Optimization Station: Google Update January 2020

This time on Optimization Station:

  • Google makes some changes to the way search results will appear on your computer
  • How structured data influences ranking
  • How to Optimize For BERT
  • Google Algorithm Update

Google Changes the Look of Paid and Organic Results on Desktop

Google recently updated the look of their desktop search results to be more in line with mobile results. Paid search results now feature a bolded “Ad” label in black text. Despite Google’s effort to make ads (according to them) easier to identify, the early feedback from users is the opposite. Google has also moved the URL from just below the page title to above the page title.

For organic results, Google has added a favicon next to the site URL, which like paid results, is now located above the page title.

If you’re not paying attention or looking closely enough, it would be very easy to mistake the “Ad” indicator for a website favicon:

It’s easier to differentiate on SERPs with local results because the ads and organic results are often split up by the map listings.

Google Says Structured Data Has No Impact on Rankings

Last week there was a controversy (using that word loosely) concerning a food blogger that received an email from Google noting that calorie count structured data must be added to all recipes. The blogger was under the impression that failure to add this structured data (often referred to as “schema”) to her blog would be detrimental to her site’s organic rankings.

Although the email noted that adding the structured data was merely a suggestion, not a requirement, the blogger’s response gathered enough traction to merit a response from Google.

Here is the response from Google’s Danny Sullivan:

“Yesterday, a concern was raised that calorie information was required for recipes to be included in or to rank well for Google Search. This is not the case. Moreover, structured data like this has no impact on ranking in web search. This thread has more we hope eases concerns…

Content owners can provide structured data as an optional way to enhance their web page listings. It has no impact on ranking. Using it may simply help pages that already rank well appear more attractive to potential visitors.”

Google Answers How to Optimize for BERT

When Google released their BERT update several months ago, they were adamant that there is nothing to optimize for. It is simply an update that allows Google to better understand the context of complicated search results. Google’s John Mueller provided an update that aligns with my initial assumption on BERT optimization. Essentially, because Google is now better at understanding context in complicated queries, they’re now able to rank content on these kinds of topics more effectively. In addition, it’s important to continue to write content for users first, Google second (avoid keyword stuffing).

When asked to expound on the BERT update and what type of optimization would help, here is Mueller’s response:

I would primarily recommend taking a look at the blog post that we did around this particular change. In particular, what we’re trying to do with these changes is to better understand text. Which on the one hand means better understanding the questions or the queries that people send us. And on the other hand better understanding the text on a page. The queries are not really something that you can influence that much as an SEO.

John then offered his explanation on what a publisher can do with text content:

The text on the page is something that you can influence. Our recommendation there is essentially to write naturally. So it seems kind of obvious but a lot of these algorithms try to understand natural text and they try to better understand like what topics is this page about. What special attributes do we need to watch out for and that would allow use to better match the query that someone is asking us with your specific page. So, if anything, there’s anything that you can do to kind of optimize for BERT, it’s essentially to make sure that your pages have natural text on them…

Mueller then began to say something but stops before he completes his sentence:

“..and that they’re not written in a way that…”

Mueller stops for a second, takes a breath, then appears to not finish the above thought. He then begins a new sentence:

“Kind of like a normal human would be able to understand. So instead of stuffing keywords as much as possible, kind of write naturally.”

Google’s January Core Update is Rolling Out Imminently

On January 13th, Google confirmed that a broad core algorithm update began rolling out. Since it’s simply a broad update, there is nothing specifically to optimize for. It’s just something that we should keep in mind while reviewing any ranking fluctuations over the next couple weeks. Here is an analogy Google used in their release:

“One way to think of how a core update operates is to imagine you made a list of the top 100 movies in 2015. A few years later in 2019, you refresh the list. It’s going to naturally change. Some new and wonderful movies that never existed before will now be candidates for inclusion. You might also reassess some films and realize they deserved a higher place on the list than they had before.”

Understanding this, your marketing agency should be keeping a close eye on your page and keyword rankings. Should rankings change for the worse, it would be wise to use the better ranked pages as an example of what to do to improve. Additionally, this is a great opportunity to have some of your lesser ranked pages move up the ladder.

We hope this update helps to keep you on track!

Reach out if you have any questions.