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A lot of people have come to think of search engine optimization and content marketing as separate strategies these days, but Google’s John Mueller wants to remind webmasters that both are intrinsically linked. Without great content, even the most well-optimized sites won’t rank as high as they should.

The discussion was brought up during a recent Google Webmaster Central hangout where one site owner asked about improving rankings for his site.

Specifically, he explained that there were no technical issues that he could find using Google’s tools and wasn’t sure what else he could do to improve performance.

Here’s the question that was asked:

“There are zero issues on our website according to Search Console. We’re providing fast performance in mobile and great UX. I’m not sure what to do to improve rankings.”

Mueller responded by explaining that it is important to not forget about the other half of the equation. Just focusing on the technical details won’t always lead to high rankings because the content on the site still needs to be relevant and engaging for users.

The best way to approach the issue, in Mueller’s opinion, is to ask what issues users might be having with your products or services and what questions they might ask. Then, use content to provide clear and easily available answers to these questions.

In addition to these issues, Mueller noted that some industries have much stronger competition for rankings than others. If you are in one of these niches, you may still struggle to rank as well as you’d like against competition which has been maintaining an informative and well-designed site for longer.

You can read or watch Mueller’s answer in full below, starting at 32:29 in the video:

“This is always kind of a tricky situation where you’re working on your website for a while, then sometimes you focus on a lot of the technical details and forget about the bigger picture.

So what I would recommend doing here is taking your website and the queries that you’re looking [to rank] for, and going to one of the webmaster forums.

It could be our webmaster forum, there are lots of other webmaster forums out there where webmasters and SEOs hang out. And sometimes they’ll be able to look at your website and quickly pull out a bunch of issues. Things that you could be focusing on as well.

Sometimes that’s not so easy, but I think having more people look at your website and give you advice, and being open to that advice, I think that’s an important aspect here.

Another thing to keep in mind is that just because something is technically correct doesn’t mean that it’s relevant to users in the search results. That doesn’t mean that it will rank high.

So if you clean up your website, and you fix all of the issues, for example, if your website contains lots of terrible content then it still won’t rank that high.

So you need to, on the one hand, understand which of these technical issues are actually critical for your website to have fixed.

And, on the other hand, you really need to focus on the user aspect as well to find what are issues that users are having, and how can my website help solve those issues. Or help answer those questions.”

 

Google has allowed users to message businesses through their Google My Business listings since July of last year, but you’d be forgiven for not noticing. The prompt is typically just a small button that can be easily overlooked among all the information filling up a GMB listing.

Now, however, it appears the search engine is testing a more prominent button option within local listings.

Search Engine Land columnist Joy Hawkins shared a screenshot on Twitter of the new button, which is hard to miss when you open up a listing’s profile.

For comparison, here is what the interface normally looks like.

You’ll notice the small “message” icon next to the call, directions, and website icons.

While it is just a small tweak that might not ever make it out of the testing phase, it indicates that Google may be looking into new ways to promote the use of Google’s messaging tools.

Currently, the brands utilizing Google’s messaging features are in the minority. But, with the increasing popularity of using Facebook messenger for business pages, it is possible that brands could begin to make better use of Google’s online messaging and text messaging features.

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.”

After months of warnings, Google is officially rolling out its “Speed Update” for all users.

Google updated its original blog post to say the new ranking factor would be rolling out for all mobile search results throughout the day – though it is unclear exactly how long the Speed Update will take to fully go into effect.

What is Google’s Speed Update?

Essentially, Google’s Speed Update is just a mobile version of the speed-based algorithm used on desktop search results for years. Rather than rewarding the fastest sites, the update is better described as punishing the slowest sites online. This is particularly important for mobile-based search results because numerous studies have shown that people are likely to leave a webpage if it takes more than 3 seconds to load.

What this isn’t, is a large-scale algorithm shift. The majority of sites are likely to see little to no change after the roll-out. However, it is unclear just how harshly it will penalize the slowest sites out there.

Will you be affected?

Google refuses to give an exact estimate of just how many sites will be affected by the rollout, but they have said it will “only affect a small percentage of queries.”

Still, if your business’s website is notoriously slow, you may be at risk for a loss in search ranking and traffic. If you’re afraid you may be on the chopping block, you can see how your site stacks up using a number of Google’s tools, such as the Chrome User Experience report, the Lighthouse tool, or the Page Insights tool.

As always, it is recommended that you take steps to make your website as fast as possible. This can be done a number of ways, including reducing image file sizes, finding faster hosting, or reducing the number of widgets or the amount of content on a single page. Even if your site is safe from the Speed Update, you don’t want to risk losing potential customers while they wait for your page to load.

Chances are, you’ve been calling Google’s ad platform “Google Ads” most of the time you talk about running ads on the search engine and its network. Now, Google is too. AdWords is being rebranded to simply “Google Ads” as part of an effort to simplify the search engine’s services.

Google is also consolidating its other advertising products into either the “Google Marketing Platform” and “Google Ad Manager.”

According to the company, the change is designed to make it easier for small businesses to take part in online advertising across a variety of channels.

“This is primarily a name change, but it is indicative of where we have been directing the product” over the past few years, said Sridhar Ramaswamy, senior vice president for Google’s advertising services, at a press event announcing the change.

Google’s Advertising Trifecta

From now on, Google’s ad platform will be split between three major brands – Google Ads, Google Marketing Platform, and Google Ad Manager

Google Ads

Google Ads will encompass all of the services previously provided by AdWords, which Ramaswamy said will act as “the front door for advertisers to buy on all Google surfaces.”

The switch to Google ads will also include a significant change to Google’s default advertising format. The company is launching a new default ad mode called Smart Campaigns, which is designed to prioritize the actions advertisers want most. This includes using machine learning to optimize images, text, and targeting to boost performance as the ad runs.

Google Marketing Platform

The Google Marketing Platform will combine the services previously provided by DoubleClick Digital Marketing and Google Analytics 360. This makes the Marketing Platform the source for high-end tools intended for large businesses or ad agencies.

This platform will also include a number of new features from DoubleClick Bid Manager, Campaign Manager, Studio, and Audience Center.

Google Ads Manager

The last brand announced this week is Google Ad Manager, which will combine all of Google’s monetization tools for publishers, such as the DoubleClick Ad Exchange and DoubleClick for Publishers.

As Jonathan Bellack, director of product management for publisher platforms, explained, this is the result of a three-year-effort to merge the two products into a more integrated ad-buying service.

“These categories have just been breaking down for a while — all of our publishers already log into one user interface,” Bellack said. So the only thing that’s really changing is “the logo.”

The rebrand is believed to begin in July, but Google’s representatives say the ad platform will remain familiar and usable for everyone accustomed to Google’s services.

“The look and feel is going to change a little bit, but the core functionality is not changing,” said Managing Director for Platforms, Dan Taylor.

Google has given webmasters their final warning to convert their sites to HTTPS or be branded as “Not Secure” with a prominent message in the browser bar of all Chrome and all Chrome-based browsers after October of this year.

Why is Google doing this?

Google has been urging webmasters to switch their sites to the more secure HTTPS security protocol for years, using increasingly drastic measures. Currently, Google is denoting sites that are secure using a green icon in the browser bar. Since so many sites have now adopted the protocol, Google is taking this a step further with a prominent red warning for sites that are not secure.

What does this mean for you?

Internet users don’t give up their information easily. They have to trust that you won’t let their data be breached or misuse their information. If they see that your site is specifically “Not Secure”, they simply aren’t going to trust you with anything.

That could mean increasing bounce-rates for your website, fewer e-commerce sales, fewer newsletter sign-ups, or fewer internet-driven leads for your business.

Two-Stage Roll Out

Rather than “switching on” the security warnings all at once, Google will be rolling out the change in two steps.

First, Chrome will remove the green icon signifying safe websites from browser bars. In its place, they will temporarily leave the small lock icon in its place.

Then, beginning in October, Google will introduce the official red icon identifying sites that are “Not Secure.”

This latest warning from Google gives webmasters plenty of time to make the switch, but I advise taking action sooner rather than later. You can get started right now with Google’s HTTPS set-up guides here.

Google has been banging the drum for speeding up mobile websites for what seems like forever now, and they’ve released numerous tools to try to help webmasters do just that. This week, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the search engine announced two more resources to show websites how they are performing – a new “Mobile Scorecard” and Conversion Impact Calculator.

The tools present marketers and webmasters with visual-heavy depictions of how their website stacks up to the competition and what they may be missing out on by not being quicker to load pages

Google’s Mobile Scorecard

The Mobile Scorecard uses data from the Chrome User Experience Report to compare the speed of several sites on mobile. This allows you to directly compare your site against your closest competitors in a race for the fastest website. According to Google, the Mobile Scorecard can give information on thousands of sites across 12 countries.

Even if you’re the leader of the pack, Google recommends making sure your site loads and becomes usable within five seconds on most mobile devices and within three seconds on 4G connections.

Google Conversion Impact Calculator

Of course, the biggest thing keeping most businesses from enhancing their websites for mobile devices is money. To help sway you towards making the investment, Google is launching the new Impact Calculator which shows how much revenue you could be missing out on because of a slow loading speed.

The calculator uses data from The State of Online Retail Performance report from April 2017. This report found that every second it takes for your web pages to load can hurt conversions by up to 20 percent.

The tool calculates your potential lost conversion revenue based on your average monthly visitors, average order value, and conversion rate.

Both the Mobile Scorecard and Impact Calculator are available to check out here.

Starting today, Google’s own web browser will start blocking troublesome ads across the net. The company has been warning they would be launching their own ad blocker since last June, and has officially started rolling out. By default, Google’s Chrome browser will remove ads from sites that use disruptive ad techniques.

“A big source of frustration is annoying ads: video ads that play at full blast or giant pop-ups where you can’t seem to find the exit icon,” said Rahul Roy-Chowdhury, vice president for Chrome. “These ads are designed to be disruptive and often stand in the way of people using their browsers for their intended purpose — connecting them to content and information. It’s clear that annoying ads degrade what we all love about the web.”

What is getting blocked?

The built-in ad blocker is designed specifically to filter out ads on any sites that repeatedly show offensive or disruptive ads. These include a wide swath of frequently used ad techniques including pop-ups, prestitial ads, and flashing banner ads.

Google is using the guidelines laid out by the Coalition for Better Ads (CBA) – a collective of advertising and media companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, and Unilever.

Rather than just block the offending ads, the tool will instead block ALL ads on any site that has broken the rules repeatedly. That means, all ads get stripped away is a publisher continues to let intrusive ads persist on their site after a warning.

Chris Bentzel, engineering manager for Chromium (an open-source version of Chrome), says Google is using this approach because webmasters are largely in control over what ads they choose to display.

“Although a few of the ad experiences that violate the Better Ads Standards are problems in the advertisement itself, the majority of problematic ad experiences are controlled by the site owner — such as high ad density or prestitial ads with countdown,” said Bentzel.

According to Bentzel, Google’s mission isn’t to block ads at all. They want to encourage webmasters to clean up their sites and deliver quality, unintrusive ads (like those offered by Google AdWords).

“Our goal is not to filter any ads at all but to improve the experience for all web users.”

According to The Guardian, approximately 42% of sites that have received warnings from Google ahead of the ad blocker have since altered their ad displays.

Why start blocking ads now?

The news that Google was designing its own ad blocker raised eyebrows when it was first announced. Considering Google runs perhaps the largest ad platform online, it is a bit like the pot calling the kettle black for the search engine to complain about ads.

More likely, the decision to launch an ad blocker of their own was motivated by the growing use of third-party ad blockers across the internet. While some ad blocker companies have partnered with Google to “whitelist” the ads from the search engine, many also strip out ads published from AdWords. This cuts into Google’s potential ad reach and can cause ad spend waste in some cases.

“We’ve already seen more and more people express their discontent with annoying ads by installing ad blockers, but blocking all ads can hurt sites or advertisers who aren’t doing anything disruptive,” said Roy-Chowdhury.

Estimates from PageFair indicate approximately 11% of internet users have third-party ad blockers installed.

“By focusing on filtering out disruptive ad experiences, we can help keep the entire ecosystem of the web healthy, and give people a significantly better user experience than they have today,” Roy-Chowdhury said.

For now, Google estimates its ad blocker will only affect around 1% of all ads. So, don’t get your hopes up for an ad revolution. Most users are unlikely to notice a huge change online, and only those who are most egregiously abusing the rules are expected to be hit.

The importance of Google reviews has recently gotten a big boost, as it appears that the number of rankings your business has on Google My Business may play a big role in determining where you appear in the local search results. Thankfully, it appears you won’t have to rely solely on Google for your reviews in the future.

Google has begun integrating reviews from third party sources like Trip Advisor and Booking.com into their Knowledge Graph cards for Google My Business Listings. That means your reviews from these sites will be shown alongside your Google reviews, all in one convenient place for shoppers.

The reviews can also be filtered by source by clicking on the “All reviews” drop-down menu.

Currently, the sites being integrated are most beneficial for hotels and other similar travel-related businesses. It is unclear when or if more review services will be included in the future.

As Search Engine Land notes, this is not Google’s first foray into using third-party review sites directly within their search results. The search engine got into a lengthy legal battle against Yelp for scraping their reviews and displaying them in the search results without permission. The result was that Google agreed to only use third-party reviews in their search results with explicit permission from the publisher.

Based on this, it is all but certain Google is working closely with these outside sites to integrate their reviews.

The biggest question for now is whether these reviews will also be reflected in local optimization. If so, businesses that have been accumulating reviews on third-party sites may expect a big boost to their local rankings in the near future. Only time will tell.

Everyone wishes there was a simple recipe to guarantee you’ll rank at the top of the search engines, but Google’s Gary Illyes says there is no such thing. In fact, there isn’t even a consistent top-three ranking factors for all content.

Instead, Illyes explains that the top-ranking factors for web pages vary depending on the query being searched. Going by that thought process, factors like links might be used to verify that something is newsworthy, while page speed, content quality, and keyword usage may be more useful for some types of content.

John Mueller, also a big figure at Google, joined the discussion to suggest that worrying about optimizing for specific ranking factors is “short-term thinking.”

Surprisingly, Illyes takes it even further by saying that links – often viewed as one of the most important signals for a website – are often not a factor in the search results at all. Long-tail search queries, in particular, are likely to pull up content with few to no links.

While this can be discouraging to brands or businesses looking for specific ways to improve their site and rank higher, the overall message is clear. A holistic approach that prioritizes people’s needs and desires is bound to benefit you, while myopically focusing on specific factors is bound to eventually leave you left behind.

As Mueller suggests – if you build something awesome, Google will come.