Posts

Google appears to be testing the idea of “upgrading” Google My Business profiles with a special “Google Guaranteed” badge for a $50 monthly fee.

Twitter user Tom Waddington shared a screenshot for a promotional page within the GMB dashboard offering the profile upgrade.

What Is Google Guaranteed?

The search engine has been playing with the “Google Guaranteed” badge since last year, though it has typically been used in Local Service Ads for home services businesses. 

To be eligible for the badge, businesses must meet a number of criteria including certification, licensing, and background checks. 

The idea appears to be to inspire more confidence in brands listed in Google’s local results by highlighting those who have been vetted. 

Why Would Anyone Pay For This?

On its face, the idea of paying $50 a month for what amounts to a stamp of approval sounds a little silly. However, the badge comes with some backing which may help customers feel more at ease.

Along with the Google Guarantee badge, businesses which pass the screening process are also backed with a customer satisfaction guarantee. If a customer finds your business through the search engine and is not satisfied with the results, Google will refund the amount paid up to $2,000.

Along with this aspect, there is always the issue of getting ahead of your competition. Any little advantage can be the key to standing apart from your competitors.

Just an “Experiment” … For Now

When asked about the program via email, a Google spokesperson told Search Engine Journal:

“We’re always testing new ways to improve our experience for our advertisers, merchants, and users. This experiment will show the Google Guaranteed badge on the business profile. We don’t have anything additional to announce right now.”

A lot has changed at Google over the past few years, but one thing remains the same – the majority of people will click the top link on any search result page. 

A new study of over 80 million keywords and billions of search results found that an average of 28.5% of users will click the top organic result for a given search. 

From there, the average CTR for results sharply declines. Listings in the second place receive an average of 15% of clicks, while third place falls to 11%. 

By the time you get to the last listing of a results page, links receive only a 2.5% click-through rate. 

You can imagine what the CTRs for anything after the first page would be like. 

Other Factors Influencing Search CTRs

Unsurprisingly, there is quite a bit of variance in the actual click-through rates for some results pages. In the study, Sistrix found click-through rates for listings in the first position swung from 13.7% to almost 50%. 

While the relevance of the top listing has some effect on its CTR, the study suggests another major factor is the SERP layout. 

For example, search results including sitelinks extensions significantly outperformed those without. 

On the other hand, the study found that search results including featured snippets had a significant negative impact, dropping click-through rates by at least 5% on average. 

Similarly knowledge panels reduced the average CTR from 28% to 16%.

In these situations, the researchers believe users don’t feel the need to investigate further when provided with quick answers directly within the search results pages:

“The CTR in the first two organic positions drops significantly compared to the average. Many users appear to find the information they are looking for in the Knowledge Panel – especially on their smartphones, where each time a page is loaded it takes a lot of time.“

For more information, you can explore the full study report here.

Google appears to be testing the idea of integrating its normal web search into search results on YouTube. 

Reddit users have been reporting seeing results and links to traditional web pages when doing searches on the video platform, as you can see in the screenshot below:

YouTube Showing Google Search Result

As you can see, Google places a single web page result among the video results, with an option to click the link or jump to a search directly on Google. 

The test appears to be limited, with many (including myself) being unable to replicate it. However, there are enough reports to conclude this is a legitimate test and not a glitch or hoax. 

So far, reaction to the move has been mixed. Many have decried the potential new feature as “annoying” and said they would “ryin the YouTube experience.”

However, there have also been those who see potential in the concept, saying it could make it easier to leap to Google when YouTube doesn’t provide the results someone is hoping for.

As one user described:

“Sometimes I’m looking for a tutorial but I want a video explaining it, and if it doesn’t exist now I have the option to do a quick Google search in the app.”

Personally I see some utility in integrating a single, non-obtrusive link within video search results. Obviously, those searching on YouTube are primarily looking for exclusively video content, but there are certainly scenarios where users are moving back and forth between YouTube and Google. This would be a convenient option for those situations.

Google will soon be updating their search ranking algorithm with a new ranking signal. This new signal will combine a number of existing signals with a recently introduced metric known as Core Web Vitals. 

The search engine says the goal of the new update is to better rank pages based on the quality of users’ experiences with the site. 

In addition to the new ranking signal, the company announced a few other changes it will be making to its systems in the coming future:

  • Incorporating page experience metrics into rankings for Top Stories in Search on mobile
  • Removing the AMP requirement for content to be shown in Top Stories

The “New” Ranking Signal

While the new signal is being called the Page Experience Signal, it actually combines a few existing search ranking signals with the recently introduced Core Web Vitals details. The metrics being brought under the umbrella of Core Web Vitals include:

  • Mobile-friendliness
  • Safe-browsing
  • HTTPS-security certification
  • Following intrusive interstitial guidelines

As the company said in its announcement

“The page experience signal measures aspects of how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page. Optimizing for these factors makes the web more delightful for users across all web browsers and surfaces, and helps sites evolve towards user expectations on mobile.”

How To Monitor Your Core Web Vitals

To help prepare webmasters for the coming update, Google has also created a new report section within Search Console. The goal is for the new report to replace the need for a suite of tools aimed at specific issues such as page speed and mobile-friendliness.

The tool can also filter data based on those which are “Poor,” “Needs Improvement,” or “Good.”

When Will The Update Happen

While the update doesn’t really change all that much regarding how webmasters and SEO specialists should approach managing sites, the company sees it as important enough to give a significant notice ahead of the release. 

In fact, Google says these changes to the algorithm will not be happening before 2021. Additionally, the search engine will provide another notice 6 months before it is rolled out.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted or changed almost every part of our daily lives in some way, and that holds very true when it comes to online search. 

Google has been tracking these shifts from the initial outbreak to our current time where over 4 billion people are staying home around the world and many in America are returning to work. 

In particular, Google says it has seen five key trends reflecting how online search behavior, consumers’ interests, and purchasing behavior have shifted over the past few months.

The five key trends in online search after COVID-19 include:

  1. More consumers are relying on multiple devices
  2. Increased reliance on Google search
  3. People are using online tools to create and develop virtual relationships
  4. Routines are adjusting to reflect being at home
  5. People are increasingly practicing self-care

Let’s dig into what these trends really mean and reflect:

Multiple Devices

With the huge jump in people working from home or spending extra time relaxing inside, Google has seen a similar increase in the amount of content consumption. Specifically, the company says staying home has led to at least a 60% increase in the amount of digital content watched in the US.

This means many consumers are relying on one device to indulge in their favorite content online while using another device to browse products, look up information, and connect with friends. 

Increased Reliance On Google

The search engine has seen a massive increase in searches for critical information and a wave of content designed to inform the public about safety, updated business practices, and other essential needs.

For example, Google has seen that online search interest for terms like “online grocery shopping” and “grocery delivery” grew 23% year over year in the US. 

Online medical needs have also skyrocketed, with online search interest in telemedicine climbing by 150% week-over-week. 

Building Virtual Relationships

Businesses may be opening, but many are still practicing social distancing which keeps them away from friends and family. In lieu of being able to spend time with loved ones, people are finding new ways to build relationships online:

As of April, Google Meet has hosted at least 3 billion minutes of video meetings, with nearly 3 million new users joining every day. 

Online search shows increased interest in digital recreations of normal social events, such as a rise in search interest for “virtual happy hour” or “with me” content which shows people doing ordinary tasks like cleaning, studying, or cooking. 

Changing Routines

As social distancing and quarantine continues for many, online search interest has shown that many are adapting their typical routines to be internet-first.

For example, search interest for “stationary bicycles” and “dumbbell set” has continued to rise while many try to stay healthy from home. 

Google also reports that search interest for “telecommuting” in the US has continued to grow since it reached an all-time high on Google and YouTube in March.

Practicing Self-Care

To help cope with the mental and physical toll of the COVID-19 epidemic, many are turning to online search to assist in practicing self-care from home. 

Some examples of this from Google’s report include:

  • Views of mediation-related videos are 51% higher in 2020 compared to 2019.
  • Searches for “bored” spiked significantly and have remained heightened since March. 
  • Searches for at-home activities such as “games,” “puzzles,” and “coloring books” have remained increased since March. 

Read the Full Report

The full report includes additional data as well as recommendations for responding to these changes to online search over the past few months. You can read the entire 39-page document here (PDF).

After 8 years, Google is finally bringing organic, unpaid listings into its Shopping search results.

Starting next week, the Google Shopping tab “will consist primarily of free product listings.”

Google Shopping Organic Listings

This is a huge shift from how Google has treated the section in the past. Since 2012, the Shopping tab has been exclusively for paid product listing or ads.

The decision comes during the ongoing shutdown of many local businesses, driving consumers to online retail. In particular, Amazon has seen a massive surge in usage this month.

Although the company says it had plans to open the Shopping tab for organic listings before this, Google’s President of Commerce Bill Ready noted the ongoing crisis was a major motivation for “advancing our plans to make [Google Shopping] free for merchants.”

Importantly, the change is permanent and will not revert as businesses across the country begin to reopen.

“For retailers, this change means free exposure to millions of people who come to Google every day for their shopping needs,” said Ready. “For shoppers, it means more products from more stores, discoverable through the Google Shopping tab. For advertisers, this means paid campaigns can now be augmented with free listings.”

What Happens To Paid Shopping Listings

With Google moving to make the Shopping tab more like its traditional search engine results pages, the company will begin treating paid shopping ads similarly to ads shown in other areas.

Paid shopping ads will primarily appear at the top and bottom of results pages in the Google Shopping tab. Additionally, carousels of product listing ads will continue to be only for paid ads.

How To Get Your Products Indexed

Google says the revamped shopping tab will continue to be powered by product data feeds provided through Google Merchant Center. Although GMC was once a paid service, the company opened the Merchant Center to all retailers for free more than a year ago, as it began to integrate organic product listings into search results across the platform.

To get your own products included in search results within the Google Shopping feed and elsewhere across Google, you’ll need to start a Google Merchant Center account and upload a product feed detailing the products you carry. Additionally, you must opt-in to “surfaces across Google” to be included in organic results.

Across the country, governors and mayors are implementing “shelter in place” or “safer at home” orders which are requiring a significant number of businesses to temporarily close during the COVID-19 epidemic.

In response, business owners are making hard decisions to cut costs and tighten belts to make it through these weeks. One such question on many business owners’ minds is whether to continue paying to maintain their website, or if they should take it offline in order to avoid paying hosting or maintenance costs.

Google Says Don’t Shut Down Your Website

It may be tempting, but disabling your site for any amount of time – even just a few days – can have long-lasting effects on your search engine rankings. Not only does it completely shut down the ability for people to find out about your products and services for the time being, it essentially removes your site from Google’s index.

In this situation, Google will have to reindex your website when you come back online, putting you back at square one.

What To Do Instead

In new recommendations, Google is suggesting that businesses limit their site’s functionality rather than go completely offline when you need to pause operations.

The company suggested a number of steps you can take to suspend your online services while still keeping customers informed and preserving your search visibility. These steps include:

  • Keep users informed with a popup or banner explaining how your business has changed. Follow Google’s guidelines for banners and popups to ensure that you’re not interfering with the user experience.
  • Adjust your structured data to reflect event updates, product availability and temporary closures. You can also mark your business as temporarily closed through Google My Business.
  • E-commerce sites should follow Google’s Merchant Center guidance on availability and, if necessary, disable cart functionality.
  • Inform Google of site updates by requesting a recrawl through Search Console.

If You Absolutely Must Take Down Your Site

As a last resort, Google does recommend a few things you can do to protect your search visibility if you must take your site down:

  • For a temporary takedown, use the Search Console Removals Tool.
  • If you’re taking down your site for one or two days, you can return an informational error page with a 503 Service Unavailable code.
  • For longer site takedowns, put up an indexable homepage placeholder for searchers using the 200 HTTP status code.

Don’t Overreact, Think Ahead

It is easy to get caught up in the current situation and lose sight of the long-term picture. While the COVID-19 epidemic is a serious concern for businesses, it will eventually pass. When it does, you want to be ready to hit the ground running, not starting again from square one.

After gradually applying its “mobile-first” algorithm to qualified sites over the past few years, Google is signaling it will be expanding the indexing system too all sites within a year – whether they are ready or not.

As reported by Twitter user @KyleW_Sutton and Search Engine Land’s Barry Schwartz, Google has begun sending out Search Console notices to sites who have yet to be included in the mobile-first index describing why their site is not ready.

Within the alerts, the company says “Google expects to apply mobile-first indexing to all websites in the next six to twelve months.”

What Is Mobile-First Indexing

Recognizing that more searches were beginning to come from mobile devices rather than desktop computers, in 2016 Google announced it was launching a new ranking system which prioritized sites that had taken steps to be “mobile-friendly.”

For example, sites with responsive mobile designs, fast loading speeds, and had removed Flash would be prioritized over those which had issues rendering on mobile devices in search results.

Initially, this took the form of an entirely separate indexing system for search results exclusively on mobile devices. However, the company has been working to create parity by making mobile-first indexing the primary method of crawling all sites.

The announcement that mobile-first indexing will be applied to all sites within a year marks the opening of the final chapter in the years-long effort to ensure all search results will load well whether you are at an office computer, using a phone on-the-go, or lounging with a tablet.

What This Means For You

If you have received this email or alert, it is a major warning sign that your site isn’t ready for a huge number of modern devices. Depending on what issue is present, it could mean something as small as an issue with a specific image presenting errors or as bad as your site being entirely unable to render on smartphones.

Either way, there is a large chance the issues present on your site are already affecting your rankings by preventing mobile-searchers from finding your site in search results. This will only get worse as Google moves forward with applying mobile-first indexing to all sites unless steps are taken to resolve the issues Google has observed.

Have you ever wonder exactly how Google works? How it sorts through the billions upon billions of web pages to find the best results for users?

The latest video in the company’s “Search for Beginners” series helps explain the basics behind how the search engine functions, including crawling, indexing, and ranking sites in its search results – specifically from the perspective of a business owner trying to get their site ranking well.

While the video doesn’t get into more advanced concepts like Search Engine Optimization, it lays out a very clear picture of how the broad strokes of online search engines work.

If you’ve just set up your first website or you’re considering investing in online marketing, this clip will be enlightening and point you towards some valuable resources like the Google Webmaster guidelines, SEO starter guide, and Google Webmasters portal.

This week, Google announced it will begin adding new websites to its mobile-first index by default beginning July 1. However, older sites that have yet to be added to the mobile-first index will still be exempt until they are updated to be mobile-friendly.

In the announcement, Google explained that “mobile-first indexing will be enabled by default for all new, previously unknown to Google Search, websites starting July 1, 2019. It’s fantastic to see that new websites are now generally showing users – and search engines – the same content on both mobile and desktop devices.”

While new sites will be moved to the mobile-first index, older sites which have not been added will not be migrated over yet.

“For older websites, we’ll continue monitoring and evaluating pages for their readiness for mobile first indexing and will notify them through Search Console once they’re seen as being ready,” as the announcement said.

No Notifications

Google has been notifying site owners when their site has been migrated to the mobile-first index through Search Console notifications. However, this will not be the case for new sites that are added to the index by default.

“Since the default state for new websites will be mobile-first indexing, there’s no need to send a notification,” Google stated.

What is the mobile-first index?

Google’s mobile-first index is the search engines primary way of cataloging sites across the internet. Launched a few years ago, the mobile-first index analyses the mobile version of a page first and uses that information to rank web pages. Although it started small, the index has become Google’s primary search engine index with more than 50% of what is indexed by Google being added to the mobile-first index.

The news adds even more motivation to new site creators and business owners to ensure they provide a smooth experience with the same content on both desktop and mobile when the site is launched. Not only will many of your customers likely visit your site through mobile devices, but how mobile-friendly your site is will directly affect your search engine ranking.