Welcome back to the latest edition of the Search Marketing Roundup, where we’ll be reviewing the newsworthy moments from a turbulent March 2017 in the search marketing world.
From ‘Fred’ algorithm tremors to doubts on Google’s battle against offensive content, you’ll find all the information you need right here.
Google’s ‘Fred’ algorithm update sends shock waves through the SEO community
On March 7th & 8th, there were large changes in the Google index and webmasters were left scratching their heads as to what had happened. Google declined to comment publicly, but the SEO community labelled this volatility in the Google index as the ‘Fred’ update. There were a number of large websites which saw significant decreases across Google. On March 23rd at SMX, Gary Illyes explained that the ‘Fred’ update was focused on something to do with quality within the Google webmaster guidelines.
Barry Schwartz reviewed over 70 websites that were targeted by the ‘Fred’ algorithm update, and 95% of those websites had two common characteristics. They were all either heavily content driven, and they were heavy on their ad placement. The assumption is that these websites were created with the sole objective of earning money through AdSense, and not actually offering the user any benefit – something Google actively tried to eradicate. Certain websites saw 50% to 90% drops in organic Google traffic:
Barry Schwartz signed off his analysis stating, “Google has NOT confirmed any of this but there is no question that this is a new type of algorithm update that aims at ad heavy, low value content created with the purpose of generating ad revenue.”
Google will soon be removing it’s site search functionality
Google recently announced that on April 1st 2017, they would discontinue sales and renewal of the site search service. Following this, on April 1st 2018, the site search service will be shut down completely.
Users who are looking for something in particular on a website would use site search in order to precisely find answers quickly. Those webmasters whom implemented Google site search for their website knew that they were getting Google-level search for their website, and they liked that.
This will service unavailable very shortly, and Paul Shapiro provided some useful alternatives to Google site search in a post for Search Engine Land. Here Paul outlined what to consider when choosing your next site search functionality dependent on the size and structural needs of your website.
Exact match to be further diluted in AdWords by ignoring word order & adding function words
Google announced a change to AdWords’ exact match targeting in March 2017. Keyword matching for close variants – adverbs, plurals, typos etc – will be expanded to include variations in word order and function words in the coming months.
Previously, Google introduced close variants in 2012 and offered AdWords advertisers the ability to opt out. In 2014, Google removed the ability to opt out which further blurred the lines of exact match and phrase match targeting.
Google has stated that early tests indicate that advertisers can expect to see up to 3 percent more exact match clicks on average whilst maintaining a comparable conversion rates and click-through rates. Here is some further information on the changes:
- Function words are binding words within sentences and phrases, such as ‘the’ and ‘that’, and conjuctions such as ‘but’ and ‘and’. They also include modals, quantifiers, prepositions and pronouns. An example below:
- Word order may be reshuffled as long as the meaning of the search query remains the same. An example below:
Google will need to reassure advertisers that this new exact match targeting setup won’t reorder words in a way which changes the meaning of the search query – thus meaning advertisers are bidding on less relevant keywords. We will see how this one unfolds over the coming months…
Google has launched a new effort to identify offensive content in search
Google has launched a new strategy to counter “demonstrably inaccurate information” in the search results. It intends to better identify potentially offensive content to searchers which crowds out factual, trustworthy content in the top search results.
This effort is centered around Google’s quality raters – over 10,000 contractors who evaluate the quality of the search results all over the world. The raters enter a systematic amount of searches into Google and then manually rate the pages which appear in the top search results.
The quality raters use a nearly 200 pages long guidelines document which instructs them on how to best assess website quality. Now, those guidelines have been updated with a new section labelled as “Upsetting-Offensive”. This enables the quality raters to flag content deemed to be upsetting or offensive. Over time this will provide Google’s human coders with “trained data” to use when developing the search algorithms and machine learning systems.
Content which has been flagged as “Upsetting-Offensive” won’t immediately decrease in ranking, but it will help Google to automatically spot pages that should be flagged. This content is then less likely to appear for search queries which Google perceives as general learning, furthermore searchers who explicitly seek offensive content will get factual information. The example below shows search queries which could be input for research purposes, and how the “Upsetting-Offensive” flag would be applied to different types of search results to ensure of factually correct information:
Thanks for reading our Search Marketing Roundup for March 2017. Send us your thoughts, and please do send us over any stories we may have missed. We look forward to hearing from you soon!