
If you manage an Instagram account it will be welcome news to your ears that Instagram are trailing a new ‘Closed Captions’ sticker for Instagram stories. This feature will generate automated captions for your stories and clips in a range of text formats.
For content creators who regularly post stories on Instagram this will make it much easier to reach a wider audience, and ensure that stories can be understood in sound on and sound off situations.
There is no confirmed public release for this feature from Instagram, but we expect it will arrive soon.