It can be easy to take for granted how little spam shows up in the dozens of Google searches we make every day.

While we are almost always able to find what we need through the search engine without an abundance of malicious, copied, or just plain spammy websites, the search engine says it has been ramping up spam detection behind the scenes to fight the seemingly endless hordes of illicit or otherwise problematic sites from filling up its search results.

In fact, Google’s webspam report for 2020 says the search engine detected more than 40 billion pages of spam every day last year. This reflects a 60% increase from the year before.

How Google Search is Fighting Spam

It is possible there was a distinct increase in spammy sites last year, potentially due to disruptions and other changes brought about by the Covid pandemic. According to the search engine though, the bulk of this increase is the result of increased spam prevention efforts with the help of AI.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning have helped the company keep with new spam methods and are credited with allowing the search engine to reduce auto-generated or scraped content “by more than 80% compared to a couple of years ago.”

This AI-based approach also frees up Google’s manual action spam team to focus on more advanced forms of spam, such as hacked sites which were “still rampant in 2020.”

To show you how this approach works and helps filter out the bulk of webspam before it even gets added to Google’s indexes, the company shared a simple graphic:

COVID Spam and Misinformation

As with everyone, Google faced unprecedented situations in the past year as it responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. This included devoting “significant effort in extending protection to the billions of searches” related to the virus.

One part of this effort was instituting a “more about this result” feature which added additional context about sites before clicking through to one of their pages. This intends to help users avoid bad actors that popped up, especially during the early stages of the pandemic.

Additionally, the search engine says it worked to remove misinformation that could be dangerous during the course of the pandemic.

What This Means For You

Assuming you are a reputable professional in your industry, Google’s increased efforts to fight spam should only be a source of comfort. There have been fewer reports of sites being incorrectly targeted by these spam prevention methods in recent years, while the overall level of deceptive, spammy, or harmful sites in the search results has plummeted. 

All in all, this means a better experience for both users trying to find information and products, as well as brands fighting to reach new customers online.

For many small-to-medium businesses, appearing in search results around their local area is significantly more important than popping up in the results for someone halfway across the country. 

This raises the question, though. How many of the countless searches made every day are actually locally based?

We now have the answer to that question thanks to a new tool released by LocalSEOGuide.com and Traject Data.

What Percent Of Searches Are Local?

Working together, the companies analyzed over 60 million U.S. search queries and found that over a third (approx. 36%) of all queries returned Google’s local pack – indicating the search was location-based. 

Perhaps the biggest surprise from the data is that locally-based searches have remained largely consistent throughout the year. Following an uptick in early 2020 (likely driven by the coronavirus pandemic), the rate stayed around 36% over the course of the year. The only significant exception came in September, where the data shows a significant decrease in locally-driven searches. 

This data shows just how important it is for even brands that are strictly local to establish their brands online and optimize for search engines. Otherwise, you might be missing out on a big source of potential business.

Other Features In The Local Pack-O-Meter

Along with data on the appearance of local packs in Google search results, the Local Pack-O-Meter includes information on several other search features. These include:

  • Knowledge Graphs
  • “People Also Ask” Panels
  • Image Boxes
  • Shopping Boxes
  • Ads
  • Related Searches
  • And more

Though the current form of the tool doesn’t include ways to more selectively filter the information, there is plenty to take from the information for planning what search features you need to prioritize and which can be put on the back burner. 

To explore the Local Pack-O-Meter for yourself, click here.

If you are an online retailer, you are no doubt familiar with Google’s wide array of special features built for online shopping. You are also probably aware of how confusing it can be to get included in these unique search results.

To help clarify this process and make it easier to get your products highlighted in Google’s search results, the search engine recently revealed some technical tips and tricks for e-commerce sites. 

Why It Takes Extra Work To Get In Google Shopping Results

The first question most business owners or site managers might have when they start trying to get their products included in Google Shopping results is “why do I have to do all this extra work?”

Google’s whole thing is analyzing sites and automatically delivering that information in its search results, right? Why can’t they just pull your product info when your pages get indexed?

The simple answer is that Google knows online retail changes very quickly and shoppers get very frustrated with out of date or inaccurate information. If this became a frequent problem, users would likely stop paying attention to Google’s product-related search results. 

While the search engine regularly re-indexes updated webpages, it can’t guarantee pages will be indexed fast enough to ensure information is up-to-date for searchers. 

Additionally, there are some features which online retailers tend to provide to help shoppers which can make things a little confusing for search engines to understand. 

For example, Google says it still struggles with accurately telling the difference between these types of information:

  • Original Price vs. Discounted Price
  • Related Products vs. The Main Product Being Sold
  • Taxes or Shipping Costs vs. The Actual Product Price

This is why the search engine asks online retailers to help provide this information for Google Shopping results.

Now, let’s get into the advice from Google Developer Advocate Alan Kent and how you can get your products into Google product showcases.

Two Ways To Give Google Your Product Data

In the latest Lightning Talks video, Kent discusses two different ways site managers can get their product information to Google. 

The first method is by using structured data. This is essentially using special coding embedded into pages to provide Google with additional information typically not provided through regular site code or markup. 

This is generally seen as the advanced approach because it requires significant knowledge of coding and the latest structured data techniques. 

The other method covered by Kent is by directly providing product data through Google Merchant Center, which can be done with:

  • A feed of all product data manually submitted to the search engine.
  • An API developed to update products individually as changes are made on your site. 

For more information, check out the guide provided by Google.

Conclusion

While providing product data to search engines is essential for appearing in these specific product-centric search results, the company emphasizes that these practices don’t replace traditional SEO.

“Remember that SEO still matters for organic search. Make your product details, such as images and descriptions, appealing to your customers.”

If you want to watch the full explanation from Kent, it is available below:

Throughout 2020, approximately 65% of searches made on Google were “zero-click searches”, meaning that the search never resulted in an actual website visit.

Zero-click searches have been steadily on the rise, reaching 50% in June 2019 according to a study published by online marketing expert Rand Fishkin and SimilarWeb.

The steep rise in these types of searches between January and December 2020 is particularly surprising because it was widely believed zero-click searches were largely driven by mobile users looking for quick-answers. Throughout 2020, however, most of us were less mobile than ever due to Covid restrictions, social distancing, and quarantines.

The findings of this latest report don’t entirely disprove this theory, though. Mobile devices still saw the majority of zero-click Google searches. On desktop, less than half (46.5%) were zero-click searches, while more than three-fourths (77.2%) of searches from mobile devices did not result in a website visit.

Study Limitations

Fishkin acknowledges that his reports do come with a small caveat. Each analysis used different data sources and included different searching methods, which may explain some of the variance. Additionally, the newer study – which included data from over 5.1 trillion Google searches – had access to a significantly larger data pool compared to the approximately one billion searches used in the 2019 study.

“Nonetheless, it seems probable that if the previous panel were still available, it would show a similar trend of increasing click cannibalization by Google,” Fishkin said in his analysis.

What This Means For Businesses

The most obvious takeaway from these findings is that people are increasingly finding the information they are looking for directly on the search results pages, rather than needing to visit a web-page for more in-depth information.

It also means that attempts to regulate Google are largely failing.

Many have criticized and even pursued legal action (with varying levels of success) against the search engine for abusing their access to information on websites by showing that information in “knowledge panels” on search results.

The argument is that Google is stealing copyrighted information and republishing it on their own site. Additionally, this practice could potentially create less reason for searchers to click on ads, meaning Google is contributing to falling click-through rates and making more money off of it.

Ultimately, Google is showing no signs of slowing down on its use of knowledge panels and direct answers within search results. To adjust to the rise of zero-click searches, brands should put more energy into optimizing their content to appear in knowledge panels (increasing your brand awareness) and diversify their web presence with social media activity to directly reach customers.

In a Google Search Central SEO session recently, Google’s John Mueller shed light on a way the search engine’s systems can go astray – keeping pages on your site from being indexed and appearing in search. 

Essentially the issue comes from Google’s predictive approach to identifying duplicate content based on URL patterns, which has the potential to incorrectly identify duplicate content based on the URL alone. 

Google uses the predictive system to increase the efficiency of its crawling and indexing of sites by skipping over content which is just a copy of another page. By leaving these pages out of the index, Google’s engine has less chances of showing repetitious content in its search results and allows its indexing systems to reach other, more unique content more quickly. 

Obviously the problem is that content creators could unintentionally trigger these predictive systems when publishing unique content on similar topics, leaving quality content out of the search engine. 

John Mueller Explains How Google Could Misidentify Duplicate Content

In a response to a question from a user whose pages were not being indexed correctly, Mueller explained that Google uses multiple layers of filters to weed out duplicate content:

“What tends to happen on our side is we have multiple levels of trying to understand when there is duplicate content on a site. And one is when we look at the page’s content directly and we kind of see, well, this page has this content, this page has different content, we should treat them as separate pages.

The other thing is kind of a broader predictive approach that we have where we look at the URL structure of a website where we see, well, in the past, when we’ve looked at URLs that look like this, we’ve seen they have the same content as URLs like this. And then we’ll essentially learn that pattern and say, URLs that look like this are the same as URLs that look like this.”

He also explained how these systems can sometimes go too far and Google could incorrectly filter out unique content based on URL patterns on a site:

“Even without looking at the individual URLs we can sometimes say, well, we’ll save ourselves some crawling and indexing and just focus on these assumed or very likely duplication cases. And I have seen that happen with things like cities.

I have seen that happen with things like, I don’t know, automobiles is another one where we saw that happen, where essentially our systems recognize that what you specify as a city name is something that is not so relevant for the actual URLs. And usually we learn that kind of pattern when a site provides a lot of the same content with alternate names.”

How Can You Protect Your Site From This?

While Google’s John Mueller wasn’t able to provide a full-proof solution or prevention for this issue, he did offer some advice for sites that have been affected:

“So what I would try to do in a case like this is to see if you have this kind of situations where you have strong overlaps of content and to try to find ways to limit that as much as possible.

And that could be by using something like a rel canonical on the page and saying, well, this small city that is right outside the big city, I’ll set the canonical to the big city because it shows exactly the same content.

So that really every URL that we crawl on your website and index, we can see, well, this URL and its content are unique and it’s important for us to keep all of these URLs indexed.

Or we see clear information that this URL you know is supposed to be the same as this other one, you have maybe set up a redirect or you have a rel canonical set up there, and we can just focus on those main URLs and still understand that the city aspect there is critical for your individual pages.”

It should be clarified that duplicate content or pages impacted by this problem will not hurt the overall SEO of your site. So, for example, having several pages tagged as being duplicate content won’t prevent your home page from appearing for relevant searches. 

Still, the issue has the potential to gradually decrease the efficiency of your SEO efforts, not to mention making it harder for people to find the valuable information you are providing. 

To see Mueller’s full explanation, watch the video below:

Google My Business is expanding its performance report for business listings with a new breakdown of how people are finding your listing.

The new analytics section details whether people are coming to your listing using either a mobile or desktop device, as well as if they found you through Google Search or Maps.

How To Find The New Report

To access the report for your listing, first sign in and select which location or business you are wanting to assess. Then, select the Insights tab on the left. On this page, you’ll find the new performance reports available directly at the top.

Below, you can see an example of the report shared by Barry Schwartz from Search Engine Roundtable.

Within the performance report, you’ll find a section explaining “How people discovered you.”

On one side of the report, you’ll see the “People who viewed your business profile” section, while the right column shows the specific searches being used to find your page.

Learning More About Device and Source Reports

To coincide with the launch of these reports, Google has updated its help documents to add a section explaining the “users who viewed your profile” data.

As the document explains:

“A user can be counted a limited number of times if they visit your Business Profile on multiple devices and platforms such as desktop or mobile and Google Maps or Google Search. Per breakdown device and platform, a user can only be counted once a day. Multiple daily visits aren’t counted. “

There are also a few important details to keep in mind when viewing the report:

  • Since this metric represents the number of unique users, it may be lower than the number of views you find on Google My Business and in email notifications. 
  • Since the metric focuses on views of the Business Profile, as opposed to overall views of the Business on Google, it may also be lower than the number of views you find on Google My Business and in email notifications.

Insights like these help with not only improving your listings and optimization to perform more effectively in search results. They can also help understand your customers and their specific needs or behaviors which may, in turn, allow you to provide better service for them.

Google My Business has officially launched a new label that highlights the number of years you’ve been in business within local search results.

The “years in business” label has been in testing over the past few years, and was quietly launched officially on February 9th, 2021.

While it is just a small label added to your listing, this could prove to be a significant way to differentiate yourself in the crowded “local pack” search results.

As Google put it in the announcement, you can now “add an opening date to your Business Profile to tell customers when your business first opened, or will open, and its address.”

To get an idea of what the label looks like, Barry Schwartz from RustyBrick (and who first noticed the launch of the label) took a screenshot of his own business listing with the new tag.

Source: Barry Scwhartz/RustyBrick, Inc.

How To Get The ‘Years in Business’ Tag

Adding this label to your own Google My Business listing is relatively simple. All you have to do is add the open date of your business within your GMB profile. 

To do this, just sign into your GMB account, click the location you want to update, then select the “info” option in the menu. From there, click “add opening date”, update with your own date you opened up shop, and voila. The label should be added to your local listing within the next few days.

“I’ve Been Seeing This Label For Months”

Many might have noticed that Google has been slowly adding this label to many of the listings which are eligible over the past year. Users first spotted the tag way back in September of 2020, with a larger roll out done in November.

Still, this week marks the official launch of the feature for all Google My Business listings.

How This Helps You

Thanks to bad actors listing non-existent or questionable businesses within Google My Business, it has become more important than ever to visibly show that you are a real, active, and trustworthy business within your listing.

This feature allows you to quickly do this by showing you have been a part of your community for years – if not decades – and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

Blog comments are a tricky issue for many business websites. 

On one hand, everyone dreams of building a community of loyal customers that follow every post and regularly have a healthy discussion in the comments. Not only can it be helpful for other potential customers, but comments tend to help Google rankings and help inspire future content for your site. 

On the other hand, most business-based websites receive significantly more spam than genuine comments. Even the best anti-spam measures can’t prevent every sketchy link or comment on every post. For the most part, these are more annoying than being an actual problem. However, if left completely unmonitored, spam could build up and potentially hurt your rankings.

This can make it tempting to just remove comments from your blog entirely. If you do, you don’t have to worry about monitoring comments, responding to trolls, or weeding out spam. After all, your most loyal fans can still talk about your posts on your Facebook page, right?

Unfortunately, as Google’s John Mueller recently explained, removing comments from your blog is likely to hurt more than it helps. 

John Mueller Addresses Removing Blog Comments

In a Google Search Central SEO hangout on February 5, Google’s John Mueller explored a question from a site owner about how Google factors blog comments into search rankings. Specifically, they wanted to remove comments from their site but worried about potentially dropping in the search results if they did. 

While the answer was significantly more complicated, the short version is this:

Google does factor blog comments into where they decide to rank web pages. Because of this, it is unlikely that you could remove comments entirely without affecting your rankings. 

How Blog Comments Impact Search Rankings

Google sees comments as a separate but significant part of your content. So, while they recognize that comments may not be directly reflective of your content, it does reflect things like engagement and occasionally provide helpful extra information. 

This also means that removing blog comments is essentially removing a chunk of information, keywords, and context from every blog post on your site in the search engine’s eyes. 

However, John Mueller didn’t go as far as recommending to keep blog comments over removing them. This depends on several issues including how many comments you’ve received, what type of comments you’ve gotten, and how much they have added to your SEO.

As Mueller answered:

“I think it’s ultimately up to you. From our point of view we do see comments as a part of the content. We do also, in many cases, recognize that this is actually the comment section so we need to treat it slightly differently. But ultimately if people are finding your pages based on the comments there then, if you delete those comments, then obviously we wouldn’t be able to find your pages based on that.

So, that’s something where, depending on the type of comments that you have there, the amount of comments that you have, it can be the case that they provide significant value to your pages, and they can be a source of additional information about your pages, but it’s not always the case.

So, that’s something where I think you need to look at the contents of your pages overall, the queries that are leading to your pages, and think about which of these queries might go away if comments were not on those pages anymore. And based on that you can try to figure out what to do there.

It’s certainly not the case that we completely ignore all of the comments on a site. So just blindly going off and deleting all of your comments in the hope that nothing will change – I don’t think that will happen.”

It is clear that removing blog comments entirely from your site is all but certain to affect your search rankings on some level. Whether this means a huge drop in rankings or potentially a small gain, though, depends entirely on what type of comments your site is actually losing. 

To watch Mueller’s full answer, check out the video below:

Google has always had a love-hate relationship with pop-ups or ‘interstitials’. 

Since 2016, the search engine has reportedly used a ranking penalty to punish sites using aggressive or intrusive pop-ups on their pages. Of course, if you’ve been to many sites recently, you know these disruptive pop-ups are still common across the web.

In a recent stream, Google’s John Mueller clarified exactly how the interstitial “penalty” works, and why so many sites get away with using disruptive pop-ups.

John Mueller on Website Pop-Ups

During a recent Google Search Central office hours stream, Mueller was asked about the possibility of using mobile pop-ups on their site for a short period of time.

Specifically, the individual wanted to know if they would be devalued for using interstitials to ask visitors to take a survey when visiting the site.

Perhaps surprisingly, Mueller didn’t see much issue with temporarily running pop ups on their mobile site. 

Going even further, he explained that even if the site was hit with a penalty for the pop-ups, it could potentially continue to rank well in search results. 

This is because the so-called “interstitials penalty” is quite a minor ranking factor in the grand scheme. While it can affect your rankings, it is unlikely to have a significant impact unless other issues are present.

Still, Mueller says if you are going to use pop-ups on your mobile sites, the best course is to only use them temporarily and not to show them to every visitor coming to your site.

Here’s his full response:

“I don’t think we would penalize a website for anything like this. The web spam team has other things to do than to penalize a website for having a pop-up.

There are two aspects that could come into play. On one hand we have, on mobile, the policy of the intrusive interstitials, so that might be something to watch out for that you don’t keep it too long or show it to everyone all the time.

With that policy it’s more of a subtle ranking factor that we use to adjust the ranking slightly if we see that there’s no useful content on the page when we load it. That’s something that could come into play, but it’s more something that would be a temporary thing.

If you have this survey on your site for a week or so, then during that time we might pick up on that signal, we might respond to that signal, and then if you have removed it we can essentially move on as well. So it’s not that there’s going to be a lasting effect there.

Another aspect that you want to watch out for is if you’re showing the pop-up instead of your normal content then we will index the content of the pop-up. If you’re showing the pop-up in addition to the existing content, which sounds like the case, then we would still have the existing content to index and that would kind of be okay.”

Ultimately, the take-away is to not overly fixate on being penalized specifically for using an interstitial pop-up on your site. Rather, put your attention on doing what is right for your website and what provides the best experience for visitors.

If you want to hear the question and full answer for yourself, check out the video below:

YouTube has created an entirely new type of search results which makes it easier to find videos when browsing using hashtags. 

This isn’t YouTube’s first take at using hashtags to find new videos. The company introduced the feature way over two years ago and has been trying to integrate the feature into its main feed. 

Unfortunately, the result has always been pretty hit or miss because the search results would also include videos which didn’t include the hashtag. 

Now, YouTube has updated the feature with dedicated search results pages for hashtags, which only contain media tagged with those specific hashtags. 

For example, here’s a version of the #SEO search results captured by Matt Southern over at Search Engine Journal:

Along with directly typing the hashtag into search results, users can also click hashtags included in videos to continue browsing the related topic. 

Use Hashtags To Find Your Niche

One aspect of this which can be very helpful to businesses and marketers is the prominent count of how often a particular hashtag has been used. Along with the total number of videos including the hashtag, you can also see how many channels have published videos on that topic. 

That means you can easily gauge how competitive a hashtag’s search results might be and scope out tags which haven’t been overdone. 

This means you can cut out the competition and become the prime source for discussion, news, and products or services related to your niche.

Why Does YouTube Use Hashtags?

Since their introduction, hashtags have been a bit of a curiosity on YouTube. On other social networks, hashtags are typically used to find the latest content relating to popular or trending topics. The nature of YouTube content, however, makes this a harder sell.

With this in mind, YouTube is still struggling to cement exactly why users should opt for using hashtags over more defined search terms when searching the site. 

Still, the revamped search results pages are a step in the right direction, creating a more central hub for videos on the topics you are interested in.