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Category Archive: Google

  1. What Does the Changing Local Pack Say About the Future of Local Search?

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    When Pigeon hit the search engine community back in 2014, it was then seen as the biggest shakeup to local SEO to date. Now, we may be seeing the first course of a worthy runner-up. It’s been about two weeks since the desktop search results for local searches changed; what originally displayed as packs of seven businesses now contained only three. Unlike occasional systematic variants, usually the result of testing or glitches, this appeared to be a firm long-term change for the search giant, as the pack of three seemed consistent across all types of searches and points of origin.

    The Extent of the Changes

    The Extent of the Changes

    On mobile devices, users have already been used to 3-pack entries, often displaying “website,” “directions,” and “call” buttons (at least on mobile phones). The divide represented a handful of critical differences in user intentions and needs; a call button wouldn’t be warranted for desktop users, just like a full listing of seven businesses wouldn’t be warranted for the mobile user looking for fast access or a fast solution.

    The switch to 3-pack mirrors the traditional mobile results quite closely; it even has “website” and “directions” buttons similar to those in the mobile pack (though the “call” button is still missing). This closely aligns the look, feel, and function of both desktop and mobile searches.

    There are a handful of other changes that have arisen from the switch. For example, specific addresses are no longer listed alongside business results; the “directions” button can help users find it on a map, and the street name is listed, but the full address is no longer immediately available. For most businesses, this can be counted as a win—if the address isn’t visible for any business in the listings, a user is forced to click on at least one of them to get anywhere.

    Also added is a new selectable dropdown menu that allows users to filter results based on the average user rating for each business. User-submitted reviews have been important for businesses since the dawn of local SEO, and even more important since the release of the Pigeon update. Now, Google is making them even more important—it seems unlikely that any user faced with this option would choose anything but the highest-rated businesses to explore. The only problem from this comes with a change to non-rated businesses; rather than being met with a convenient “ratings” link, unrated businesses have no easy way for new users to submit the first review for a business. This could easily stifle the momentum of any new business.

    Conspicuously absent in the new 3-pack are links to each business’s Google+ page. It’s no secret that Google has been slowly phasing Google+ out of its lineup of offerings, dismantling it for its individual functions, but these links are still present in full organic search results. I wouldn’t be surprised if an update in the very near future phased out Google+ links in these traditional search entries as well.

    Possible Fallout

    Possible Fallout

    While the disappearance of the 7-pack has been met with both warm and cold reception, the truth of the matter is that it won’t change much. It offers new possibilities for some businesses, such as encouraging more clicks with the removal of a listed address, and also some new limits, since fewer businesses are allowed that top-ranked distinction.

    Businesses who previously ranked between four and seven in the local 7-pack are understandably upset about the transition; after all, they’ll no longer get a presence above the fold of organic search results. But they need not worry; for Google to make a transition like this, it’s highly likely that any results under the top three weren’t receiving much—if any—attention. People were clicking, calling, and directing their way to those bottom four results far less, so it only made sense to get rid of them entirely and streamline the experience.

    Google’s Motivation

    Google's Motivation

    From what I can tell, and of course Google hasn’t made a formal statement about it, Google’s motivation in this transition is twofold.

    First, and is usually the case with Google updates, they’re trying to improve overall user experience. If users were only clicking on the top three entries of a 7-pack, that means the bottom four were dead weight, occupying space with no discernable purpose. Users who have appreciated and clicked the convenient “website” and “directions” buttons on mobile devices similarly must have informed Google about user preferences regarding those calls to action.

    Second, Google is attempting to unify the mobile and desktop realms more and more. It’s starting to make “mobile” the new standard, and apply mobile layouts to desktop displays (rather than the other way around, as in the old days). Google’s John Mueller even stated directly that Google is fine with businesses who only have a mobile version of their website (and no desktop version). How’s that for commitment to mobile as the path to the future?

    No matter how you feel about the shift to the new 3-pack, or how it’s going to dictate the future of mobile search, it’s definitely here to stay. As time goes on, Google will likely work harder to align the user interfaces of mobile and desktop displays, subtly forcing users onto the mobile experience. At this point, it’s unlikely the 3-pack will change—though don’t be surprised if some advertising opportunities start to encroach on that territory.

  2. Why Google Is Eliminating Its Autocomplete API

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    articleimage1348 Why Google Is Eliminating Its Autocomplete API

    Google’s Autocomplete function has become so ubiquitous, as users we barely notice it happening anymore. You start typing in a phrase in Google’s search bar, and it comes up with a handful of possible phrase completions—one of which is undoubtedly linked to your intention.

    When this feature first debuted, people thought it was some kind of sorcery. Now, they take it as a given. But Autocomplete has had a wider impact than just on searchers—for years, Google has offered a direct API to its Autocomplete algorithm, giving developers the chance to find practical applications for the function. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. Effective August 10, Google has pulled the Autocomplete API from availability, cutting off developers from the code.

    How Developers Have Used Autocomplete

    articleimage1348 How Developers Have Used Autocomplete

    At first glance, it wouldn’t seem like Autocomplete could be used for much. However, developers have found a number of uses—both practical and ridiculous—for the API. For example, some developers have created games where users can guess what results Autocomplete would come up with for a given phrase (though technically, you can play this game yourself directly on Google). Other sites have used Autocomplete in the context of their own websites, offering a kind of in-app recommended search tool.

    As a more important example for the SEO community, the Autocomplete API has been used by many keyword tools, including Ubersuggest. Using Ubersuggest, users can plug in a keyword or phrase and immediately populate hundreds—if not thousands—of related words and phrases that can then be used for content marketing or SEO campaigns. Because the information comes from Google’s Autocomplete in real-time, search marketers could confidently attest to the popularity of these recommended searches. Once that API is removed, these tools will all go defunct.

    What This Means for the Search Community

    articleimage1348 What This Means for the Search Community

    The biggest impact this change will have is on keyword recommendation tools, which have almost exclusively relied on the Autocomplete API for years. Generating potentially viable keywords and phrases from scratch is going to be a much more tedious process, as you’ll have to either come up with them on your own or type your words into Google randomly and iteratively to collect the recommended search completions yourself one by one. Neither of these options is appealing.

    Fortunately, Google still offers plenty of information on keyword search volumes and competition rankings in its own Keyword Planning tool within Google AdWords. Experienced search marketers should have no major problem finding an alternative solution to take the place of these Autocomplete-dependent solutions. Still, they were valuable while they lasted, and their results were highly valuable for thousands of marketers.

    Google’s Motivation

    articleimage1348 Google’s Motivation

    First, let’s take a look at Google’s official stance on the matter. In a recent blog post announcing the removal of the APl from public availability, Google insists that the reason is simple. The Autocomplete feature is intimately tied to online search—and while the team can feasibly imagine a handful of potential uses for the API beyond search, search is where it can and should live exclusively. As a result, the Google team wants to keep Autocomplete doing what it does best.

    This answer makes sense, but it also reeks of corporate vagueness. If you read between the lines, it’s much clearer why Google would pull the API altogether. Google didn’t like the fact that other sites were using the API to generate their own keyword recommendations. Keywords, as an SEO strategy, are all but dead, but Google is still fighting back against their use. Google believes that anybody hunting for specific keywords to use in a campaign probably doesn’t have user experience as their main priority—and I have to say, Google is probably correct. Ubersuggest and similar suggestion platforms are valuable for brainstorming, but their entire existence supports the idea that keywords are still relevant for search rankings, which leads to worse content and poorer user experiences.

    Seeing that Autocomplete is a low-key API (there aren’t many practical functions for it outside of keyword suggestions), Google’s decision to pull it from availability is warranted. Still, like many other search marketers, I’m going to missUbersuggest and its competitors.

    Google’s Fine Line Between Open- and Closed-Source Systems

    articleimage1348 Google’s Fine Line Between Open- and Closed-Source

    When it comes to company information, Google is all or nothing. It will fight tooth and nail against having to reveal the inner workings of its primary search algorithm, but it’s more than happy to share all the data about your site with you for free in Google Analytics. Google also offers more than 80 different APIs for various services, and attests to great things being done with many of them—as an example, Google often mentions how engineers use Google Maps data for their own applications.

    So what’s the deal with this? On one hand, it seems like Google is all about making everything publicly available, but on the other hand, it seems like a top-secret corporate machine. But the truth is, there isn’t a real discrepancy here. It’s not about whether Google wants its information to be publicly available or not; it’s about whether or not something will actively improve the average user experience online. If Google believes an API will improve the Internet and user experience as a result (like with its Google Maps API), it will make it available. If it believes an API will only make things worse (like with Autocomplete), it’s gone. Like with SEO in general, everything comes down to user experience.

  3. Is Google Preparing for the First Major Knowledge Graph Update?

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    articleimage1347 Is Google Preparing for the First Major Knowledge Graph

    The Knowledge Graph has been a rising star in the world of online search. For users, it’s helped to streamline and simplify the information retrieval process. For search marketers, it’s taken away some of our potential traffic. By providing users with direct answers, the Knowledge Graph forgoes the need to seek out external websites, reducing the value of a “top ranked” position by instantly usurping the most visible position with instant information.

    Since its inception in 2012, the Knowledge Graph has evolved gradually, drawing in more types of information and presenting more accurate answers for a greater percentage of queries. A user in 2012 might have seen a Knowledge Graph entry 10 percent of the time, but a modern user sees an entry for the majority of his/her queries. Now, it looks like Google is about to push out the first major overhaul to the Knowledge Graph’s functionality, and it could hold valuable clues to Google’s plans for the future of the Knowledge Graph.

    How the Knowledge Graph Works Today

    articleimage1347 How the Knowledge Graph Works Today

    Today, the Knowledge Graph is fairly comprehensive when it comes to people, places, events, and statistics. If you type in any query that can be answered with a couple of sentences, chances are Google will find those two sentences you need and present it to you immediately. Even general queries, like the name of a film, can generate a box of information related to common questions about that subject. Typically, these boxes reside at the top of the SERPs.

    The Knowledge Graph works by drawing in information from various sources around the web that use a Schema-style markup to make that information easily “digestible” for Google’s algorithms. Google checks this information against other sources on the web to ensure its accuracy, then stores that information for any queries that can be answered with it.

    Knowledge Graph entries also allow users to submit feedback to the application, rating an answer and submitting any corrections they may have. This helps the artificial intelligence system “learn” which answers are correct and which are incorrect, so it can more rigorously test answers in the future. Though some users have experienced embarrassingly wrong answers to common queries, personally I’ve had little trouble with the accuracy of information I’ve encountered, and the majority of Google users would agree.

    A Test of New Functionality?

    articleimage1347 A Test of New Functionality

    Some users have reported seeing a new feature of the Knowledge Graph, which might indicate the near-future deployment of a radical new update. One user recently searched using the question “does Iceland have a military.” As you might suspect, compliant with typical Knowledge Graph formatting, a small box appeared at the top of the results with a one-sentence description about Iceland’s current military standing, derived from Wikipedia. However, a few results down the list, the user encountered another box related to the Knowledge Graph entitled “People also ask,” with an accompanying drop-down menu of different choices, including “What country does not have an army?”

    There haven’t been any formal announcements about this feature, nor has Google acknowledged any upcoming update. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that Google likes testing new updates and features in small scales before rolling them out in full. It’s highly likely that this question recommendation dropdown menu is just Google’s test of a new Knowledge Graph update, which it intends to deploy in full within the next few months.

    On the surface, this update may not seem like much. If anything, it looks like a combination of the Knowledge Graph’s typical results and Google’s long-established Autocomplete suggested results feature. Still, it represents Google’s commitment to making the Knowledge Graph as robust and as useful as possible.

    What This Means for the Future of the Knowledge Graph

    articleimage1347 What This Means for the Future of the Knowledge Graph

    What we’re seeing now are the early stages of the Knowledge Graph’s evolution from a nifty side feature of a search engine to a standalone feature. At the risk of overanalyzing the situation, there are three main features of this new functionality:

    • The provision of better information to users. Users who are curious about a general field, or those who have asked a “wrong” question now have a chance to find out what other people have searched for and found under similar pretenses.
    • The expansion of Knowledge Graph AI. The Knowledge Graph has always analyzed the purpose for specific user queries, but now it seems to be expanding from understanding what a user “is” searching for to what a user “might be” searching for.
    • The absorption of more SERP real estate. Last but not least, adding this information increases the amount of space and importance the Knowledge Graph takes up on SERPs, correspondingly reducing the amount of space available for external websites.

    Ultimately, this potential new update would advance the Knowledge Graph’s purpose: supplying users with new information, and (at the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist) reducing the necessity of external websites. Over time, we will likely see the line between Google Search and the Knowledge Graph start to blur, until what we know as “Google Search” is just a glorified encyclopedic entry—albeit from the greatest encyclopedia ever created. When that day comes, all forms of SEO will vanish. All your site can hope to be is the source of information for this aggregator.

    Still, I don’t think Google is ready to take over the world just yet, no matter how much it might like to. We’ll have to keep watching for Knowledge Graph developments over the next decade to find out what Google really has in mind for the future of the Internet. No matter how it turns out, it’s bound to be exciting, frightening, and disruptive all at once.

  4. A Beginner’s Tour of Google Analytics

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    By now, you’re probably aware that Google Analytics is the most robust, user friendly, accessible website traffic analysis tool available on the web—and it’s completely free to use. If you didn’t know that until just now, you’ve at least heard of Google Analytics and you understand why it exists. That’s no coincidence. Analytics has earned its reputation as well as its popularity.

    Unfortunately, the descriptor of it being “user friendly” isn’t entirely accurate. To the seasoned Analytics user, it’s a platform that’s easy to navigate and interpret, but there are two main situations that prohibit its effective use:

    • Tech novices (sometimes called tech illiterates) may struggle to learn how the system works.
    • Tech pros (who know how the system works) may find themselves overwhelmed with information, unsure of what to use or how to use it.

    This guide aims to make sense of Google Analytics from a beginner’s perspective.

    First Things First

    Before you can do anything, you have to set up an account. To do so, you can use an existing Gmail account or set up an entirely new one. Either way, head over to Google Analytics itself, and complete the remaining steps of the Analytics portion of the account activation. I promise, this part is easy.

    Next, you’ll need to use an Analytics tracking code to ensure that Google can “see” the traffic on your site. Head to “Admin” and on the left-hand side, select the drop-down menu and select “Create new account.” This will prompt you for a few fields of information, such as the name of your site, the URL, and your time zone.

    2

    Once complete, you can click “Get tracking ID,” and you’ll be presented with a short snippet of code you’ll need to paste on every page of your website. If you have an SEO plugin, this should be easy. If not, you may need to request assistance from your web developers.

    The Basics of Reporting

    The “Reporting” tab is where you’ll spend most of your time. You can get here from the home screen, by clicking on your website (if you have multiple websites to track, you’ll have to click on one at a time).

    On the left-hand side, you’ll see a collapsed menu of different items, which we’ll be exploring one by one. Consider this your home base:

    Untitled

    Dashboards

    articleimage1277 Dashboards

    If you’re just getting started, you can ignore “dashboards” altogether. With this section, you can create customized interfaces to display only the most relevant data for your particular site, or multiple dashboards for multiple respective purposes.

    Shortcuts

    articleimage1277 Shortcuts

    Shortcuts, similar to dashboards, exist to make your life easier as you use Analytics more regularly. For now, ignore this section, but remember it’s here when you start making the same types of reports over and over again.

    Intelligence Events

    articleimage1277 Intelligence Events

    This section exists to alert you of various happenings on your website, broken down into daily, weekly, and monthly events. For example, you might receive an alert that your “pageviews” increased by 100 percent over the course of a week. You can also set up custom alerts for specific events on your site.

    Real-Time

    Real-Time offers, as you might imagine, a real-time snapshot of who is visiting your website. Among other data, you’ll see where they’re browsing, what pages they’re visiting, and whether or not they’re converting.

    Audience

    The Audience section is one of the most useful in the platform. Here, you’ll be able to see exactly what type of users visit your website. You’ll be able to analyze them based on demographics like age and gender, their geographic location, and even the types of devices they’ve used to access your site. By studying this information, you’ll get a better idea of who is using your site, as well as whether or not they were satisfied with the experience (by segmenting portions of your audience and viewing metrics like bounce rates).

    Acquisition

    The Acquisition section is the most important one for inbound marketers. Here, you’ll be able to see a breakdown of all your main sources of traffic, and how those sources compare against each other and evolve over time. Generally, you’ll want to pay attention to the big four sources: direct visits (which involve typing in your URL directly), organic visits (which are increased as you increase in search rank and visibility), social visits (which measure people visiting your site from a social media platform), and referral visits (which involve people clicking external links to get to your site). You’ll also be able to view detailed visit information based on these individual sources, such as average session duration and pages per session.

    Behavior

    Your Behavior report is most useful for analyzing the effectiveness of your website overall. Here, you’ll be able to analyze your total pageviews, determining where your traffic usually lands, and what actions they take from there. The Behavior Flow chart, available in the submenu, is a great way to visualize the average path a user takes through your site. With this report, you’ll be able to determine which areas of your site are most and least effective.

    Conversions

    Last but not least, you’ll be able to measure the conversions you get onsite. Obviously, the more conversions you can get, the better—so if you notice this number growing, you know you’re doing something right. Before you can dig deep into the metrics, however, you’ll have to set up some initial Goals. You can do this by selecting Admin, and then selecting Goals on the right-hand side. It’s a relatively straightforward process.

    More Advanced Features

    You aren’t limited only to what we covered in this guide, of course. There are many other features, customizations, and tricks to learn as you become more adept at using Google Analytics. This is just an introductory guide, to help you get started and make sense of your data. If you’re interested in more in-depth information, Google offers a fairly robust training guide. Of course, you can always contact us for more tips and training.

  5. Are Google Penalties Still a Threat for Websites?

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    articleimage1227 Are Google Penalties Still a Threat for Websites

    Webmasters have learned to fear the power that Google wields. Being the undisputed reigning king of the search engine world, Google is a traffic gatekeeper, and getting blacklisted by the universal tech juggernaut is a surefire way to ensure that your website is never seen again. To make matters worse, historically, Google has taken to making sudden, major changes to its algorithm with no advance notice and minimal opportunities to recover.

    Rather than optimizing for user experience or trying to improve the overall quality of their sites, many webmasters have reacted to this unpredictable give and take, focusing solely on avoiding unexpected penalties and flinching whenever there’s a shakeup in Google’s ranks. Without question, Google penalties have been both controversial and understandably feared, but we’re starting to enter a new era of SEO—and it’s one where Google penalties are a far less significant concern.

    Defining a “Google Penalty”

    articleimage1227 Defining a Google Penalty

    First, it’s important to address a misconception in the search community, and it has to do with the real definition of a Google penalty. When most people describe a Google penalty, they’re referring to a sudden drop in domain authority or search ranks, usually both, and usually in response to a recent Google algorithm update or data refresh. These aren’t technically “Google penalties.” They’re simply the result of new evaluation criteria from Google or new evaluation factors from your site that re-determine your site to rank lower than it did previously. It’s all automated, and it happens to all of us regularly. Only with major updates are these seen in high frequency among webmasters.

    “Real” Google penalties are the result of a serious infraction to Google’s terms of service, or some other destructive quality that Google deems significant enough to penalize. If this is the case, your domain can actually be blacklisted—but don’t worry. This is extremely rare, and only happens to webmasters engaging in nefarious or egregious activities. Even in those cases, Google will give you a written explanation for the penalty and will give you an opportunity to redeem yourself.

    If you’re confused about whether you’ve been actually penalized by Google or if you’ve just seen some volatility due to miscellaneous updates, check your inbox in Google Webmaster Tools—if Google hasn’t personally notified you about the change, you haven’t actually been penalized.

    Even so, search fluctuations can be scary and have been a major concern of webmasters for over a decade. For the purposes of this article, I’ll be using the colloquial term “penalty” to refer to any such drop in search rank.

    The Evolving Nature of Google Updates

    articleimage1227 The Evolving Nature of Google Updates

    The most significant change in the world of SEO in the past few years has been the way Google rolls out its updates. Because its updates have been the motivating force behind most search ranking drops, these update tweaks are having a substantial impact on how penalties are taken by webmasters.

    An Established Foundation

    When Panda, arguably the most significant Google algorithm update in history, rolled onto the scene, Google’s search algorithm wasn’t great. It relied on keyword-based inputs and couldn’t factor in content quality as a reliable search metric. Today, with semantic search capabilities, Panda and Penguin quality control updates, and the local Pigeon algorithm in full swing, Google has a reliable and stable foundation for its search functionality. Quality standards for websites have been clearly established, and now, smaller-scale tweaks are all that’s needed to maintain and improve the quality of this process. In short, Google doesn’t need major updates anymore. For the most part, it’s only implementing smaller changes or building on the foundation it already has.

    Warnings and Transparency

    While most of Google’s trade secrets remain in confidential lockdown, Google is getting better about revealing its intentions and warning webmasters about changes to come. For example, with the so-called “Mobilegeddon” update, Google let webmasters know almost two months in advance that the update was coming, and exactly what they could expect from the rollout. In fact, the rollout was even tamer than they suggested it would be. It’s reasonable to expect this level of advisory in the future, especially for bigger updates.

    Third-Party Signals

    Over the last several years, Google has begun incorporating more third-party information into evaluating the domain authority of different brands. For example, the appearance of your company information in local directories and your quality scores on local review sites can have a massive impact on how your site ranks, regardless of how you optimize onsite. Because of this, more SEO factors than ever are out of your control—as long as you do good business, you’ll end up ranking.

    Gradual Changes

    It’s also important to realize that Google is implementing its updates in a new way. Rather than releasing a new algorithm all at once, Google is chunking its updates and rolling them out gradually over the course of several days. Because of this, search rankings have become far less volatile, and most of Google’s algorithm updates have sneaked by unnoticed by the majority of webmasters. The days of jarring, sudden ranking drops are virtually over.

    The Bottom Line

    As a result of Google’s new updating processes and a more evolved world of online marketing, the days of sudden, harsh drops in search ranks are practically over. Unless you commit an egregious act and earn yourself a “real,” manual Google penalty, you have no more reason to be concerned about getting blindsided and losing your virtual territory. All of Google’s updates are more transparent, less significant in scope, and more gradual, so even if an update manages to shake your rank, you’ll have ample time to recognize it and take preemptive action.

  6. “Near Me” Searches Are the Beginning of a New Way to Search

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    articleimage1215 Searches Are the Beginning of a New Way

    “Near me” is an innocuous little phrase that millions of searchers have been tacking on to the end of their search queries with greater frequency. Sometimes they do it at the behest of Google’s predictive search, clicking on the “near me” version of their query when prompted, but many users are finding it useful to pursue these types of searches on their own. You, too, have probably relied on a “near me” search at least once—whether it was to find a nearby hair salon or a donut shop in your area.

    Of course, “near me” is just the most popular of location-specific add-ons; there’s also “nearby,” “closest,” and similar phrases. Collectively, these location-specific query variants are more than 34 times as popular in 2015 than they were in 2011, with a twofold increase between last year and today. With such an objective spike in popular usage, there’s no denying that Google is onto something big.

    Explaining the Surge

    articleimage1215 Explaining the Surge

    Search trends are volatile and unpredictable, making it hard to identify clear patterns, but with a 34-fold increase in search prevalence, the trend here is obvious. Explaining why it’s happening is a bit more complicated, but there are a handful of powerful motivators.

    First, Google’s search capabilities are constantly evolving. As search marketers, we flinch whenever we hear the term “algorithm update,” but the fact that Google is so committed to improving its core algorithm is astounding. Google can now use artificial intelligence programs to identify semantic clues in search queries to give more relevant results, identify patterns in spoken human language, and perhaps most importantly, use geographic cues to generate location-specific results. As these proximity-based search results become simultaneously more advanced and more popularly recognized, it only makes sense that people would seek them out more often.

    Second, mobile devices have grown to become less of a fancy tech gadget and more of a requirement for daily life. Almost every adult in the United States has a smartphone, and they put them to good use. Logically, proximity-based searches happen more often on mobile devices than desktop devices; you’re more likely to have impulsive desires or the need for immediate information when you’re on-the-go. The fact that more people are carrying around mobile devices means the number of potential proximity-based searchers has increased correspondingly.

    Third, the way we use the Internet is changing. There was a time, not long ago, when Internet access required a certain location—either hardwired into a landline or connected to a then-rare local WiFi network. Now, there’s rarely a time when we don’t have Internet access, no matter where we are. We’ve accepted it as an integrated part of our reality, and as a result, we’re using it less for thought-out, premeditated research and more for instantaneous points of reference. These nearby searches have become a necessity to comply with this on-demand lifestyle.

    Searching in New Dimensions

    articleimage1215 Searching in New Dimensions

    Because the Internet has become embedded in the real world, the dimensions necessary for consideration in SEO are also becoming more embedded in reality. To illustrate my point, consider the factors responsible for generating search results for a given query in the dawn of search engine prominence; all you had to do was have enough of the right keywords on your page. As Google’s sophistication evolved, you soon had to prove yourself by establishing a network with other online authorities, develop authority for yourself, and use well-written, natural language to prove you were a valuable resource. Then, social media ranking signals came along and your social presence began to influence your rank as well.

    Now, your physical location is beginning to have an impact on how you appear. Local searches were always around, but now, “near me” searches demand even more precise proximity-based functionality. If you aren’t in a place where people are searching for your type of business, you’ll get less online visibility, and less traffic as a result. Similarly, Google may factor in the immediacy of your service offerings; on-the-go searches are the product of immediate needs, so if you’re closed when a search query seeks you out, you may not even show up.

    What It Means for the Future of Search

    articleimage1215 What It Means for the Future of Search

    Search will continue to evolve to serve the needs of modern consumers. “Near me” searches are the product of two major trends, which will likely continue indefinitely. First, consumers will use the Internet even more intuitively, more quickly, and with a demand for even more immediate information. Second, the lines between the digital and real worlds will continue to blur. Wearable devices, like smart watches, are advancing these trends with hardware, while personal digital assistants, like Siri, are advancing these trends with software and algorithms.

    If you want to retain or improve your online visibility as a business, you’ll have to prepare for this, no matter how difficult that sounds. You’ll have to optimize your web presence to serve all mediums, and ensure all your information—including your services, location, and hours of operation—are evident on a number of third-party sources. And as Google searches and mobile devices continue to evolve toward digital interfaces integrated with reality, you’ll need to be on the forefront of those trends if you want to keep your customers happy. It’s an exciting world of tech we’re entering, and if you play your hand right, you’ll reap the benefits.

  7. Could Google Be Planning to Eliminate the Need for Websites?

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    articleimage1213 Could Google Be Planning to Eliminate the Need for

    As consumers, we’ve taken websites for granted. From the time the Internet was established, websites were the tangible anchor points we needed in order to be able to navigate it effectively. Google, which promised the ability to better navigate these websites, was a website in itself, and everything we did online could be contextualized with some site-like web structure.

    Today, websites aren’t the only way we experience online interactions or retrieve information. Individual apps, or programs, can function independently and retrieve information online only as needed; for example, your Twitter app doesn’t function as a website, instead relying only on retrieved information to serve its own purposes.

    Still, practically every company in the country has its own website, and we continue to rely on them as a staple of our online experience. It seems strange to think that one day, websites will become obsolete, but that day may come sooner than you think—and Google’s the one pushing for it to happen.

    The Google Knowledge Graph

    articleimage1213 he Google Knowledge Graph

    Take a look at the Google Knowledge Graph, a complex system of processes that extract meaningful information from the web and consolidate it to answer common user queries. This information appears prominently on the right-hand side of the SERPs or above typical search results, drawing attention away from the traditional website links. For example, if you perform a search for a recent movie, you might see a list of information on that movie (including the director, the release year, the runtime, and starring actors) listed above any websites related to that movie, forgoing the need to actually click on any of them.

    Theoretically, this function is designed to improve online user experience. Users who want faster answers completely save a step—they no longer have to look through websites to find the answers they need. The side effect, of course, is that if the Knowledge Graph becomes sophisticated enough to offer answers up for any possible query, there will no longer be a need for websites. Users can rely on Google’s vast knowledge vault to answer all their questions.

    Third-Party Information Reliance

    articleimage1213 Third-Party Information Reliance

    It’s also worth considering that Google doesn’t exclusively rely on websites to rank websites; for example, imagine a taco bar that’s trying to rank for taco-related queries. It’s important that its onsite content allows Google to interpret it as a taco bar, but that’s neither difficult nor especially complicated. With today’s search algorithm, it’s more important to ensure that the taco bar’s information is available, accurate, and consistent on third-party sources. Google relies on a number of moving parts, not just websites, to derive information for given businesses and brands, meaning one day, your website might not be necessary.

    Google Shopping is furthering this trend even more. For a fee, online retailers can list their products with Google Shopping, a carousel of advertised products pertaining to a given search query. If clicked, Google can take care of the checkout process on its own and then forward the order summary to the business directly. Even e-Commerce platforms may become obsolete.

    Integrated App Functionality

    articleimage1213 Integrated App Functionality

    Google is also on the prowl for new apps that can enhance online user experience in any way, partnering with them for a mutual benefit. For example, recently, Google introduced functionality from both Uber and OpenTable in its Google Maps app. If planning a route to a destination, users can use Uber to estimate a fare, or use OpenTable to book a restaurant reservation within the app. Even in Google’s core search, embedded app functionality is starting to become the norm; Google recently solidified a deal to make live tweets available within SERPs.

    There’s an app for almost any function you need, and with so many of those apps joining together, the need for websites is reduced. There’s no need to go to uber.com, or opentable.com, or twitter.com, when you can use those individual apps or a secondary app that relies on them.

    App Indexing and Favoritism

    articleimage1213 App Indexing and Favoritism

    Google’s favoritism toward apps doesn’t end with those limited integrations. In fact, the search engine is actually indexing apps the same way it indexes websites today. App recommendations are starting to become more popular for mobile searches, and it might not be long before a list of available apps starts to replace the old-style list of available websites.

    What Would a Future Without Websites Look Like?

    Under this model, apps would replace the need for websites and Google would fill in the holes with indexed information in its Knowledge Graph. Search engine optimization (SEO) would theoretically die at that point, though online visibility optimization would simply evolve into a new form. A strong social media presence would still be important, as would an accurate presence in other third-party local apps. Some businesses would be able to create their own apps for more visibility and brand presence, though not every business would require this. Instead, visibility strategy would most often stem from figuring out where most people get their information and getting your information listed there.

    There aren’t many short-term measures you can take today to prepare for this eventuality. It pays to be listed on third-party apps, especially local directories like Yelp, but hopefully you’re already using that strategy. If your business can produce a useful app, that’s another valuable step to take. From there, it’s a matter of making gradual transitions as Google does the same.

  8. When Will the Next Major Google Update Roll Out?

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    articleimage1200 When Will the Next Major Google Update Roll Out

    Google has a long history of taking search marketers and business owners by surprise. It all started with the Panda Update, which rolled out in 2011 and completely overhauled the Google ranking algorithm that so many had taken for granted. The shakeup caused significant volatility in ranks, and forced practically every search marketer in the world to update their strategy to accommodate the update. Panda was followed in 2012 by Penguin, and in 2013 by Hummingbird, each adding to the list of algorithm changes that have shaken up the search marketing world.

    In 2015, we have yet to see such a major update. There was the 2014 “Pigeon” update, but that wasn’t even officially named by Google. It didn’t even overhaul the central ranking algorithm; all it did was add some new functionality to local searches. Early in 2015, there were rumors of an impending “Mobilepocalypse,” a mobile-related update that would purportedly change the search world much in the same way as Panda. Yet it didn’t have much of an effect on existing ranks.

    If we’re counting from Google Hummingbird, it’s been more than two years since the last major overhaul of Google’s ranking algorithm. The gap has many search marketers wondering, when is Google planning to roll out the next major algorithm change?

    Major Panda and Penguin Pushes

    articleimage1200 Major Panda and Penguin Pushes

    Panda and Penguin made waves when they were first released, but their initial impact was only the tip of the iceberg for their overall effects. In fact, each update saw multiple subsequent iterations in the years following their first rollout. For example, Panda 1.0 first rolled out in February of 2011, but Panda 2.0 was right behind it in April of the same year. A handful of small updates followed before Panda 3.0, and then regular data refreshes followed in small, recognizable chunks. None of these subsequent iterations had quite the impact of the original, but each of them caused a significant ranking shakeup.

    Similarly, Penguin saw a handful of data refreshes in the months following its initial release until Penguin 2.0 rolled out in 2013. Another update, which is unofficially referred to as Penguin 3.0, came out in 2014, but it didn’t have much of an impact.

    For a while, search marketers were watching ranks like a hawk, waiting for that latest Panda iteration to come out and shake up the system for better or for worse. But things seem to have mellowed out in the past few years. On the surface, it would appear as though Google is not making any adjustments at all to their landmark Panda and Penguin updates—but in actuality, the types of updates it’s making are smaller, more iterative, and far less noticeable.

    Rather than fundamentally changing their ranking algorithm in some massive package, Google is making tiny tweaks and refreshes to its existing database. While the search engine hasn’t formally disclosed its motivations for doing so, it seems as though Google is making efforts to avoid shaking up the ranking community as much as it has in the past. Either that or they’re so pleased with their algorithm today that it no longer requires such massive overhauls.

    Pigeon and Mobilegeddon

    articleimage1200 Pigeon and Mobilegeddon

    The closest things we’ve had to major algorithm overhauls are two updates not even significant enough to earn an official name from Google—they’ve been called Pigeon and Mobilegeddon only by members of the search marketing community.

    Pigeon caught a lot of attention for being a massive change to the way Google calculates local rank. While it did introduce some new concepts, like pulling information from third-party review sites like Yelp, overall, rankings didn’t change much. The new system of ranking wasn’t so drastically different from the old system that it caused a Panda-level shakeup. It was more a way of fine-tuning a few peripheral ranking signals.

    Similarly, Mobilegeddon was over-hyped in the days leading up to its release. Some search marketers predicted it would be bigger than Panda because it would vastly segregated mobile-optimized sites from non-optimized sites. But Google was already favoring mobile-optimized sites in search ranks—the new update was just a way of improving their system of identification.

    The bottom line is that these updates, while significant, are nothing compared to the revolutionaries that were Panda and Penguin.

    Tweaks and Iterations

    articleimage1200 Tweaks and iteration

    All signs point toward a new era of Google updates. Rather than piecing together a core algorithm with massive pushes and major rollouts, Google is taking the fantastic algorithm it already has and is making gradual, iterative improvements to it. The fundamentals of SEO, which are now based around writing great content and building authority naturally, are highly unlikely to change with any new Google update, so it’s highly unlikely that any new update will ever have the same degree of impact that Panda did. Google’s data refreshes and minor adjustments might move your site a rank or two on an occasional basis, but the days of disruptive updates may very well be over.

    So let’s return to the question that brought us here: when will the next major Google update roll out? Chances are, there isn’t going to be one. It’s on you to stay up-to-date with the gradual new features and ranking signals Google introduces, but for the most part, as long as you’re paying attention to the fundamentals of great user experience, you won’t ever have to worry about another devastating update.

  9. Applebot, Siri, and Apple Map Changes: Is Apple Challenging Google?

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    articleimage1176 Applebot, Siri, and Apple Map Changes

    Apple and Google have been rivals for years, even though until recently, they haven’t had much reason to compete with each other. Google was all about its search engine and relate online products, while Apple was more focused on its devices. When Google got into the device game and started expanding its empire into physical territory, Apple forged a similar expansion into the world of software products and services.

    Nevertheless, until recently, the two tech giants have more or less respected each other’s territory. Rather than directly confronting Google the way it did Microsoft (with those Mac vs. PC ads), Apple has remained focused on interior development. Now, the release of a handful of new products and revisions to older systems suggests that Apple might be readying a direct attack on Google—or at least preparing some direct competition.

    Apple Maps Updates

    articleimage1176  Apple Maps Updates

    Apple Maps has always played second-fiddle to Google Maps, which has been the dominant force in search-based directions and navigation. However, beginning in 2014, Apple has invested heavily in its Maps features. Back when it was originally launched with iOS 6, Apple made the still-controversial decision to remain independent with its own maps data rather than drawing from Google’s wealth of information. Now, the company is constantly revising the information available to the Apple Maps app and refining how the program operates. Users have noticed a significant upgrade since the feature was originally launched, and it shows that Apple isn’t willing to back down just because Google has a small head start on them.

    Siri and Personal Assistant Searches

    articleimage1176 Siri and Personal Assistant Searches

    In terms of personal assistants, Apple had the advantage over Google. The company launched Siri back in 2012, and it changed the way we see interactive digital interfaces. Google Now followed shortly after that same year, but for a good long while, Siri was the main competitor.

    Google Now evolved quickly and iteratively over the years, adding more features, refining its voice recognition, and improving its capabilities. Google Now was able to navigate the Internet as well as device-based content with ease, and eventually it overtook Siri as the generally favored personal digital assistant option.

    Again, Apple refused to give up, and has been making its own adjustments to Siri along the way. Today’s Siri is highly capable, with an ever-increasing wealth of features, highly accurate voice recognition, and smoother interfaces.

    Applebot

    articleimage1176 Applebot

    Perhaps the most telling Apple development in recent years has been the revelation of “Applebot,” a web crawler presumably designed to compete with Google’s own universally recognized web crawler. Starting last November, some webmasters noticed an Apple-based search bot roaming their pages, but it wasn’t until recently that Apple confirmed its existence.

    When a user searches for online content using Siri, up until recently, it’s been assumed that it naturally draws upon a third party source. For example, a user feeds a query to Siri, Siri realizes it requires a web search, and Siri relays that query to Google, Bing, or another major search engine. However, this no longer may be the case. With Applebot crawling the web for information, Siri can rely on its own Apple-born brethren to generate and calculate results.

    Currently, Applebot is flawed. It’s a relatively new function, so it’s naturally going to run into some hiccups. In the meantime, Apple is plugging the holes by relying on Google web crawler information as backup. Still, once Applebot is fully functional and running smoothly, it will be entirely within Apple’s range of capabilities to design its own ranking algorithm and break apart from Google as an alternative major search engine.

    What Apple’s Play Could Mean for SEO and Online Visibility

    articleimage1176 what apple’s Play Could Mean for SEO and Online Visi

    For the next few years, not much will change in the world of SEO and online marketing. From what we can tell, Applebot isn’t shaking up everything we’re used to from an analysis or rank calculation perspective. Instead, it’s relying on many of the same factors that Google is using, including domain history, content quality, and offsite relationships. That means even if Applebot and some new Apple search engine starts being used, it won’t have much bearing on your rank or SEO strategy—you can use the same tactics and get ranked for both.

    Rising Competition for Google

    Bing has long been a competitor of Google, but hasn’t seen much traffic volume. This, however, has increased in recent years. The addition of Apple as a major competitor could throw a wrench in Google’s current web dominance. Add in the fact that Europe is currently investigating Google for antitrust violations and is doing everything it can to either break up the company or publish its proprietary search algorithm, and the future doesn’t look bright for Google. Of course, it will likely remain as a major online and tech force for decades or more, but its practical monopoly could come to an end sooner than you might think.

    If Apple breaks onto the scene and is successful, there’s nothing to stop it from trying to become the new Google in even more ways. Assuming Apple’s popularity in that realm will mirror its popularity for mobile devices, the future could very well hold two tech giants on equal footing, both vying to outdo the other. The consequences are limitless—different search rank calculations, different online visibility strategies, different user targeting, etc.—but until Applebot breaks fully onto the scene, it’s best to keep those possibilities as speculative, in the back of your mind.

  10. How Google Could Become One Massive Shopping Cart

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    Google has undergone dozens of significant evolutionary phases over the years, without ever really abandoning its original, simplistic model: giving users an easy, simplified means of finding the content they want on the Internet. Gradually, it’s added new services to make life more convenient for its users as well as paid options for businesses to get more visibility and more customers. Thus far, it’s been a mutually beneficial system, with happy users, happy business, and a reliable search engine format that millions of businesses have leveraged through SEO.

    For better or for worse, that system is about to change. Google could become what is essentially one giant shopping cart, and it could either revolutionize the way we make transactions online, or it could create a monopoly that forces thousands of small businesses to give up on competing online.

    The Growth of Google Ads

    articleimages1160 The Growth of Google Ads

    To track Google’s trajectory, we first have to look at the origins of Google advertisements. AdWords, one of the most popular digital advertising platforms around, started as a simple way for Google to monetize its universally popular product. By competing with each other for ad space on Google’s otherwise traditional search engine results pages (SERPs), companies help establish fair prices for that level of visibility and users, in turn, have a handful of sponsored options mixed in with their otherwise traditional results. The system has worked well for more than a decade, but Google has since pushed for more business options.

    Modern Google Shopping

    articleimages1160 Modern Google Shopping

    Google shopping is a way for searchers to quickly compare products between popular online shopping outlets. At first, Google Shopping operated through AdWords directly, but ever since 2012, it’s been an independent product. Near the end of 2012, Google forced merchants to start paying Google for the privilege of having their products listed—a switch that many were reluctant to make. Until now, these ads have served as a source of referral traffic for participating businesses, but this model could be about to change.

    The Incoming Buy Button

    articleimages1160 The Incoming Buy Button

    According to the Wall Street Journal, Google plans on revealing a new “buy” button for its Google Shopping ads when viewed on mobile devices. Upon clicking such an ad, a user would be taken to a customized Google landing page that will walk them through the full transaction. It essentially cuts out the middle step of visiting the participating business, which is a bigger deal than it might seem.

    This isn’t an entirely new feature. Already, Google has offered integrated services like appointment booking and food ordering within the walls of its own Search and Maps services. The buy button in Google Shopping could just be another step in the direction of Google controlling these transactions from beginning to end.

    The Possibility of Paywalls

    Content hidden behind paywalls has been traditionally ranked lower than free content in Google’s search engines, but this approach might be changing in the near future. Paid music and video content is already showing up conveniently in online searches, and paid written content may be the next logical step. If that happens, users could soon be scrolling through a list of pay-to-read or pay-to-watch services rather than the torrent of free content giveaways that currently exist.

    The Knowledge Graph and In-Engine Service

    It’s also important to note that Google has been making moves toward building a search engine that doesn’t need to direct people elsewhere. The Knowledge Graph, Google’s breakthrough information retrieval system, gives users direct answers to simple questions, forgoing the usual route of browsing through potential answer providers in a list of results. The Knowledge Graph will only grow in breadth and complexity over time, and eventually, it may completely replace the need for users to seek out individual companies or organizations for answers. The goal would be, presumably, to give users everything they need in one Google search results page.

    Google as a One-Stop Shop

    articleimages1160 google as one stop shop

    It’s hard to say what Google’s motivation is, or what their long-term plans are exactly, but it certainly seems that in its ideal world, Google will be the one-stop-shop for all consumer needs, from information and research to service provision and buying options. Anyone looking for information or answers to questions will find those immediately within the Knowledge Graph. Anyone looking for specific content will find it behind a paywall. Anyone looking for a service will find that functionality integrated into one of Google’s products. And now, anyone looking for a specific product will be able to buy it through Google directly.

    In this way, Google would become a comprehensive tool and resource center for users. They would no longer need to browse through or click on individual business pages—everything they need could be found within the overall shell of Google.

    The Search Impact

    articleimages1160 the Search Impact

    To say that this approach would change things is an understatement. Because each business would be allowed to operate as usual, Google cannot be considered as a monopoly of these services—though for all intents and purposes, it would be monopolizing visibility and traffic. With no reason to go to individual pages or individual apps beyond Google, the entire concept of an online brand could change. The most successful businesses wouldn’t be the ones with the best individual web presences, but instead the ones who have done the most to appease Google.

    This is a scary possible future for anyone who’s poured their effort into building a great website or optimizing for search engines over the past decade. However, it does offer some distinctly exciting possibilities. Google has treated businesses fairly in the past, and there’s no reason to think that it won’t make this transition slow, easy, and fair for existing entrepreneurs. Though a full rollout is probably still years away, it will be interesting to see how the all-in-one model develops.

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