Archive for March, 2015

Title: Google Says More About Mobile-Friendly Ranking Signal

Search Engine News, Search Engine Optimization

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About a month ago, Google announced that it would begin using mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal starting on April 21. This gave webmasters some time to prepare to avoid potentially devastating effects in search results. This is a major update considering that people are only searching Google more frequently from their mobile devices.

Google algorithm changes have ruined businesses in the past, so it was good of the company to give some warning on this one. They don’t always do that. It’s going to be interesting to see what sites end up taking a substantial hit when the time comes. Most well-known sites should be ready.

Ricardo at DigiDay writes, “Top publishers, for the most part, appear prepared for the change. Out of the U.S. publishers in comScore’s top-100 rankings, the vast majority of them — including About.com, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, pass Google’s mobile-friendly test.”

He notes that sites like Mail Online and Weather.com have homepages that don’t pass Googles mobile-friendly test, but also that Mail Online’s article pages do. This is probably enough for the site to not take major it. As we recently learned, the update works on a page-by-page basis as opposed to a side-wide one.

Googles’ Gary Illyes recently said as much at the Search Marketing Expo. He also said the signal would run in real time. If only parts of your site are mobile-friendly, the parts that aren’t shouldn’t hurt them. This eases the burden on webmasters who ay have thought they needed to have their entire sites mobile-friendly by the algorithm update’s launch date. It’s still a good idea, of course, but as long as you take care of your most important pages, you’ll probably be fine.

On Tuesday, Google hosted a live Q&A Session to answer questions about the mobile-friendly ranking change. Here’s the whole thing if you want to spend an hour of your time on it:

Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Roundtable has been pulling out some nuggets that are helpful to know. For example, while this is pretty much common sense, may be helpful to see it confirmed: If your site carries the “mobile-friendly” label in Google’s search results (it’s been displaying this label since last year), you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. The quote from the video:

Take out your phone, look up your web site. See if there is a gray mobile friendly label in your description snippet. If it is in the search results, if you see it, that means that Google understands that your site is mobile friendly and if you don’t see it then we don’t see that your site is mobile friendly or your is not mobile friendly.

Another helpful thing to know is that information in the mobile usability report can sometimes be delayed. From the video:

It might not be the most updated information. So if you did change your site and you want to see if we detected it, run it through the mobile friendly test. The mobile usability report will catch up when it crawls.

One more important point Google clarified in the video is that there aren’t different degrees of mobile-friendliness when it comes to the ranking signal. Pages will either be seen as mobile-friendly or not. From the video:

You either have a mobile friendly page or not. It is based on the criteria we mentioned earlier, which are small font sizes, your tap targets/links to your buttons are too close together, readable content and your viewpoint. So if you have all of those and your site is mobile friendly then you benefit from the ranking change.

As they went on to say, Google still has over 200 different ranking factors, so the mobile-friendly signal is still just one of them, and will work in conjunction with everything else.

While the algorithm update will begin on April 21, Google says it could take a couple of days to a week to fully roll out.

There are a variety of factors that go into making your pages mobile-friendly. If your site isn’t in good shape, you’re going to want to make friends with Google’s mobile SEO guide, and of course the mobile friendly test. You can get a summary of both of these here.

Google has also been giving tips on things you’ll want to avoid. More on that here.

Don’t forget, the mobile-friendly signal is only one of two mobile-related algorithm changes Google announced. The other one has already gone into effect, and looks at content within apps. If you use app indexing for Android apps, your content may show up higher in search results for signed in users who have your app installed. More on getting set up for that here.

Google also recently announced another ranking signal that isn’t necessarily mobile-related. The company said earlier this month that it would launch a ranking adjustment to better address doorway pages.

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Title: Things To Avoid For Google’s Mobile-Friendly Update

Search Engine News, Search Engine Optimization

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Last month, Google announced a pair of new mobile-related ranking signals for its search algorithm. One is mobile-friendliness and the other is for content from apps that users have installed on their phones. You can learn more about taking advantage of the latter here.

The mobile-friendly signal will take a number of things into account. In a recent article, we went through a bunch of these things based on Google’s own guidance and documentation about how to make a site mobile-friendly. Now, Google is telling webmasters some specific things to avoid in a document called “Avoid common mistakes“. These include:

1. Blocked JavaScript, CSS and image files

2. Unplayable content

3. Faulty redirects

4. Mobile-only 404s

5. App download interstitials

6. Irrelevant cross-links

7. Slow mobile pages.

Blocked JavaScript, CSS and Image Files

Google says to always allow Googlebot acess to the JavaScript, CSS, and image files used by your site so it can see it like an average user. If your robots.txt file disallows crawling of these, Google says it “directly harms” how well it can render and index your content, which can result in “suboptimal rankings”.

Google says to make sure it can crawl this stuff by using the “Fetch as Google” feature in Webmaster Tools, which will let you see how Googlebot sees and renders your content, and will help you figure out and fix issues. Then check and test your robots.txt in WMT, and test your mobile pages with the Mobile-Friendly Test. If you use separate URLs for mobile and desktop, make sure to test both.

Unplayable Content

When your content uses videos or other media that’s not supported on mobile devices (like Flash), users will see a message like this:

Obviously that’s not good for users, so you’re going to want to make sure your content is playable on mobile devices. You can avoid unplayable content by using HTML5 standard tags.

“For animated content rendered using Flash or other multimedia players, consider using HTML5 animations that work across all web browsers. Google Web Designer makes it easy to create these animations in HTML5,” Google says. “Use HTML5 standards for animations to provide a good experience to all your users. Use video-embedding that’s playable on all devices. Consider having the transcript of the video available. This will make your site accessible to people who use assistive browsing technologies or who have browsers that cannot play a proprietary video format.”

Faulty Redirects

Google has been notifying webmasters about fixing faulty redirects since last summer.

Basically, if you have separate mobile URLs, you need to redirect mobile users to the appropriate mobile URL on each desktop version. Don’t redirect to other pages (like the homepage). Google gives you some specific examples of what not to do here.

You can set up your server so it redirects smartphone users to the equivalent URL on your smartphone site, and if a page on the site doesn’t have an equivalent, you can keep them on the desktop page. You can also, of course, use responsive design.

Mobile-only 404s

You also don’t want to show mobile users 404s for pages that work fine on the desktop.

“To ensure the best user experience, if you recognize a user is visiting a desktop page from a mobile device and you have an equivalent mobile page at a different URL, redirect them to that URL instead of serving a 404 or a soft 404 page,” says Google. “Also make sure that the mobile-friendly page itself is not an error page.”

Google also sends notifications about this in Webmaster Tools, and again, if you have a smartphone site on a separate URL, you can set up your server so it redirects smartphone users to the equivalent URL on the smartphone site. Google notes that if you use dynamic serving, you should make sure your user-agent detection is correctly configured. If the page doesn’t have a smartphone equivalent, keep users on the desktop version. You can also use responsive design.

Be sure to check the Crawl Errors report in WMT. You’ll find problem pages in the Smartphone tab.

App Download Interstitials

Google says you should avoid using interstitials for promoting your mobile app because it can cause indexing issues and “disrupt a visitor’s usage of the site”. Instead, it says to use a simple banner to promote the app within the page’s content using native browser and operating system support (such as Smart App Banners for Safari) or an HTML banner or image like a typical small advertisement, which links to the app store for download.

Irrelevant Cross-Links

“A common practice when a website serves users on separate mobile URLs is to have links to the desktop-optimized version, and likewise a link from the desktop page to the mobile page,” Google says. “A common error is to have links point to an irrelevant page such as having the mobile pages link to the desktop site’s homepage.”

Just check your links to make sure they point to the right equivalent page. It’s that simple.

Slow Mobile Pages

Google stresses the importance of making sure mobile pages load quickly. Google has placed a great deal of emphasis on page speed for quite a while now, and thats’ no different when it comes to mobile-friendliness.

To make sure your pages are fast enough, you can use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool, which will tell if you what (if any) issues are slowing them down. If it says “should fix,” you should follow that advice.

Google has a series of articles on optimizing performance here, and points to this article from bryan McQuade about making mobile pages render in under one second. You can also read through this page on PageSpeed Insights.

Google also ran a poll asking people what they dislike most when browsing the web on their mobile devices. Page speed was by far the biggest annoyance:

Google’s mobile-friendly algorithm update will begin rolling on on April 21. Webmasters are no doubt scrambling to make sure their sites are ready in time, but the good news is that if your site isn’t ready by then, it’s not a huge deal. Google recently indicated that the ranking signal will run in real time, and will run on a page-by-page basis, so if only some parts of your site are mobile-friendly, the parts that aren’t won’t necessarily hurt your whole site. As soon as you make those parts mobile-friendly, it will be reflected in the algorithm.

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Title: Should Google Show Press Releases As News?

Search Engine News, Search Engine Optimization

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As you’ve probably noticed in the past, Google sometimes includes an “In the News” section in its search results. This points users to a few sources that have newsy information about whatever it is that they searched for.

The feature used to point users to stories indexed in Google News. It still does that, but last fall, Google started showing content from additional sources, including reddit, to go along with the Google News content.

Now, Google showing content directly from the companies that are in the news has become a story.

Should Google show company content under the guise of news? Do you think this will mislead users? Let us know in the comments.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that the feature has been letting company statements in at the top of the news links. The narrative of the report is that biased statements and press releases can appear above unbiased news stories, and mislead users about critical information. A side narrative of the report is that this can also hurt news publisher traffic. It shares this from Google:

“The goal of search is to get users the right answer at any one time as quickly as possible — that may mean returning an article from an established publisher or from a smaller niche publisher or indeed it might be a press release,” the Google spokeswoman said.

She added Google, which did not announce the September change, does not get paid for including press releases on the lists.

Examples of companies who have recently topped the “In the News” section include Gemalto and Apple. The former has been doing damage control after a hacking incident, while the latter is selling smart watches. It’s worth noting that some find one of the more significant angles of the Apple Watch to be that some models cost as much as $17,000, and this is not something that Apple drew attention to in its own announcements.

According to Reuters, the Gemalto statement that appeared in the section downplayed the impact of the hacking. This is the main thing that’s not sitting well with critics. Should a company be able to have that kind of control over the narrative of news stories about themselves?

If you ask me, it’s a fair question, but it’s also probably being a bit blown out of proportion. Maybe I’m giving people too much credit, but I think most users can figure out that if a story is coming directly from a company, it’s probably going to have that bias. And it’s not like Google shows only one story in these news boxes. Maybe the company message shouldn’t always rank above other unbiased reports, but there’s likely enough other content on the page to discern that it’s not the only take on the news. There’s also something to be said for allowing a company (especially when under attack in the media) to have its side of the story heard.

When it comes to announcements, it’s likely that the company’s version of the story is actually the best result in some cases. Like Nate Swanner at Slash Gear notes, “The issue here is context.”

This shouldn’t be a problem if Google can get the context right. Whether or not it can is another argument.

There are some other points to consider here that don’t seem to be getting much mention by those who have weighed into the conversation. For one, Google News itself has included press releases for a long time. I’m not sure if this has always been the case, but it’s been like that for years. It’s not at all uncommon to see results from Business Wire, PR Newswire, and others. That’s fine, and truth be told, sometimes I prefer these results.

The main difference is apparently that now Google may show releases directly from the corporate websites (like Apple.com, for example) in the “In the News” section. It’s really not a huge leap from what has long been possible. A release from one of the aforementioned distribution services could have appeared there anyway. I just don’t see this as a major concern.

Google does say in a Google News help article, “For sites containing press releases, please keep in mind that we’re unable to include sites that primarily promote their own product or organization.”

Again, that’s Google News, and the “In the News” section includes additional content, so this doesn’t appear to apply to that. Also, press release distribution services clearly fall into a different category as they promote everybody’s content, not just a single company’s.

Google’s web search algorithm has hurt press release sites in the past. That’s not really here nor there, but it is an interesting aside. It was actually less than a year ago that we were talking about press releases sites taking a hit after Panda 4.0. News results are a different beast though.

Another element that should be a part of this conversation is that Google and Twitter recently struck a deal, which will likely see Google including more real-time tweet activity in search results. It remains to be see how Google is going to implement that this time around, but it’s going to give Google better access to fresh content, which could downplay the significance of the “In the News” box. It’s also possible that it could contribute directly to what actually appears in that box. We don’t know.

See: Google’s Twitter Deal May Impact Your Reputation

As far as the “In the News” section, AdWeek’s PRNewser says, “The change is good news for PR and bad news for major journalistic institutions like the Times and The Wall Street Journal, because whoever posts the announcement first will get top placement and clicks. It’s a symptom of our digital age, though: new distribution channels allow brands — and, by extension, their PR teams — to become publishers with greater power to drive the narrative.”

Some think businesses will be able to game their way into the “In the News” results.

What do you think about the whole thing. Is there cause for concern here? Share your thoughts.

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