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Seeing as Google isn’t giving away their search engine ranking factors playbook anytime soon, many people working in the search industry work constantly to discern as much as possible about how the biggest search engine ranks websites. One group of those people are SearchMetrics, who release a yearly ranking factors study.

As of yesterday, SearchMetrics 2014 ranking factors study is available to study, and they claim this year’s is the largest study they have ever done, with almost 100 pages and dozens of new ranking factors to review such as time of site, bounce rate, fresh links, and others.

Most importantly the study may answer one of the biggest SEO questions of the year; is content really the new king of search marketing? According to this report, the mantra of the SEO industry over the past few months is in fact true, as Marcus Tober comments that content is “no longer an addition to, but is the main focus of, SEO.”

Barry Schwartz broke down the most prominent ranking factors for Search Engine Land if you want the quick version, or you can get the full report directly from the source here.

ranking factors

Google Authorship

There was a time not too long ago when every SEO professional felt confident proclaiming that Authorship was the future of search, but it appears the predictions couldn’t have been much more incorrect.

When Google was pushing Authorship as a part of their search system, it frequently repeated that authorship information would help users identify more trustworthy sources and improve the quality of results. In the end, it was ultimately little more than a picture and name next to content and was often ignored by users.

This problem was reflected in the confirmation by Google’s John Mueller that authorship information will be entirely stripped out of search results. In the statement, Mueller explains:

“Unfortunately, we’ve also observed that this information isn’t as useful to our users as we’d hoped, and can even distract from those results. With this in mind, we’ve made the difficult decision to stop showing Authorship in search results.”

If we are being honest, the vast majority of Google users probably won’t even notice a difference and site owners shouldn’t be too concerned since Authorship didn’t help increase traffic to pages. But it has received considerable attention from the online marketing community because it seemed like a common sense and simple way to improve listings. In the long run however, it just didn’t work.

Mueller did clarify that Google will continue focusing on Schema.org structured markup, saying: “This markup helps all search engines better understand the content and context of pages on the web, and they’ll continue to use it to show rich snippets in search results.”

google-security-360In the past, several Google employees have suggested they would like to see site security included as a ranking factor within their search engine. Now, Google has followed through and announced that going HTTPS, or adding a SSL 2048-bit key certificate on your site, can potentially give you a small ranking boost.

Don’t expect to propel yourself to the top of the search results by adding HTTPS, as Google refers to it as “a very lightweight signal” within the larger scheme of things and only affects “fewer than 1% of global queries.” However, it was also implied that the new ranking signal may get beefed up in the future in an attempt to encourage all site owners to increase the security on their sites.

The change should come as little surprise to anyone who heard Matt Cutts, Google’s head of search spam, publicly endorse the idea of making SSL a ranking factor just a few months ago.

Unlike many ranking changes that Google makes, the risk of drawbacks is small. Google has been saying that switching to HTTPS should not have an effect on SEO for years, so long as you take a few steps to guarantee your traffic stays steady. Mostly, such steps relate to communicating to Google so it understands how to read your site.

Google has also said they will be releasing for information and resources for webmasters deciding to adopt HTTPS, but for now all they offer are these tips:

  • Decide the kind of certificate you need: single, multi-domain, or wildcard certificate
  • Use 2048-bit key certificates
  • Use relative URLs for resources that reside on the same secure domain
  • Use protocol relative URLs for all other domains
  • Check out our site move article for more guidelines on how to change your website’s address
  • Don’t block your HTTPS site from crawling using robots.txt
  • Allow indexing of your pages by search engines where possible. Avoid the noindex robots meta tag.

Adobe Flash and mobile devices go together like oil and water. Since the release of the first iPhone it was clear that Flash, Adobe’s multimedia based web site technology, would not be coming to cell phones any time soon.

Years later, after the release of several generations of smartphones and the release of tablets, and it is even clearer that Flash is all but dead and will never be a part of the modern ‘device agnostic’ approach to web design. Unfortunately many webmasters still use it.

flash-serp-note-border-300x107That may not be the case for long, as Google has stepped up their fight against the technology. Google announced that starting today they will be warning mobile searchers when the search engine’s algorithms detect a web site is not supported on the device they are using due to Flash.

Rather than outright omit sites utilizing Flash from the search engine – which would garner heavy criticism – those using smartphones and tablets to search may see a warning that allows the user to attempt to view websites using Flash or to look for alternate search results.

The warning reads “Uses Flash. May not work on your device. Try anyway | Learn more.”

It seems pretty unlikely that many users will choose to press on knowing that the site likely won’t work for them.

In lieu of using Flash, Google highly recommends updating to HTML5 and upgrading sites to support that technology because it works in mobile devices and desktop browsers alike.

Google’s Keita Oda, Software Engineer, and Pierre Far, Webmaster Trends Analyst said, “fortunately, making websites that work on all modern devices is not that hard: websites can use HTML5 since it is universally supported, sometimes exclusively, by all devices.” Google simultaneously launched two new resources to help webmasters make the upgrade:

  • Web Fundamentals: a curated source for modern best practices.
  • Web Starter Kit: a starter framework supporting the Web Fundamentals best practices out of the box.

With the constant stream of news coming out of the online marketing industry, it can be hard to keep up with all the latest updates without missing some important information. Below, we will go through all of the news from the week that we missed at the time.

Bing Tries To Predict The Winners of Your Favorite Reality Shows

Bing Predictions

Bing is using search and social signals in their attempt to predict outcomes of public events, and they are showcasing the results of their test by estimating who will be moving onto further rounds in reality shows like The Voice, American Idol, and Dancing With the Stars. Bing isn’t using magic to see the future, but they are using measures of popularity to predict the results of some of the most popular shows in the country. While this could be a fun feature for fans of reality TV, there is also potential for Bing to expand their predictions to events and elections that have a more direct on the country in the future.

Google Lets You Subscribe to Trending Search Topics

Google Subscribe

Google Trends has been a useful tool for discovering what people are searching for around the world. But, the service has always been somewhat isolated. You can consult the section to see what new artists, films, or memes are trending, but users have been left to keep up with the topics that interested them on their own. Now, Google Trends has added a new feature that lets you “Subscribe” to any search topic, Hot Searches for any country, or any U.S. monthly Top Chart. Google explains how subscribing functions in their announcement.

New Features are Headed to AdWords

AdWords Update

Last week, Search Engine Land teased that huge news was coming for AdWords by vaguely discussing what types of features you might be seeing in the future. All the features were announced on Tuesday and Larry Kim took the time to break down what each new feature does and how it can affect online advertisers. Find out what the new AdWords will be like in Kim’s article for Search Engine Journal.

More Than Half of Responsive Mobile Sites Have “Unacceptable” Load Times

Responsive design has been widely loved for its ability to unify user experience across multiple platforms and devices, and some web designers claim it even speeds up their work process by preventing them from having to design two separate sites. However, a new study suggests responsive design may have a significant weakness. Responsive design may provide a better and more cohesive user experience across platforms, but a new study says the majority of responsive sites load too slowly for mobile users who are likely to leave a page that doesn’t load within 5 seconds. Mobile web developer Trilibis evaluated 155 prominent responsive design websites, and their findings aren’t pretty.

Yahoo Tests A Google Knowledge Graph Doppelganger in Search Results

There are rumors swirling that Yahoo is considering rejuvenating their search engine to re-challenge Bing for the second most-popular search engine available. Their share of the search market suggests Yahoo will have to make some drastic changes to have any chance at their comeback in the search game, but the company has been testing some recent changes to their search engine that lend truth to the rumors. However, one of their tests also drew attention for looking questionably similar to Google’s Knowledge Graph. All Google Testing discovered the test and documented how to see the test for yourself, or you can just watch their video below.

http://youtu.be/Pc254gEZx_Q

 

By now you’ve probably noticed your search results don’t look like they used to. Google told the public their new look was just an experiment earlier this week, but now everyone is getting to see Google’s search results pages with the new design.

Jon Wiley, Google’s lead designer for Google Search basically made the announcement the new style was rolling outto desktop when he said on Google+. “you may have noticed that Google Search on desktop looks a little different today.” He specifies desktop users because the style was showing up much more prominently on mobile before the full roll-out.

As many have noted, the new SERPs have much larger titles and the underlines have been removed. Jon also notes that Google “evened out all the line heights,” which he claims “improves readibility and creates an overall cleaner look.”

Most of those changes won’t have a huge impact on the usability of the search engine, but visitors will have to become accustomed to a different way of marking ads. Google has used smaller yellow tags to pinpoint which results were part of ads on mobile, but desktop users have still been relying on the lightly colored boxes Google has relied on for years to mark ads. Google says the change is intended to unify the mobile and desktop search experience. Jon explained:

Improving consistency in design across platforms makes it easier for people to use Google Search across devices and it makes it easier for us to develop and ship improvements across the board.

There are bound to be plenty of complaints about the redesign. I personally don’t enjoy it as much as the old style, but most will acclimate to it fairly quickly. But, it isn’t a high-profile site redesign unless people initially throw a small tantrum in the meantime.

You can compare the old and new designs below.

Google Search Results New Design

 

bingtimelineteddyrBing is quickly expanding their new timeline feature for celebrities and historical figures. Just a few weeks after premiering the feature for athletes participating in the Sochi Olympics, Bing has added the feature to searches for about half a million famous people.

If you haven’t seen the timeline feature, it is similar to Google’s Knowledge Graph, as both highlight important information on figures in a concise column. For example, the column includes standard information such as height, spouse, children, and parents. But, with the timeline feature, Bing also includes a chronological list of important events or dates in the life of the figure you searched for.

The timeline includes footnotes for all the major events, as well as listing the year they occurred. But, don’t expect to get those results for every celebrity. Bing says that in some cases where “you would be more interested in another type of information” about the celebrity, the timeline information won’t be shown in favor of more relevant data.

Search Engine Watch points out that this is most true for actors and singers. When you search for Prince, you won’t be shown a timeline. Instead, you will be shown information about his most popular sings, albums, and even romantic interests.

bingtimelineprince

If you use Bing and haven’t run into one of these timelines yet, just keep searching for celebrities or historically important people. Bing has made it clear the half a million celebrities with timeline featured are just the start of an even more robust search result system.

The biggest question this raises is whether the timeline will always be exclusive to celebrities, or whether Bing’s relationship with Klout may indicate an intention to expand their Klout-verified snapshots with features similar to timeline. Would you want searchers to be able to automatically see a timeline for you in a search engine?

Google has been making a move towards providing searchers more lengthy and thorough content in recent history. They estimate that roughly 10 percent of all searches call for in-depth article information and they have been aiming to make those types of sources more available, especially when it may be more relevant for users.

The first big move came a couple months ago, back in August. The search engine launched an update to include in-depth articles for relevant searches, with a special block of articles at the bottom of the search results page.

Now, Google has expanded the in-depth articles section so that users can view even more comprehensive articles by adding a new link which reads “More in-depth articles” beneath the initial selection of sources. Clicking that link shows 10 more articles on the same page. A screenshot of the update is below:

In-Depth Article Update Screenshot

The latest update also implemented the ability to explore related topics with an explore section next to articles which may be connected to other keywords. Search Engine Land notes that you can also search exclusively for in-depth articles by adding &ida_m=1 to the end of your search URL.

Currently this new feature doesn’t have much impact on the content your brand creates, but the trend could have huge implications for the future of search and Google’s focus. For now the majority of searches call for less extensive results, but eventually longer and more detailed content could be hugely rewarding for those willing to put in the effort.

Last week some people began noticing that large banner ads were appearing on Google for a select few branded search results. This test of huge banner ads has caused quite a bit of a stir across the internet, especially because it seems to break a promise Google made all the way back in 2005.

When Google partnered with AOL eight years ago, Marissa Mayer, then Google VP of search products and user experience, issued a promise that users would never see banner ads on their results. She said:

“There will be no banner ads on the Google homepage or web search result pages. There will not be crazy, flashy, graphical doodads flying and popping all over the Google site. Ever.”

One could argue that some of the Google Doodle homepage logos commemorating special events would qualify as “crazy, flashy, graphical doodads”, those have never caused any worry because they are simply a flourish added to the homepage logo. However, it is indisputable that the new ad tests Google is running breaks their “no banner ads” promise outright. But, is it a bad thing?

The most notable aspect of the banner ads is that they only appear for branded searches. That means, if you search for Crate & Barrel, you might be shown the banner for Crate & Barrel. You won’t, however, be seeing any ads for random companies unrelated to your search, as you would normally associate with the term ‘banner ad’.

These ads are also linked to the brand’s website, providing users with an obvious, visually pleasing way to immediately find the business they are looking for. With careful moderation of banners, they could potentially allow businesses to essentially own their branded searches.

One of the biggest concerns for consumers regarding these ads is how they are used. Few users will be upset for the easily identifiable link with an aesthetically pleasing image showing when they search for a specific brand. However, if this test expands and advertisers are ever allowed to use these banners to advertise sales or other more advertising-styled banners, there may be a backlash.

Currently, it is estimated that 30 advertisers are currently being involved in the test, including Southwest Airlines, Virgin America, and Crate & Barrel. The test banner ads are also only being shown for 5 percent or less of search queries, so it is entirely possible you won’t run into one for quite a while.

Search Engine Land has created a FAQ for advertisers curious how this might affect the future of Google marketing, and Google released a statement on Friday, which read:

“We’re currently running a very limited, US-only test, in which advertisers can include an image as part of the search ads that show in response to certain branded queries. Advertisers have long been able to add informative visual elements to their search ads, with features like Media Ads, Product Listing Ads and Image Extensions.”

Most of the changes we see to Google are relatively minor. The average user might notice that the layout is a little different, or the ads are in a new place, but in general most of the massive changes to Google occur under the hood, in their search ranking and spam fighting algorithms. But, as you’ve probably seen by now, Google Carousel is Google’s latest update, and it is a fairly substantial change to how Google users see results.

The carousel is a row of images across the top of some search engine result pages (SERPs) laid on top of a black background. At the moment, the carousel contains up to 20 results, and it appears mainly on SERPs for travel, hospitality, or restaurant related searches. However, the carousel has also sporadically been appearing on queries for sports, entertainment, and education, suggesting the future directions the carousel may be expanding in.

Instead of getting what was called the 6- or 10-pack, users get these images as well as review ratings, property name, and address. To compliment the new carousel you also see the usual sponsored links you often get for other searches. Interestingly, the variation of terms for which the carousel appears seems to be random. Jim Yu from Search Engine Watch notes that a search for “hotels near disneyland” gets the carousel, while “disneyland hotels” did not.

The first bit of good news for search marketing professionals is that all of the results included in the carousel are essentially all in the first spot. Of course the majority of viewers will likely view the results from left to right, but they are not visually ranked in the same manner they were before.

The other good news is that the Google Carousel opens up numerous opportunities for local businesses to strengthen their brand online. BrightEdge research reported that the carousel currently affects 14 percent of keywords across all industries, with travel and hospitality being the most affected.

Restaurants are also highly impacted by the new layout, while entertainment terms only get the carousel for five percent of searches. Clearly, those most affected are also those with the most to gain: local businesses.
There are a few things you can do to ensure you’re business gets into the carousel for relevant searches in your area, and to be sure to beat the other competition within the listings. Yu suggests:

  • Set up a Google Places for Business and Google+ page. You can visit this post to learn more about the most important aspects of both services, and understand how to merge the two types of pages for a single business.
  • Make sure images for your pages are high resolution, unique, and up to date. Keep them sorted in terms of priority, so that users will see the images you want them to first.
  • Encourage happy customers to review your business on Google. Not only will it help you gain conversions online, research has shown it plays a large role in getting your business in the carousel.