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In just 2020, Google has changed its search engine more than 4,500 times, according to the newly updated “How Search Works” site. 

Or, as Google puts it, “There have been 4,500 such improvements in 2020 alone.”

Whether you agree with Google’s description of their changes as “improvements”, the disclosure is interesting because it shows that the search engine continued to ramp up how frequently it updates parts of its system – even during the initial outbreak of the COVID pandemic. 

In comparison, Google made 3,200 changes to its search engine in 2019, the year before. At the same time, the company said this was nearly a 10x increase from a decade before. In 2009, the search engine reported just 350-400 changes.

What Do These Changes Include?

Google’s 2020 ‘improvements’ can include anything from updates to its user interface, changes to search results, and adjustments to how specific carousels or sub-sections like “news” function. 

As such, it isn’t all that surprising that Google is making significantly more updates to its systems than it was a decade ago. The search engine is considerably more complex and multifaceted these days compared to its 2009 counterpart. 

Still, I think many expected to see a relative slowdown to these updates as many workers began working remotely and the country braced for the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

“How Search Works” Site Gets a Redesign

This info was revealed as part of a much larger redesign of the search engine’s ‘How Search Works’ website, which “explains the ins and outs of search.”

Since 2013, Google has used the portal to help educate users about the broad principles Google uses to rank sites and filter out spam or inappropriate content. 

With the latest update, the company has “updated the site with fresh information, made it easier to navigate and bookmark sections and added links to additional resources that share how Search works and answer common questions.” 

“The website gives you a window into what happens from the moment you start typing in the search bar to the moment you get your search results. It gives an overview of the technology and work that goes into organizing the world’s information, understanding what you’re looking for and then connecting you with the most relevant, helpful information,” Google added.

Between virtual schooling, social media, and video streaming platforms, kids are more online than ever. Though children are growing up using the internet from their earliest ages, however, most evidence suggests they are more at risk for being targeted through advertising and other forms of online marketing. Now, Google is taking action to protect them.

In one recent study from SafeAtLast, upwards of 75% of children are willing to share personal information in exchange for goods or services. This obviously raises concerns about the long-term implications of gathering data from and targeting ads towards children.

As a result, Google is changing its policies regarding minors online, including removing ad targeting for those under 18 and allowing underage individuals to request for any images of them to be removed from search results. 

These are all the latest changes:

Allowing Minors To Remove Images From Google Search

“Children are at particular risk when it comes to controlling their imagery on the internet. In the coming weeks, we’ll introduce a new policy that enables anyone under the age of 18, or their parent or guardian, to request the removal of their images from Google Image results,” explains Mindy Brooks, product and UX director for kids and families at Google.

The search engine is unable to go further in removing the images from the internet entirely, but it can certainly make it more difficult to find those images. 

Changing Default Settings For Minors

Google is making underage users’ information more private by default across its multiple platforms. That includes changing the default upload mode on YouTube to private for users under 18 and automatically enabling SafeSearch for minors on Google Search. 

Location History Is Disabled

By default, Google had already turned off location history for users between 13 and 17. Now, it has gone further by making it entirely disabled. On one hand, this may lead to less relevant search results, but also prevents excessive tracking of children through Google. 

Removing Ad Targeting For Minors 

In the upcoming months, Google Ads says it will be “expanding safeguards to prevent age-sensitive ad categories from being shown to teens, and we will block ad targeting based on the age, gender, or interests of people under 18.”

New Tools For Parents

Lastly, the company is introducing a number of new tools and features for parents across its entire product line. For example, the company is introducing Digital Wellbeing tools within the Google Home app, allowing parents to manage their children’s use of smart assistants. On YouTube, the company is also turning on ‘take a break’ and bedtime reminders by default, while turning off autoplay.

For more on Google’s latest efforts to protect the private data of children across its services and platforms, check out the full blog post here.

Google released its “Year in Search” report breaking down the biggest trends in search in 2020. As you might expect with everything that has happened this year, though, the biggest trends show a more somber, serious tone than in the past. 

Coronavirus and the 2020 election dominate many of the lists, even directly affecting the trends for concerts, events, and recipes we searched for this year.

Still, there are some bright spots among the year’s search trends. Not only did we find new ways to connect with those we love and care about, the social limitations we faced pushed us to try new things, learn new hobbies, and watch some distinctly Oklahoman TV shows.

In Google’s report, you can find data and topics from around the world, including 70 different countries. Below, we’re going to share some of the most revealing US search trends from this year.

Top US Search Trends in 2020

When we look at the big picture, it is immediately apparent how much covid has impacted our lives. The topic accounts for 3 of the top 5 spots for the overall top searches.

Top US Searches

  1. Election results
  2. Coronavirus
  3. Kobe Bryant
  4. Coronavirus update
  5. Coronavirus symptoms

Next, let’s explore a few new categories directly inspired by coronavirus:

Top “How to Make” Searches

  1. How to make hand sanitizer
  2. How to make a face mask with fabric
  3. How to make whipped coffee
  4. How to make a mask with a bandana
  5. How to make a mask without sewing

Top Virtual Searches

  1. Virtual field trips
  2. Virtual museum tours
  3. Virtual Kentucky Derby
  4. Virtual learning
  5. Virtual NBA fans

Top “… During Coronavirus” Searches

  1. Best stocks to buy during coronavirus
  2. Dating during coronavirus
  3. Dentist open during coronavirus
  4. Unemployment during coronavirus
  5. Jobs hiring during coronavirus

As Google says in the opening of the report, “2020 was the year we asked ‘why?’”

This is because “why?” searches were more common than ever before for a huge range of topics:

Top “Why?” Searches

  1. Why were chainsaws invented
  2. Why is there a coin shortage
  3. Why was George Floyd arrested
  4. Why is Nevada taking so long
  5. Why is TikTok getting banned

And, of course, we have to talk about the biggest TV shows of the year. 

It didn’t matter where you turned in 2020, you were bound to hear about Tiger King, a documentary series about a ragtag web of exotic animal breeders which somehow included murder, cults, and international drug-smuggling. 

The rest of the list is entirely made up of Netflix shows, highlighting the services dominance as we have been cooped up at home.

Top TV Show Searches

  1. Tiger King
  2. Cobra Kai
  3. Ozark
  4. The Umbrella Academy
  5. The Queen’s Gambit

If you’re interested in expanded versions of the lists below, or the top searches from around the world, be sure to check out Google’s Year in Search Report for 2020 here.

The United States Department of Justice is filing a sweeping antitrust lawsuit against Google today. The suit comes after years of investigations and accusations that Google and it’s parent company Alphabet have unfairly stifled competition to maintain its leading place in online search. 

The complaints further allege that Google then used this leverage and dominant position to sell more search ads across its platform. 

The suit will be joined by 11 state attorneys general from Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina, and Texas. 

Some have pointed out that all involved attorneys generals are Republicans, though criticism of the search engine giant has been a bipartisan issue over the years. Democrats like Elizabeth Warren have called for similar lawsuits and breaking up the tech giant, and left-leaning states like California are reportedly pursuing similar investigations against the company. 

Notably, an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission in 2013 ended without charges, though a leaked document later revealed staff recommended a number of charges on several grounds. 

In the press conference, the DOJ said the search company has violated Section 2 of the Sherman Act by maintaining unlawful monopolies in markets for “general search services, search advertising, and general search text advertising.”

Google has also received criticism for its anti-competitive practices, including over $9 billion in fines from the European Union. Still, this marks the first time similar charges have been filed in the company’s home country. 

Concerns About Anti Competitive Practices

The lawsuit focuses on a number of business moves made by Google over the years, including using massive contracts and agreements to block competition. 

For example, Google and Apple reached a multi-billion dollar agreement to use Google’s search engine as the default on Apple mobile devices, preventing users from using other search engines by default. 

Despite these factors many say the lawsuit is far from a cut-and-dry case and could stretch on for years. Meanwhile, it could also signal the start of an avalanche of legal problems for Google is other states follow suit.

Google announced recently that it is requiring advertisers to provide documentation of their identity and geographic location to be eligible to run ads on the platform.

The new policy is an expansion of similar restrictions put in place in 2018 requiring the advertisers behind political ads to provide identification verification.

How Advertisers Verify Their Identity

Google is rolling out the new policy in phases and will be selecting certain advertisers to verify themselves first. Specifically, Google says it will prioritize those who do the following across its Ad Network:

  • Promotion of products, goods, and services.
    • Examples: Retail, media and entertainment, travel, B2B, technology, etc.
  • Promotion of informational, advisory, or educational content.
    • Examples: Content promoting educational resources, research and statistics, free health or financial advice, charitable or social causes, etc.
  • Promotion of content related to regulated industries.
    • Examples: Gambling and games, financial products or services, healthcare products or services etc.

If selected, an advertiser will be required to provide documentation to verify their identity within 30 days. Accepted documentation will include:

  • Personal identification methods
  • Business incorporation documents
  • Possibly other items to verify who they are
  • Operating geography

If documentation is not provided within the 30 day limit, all ads will be stopped until the issue is resolved.

Google also says it will begin the program in the United States before rolling out globally. The new requirements will apply to every aspect of Google’s multi-faceted advertising platform, including Search, Display, and YouTube ads.

Currently, the company expects that it will take a few years to fully implement the program.

Notably, the information currently available suggests that Google is specifically focusing on the individuals or companies running the ads, not necessarily the individual managing the ads. This means your ad agency will likely be asked to verify your identity on your behalf.

New Disclosures For Ads

Part of the reason Google is requiring this information, is that it is beginning to add new disclosures about the identity of advertisers when displaying paid ads.

The disclosures are available below the “Why this ad?” option when clicking for more details.

The disclosure will include information about the advertisers’ name, country location, and will provide an option to stop showing ads from that advertiser.

Why Is Google Doing This?

As the company explained in its announcement, the new program is part of a larger effort to “provide greater transparency and equip users with more information about who is advertising to them.”

Director of Product Management for Ads Integrity, Jack Canfield, elaborated by saying:

“This change will make it easier for people to understand who the advertiser is behind the ads they see from Google and help them make more informed decisions when using our advertising controls. It will also help support the health of the digital advertising ecosystem by detecting bad actors and limiting their attempts to misrepresent themselves.”

For more information, read Google’s announcement here or explore their additional guidance on the program here.

Google has announced that it will begin blocking web pages with mixed content in its Chrome web browser starting December of this year. Considering that Chrome is used by more than half of all internet users, this could be a major issue that you may not even know is lurking on your site.

What is Mixed Content?

Mixed content refers to when secure webpages using the HTTPS security protocol include scripts, styles, images, or other content that is delivered through the less secure HTTP protocol.

Even linking to sites still using HTTP can be seen as delivering mixed content on your site.

As Google explains:

“Mixed content degrades the security and user experience of your HTTPS site …Using these resources, an attacker can often take complete control over the page, not just the compromised resource.”

How Google Chrome Will Handle Mixed Content

When the next update for Chrome is released in December, Google will begin doing one of two things when it encounters sites with mixed content:

  1. If an HTTPS version of that resource exists, Google will automatically upgrade that content to the newer secure version.
  2. When no such resource exists, Google will soft block the page. This will include a warning about the security risks of mixed content and an option to access the page despite the risk.

The warning screen may not deter all of your potential customers, but it can disrupt a significant chunk of your traffic, leads, and sales.

Beginning in January of 2020, Google will start taking an even stronger stance by removing the unblock option and completely blocking webpages with insecure content.

How To Check Your Site for Mixed Content

Depending on the size of your site and what platform it is built on, there are a number of free and paid options for scanning your site for mixed content.

JitBit SSL Checker

JitBit SSL Checker is a free online tool that can review up to 400 pages of your site for mixed content.

WordPress Tools

If your site is built on WordPress, you can use the Really Simple SSL Plugin to migrate your content to SSL while also checking for and fixing mixed content.

For those who have already migrated their site to SSL, there is also the SSL Insecure Content Fixer WordPress Plugin. This can scan your site for insecure resources while providing suggestions for fixing these problems.

Tools for Large Sites

Websites with a large number of pages will likely have to use paid tools to check their site. One option is Screaming Frog, which can crawl massive sites and provide insights to a wide variety of issues. One drawback, however, is that while it can pinpoint potential problems on your site, it can not directly assist you in fixing them.

Unless you are regularly keeping an eye on your site’s analytics, you might never know when you suddenly lose a ton of traffic or clicks. That is somewhat changing, however, as webmasters can now be notified to sudden drops in clicks through Google’s Search Console.

Search Console is now sending alerts to webmasters when it detects a “substantial drop” in clicks compared to your past week’s data.

Google is doing this by reviewing your week-over-week data in the Performance report for your site. If this week’s data is drastically different, it will send a notification to verified property owners in Search Console to alert them of the problem.

The new notification was first noticed by Vance Moore III who shared a screenshot of the notification on Twitter:

It is unclear exactly how large of a drop it takes to trigger the notification. In the case above, Moore experienced nearly a 50% drop in clicks.

Of course, the tool has some obvious limits. The first is that it only compares week-to-week data. That means slower downward trends will likely not trigger a notification. Additionally, the notification appears to only be triggered by clicks but does not account for traffic or bounce-rates.

The best course of action will always be to regularly check your analytics data to properly assess your site’s performance. There, you will find everything from your click performance, to conversions, traffic, and even demographic info about your visitors.

Still, it always helps to have an extra alert in place for when sudden changes happen to your site. That way you can respond to any new issues and quickly remedy any issues that could have led to your drop in clicks.

Google+ is being shut down four months earlier than initially announced after a second data breach, according to a new announcement by Google. Additionally, all Google+ APIs will be shut down within the next 90 days.

Originally, Google announced it would be shutting down the service in August 2019. The decision came shortly after it was discovered the platform had experienced a data breach affecting 500,000 users.

In November, it was revealed a significantly more serious data breach had occurred, affecting more than 52 million users.

Now, Google+ is scheduled to be shut down in April 2019.

While the data breaches appear to have affected a relatively large number of users, the company says there is no need for concern because there is no evidence of misuse by third-parties.

“No third party compromised our systems, and we have no evidence that the developers who inadvertently had this access for six days were aware of it or misused it in any way.”

Even if third-parties did gain access to the information made public, the company says breached data only included profile information which had been set to not-public. No financial or highly sensitive information was breached.

According to Google, the bug in the API which led to the data breach would not have given anyone access to data which could be used for fraud or identity theft.

“The bug did not give developers access to information such as financial data, national identification numbers, passwords, or similar data typically used for fraud or identity theft.”

 

Business owners can now see exactly what search terms people are using to find their Google My Business listings with Search Query Insights, giving you an opportunity to see where your listing is succeeding and what areas may need to be better optimized.

The search query information is being added to the Insights tab and includes the most common terms and search trends that helped people find your business.

In the help page for the new feature, Google suggested: “these queries should help you create better Posts with Google and even Ads to engage your customers.”

However, the data won’t be a comprehensive list of every search term that led to your listing. It will just contain the terms used most often.

“Search queries focus on the terms that your customers used to find your business on Local Search and Maps.”

Business owners or page managers can also filter the queries based on those used within the last week or the past 28 days.

The feature will be available to all Google My Business listings soon, but Google has not provided an estimate of how long the rollout will take. Currently, some are reporting seeing search query data in their Insights tab, while it is absent for others. I would expect most will have access to the information by the end of the week, if not sooner.

If you operate a website that is frequently creating or changing pages – such as an e-retail or publishing site – you’ve probably noticed it can take Google a while to update the search engine with your new content.

This has led to widespread speculation about just how frequently Google indexes pages and why it seems like some types of websites get indexed more frequently than others.

In a recent Q&A video, Google’s John Mueller took the time to answer this directly. He explains how Google’s indexing bots prioritize specific types of pages that are more “important” and limit excessive stress on servers. But, in typical Google fashion, he isn’t giving away everything.

The question posed was:

“How often does Google re-index a website? It seems like it’s much less often than it used to be. We add or remove pages from our site, and it’s weeks before those changes are reflected in Google Search.”

Mueller starts by explaining that Google takes its time to crawl the entirety of a website, noting that if it were to continuously crawl entire sites in short periods of time it would lead to unnecessary strain on the server. Because of this, Googlebot actually has a limit on the number of pages it can crawl every day.

Instead, Googlebot focuses on pages that should be crawled more frequently like home pages or high-level category pages. These pages will get crawled at least every few days, but it sounds like less-important pages (like maybe blog posts) might take considerably longer to get crawled.

You can watch Mueller’s response below or read the quoted statement underneath.

“Looking at the whole website all at once, or even within a short period of time, can cause a significant load on a website. Googlebot tries to be polite and is limited to a certain number of pages every day. This number is automatically adjusted as we better recognize the limits of a website. Looking at portions of a website means that we have to prioritize how we crawl.

So how does this work? In general, Googlebot tries to crawl important pages more frequently to make sure that most critical pages are covered. Often this will be a websites home page or maybe higher-level category pages. New content is often mentioned and linked from there, so it’s a great place for us to start. We’ll re-crawl these pages frequently, maybe every few days. maybe even much more frequently depending on the website.”