Posts

Product pages may receive a temporary reduction in their visibility in Google search results if the product is listed as out of stock, according to Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller during the most recent Google Search Central SEO Office Hours session.

Surprisingly, though, this is not always the case.

As Mueller answered questions about how product stock affects rankings, he explained that Google has a few ways of handling out-of-stock product pages.

How Google Handles Out-of-Stock Products

Mueller says that, in most cases, Google treats out-of-stock listings as a soft redirect or unavailable page:

“Out of stock – it’s possible. That’s kind of simplified like that. I think there are multiple things that come into play when it comes to products themselves in that they can be shown as a normal search result.

They can also be shown as an organic shopping result as well. If something is out of stock, I believe the organic shopping result might not be shown – I’m not 100% sure.

And when it comes to the normal search results, it can happen that we when see that something is out of stock, we will assume it’s more like a soft 404 error, where we will drop that URL from the search results as well.

Theoretically, it could affect the visibility in search if something goes out of stock.”

In some situations, though, Google will essentially override this decision and continue to show a page if it is considered particularly relevant for users.

For example, if the product page also includes helpful information about the product in general, it may still be worth keeping in search results despite the lack of stock.

As Mueller explains”

“It doesn’t have to be the case. In particular, if you have a lot of information about that product anyway on those pages, then that page can still be quite relevant for people who are searching for a specific product. So it’s not necessarily that something goes out of stock, and that page disappears from search.”

Out-of-Stock Products Don’t Hurt Your Entire Site

While it is true that listing one product as unavailable can keep that specific page from appearing in search results, Mueller is sure to reassure you that this should not impact the rest of your website:

“The other thing that’s also important to note here is that even if one product goes out of stock, the rest of the site’s rankings are not affected by that.

So even if we were to drop that one specific product because we think it’s more like a soft 404 page, then people searching for other products on the site, we would still show those normally. It’s not that there would be any kind of negative effect that swaps over into the other parts of the site.”

You can watch the entire discussion with Google’s John Mueller in a recording of the SEO Office Hours session below:

Any small-to-medium-sized business owner or operator is all too aware that it often feels like the odds are stacked against them – especially when it comes to competing with larger companies on Google. 

It’s something Google rarely addresses outright, but it seems clear that big companies have several advantages which can make it hard to compete. This is why one person decided to ask Google’s John Mueller about the situation during a recent Office Hours hangout chat with Google Search Advocate.

As Mueller acknowledges, Google is well aware that big brands often receive natural competitive advantages. But, he also had some advice for smaller brands trying to rank against massive brands – big sites face their own unique problems and limitations which can give you a chance to get the upper hand.

John Mueller’s Advice For Small Companies On Google

The original question posed to Mueller included two parts, but it was the second half that the Search Advocate decided to focus on. Specifically, he was asked:

“Do smaller organizations have a chance in competing with larger companies?”

From the outset, he says its a bit of a broader “philosophical” question, but he does his best to show how smaller companies have consistently been able to turn the tables against larger brands. For example, Mueller points to how many larger companies were so invested in using Macromedia Flash, they stuck with it long after it became clear it was not helping their SEO. Meanwhile, smaller sites often knew better and were able to use this against their competition.

“One of the things that I’ve noticed over time is that in the beginning, a lot of large companies were, essentially, incompetent with regards to the web and they made terrible websites.

And their visibility in the search results was really bad.

And it was easy for small websites to get in and kind of like say, well, here’s my small website or my small bookstore, and suddenly your content is visible to a large amount of users.

And you can have that success moment early on.

But over time, as large companies also see the value of search and of the web overall, they’ve grown their websites.

They have really competent teams, they work really hard on making a fantastic web experience.

And that kind of means for smaller companies that it’s a lot harder to gain a foothold there, especially if there is a very competitive existing market out there.

And it’s less about large companies or small companies.

It’s really more about the competitive environment in general.”

While it is true that it can seem very difficult to compete with the seemingly unlimited resources of bigger brands, history has shown time and time again that bigger brands face their own challenges. 

As Mueller concludes:

“As a small company, you should probably focus more on your strengths and the weaknesses of the competitors and try to find an angle where you can shine, where other people don’t have the ability to shine as well.

Which could be specific kinds of content, or specific audiences or anything along those lines.

Kind of like how you would do that with a normal, physical business as well.”

In the end, big brands competing are much like David facing down Goliath; if they know how to use their strengths and talents to their advantage they can overcome seemingly unbeatable challengers.

You can watch Mueller’s answer in the video below, starting around 38:14.

Most people these days understand the general idea of how search engines work. Search engines like Google send out automated bots to scan or “crawl” all the pages on a website, before using their algorithms to sort through which sites are best for specific search queries. 

What few outside Google knew until recently, was that the search engine has begun using two different methods to crawl websites – one which specifically searches out new content and another to review content already within its search index.

Google Search Advocate John Mueller revealed this recently during one of his regular Search Central SEO office-hours chats on January 7th.

During this session, an SEO professional asked Mueller about the behavior he has observed from Googlebot crawling his website. 

Specifically, the user says Googlebot previously crawled his site daily when it was frequently sharing content. Since content publishing has slowed on this site, he has seen that Googlebot has been crawling his website less often.

As it turns out, Mueller says this is quite normal and is the result of how Google approaches crawling web pages.

How Google Crawls New vs. Old Content

While Mueller acknowledges there are several factors that can contribute to how often it crawls different pages on a website – including what type of pages they are, how new they are, and how Google understands your site.

“It’s not so much that we crawl a website, but we crawl individual pages of a website. And when it comes to crawling, we have two types of crawling roughly.

One is a discovery crawl where we try to discover new pages on your website. And the other is a refresh crawl where we update existing pages that we know about.”

These different types of crawling target different types of pages, so it is reasonable that they also occur more or less frequently depending on the type of content.

“So for the most part, for example, we would refresh crawl the homepage, I don’t know, once a day, or every couple of hours, or something like that.

And if we find new links on their home page then we’ll go off and crawl those with the discovery crawl as well. And because of that you will always see a mix of discover and refresh happening with regard to crawling. And you’ll see some baseline of crawling happening every day.

But if we recognize that individual pages change very rarely, then we realize we don’t have to crawl them all the time.”

The takeaway here is that Google adapts to your site according to your own publishing habits. Which type of crawling it is using or how frequently it is happening are not inherently good or bad indicators of your website’s health, and your focus should be (as always) on providing the smoothest online sales experience for your customers. 

Nonetheless, it is interesting to know that Google has made this adjustment to how it crawls content across the web and to speculate about how this might affect its ranking process.

To hear Mueller’s full response (including more details about why Google crawls some sites more often than others), check out the video below:

When it comes to ranking a website in Google, most people agree that high-quality content is essential. But, what exactly is quality content? 

For a number of reasons, most online marketers agreed that Google defined high-quality content as something very specific: text-based content which clearly and engagingly communicated valuable information to readers.

Recently, though, Google’s John Mueller shot down that assumption during a video chat. 

While he still emphasizes that great content should inform or entertain viewers, Mueller explained that the search engine actually has a much broader view of “content quality” than most thought.

What Google Means When They Say “Quality Content”

In response to a question about whether SEO content creators should prioritize technical improvements to content or expand the scope of content, Mueller took a moment to talk about what content quality means to Google.

“When it comes to the quality of the content, we don’t mean like just the text of your articles. It’s really the quality of your overall website, and that includes everything from the layout to the design.

This is especially notable, as Mueller specifically highlights two factors that many continue to ignore – images and page speed. 

“How you have things presented on your pages? How you integrate images? How you work with speed? All of those factors, they kind of come into play there.”

Ultimately, Mueller’s response emphasizes taking a much more holistic view of your content and focusing on providing an all-around great experience for users on your website. 

There is an unspoken aspect to what Mueller says which should be mentioned. Mueller subtly shows that Google still prefers text-based content rather than videos or audio-only formats. While the company wants to integrate even more types of content, the simple fact is that the search engine still struggles to parse these formats without additional information.

Still, Mueller’s statement broadens the concept of “quality content” from what is often understood. 

“So it’s not the case that we would look at just purely the text of the article and ignore everything else around it and say, oh this is high-quality text. We really want to look at the website overall.”

It is no secret that Google knows the price you, your competitors, and even the shady third-party companies charge for your products or services. In some cases, you might even directly tell the company how much you charge through Google’s Merchant Center. So, it is reasonable to think that the search engine might also use that information when it is ranking brands or product pages in search results.

In a recent livestream, however, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller, denied the idea.

What John Mueller Has To Say About Price as a Google Ranking Signal

The question arose during an SEO Office-Hours hangout on October 8, which led to Mueller explaining that while Google can access this information, it does not use it when ranking traditional search results.

As he says in the recording of the discussion:

“Purely from a web search point of view, no, it’s not the case that we would try to recognize the price on a page and use that as a ranking factor.

“So it’s not the case that we would say we’ll take the cheaper one and rank that higher. I don’t think that would really make sense.”

At the same time, Mueller says he can’t speak on how products in shopping results (which may be shown in regular search results) are ranked. 

Within shopping search results, users can manually select to sort their results by price. Whether it is used as a factor the rest of the time isn’t something Mueller can answer:

“A lot of these products also end up in the product search results, which could be because you submit a feed, or maybe because we recognize the product information on these pages, and the product search results I don’t know how they’re ordered.

“It might be that they take the price into account, or things like availability, all of the other factors that kind of come in as attributes in product search.”

Price Is And Isn’t A Ranking Factor

At the end of the day, Mueller doesn’t work in the areas related to product search so he really can’t say whether price is a ranking factor within those areas of Google. This potentially includes when they are shown within normal search results pages.

What he can say for sure, is that within traditional web search results, Google does not use price to rank results:

“So, from a web search point of view, we don’t take price into account. From a product search point of view it’s possible.

“The tricky part, I think, as an SEO, is these different aspects of search are often combined in one search results page. Where you’ll see normal web results, and maybe you’ll see some product review results on the side, or maybe you’ll see some mix of that.”

You can hear Mueller’s full response in the recording from the October 8, 2021, Google SEO Office Hours hangout below:

We all know that the search results you get on mobile and the ones you get on desktop devices can be very different – even for the same query, made at the same time, in the same place, logged into the same Google account. 

Have you ever found yourself asking exactly why this happens?

One site owner did and recently got the chance to ask one of Google’s Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller.

In the recent SEO Office Hours Session, Mueller explained that a wide range of factors decide what search results get returned for a search query – including what device you are using and why this happens.

Why Are Mobile Search Rankings Different From Desktop?

The question asked to Mueller specifically wanted to clarify why there is still a disparity between mobile and desktop search results after the launch of mobile-first indexing for all sites. Here’s what was asked:

“How are desktop and mobile ranking different when we’ve already switched to mobile-first indexing.”

Indexing and Ranking Are Different

In response to the question, Mueller first tried to clarify that indexing and rankings are not exactly the same thing. Instead, they are more like two parts of a larger system. 

“So, mobile-first indexing is specifically about that technical aspect of indexing the content. And we use a mobile Googlebot to index the content. But once the content is indexed, the ranking side is still (kind of) completely separate.”

Although the mobile-first index was a significant shift in how Google brought sites into their search engine and understood them, it actually had little direct effect on most search results. 

Mobile Users and Desktop Users Have Different Needs

Beyond the explanation about indexing vs. ranking, John Mueller also said that Google returns unique rankings for mobile and desktop search results because they reflect potentially different needs in-the-moment. 

“It’s normal that desktop and mobile rankings are different. Sometimes that’s with regards to things like speed. Sometimes that’s with regards to things like mobile-friendliness.

“Sometimes that’s also with regards to the different elements that are shown in the search results page.

“For example, if you’re searching on your phone then maybe you want more local information because you’re on the go. Whereas if you’re searching on a desktop maybe you want more images or more videos shown in the search results. So we tend to show …a different mix of different search results types.

“And because of that it can happen that the ranking or the visibility of individual pages differs between mobile and desktop. And that’s essentially normal. That’s a part of how we do ranking.

“It’s not something where I would say it would be tied to the technical aspect of indexing the content.”

With this in mind, there’s little need to be concerned if you aren’t showing up in the same spot for the same exact searches on different devices.

Instead, watch for big shifts in what devices people are using to access your page. If your users are overwhelmingly using phones, assess how your site can better serve the needs of desktop users. Likewise, a majority of traffic coming from desktop devices may indicate you need to assess your site’s speed and mobile friendliness.

If you want to hear Mueller’s full explanation and even more discussion about search engine optimization, check out the SEO Office Hours video below:

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:

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:

It’s a question we all have dealt with at least once or twice, and one that rarely has a satisfying answer: “Why did my Google rankings suddenly drop?”

Sometimes, a simple audit will reveal a technical hiccup or issue that is downgrading your rankings. Just as often, though, it appears everything is working as it should but you are suddenly further down the page or not even on the first page anymore. 

In this situation, Google’s John Mueller says there are four major reasons for sites to lose rankings. 

John Mueller Explains Why Sites Lose Rankings

In a recent Google Webmaster Central chat, Mueller was asked why a publisher who had ranked well for “seven or eight years” had suddenly lost rankings for three different sites. Notably, the person asking the question couldn’t find any signs of problems in their inbound or outbound links, and all the sites used the same keywords (they sell similar products by different brands). 

Of course, Mueller couldn’t get too specific with his answer because he didn’t have actual data or analytics on the sites. Still, he did his best to address four general reasons sites may suddenly rank worse.

1) Rankings Are Temporary

Once a site is ranking at the top for its ideal keywords, many site owners feel like they have accomplished their mission and will continue to rank there. Unfortunately, John Mueller says that rankings are malleable and change constantly.

Mueller explained:

“In general, just because the site was appearing well in search results for a number of years does not mean that it will continue to appear well in search results in the future.

These kinds of changes are essentially to be expected on the web, it’s a very common dynamic environment”

2) The Internet Is Always Changing

The reason why rankings are so prone to fluctuations is that the internet itself is always changing. New sites are being created every day, links might die, competitors might improve their own SEO, and people’s interests change.

Each and every one of these can have a big impact on the search results people see at any given time. 

As Mueller put it:

“On the one hand, things on the web change with your competitors, with other sites…”

3) Google Changes Its Algorithms

To keep up with the constantly changing internet, Google itself has to regularly overhaul how its search engine interprets and ranks websites. 

To give you one idea how this plays out, a few years ago search results were absolutely dominated by “listicles” (short top 5 or top 10 lists). Over time, people got tired of the shallow information these types of lists provided and how easily they could be abused as clickbait. Google recognized this and tweaked its algorithm to better prioritize in-depth information hyper-focusing on a single topic or issue. Now, though a listicle can still rank on Google, it is considerably harder than it used to be.

As Mueller simply explained:

“On the other hand, things on our side change with our algorithms in search.”

4) People Change

This is one that has been touched upon throughout the list Mueller gave, but it really gets to the heart of what Google does. What people expect out of the internet is constantly changing, and it is Google’s job to keep up with these shifts. 

In some cases, this can mean that people outright change how they search. For example, simple keywords like “restaurants near me” or “fix Samsung TV” were the main tool people used to find information for years and years. As voice search has become widespread and people have gotten more accustomed to using search engines all the time, queries have expanded to frequently include full sentences or phrases like “What is the best Chinese restaurant in midtown?”

At the same time, what people expect out of the same queries is also shifting with technological innovation and content trends. 

Mueller describes the situation by saying:

“And finally on the user side as well, the expectations change over time. So, just because something performed well in the past doesn’t mean it will continue to perform well in search in the future.”

Always Be Monitoring and Improving

The big theme behind all of these reasons sites lose rankings is that they are standing still while the world moves past them. To maintain your high rankings, your site has to be constantly in motion – moving with the trends and providing the content users want and expect from sites at any given time. 

This is why successful sites are also constantly monitoring their analytics to identify upcoming shifts and respond to any drops in rankings as soon as they happen.

If you want to see the full response, watch the video below (it starts with Mueller’s response but you can choose to watch the entire Webmaster Central office-hours discussion if you wish).

When creating content to help your SEO, many people believe they should aim for an “ideal” word count. The perfect number has ranged from 300 to 1,500 words per post depending on when and who you ask. There’s just one problem – Google’s leading experts say there is no perfect word count.

Why Do Word Counts Seem Important?

Since Google is relatively tight-lipped about the exact recipe they use to rank sites on its search engine, SEO experts have traditionally had to rely on their own data to understand the inner-workings of the search engine.

Sometimes, this information is later confirmed. Marketing experts had long believed that site speed was an important ranking signal for Google before the company confirmed its impact.

The problem is this approach relies strongly on correlation – which can be unreliable or lead to incorrect conclusions.

This is also why the “ideal” word counts recommended by “experts” tends to vary so wildly. When we have to rely on relatively limited data (at least, compared to Google’s data), it can skew the conclusions taken from the data.

This is where Google’s John Mueller comes in.

What Google Has To Say

The company’s leading experts have repeatedly denied that they consider word counts to be an important ranking signal. Some have suggested it is lightly considered, but the impact is negligible compared to other factors like keyword relevance or backlinks to the page.

The latest Googler to speak out about the issue is John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google.

In a recent tweet, Mueller used a simple analogy to explain why focusing on word counts is the wrong approach.

Simply put, focusing on how long each piece of content is puts the attention on the wrong area. If you write long posts, simply for the point of hitting a total number of words, there is a high risk of drifting off-topic or including irrelevant details.

The better approach is to create content with the goal of answering a specific question or responding to a specific need. Then, write until you’ve provided all the relevant information – whether it takes 300 or 1,500 words to do so.