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With Google’s constant updates, it is easy to miss some of the new features they roll out with less publicity than their biggest products receive. However, even the smaller revisions to Google Search make a huge affect on how we search and use the internet in general. Jessica Lee recently rounded up some of the less talked about changes Google has been making so you can be sure you haven’t missed anything lately.

1) Date Selector in Hotel Carousel Search Results

The Carousel results box at the top of localized searches for hotels and restaurants has only been around for a few months now, and Google is already making regular updates to the function. While most of the work has gone into normalizing what queries get carousel results.

But, they’ve also implemented some new, interesting features such as a date selector for hotel searches. Now, you can easily weed out hotels that aren’t available on the days you will need lodging.

hotels-in-new-york-date-selector-google-carousel

In a statement to Search Engine Land, Google said:

We’re always adding features to search to help people find what they need and get things done faster — you can now more easily research hotels when planning a trip and filter by user ratings and hotel class, as well as select specific dates.

2) Cards for Local Results

“Answer Cards” have slowly been spreading across Google’s platform for a while, but they were largely reserved for specific questions or brands. You needed a specific and targeted search to wind up with the convenient card at the top of the search results. But, lately the cards have begun to deliver more detailed answers such as the address of a nearby retailer. Mike Blumenthal highlighted the change with an example of searching for a brand name + location (Dress Barn locations Amherst):

dress-barn-amherst-answer-card

But, queries with multiple results still get the traditional pack results:

dress-barn-pack-results

3) Answers to Complex Questions

The answer cards have also gotten better at providing answers for trickier questions in general. The people running the Google Operating System spent a good amount of time trying to stump Google’s answer feature, but they’ve found the task has gotten much harder as the feature has been improved.

In their words:

Google used to only answer simple questions like “who’s the prime minister of Canada?” or “what’s the population of China?” Thanks to the Knowledge Graph project, Google can answer more complicated questions like “who played Batman?”, “what’s the latest album of Celine Dion?”, “what are the main attractions in Spain?”.

To test this out, one of the authors asked Google a question without a definitive answer: what is the “distance to Mars”.

google-direct-answer-distance-to-mars

Google can even tell you why the sky is blue.

google-direct-answer-why-is-sky-blue

4) Distance Results

Google is able to tell the distance from most locations other than planets. In fact, Google announced on Google+ that users can now get the distance from any two locations on earth, no matter how far apart they are. The example Google offered was the “distance between Siberia and Hawaii.”

google-how-far-is-it-from-hawaii-to-siberia

5) Streamlined Search Options

The Google Operating System blog explained how they have updated search options to be more responsive to your individual search query:

Google removed a few specialized search options that were usually displayed in the “more” drop-down: recipes, patents, discussions, blogs, places. The list of links to services like Maps, Images, News, Flights, Shopping is reordered based on your query. This isn’t a new idea, it was implemented a long time ago by Google, but now it’s used more often.

search-options-google

Paid ads on social media are becoming more and more prevalent, to the extent that Facebook finally admitted recently that businesses will be practically forced to pay for brand outreach on their platform. Which makes it so surprising that Google+ had, until recently, strayed away from paid advertising. But, the search engine giant may have had an ace up their sleeve this entire time as they have recently unveiled their form of promoted posts, called “+Post” and it is a doozy.

Most aspects of +Post are extactly what you have come to expect from paid advertising on social networks. A brand pays for priumium placement of a post, and more users are shown the ad. It is a simple model which has worked for numerous other social media platforms. What makes +Post different is where the ads will be shown.

The majority of social media networks are only able to show promoted posts on their social media platform. Facebook promoted posts show up in your Newsfeed, “Promoted Pins” will be appearing on Pinterest soon, and Instagram is rolling out their own curated form of promoted posting to ensure ads fit their market and the style of Instagram. But, Google+ is connected to something much larger: all of Google’s network and products. So, +Post will have a massively larger reach than other social networks’ forms of paid advertising.

As Google explains:

+Post ads amplify your brand’s content by easily turning Google+ posts into display ads that run across the web. The live, social ad format allows you to go beyond clicks to live conversations with your audience. People can join a Hangout On Air, add a comment, follow your brand or give a +1, right from an ad.

+Post Screenshot

This is an incredibly smart move for the search engine, as Google+ is still struggling to find a larger active user base, and the advertising model may drive more users to their social platform. The +Post ads act like regular posts in Google+ no matter where they are displayed, which effectively bleeds Google+ into all other aspects of Google (more so than before).

In Google’s own words:

Ads become more relevant with social context. Comments, +1s, and shares from friends can move people to engage with your ad. Social actions on ads and Google+ add up together, showing the full picture of engagement with your content. +Post ads expand in a lightbox to bring full screen social creatives across the web.

Jessica Lee from Search Engine Watch reports a few brands have gotten to try out +Post before the announcement, specifically Toyota who was used for Google’s promo video:

http://youtu.be/4yCUgx7H2zo

Google-Webmaster-Tools-LogoThere’s a new manual action showing up in Google Webmaster Tools, according to Jessica Lee from Search Engine Watch. Webmaster Tools was updated over the summer so that site owners could be notified when a specific type of manual action had been taken against the site, and since then the waters have been fairly quiet. This new type of manual action, referred to as “image mismatch” is the first change we’ve seen since then.

Google says:

If you see this message on the Manual Actions page, it means that some of your site’s images may be displaying differently on Google’s search results pages than they are when viewed on your site.

As a result, Google has applied a manual action to the affected portions of your site, which will affect how your site’s images are displayed in Google. Actions that affect your whole site are listed under Site-wide matches. Actions that affect only part of your site are listed under Partial matches.

If you end up receiving that message, it is up to you to ensure that your site is showing the same images to users both on your site and within Google image search results. It is possible “anti-hotlinking” tools can cause the issue, so you may have to look through your site’s code on the server.

As with all manual penalties, once the problem is fixed you have to submit your site for reconsideration and wait. And wait. And wait. Eventually, after you’ve waited for what seems like forever, you’ll get a message in your Webmaster Tools account informing whether the manual action will be revoked after review.

Manual actions are penalties at real, living Google employees have placed against your site after determining that you are violating Google’s guidelines. The majority of manual penalties have related to outright spammy practices such as user-generated spam, hidden text, and unnatural links.

Facebook Sticker IconFacebook appears to be undergoing large changes to their rules for businesses as they have recently created the opportunity for verified paged, embedding posts, and even giving advertisers access to a large stock photo library.

But, the change users are most likely to notice is a huge revision to the rules for how businesses run contests on their pages. As Jessica Lee from Search Engine Watch reports, businesses will now be able to run contests and promotions directly from their own timelines without the use of third-party apps, greatly streamlining the process.

As they announced last week, Facebook has reversed their original rules to allow for users to like, comment, or create posts on a page solely as a voting mechanism or entry into contest. Facebook stated in its promotions help document, “we want to make it easier for businesses of all sizes to create and administer promotions of Facebook and to align our policies to better meet the needs of marketers.”

All of this means businesses can run promotions directly from their timeline and

  • Collect entries via posts, comments, or likes on a page post.
  • Collect entries via messages from users to the page.
  • Utilize likes as a means of voting.

Facebook did say they don’t intend to put an end to contests run through apps. Instead, they see apps as a means to “create a more personalized experience, more in line with your branding strategy.”

They explained the differentiation more, saying:

Apps provide more space and flexibility for content than Page posts alone. Promotions run through apps can collect data in a secure, structured way that may be appealing to advertisers, particularly larger brands.

Creating a promotion with a Page is faster and easier. Additionally, as with all Page posts, Page posts about promotions are eligible to be displayed in the News Feeds of the people who like the Page and can be promoted to a broader audience.

Businesses always have the option of using both an app and their Page to administer a promotion.

On the other hand, Facebook also updated its page terms to restrict pages from encouraging users to tag themselves in content “they are not actually depicted in.” So it is acceptable to ask for likes or comments as part of a promotion, but you cannot post a picture and tag users or ask them to tag themselves, unless they actually appear in the image.

If you’ve ever doubted the importance of SEO and high rankings, a new study from online ad network Chitika shows the higher the rankings, the more traffic sites get. And the differences are drastic. First place rankings pull in 33 percent of the web traffic from search engine results pages. Second place can receive as much as 18 percent of the visitors, and traffic steadily drops off from there.

The recent study has very similar results to one the team ran in 2010, which suggests that there is little expected change in how users are interacting with search engines and highlights the importance of SEO in receiving web traffic.

Chitika Search Analysis

 

 

Chitika said in their announcement, “While being the number one result on a Google search results page is obviously important, these numbers show just how big of an advantage websites of this type have over any competitors listed below them. The importance of SEO for online business is seemingly quantified by these latest statistics, which, judging by their similarity to those observed as part of the 2010 study, are not likely to change significantly in the near future.”

Another expected find of the study is the drop off of traffic from Page 1 to Page 2 of results pages. The search engine result page users see gets 92 percent of all traffic, so getting stuck a couple pages back can result in practical invisibility for your site. However, if you aren’t showing up on the first page, it appears gaining the top spot of whatever page you are on will get you higher rankings than the others on that page.

If you’re interested in Chitika’s methodology for the study, you can see their full report, and Jessica Lee provided further analysis over at Search Engine Watch.