Google Updates for 2018

Rebecca Sturgess Blog, Business News, Google, Mobile, New Technology, Search Engines 0 Comments

Google Infographic-2We all know by now that Google doesn’t like to keep things constant for long, and the latest update from the search giant has confirmed that 2018 will see a big shake up in how things work; not only in the search results and how Google’s algorithms rank your website, but in how Google will read the very essence and DNA of your website. Mobile First, website markup / schema and increased pushing to move to HTTPS are just a few of the changes coming…. read on to find out more!

Mobile First

The biggest change coming soon to a SERP near you is the move to a single index of websites; yes, Google is combining their mobile and desktop indexes together to create Mobile First – and when we say first, we mean literally. Once this has been rolled out, your mobile site will be the primary resource for Google to crawl and index, NOT your desktop site. That doesn’t mean your desktop site isn’t important anymore – it is, perhaps now more than ever – but it does mean that if your mobile site performs badly, your results in Google will suffer as a result.

Why are they doing this?

The shift to mobile users has grown year on year and more than half of Google/web users now search on a mobile device, hence the push for mobile compatibility. Google scoring sites for Mobile friendliness is not a new thing – the original mobile site checking tool launched in 2015 alongside the Mobile Friendly update and tags, but with mobile users now overtaking desktop in the majority of sectors, Google are capitalising upon this to serve users their results in a format they are most likely to use.

We are aware that there will be casualties along the way; sites where the main user base visit from desktop and as such may have to make fixes that will only impact on a small number of real world users – that said, this is very much an act of future-proofing, as the number of mobile users overall grows exponentially year on year; how long before we’re all using tablets instead of laptops in this technology age (or all hooking our tablets up to keyboards and monitors for the ultimate hybrid experience!)

As we said earlier, desktop sites remain extremely important; not only in those sectors where the core visitor numbers visit via a mainframe, but also because there are instances where users will always prefer a larger desktop experience to that on a mobile or a tablet. Google is not going to suddenly remove their focus on desktop, but rather will shift mobile in front. In an ideal world with developers and online marketing working hand-in-hand it is possible to have your cake and eat it; the best scenario sees you doing well with either audience, so we see this as a new opportunity to grow and broaden your reach to a wider audience rather than the end of life as we know it!

If your website is already mobile friendly, great. Don’t be fooled in thinking Mobile First won’t matter to your marketing strategy moving forward though, as there are other aspects that affect both mobile and desktop sites that will impact how well your website performs overall.

In summary: If your mobile site works well and is optimised well, your desktop is highly likely to rank better than if not. You can’t ignore this even if you are already mobile friendly, as there are more factors to consider!

Content

If we had a penny for every time we’ve ever mentioned good, user friendly & original content written for users then we’d be rich, but it’s part of several core Google algorithms and not going anywhere in a hurry!

Hummingbird (Google’s overall search algorithm that handles all searches), Panda, Pirate, RankBrain and Fred (a tongue-in-cheek name for one of Google’s more recent updates) all use your site content in various ways to help determine your website quality and resulting rankings, and then Possum and Pigeon use your location details (i.e locational content) for aiding local search results. That’s a lot of criteria to tick in one go so we’ve broken it down.

Meaning & Concepts for Google Hummingbird

Google’s primary Hummingbird algorithm is all about meaning & concepts, and how keywords are phrased on a page. It looks at queries, so when you ask a question in the Google search bar, it will use this data to return appropriate and relevant results, as well as related questions.

Screenshot of Google SERPs - Hummingbird

Hummingbird aims to return precise answers to questions, so this is the time to start analysing whether your content is useful and relevant on each page of your site, or whether there’s room to pare things down. You don’t want to be presenting a lot of filler that doesn’t give answers to query type results, as this is the type of content Hummingbird wants to drop from the SERPs – and adding question marks to the end of each sentence won’t cut the mustard either, although we know some still do this – they won’t get away with it for much longer!

Closely linked with this is conversational content – so as well as offering precise content, you want to do it in such a way that you’re appealing to users – think less stilted sentences and more detail, as long as you’re not just repeating yourself to fill the gaps.

Original & Unique for Google Panda

The Google Panda algorithm analyses your website content on a page by page basis to check it is unique and original, and that it hasn’t been copied in large chunks from other places on the web. If it finds duplicate content in big amounts, it’s likely it will a) deindex the page the content is on (so it won’t appear in the SERPs) and b) penalise the overall domain for using such content, resulting in lower rankings across the board.
Obviously, each website is different and there will always be instances of duplicate content, particularly across static pages like T&Cs, Cookies & Privacy Policies. You won’t be penalised for small amounts in reasonable conditions, but if you’re using the same content as others in your sector or you’ve taken content from another website, then this is the time to rewrite it!

www.copyscape.com is a good place to start with checking individual pages of your site for duplicate content, and ideally if you are making big changes to pages on your site, you need to re-submit these for indexing once the new copy is live.

Copyright & Infringement for Google Pirate

This algorithm is only really aimed at websites sharing copyrighted content, such as torrent sites or illegal movie sharing websites. Any type of content that is being illegally shared online is subject to penalisation from Google Pirate – in 2012, when it was launched, over 50 million URLs were removed from the Google index as a result of sharing illegal downloads.

Quality & Usability for Google RankBrain

Google’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) RankBrain algorithm is being quoted as the third most important factor for ranking webpages (after links and words); it looks at your online content to assess both the usability of it and to form connections for common queries. From this, it will assess your page metrics as to whether your site is serving users with what they need, and if it’s not, this will be a factor in how your site ranks.

Google is also using RankBrain to further expand upon previous ‘stemming’ and synonym updates, to refine the answers being given to users with complicated or long tail query searches, as well as further differentiation between different phrases with multiple meanings.

To address RankBrain, it’s important to reemphasize the quality and usability of your web content. It’s crucial now more than ever to be writing for users first and search engines second, with fluid sentences that don’t run on and provide valuable information.

Value & Ads for Google “Fred”

Google Fred targets websites with low quality content that has clearly been written to gain higher rankings. This can involve keyword stuffing, duplicate content and copy clearly written to generate revenue rather than give value to a page.

Fred also targets websites that are unnaturally advert heavy and only exist as an ad platform rather than giving any real benefit to users.

This doesn’t mean you can’t use affiliate links or ads, and it doesn’t mean you can’t try to sell your services – of course you can, that’s how the web works. What it does mean is that you need to be ensuring all service or product pages give clear descriptions and don’t just contain mass amounts of affiliate links, ads or promo copy with nothing else to keep users on the site.

To keep Fred at bay, it’s worth reviewing your content and ensuring you have written original copy for users as well as just to promote your products and services. This will include analysing how your copy will be read by others, will it answer all of their questions first time around, and is it presented in such a way it incentivises them to stay on the website and make a sale.

If you do work with ad/affiliate partners then don’t stop but do review how you’re displaying the links, and in what quantities. Is your website more links that content, and do you have a lot of text with minimal imagery to break it up? Is the content very generic and written as filler? All of these things are Fred Flags and should be reviewed and changed where appropriate.

Location & Area for Google Pigeon & Possum

Google’s Pigeon and Possum algorithms are all about local search, so if you’re concerned about appearing for local users then you need to think about how you’re presenting your content to make this happen.

These are both only really relevant for Google Maps listings and local results and work to make you appear in results that fall both inside and outside of your specific business area – historically you’d only appear in related queries for users in the same town, but Possum in particular has widened this so now you appear for users in nearby towns and cities, for the same query.

Google uses address and affiliation to do this, so you need to make sure your contact details are clearly outlined on your website in plain text, so they can be read and indexed. You don’t want them included in images as these cannot be used in the same way. You also need to make sure the details are included in full at least on your contact page, with all fields showing.

The other thing to consider is how you are presenting your business. Are you a web developer, or a website developer, or a website designer? This variation in how you describe yourself can work to get you included in more searches for the same area, so if you can describe yourself in multiple ways then think about how to do this whilst remaining within Google’s remits for user friendly content that does not use keyword spam.

In summary: Keep your content unique, don’t spam your users and think about how best to serve their needs, including answering any questions you think could crop up that your site could reasonably answer. Think about your site design; is your content reflected well with media use to aid usability. If you have a lot of ads or affiliate links, can these be pared down?

If you want local prominence, then you need to make sure your website reflects this.

Website Structure, Performance & Security

Just to add a bit more pressure, it’s not only the algorithms we have to focus on….

Markup

One for the coders, Google’s continued emphasis on Schema and mark-up will be a big part of things to come in 2018.

Rich Snippets and Schema have been around for a while, but in 2018 and with the push for fast, relevant results, these need to be a big part of your website’s inherent DNA. New rich mark-up for images is coming to improve Google’s Image search and overall, your website needs to be properly equipped to provide rich results for Google to use when indexing and displaying in the SERPs.

If thinking about structured data leaves you in a cold sweat, think about it this way: Marking each entity on your website (such as product title, description, SKU, stock level, colour, price etc) with appropriate Schema mark up will make it easier for Google to attribute each entity with it’s correct value. This in turn will then mean your content is “better” for Google to use and display in the SERPs, and in turn, you should rank higher than others in your sector that aren’t using them.

You can test your website in Google’s own Structured Data Testing Tool to see the current state of play; for further advice, the first place to start will be your web developers/marketing team as they’ll be able to advise which markup you need and how best to implement it.

In summary: don’t ignore the idea of Schema mark-up if it sounds too complicated, otherwise Google will most likely start ignoring you! Check your website as the first step and then talk with your developers and marketing team as to how this can be implemented moving forward, where applicable!

Site Speed

Again, not a new thing but one of Google’s primary focuses for 2018. Websites that load slowly lose users; we’re an impatient bunch in the mobile age. If a website takes more than 3 seconds to load, chances are your users will be gone before you’ve even had a chance to engage them. It’s not been that long since users were willing to wait up to 10 seconds for a website to load, so this is a fast moving trend that you need to keep pace with!

Once of Google’s algorithms, RankBrain, will be key in 2018 for tracking metrics such as bounce rate, time on page and exit rate, so site speed is definitely something to focus on. RankBrain is focused largely on AI and learns from repeat users to your site which pages have good content and which don’t….and will help the overall ranking experience reflect this accordingly. This is also of course yet another reason why even with great website optimisation and presence, results wont magically improve overnight. Google needs proof that behavioural changes merit position improvements, but once you start to do well in the SERP’s it’s a lot harder for competitors to land a knock out punch on your online business.

Google does have various tools to analyse site performance and one of the biggest culprits we see are images. Hi-res images look great but can be a huge drain on site speed, so it’s important to identify where these problems lie and work with your developers/marketing team to compress and minify images accordingly.

In summary: speed your site up to keep users active for longer and to help RankBrain learn that your website is one to rank well through good content and good user metrics.

HTTPS

Website security was 2017’s big thing, and this will continue in the new year. If you haven’t yet moved over to HTTPS then now is the time to do it, before your website is penalised for not offering a secure environment for visitors.

As with the Mobile First index, websites that don’t capture any real user details and limit cookies to scripts for analytics programs will be seen as collateral damage here, but that doesn’t make it any less important that this is undertaken, and implemented properly, with a proper migration strategy to move from HTTP to HTTPS. Without a robust way to handle these changes at individual page level, years of hard work and online investment will literally go up in smoke – once penalised you may need to start virtually from scratch, as Google will treat your HTTPS site as a new entity and may even penalise it for having duplicate content as the HTTP version.

HTTPS is a ranking factor and in 2018 any website that does not meet this criteria will be marked in the Chrome browser as non-secure; at the moment this only occurs on pages that specifically request user input such as payment screens or login areas, but this will be rolled out to all pages of any website not using HTTPS!

In summary: HTTPS counts as a search ranking factor, so if you’re not there already, now is the time to move. Publishers who fail to add an SSL to their websites will be punished, and Google Chrome will start to mark sites without this in place as non-secure.

Are you ready for these changes coming soon to a Google SERP near you? Call us on 01604 647769 or email us at info@seriouslyhelpful.co.uk to discuss these changes in more detail, ensuring your digital offering is future-proofed for 2018 and beyond!

Are you ready for these changes coming soon to a Google SERP near you?

About Rebecca Sturgess

Having started out in this industry with about as much marketing knowledge as a gnat, I have worked my way up from tea-making trainee to Head of Search thanks largely to the staunch support of our director, Stuart, and a lot of late nights, strategy sessions and training. At work I am extroverted, creative and always on the Internet, but behind closed doors I’m happiest with my family, my dogs and a good book (usually accompanied with a good cup of tea!).

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