SEO News: March 2017
By Britt Bischoff on March 20, 2017 in Digital Marketing
Editor's note: This was post was originally published on 3/20/2017 and is frequently updated with recent industry news.
This post highlights all the key updates and events you need to know about that happened in March 2017:
Google Local Pack swaps buttons for images
March 15, 2017
Google continues to update the display for local search results in the Local Pack this month by removing the website, directions and call buttons from listings, and replacing with an image.
This switch isn’t the case for all verticals or queries, and appears to only have hit certain ones right now while other verticals are sticking with the button display as shown in the comparisons below. For instance, restaurants and retail are typically the quickest to adapt to most search display changes before others.
This does make it harder for users to contact you or visit your site since it adds a couple more steps for users to take, by taking them through Google Maps before displaying the website, call, or directions features. Watch your local organic search traffic pretty closely to see if and how this impacts you. Take a peek at your Google My Business insights to see if there's been any change to the website visits, direction requests, and phone calls in the customer actions report. If you're in a vertical that has been impacted by this change, expect to see a drop in this area.
Their reasons for this change are still a mystery since those call and direction buttons are seriously handy features for most mobile searches. This may be an effort aligned with spam control to further verify local businesses, or to help provide more visual context of a local business. My personal theory is that Google is testing user interface from local search results, much like when they tested thumbnails on mobile in the fall and continue to do with their experiments to search results.
New Google search quality rater guidelines
March 14, 2017
Google is taking on fake news, hateful and offensive posts as they continue to face fire about this content appearing in search results. Aiming to identify incorrect, offensive, and upsetting content to keep them out of top search results. This begins with training their team of human quality raters to identify and flag content that is upsetting, offensive, or factually incorrect for the search query. In turn, this data is then used to inform and shape Google’s AI algorithms to improve search result quality.
Paul Haahr from Google clarifies that this only impacts about 0.1% of queries, but it is an important problem. Google made it clear that they don't want to keep people from finding “content they want”, and rather want to make sure that if the intent of the searcher is to find information, the information shown in SERPs aren’t offensive, inaccurate, or hateful.
You can view and download the latest Google search quality rater guidelines here.
Google "Fred" ranking update
March 8, 2017
Everyone, meet Fred. Fred is an unconfirmed Google algorithm update related to quality and targeting low value sites by way of content, links, affiliates and ads.
Sites reported being impacted by this update experienced dramatic drop in search traffic, by more than 50%.
Who is impacted by this update? Content driven sites intended to monetize search traffic and stand to benefit the site owner and Google, and not the user.
What’s in the Fred update? Patterns with content, links, ads, and affiliates. Every single site impacted by Fred have one thing in common. They prioritized the benefits for Google and themselves, but they don’t benefit the average Google searcher. Meaning, they focused on making Google happy over creating value for the users. Many of which did so through creating sites and pages for Google's benefit only, and weren't thinking of the user's best interests when littering their sites with ads, affiliate links or lead forms. This is not to say that quality sites that have ads or all ad heavy sites are impacted by this. Remember, this is primarily a quality algorithm.
Fred isn’t targeting any one specific tactic, but rather looks at a multitude of aspects and patterns to identify low quality pages or sites. It’s suggested that Fred could be a new type of algorithm, and one that can finally answer the subjective question of quality. This algorithm holds you accountable to the principle of focusing on value for users over search engines.
Not sure if you were hit? Other than looking at your organic traffic in Google Analytics, there’s one simple thing that will help clarify. Ask yourself “who does this site / page serve most?” If it's yourself or Google, the risk is real and you have some work to do. If you answered "the user", verify that this isn’t just a biased answer by following with another question, by asking “what about this page / site is valuable to the user?”. If you can answer that confidently and the value is obvious, you can breathe a sigh of relief.
How to avoid being hit? Keep the user in the forefront of all you do, and make sure your content is valuable. For more information on how to do that, drop me a line or check out the Google Quality Rater Guidelines.
Share your experiences and questions in the comments below!