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Category Archive: Google

  1. Is Google Planning to Use Structured Data as a Ranking Signal?

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    Structured data is not a new concept. As a blanket term, structured data simply refers to pieces of information that have some level of organization. Sometimes referred to as a “structured markup,” there is a specific way of organizing the information on your site so that Google can pull in the information necessary to correctly index and present your site (and learn about specific topics).

    There are a handful of ways that Google currently uses this information. First, there are “rich snippets,” which are pieces of information that Google includes as part of your entry on SERPs. For example, Google might pull in your meta description field to describe your page to search users or present dates and times for upcoming events based on specific queries. Second, Google can use your structured data to more accurately discern information about your site. For example, it might peruse your structured information to quickly find out what industry you’re in and what you offer your users.

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly to Google, structured data is the basis for the Knowledge Graph. By categorizing information like dates, places, and events, Google can quickly learn facts about any topic and compare those facts to similar entries on the web until it has a sufficient understanding of the topic. At that point, it’s able to compile the information into a presentable format for the end user.

    All of these methods share a common function; Google uses structured data to quickly gather the most important information about your site. Unstructured data is chaotic and hard to interpret, so Google’s algorithm naturally prefers content that is properly structured. But until this point, it’s only served as a “nice to have” quality. If you don’t structure your onsite data, you might miss out on some extra visibility on SERPs, but you won’t suffer any kind of ranking penalty. Now, it looks like Google is planning to use structured data as an actual ranking signal, and that could mean big changes for the SEO community.

    Google’s Plan

    articleimage1475 Google’s Plan

    For years, Google has made it clear that while rich snippets and structured markup can improve the look of your search engine entries, thereby increasing click throughs, there are no ranking benefits to including these structures. However, according to Google’s John Mueller, structured markup is something that Google plans to incorporate into its master ranking algorithm. In his explanation, Mueller acknowledged that pages with structured markup are both easier for the algorithm to identify as serving a specific purpose and are a clear indicator that the webmaster is trying to make the page as useful as possible.

    When Could This Change Go Into Effect?

    articleimage1475 When Could This Change Go Into Effect

    As you might expect, Google is tight-lipped about any details regarding the change, including when it might go into effect. According to Mueller, structured data is something that should be included “in the long run.” This could imply that they’re currently working on something to release in the next few years, or it could imply that they’re a few years away from starting the work. As Google gears up for more and more mobile-friendly features and advanced search methods with digital assistants and social media integration, structured data as a ranking signal may be one of their lower priorities.

    Though purely speculative, I would imagine seeing structured data emerge as a ranking signal sometime next year. Google changes at a rapid pace, and most of their hints and postulations come to fruition in relatively short order.

    How Important Will Structured Data Be to Rankings?

    articleimage1475 How Important Will Structured Data Be to Rankings

    Before you drop everything to make sure your site is full of structured data, realize that the introduction of a new ranking signal doesn’t downplay the importance of pre-existing ones. In fact, structured data will probably be only a bit player—at least according to John Mueller. In his explanation, Mueller elaborated that structured markup is an indication that a site is technically impressive. Technically impressive sites are nice, but what’s really valuable are sites that have great content and serve a great purpose. In short, while the technical execution of your site is important, content and function are still more important to your overall rank.

    Should I Include Structured Data on My Site?

    articleimage1475 Should I Include Structured Data on My Site

    If you haven’t yet included any structured data on your site, now is a good time to do so. You won’t suffer a ranking penalty or a significant drop if Google decides to follow through on making structured data a ranking signal, but even without a direct ranking benefit, this structured data will help you earn more visibility and more click throughs from your searchers. It doesn’t take long to implement, and once created, it doesn’t require much ongoing upkeep. It’s a non-intensive step that could drive more traffic to your site and possibly help you rank higher in the future—why wouldn’t you want to use it?

    Next Steps

    If you want to include structured data on your site but don’t know where to start, is the perfect resource for you. A free and open resource, provides templates and instructions for proper markup of all kinds of information, from basic page information to data on events, organizations, products, and reviews. The more of these you can include on your site, the better. As the years go on, this level of data organization will only become more important—to search engines and users alike.

  2. Is Google Falling Behind the Times?

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    articleimage1461 Is Google Falling Behind the Times

    For years, Google has been the leading innovator in the world of technology and online functionality. Its search engine blew all other search service out of the water when it debuted in the late 1990s, and ever since, it’s been launching new functions, new features, and even new enterprises that have challenged the status quo. Google Maps, Gmail, the Panda update, and Google Chrome are just a few products and features that have changed the way we experience and use the Internet.

    As we turn the corner on a new era of technology, Google is still a major household name and is still coming out with new products. But competing technology companies are starting to get the drop on Google in several key areas, leading me to question—is Google falling behind the times?


    articleimage1461 Google+

    I’ll start with the easy one: Google+. Originally launched in 2011, Google+ was heralded as the “new” Facebook, which presumably many people would flock to upon seeing how much better it was than other social media platforms. Users with Google accounts were forced to sign up for an account, and SEO boosts were given to personal and corporate brands who adopted it as a regular social media platform. There was only one problem: people didn’t like using it.

    Earlier this year, Google finally threw in the towel (so to speak). Google+ still exists—kind of—just not as the be-all end-all social media platform that it was once purported to be. Now, Google rests firmly behind Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and dozens of other social media platforms, a sign that not everything Google touches instantly becomes a success.

    Google Now

    articleimage1461 Google Now

    Google Now is actually pretty cool. If you have an Android device, chances are you’ve already made great use of the digital assistant feature. Its voice recognition is spot-on, and it basically performs a Google search for whatever it is you’re looking for. It’s impressive, but when compared to the other major players in the market—namely, Siri and Microsoft’s new Cortana assistant—it seems to lag a bit behind. Google Now debuted long after Siri had already made a name for itself, giving it a significant disadvantage when it comes to brand awareness, and now Cortana and other digital assistants are paving new ground in the industry. Google Now is certainly impressive, but it’s being beaten out by other, more established companies and algorithms.


    articleimage1461 Android

    Devices with the Android operating system have similarly failed to pull ahead in the long race for tech dominance. Despite years of competition and constant upgrading on both sides, there’s still a significant debate between supporters of Google’s Android iOS and Apple’s iOS. According to some relatively unbiased reports, there really isn’t a clear winner when it comes to raw functionality, but sales are still leaning toward Apple as the leader. Google can’t quite make the innovative breakthroughs necessary to turn the world on to Android devices.

    Video Advertisements

    articleimage1461 Video Advertisements

    One of Google’s biggest achievements in the online world was creating an advertising system that nearly any business could use to get more attention for their online brands—Google AdWords (and PPC advertising in general). Over the years, Google has made innumerable tweaks and additions to AdWords to make it easier and more effective for marketers, but recently, its ad platform has taken a backseat to some other competitors.

    Bing, Yahoo, and Facebook have been supporting video ads in their PPC campaigns for months to years now. As users have not only accepted but demanded videos as a form of advertisement, they jumped immediately and started embedding them into their results. Google, on the other hand, has resisted such a move until recently. It’s coming out with video ads to match, but it’s very late to the party. Plus, Facebook, Bing, and Yahoo ads are generally less expensive these days, and fewer business owners are relying on the search giant for their paid inbound traffic.

    Regulatory Nightmares

    Possibly in connection with the lack of recent innovations and tech leadership, Google has been facing tremendous regulatory problems, particularly overseas. The European Union is reviewing the company for antitrust law violations, and many independent European countries have targeted the company for fines regarding privacy violations or monopolizing the industry. For the most part, Google has headed off these complaints by refusing to compromise its vision and making concessions where possible without interfering, but the pressure may soon become too much for Google to handle. Google has a huge name and an even bigger reputation, but big companies can only hold onto their empires for so long, and this added pressure certainly doesn’t make it easier for Google to stay on top.

    On the surface, it appears that Google is falling behind its competitors in a number of different areas, but you have to remember, Google isn’t always the first on the scene. It wasn’t the first search engine to start crawling the web; it was just the search engine that functioned best. It didn’t offer the first email service; it just offered the one that functioned best. Similarly, even though Google is a beat behind some of its competitors in these key areas, its products remain top of the line. The competition may drive them to create even bolder, better products—even if those products are a little late to the market. In any case, it will be interesting to see how Google and the general market start to develop.

  3. 3 Ways Search Engines Are Becoming Less Important

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    Search engines used to be the golden gateways of the online world. Nobody could find anything on the web without previous knowledge of a domain or access to a search engine. Traditional advertising could help you get the name of your business and the URL of your site in the eyes of the public, but the only way to get traffic from web visitors who hadn’t heard of you was to get yourself ranked in a major search engine (i.e. Google).

    Now, the availability and diversity of online technology is starting to chip away at the dominance of search engines on online behavior. We still use search engines, obviously, or Google and Bing would have gone under by now, but their influence is starting to wane in response to three important trends and developments.

    Digital Assistants

    articleimage1445 digital assistants

    In a way, digital assistants are just search engines that rely on voice-based queries rather than typed keywords. But they’re growing more complicated, more diverse in functionality, and they’re being used in far different ways.

    Take, for example, Siri and Cortana. Released by Apple and Microsoft, respectively, these assistants take semantic search to new heights by deciphering the intent behind a user query, studying past behaviors, and ultimately personalizing their eventual displayed results. These results may come in the form of offline files, online websites, raw information, or some blend of the three. They’re killing the traditional search engine because they can be accessed from almost any device, without a specific web browser, and they can present all kinds of relevant information with a simple query. Once sold on this voice-activated assistant, the average user is hard-pressed to go back to the type-and-find method.

    Other forms of digital assistants are threatening search engines due to their sheer efficiency; instant answer applications like Google’s Knowledge Graph take a user query and algorithmically find the most relevant information immediately. For example, if you run a Google search for a movie, the Knowledge Graph will instantly generate basic information on that movie such as its debut year, principle actors, and any awards it may have won. With this information, users have less reason to click through to actual websites, limiting the potential traffic a site can generate by ranking high for a given query. In this way, Google is gradually shaping user behavior toward a new kind of search—and a new expectation of results.

    Social Media Ubiquity

    articleimage1445 Social Media Ubiquity

    Facebook has done for social media platforms what Google did for search engines—it’s the undisputed king, and nearly everyone with a reliable Internet connection has a profile they log into at least occasionally. Facebook advertising has grown similar to Google advertising, but Facebook is starting to decrease the need for search engines in general in a handful of key ways.

    First, consider Facebook’s Instant Articles, which allow certain publishers to post full-length versions of their articles for Facebook users to read, without ever posting it to an external site first. This idea came from the fact that more people see certain articles on Facebook than they see them on the original publisher’s site. This isn’t the only functionality that Facebook has added recently, with new aggregated messenger functionality, “buy” buttons for advertisers, and auto-play videos just scratching the surface of what it’s introduced.

    Facebook’s goal here is to present an all-in-one online experience for its users, preventing the need for a search engine to find articles or display content. It’s even planning the release of a digital assistant and search engine of its own, accessible entirely within the app itself. Other social media platforms will likely take notice of Facebook’s shift, adopting new features and add-ons of their own until virtually every social media site becomes an all-in-one online experience unto itself.

    App Functionality

    articleimage1445 App Functionality

    Finally, consider how the average user’s online experience has changed over the course of the past decade. Wireless Internet is available almost everywhere, and mobile devices represent the majority of all online activities. Users are no longer reliant on dedicated devices, wired connections, and web browsers to find the information or functionality they need in any given situation. If they need a ride somewhere, they can use the Uber app. If they want to identify a song, they can use the Shazam app.

    Imagine for a moment that you had an app in your phone for every piece of information or every functionality you could ever need from the Internet. At that point, would you ever return to traditional websites or search engines? Chances are slim. Apps are slowly killing off the “traditional” online experience, including search engines, though there are still opportunities for search to survive in the context of those apps (or in the process of finding them to download).

    Search itself isn’t dying: instead, the way we use search is starting to change. The conventional form of a type-based single entry that generates pages of potential links is starting to disappear in favor of more complex algorithms, more general forms of search that blend online and offline, new types of online experiences, and new platforms that can do everything we need in one location. If you’ve invested the last few years of your life to a killer SEO campaign, you don’t necessarily have a reason to worry—just be on your toes for the changes that come, and be willing to adapt to this new environment.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.


    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:



    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.


    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 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.


    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).


    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.


    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.


    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.

  8. 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.

  9. “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.

  10. 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, or, or, 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.

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-The AudienceBloom Team