Google says it doesn’t use rel=prev/next for pagination

Sometimes you wonder if Google even knows how Google works. Search is getting more complex by the day and there comes a point where it’s anybody’s guess. Yesterday, Google ‘announced’ that its search engine doesn’t use the pagination markup rel=prev/next at all and hasn’t for years. That’s curious because they have been advocating using it until very recently.

So what are we talking about here?

The web standard rel=prev/next was introduced many, many years ago to help determine relations between part of URLs or different pages. In 2011, Google started using those links as a strong hint to discover pages that were related. Almost every site now uses these links to provide these hints. Yoast SEO automatically adds these links for our users. Now, it turns out Googlebot is deemed so ‘smart’ by Google that it doesn’t need help anymore.

Some smart SEOs found the official help docs for how to use this for pagination gone. Yesterday, Google was pressured into giving an official announcement on this. Here’s that announcement:

Nice and easy, right? Although it is unclear what the pagination changes mean for huge e-commerce sites, for instance: good luck trying to cram 10.000 products on a single view-all page.

The old advice

Google’s advice on its now deleted Webmasters Help page gave the following three options to handle paginated content:

Quote:

  • Do nothing. Paginated content is very common, and Google does a good job returning the most relevant results to users, regardless of whether content is divided into multiple pages.
  • Implement a View All page. Searchers commonly prefer to view a whole article or category on a single page. Therefore, if we think this is what the searcher is looking for, we try to show the View All page in search results. You can also add a rel="canonical" link to the component pages to tell Google that the View All version is the version you want to appear in search results.
  • Use rel="next" and rel="prev” links or headers to indicate the relationship between component URLs. This markup provides a strong hint to Google that you would like us to treat these pages as a logical sequence, thus consolidating their linking properties and usually sending searchers to the first page.

Unquote.

That page was available up until early this week and it’s not a good practice to simply delete such a page. It would have made much more sense to update the article or show a notice that something changed. Just deleting it without even redirecting it to something else useful feels off. For now, the original blog post announcing the use of rel=prev/next by Google is still available — with a new notice at the top.

What’s Google saying now?

Google’s current stance is that Googlebot is smart enough to discover the next page by analyzing the links on a page and, therefore, a strong signal like rel=prev/next isn’t necessary anymore.

That, however, doesn’t mean you should go and delete all those rel=prev/next links you’ve worked so hard to implement.

It’s important to remember that this is a web standard and that there are other search engines besides Google. Bing’s Frédéric Dubut already said they’re using rel=prev/next as hints for discovering pages and understanding site structure, but not to group pages or rank them.

Now what?

While we wait for the dust to settle and maybe see if Google details a new way of handling pagination, here are a couple of things you should keep in mind:

So, for the moment keeping everything as it seems like the most sensible option. As this is a W3C standard and not just something Google dreamed up, it’s best to stick to it. It is a good time to take a long hard look at your site structure though!

And what does this mean for Yoast SEO?

Yoast SEO has handled pagination for WordPress sites for ages. As I said, we automatically add everything search engines need to understand how things fit together, like rel=prev/next and a self-referencing canonical.

Not too long ago, we changed the way we handled indexing of paginated content. Initially, we offered the option of noindexing archive pages, but as Google mentioned several times that long-term noindexing eventually leads to them not following those links after some time. This makes adding noindex to page 2 and further of paginated archives a bad idea, as it might lead to your articles no longer getting the internal links they need.

As it stands now, we are talking about how to best go about handling pagination. The need for proper pagination is still there, but it might just turn out that Google has indeed become much smarter at figuring out how everything fits together — and what to show in search or not.

For now, we think that it makes sense to keep everything working the way it does at the moment. Pagination tags can still be useful to other systems — and, if paginated pages are just ‘normal pages’ now, then it makes it even more important not to noindex them.

Stay tuned!

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How does Google understand text?

On Yoast.com, we talk a lot about writing and readability. We consider it a very important part of good SEO. Your text needs to satisfy your users’ needs. This, in turn, will help your rankings. However, we rarely talk about how Google and other search engines read and understand texts. In this post, we’ll explore what we know about how Google analyzes online text.

Are we sure Google understands text?

We know that Google understands text to some degree. Think about it: one of the most important things Google has to do is match what the user types into the search bar to a search result. User signals alone won’t help Google to do this. Moreover, we also know that it is possible to rank for a phrase that you don’t use in your text (although it’s still good practice to identify and use one or more specific keyphrases). So clearly, Google does something to actually read and assess your text in some way or another.

What is the current status?

I’m going to be honest. We don’t really know how Google understands texts. The information simply isn’t freely available. And we also know, judging from the search results, that a lot of work is still to be done. But there are some clues here and there that we can draw conclusions from. We know that Google has taken big steps when it comes to understanding context. We also know that it tries to determine how words and concepts are related to each other. How do we know this? On the one hand, by analyzing some of the patents Google has filed over the years. On the other hand, by considering how actual search results pages have changed.

Word embeddings

One interesting technique Google has filed patents for and worked on is called word embedding. I’ll save the details for another post, but the goal is basically to find out what words are closely related to other words. This is what happens: a computer program is fed a certain amount of text. It then analyzes the words in that text and determines what words tend to occur together. Then, it translates every word into a series of numbers. This allows the words to be represented as a point in space in a diagram, a scatter plot, for example. This diagram shows what words are related in what ways. More accurately, it shows the distance between words, sort of like a galaxy made up of words. So for example, a word like “keywords” would be much closer to “copywriting” in this space than it would be to “kitchen utensils”.

Interestingly, you can do this not only for words, but for phrases, sentences and paragraphs as well. The bigger the data set you feed the program, the better it will be able to categorize and understand words and work out how they’re used and what they mean. And, what do you know, Google has a database of the entire internet. How’s that for a dataset? With a dataset like that, it’s possible to create reliable models that predict and assess the value of text and context.

Related entities

From word embeddings, it’s only a small step to the concept of related entities (see what I did there?). Let’s take a look at the search results to illustrate what related entities are. If you type in “types of pasta”, this is what you’ll see right at the top of the SERP: a heading called “pasta varieties”, with a number of rich cards that include a ton of different types of pasta. These pasta varieties are even subcategorized into “ribbon pasta”, “tubular pasta”, and several other subtypes of pasta. And there are lots and lots of similar SERPs that reflect the way words and concepts are related to each other.

The related entities patent that Google has filed actually mentions the related entities index database. This is a database in which concepts or entities, like pasta, are stored. These entities also have characteristics. Lasagna, for example, is a pasta. It’s also made of dough. And it’s a food. Now, by analyzing the characteristics of entities, they can be grouped and categorized in all kinds of different ways. This allows Google to better understand how words are related, and, therefore, to better understand context.

Practical conclusions

Now, all of this leads us to two very important points:

  1. If Google understands context in some way or another, it’s likely to assess and judge context as well. The better your copy matches Google’s notion of the context, the better its chances. So thin copy with limited scope is going to be at a disadvantage. You’ll need to cover your topics exhaustively. And on a larger scale, covering related concepts and presenting a full body of work on your site will reinforce your authority on the topic you specialize in.
  2. Easier texts which clearly reflect relationships between concepts don’t just benefit your readers, they help Google as well. Difficult, inconsistent and poorly structured writing is more difficult to understand for both humans and machines. You can help the search engine understand your texts by focusing on:
    • Good readability (that is to say, making your text as easy-to-read as possible without compromising your message).
    • Good structure (that is to say, adding clear subheadings and transitions).
    • Good context (that is to say, adding clear explanations that show how what you’re saying relates to what is already known about a topic).

The better you do, the easier your users and Google alike will understand your text and what it tries to achieve. Especially because Google seems to basically be trying to create a model that mimics the way us humans process language and information. And yes, adding your keyphrase to your text still helps Google to match your page to a query.

Google wants to be a reader

In the end, the message is this: Google is trying to be, and becoming, more and more like an actual reader. By writing rich content which is well-structured and easy to read and is clearly embedded into the context of the topic at hand, you’ll improve your chances of doing well in the search results.

Read more: SEO copywriting: the ultimate guide »

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What is Google’s Knowledge Graph?

Google’s Knowledge Graph is hard to find, but its results are not. Take for instance that big block of information that appears on the right-hand side of your desktop screen after entering a search term. This block – also known as the Knowledge Graph Card – contains relevant, context-specific information regarding your search, powered by the Knowledge Graph.

If you search for a specific company, the Knowledge Graph will show an almost complete profile, depending on how well they did their SEO work. Searching for a recently released movie will show posters, reviews and screening times for your local cinema. As you see, the graph is a powerful and fascinating tool. But what can you do to get your information in the Knowledge Graph?

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It’s Google’s way of connecting information

Google’s core business is providing people with a correct answer to all their questions. To do that, it doesn’t just present the result that closest matches a search term, but also by making broader connections between data. Google, therefore, collects and analyzes massive amounts of data on people, places, things and facts and develops ways to present the findings in an accessible way. These are often rich results, like featured snippets, images carrousels or the famous Knowledge Graph Card mentioned in the intro of this text.

The Knowledge Graph and its card

This is where it might get confusing: many people mix up the Knowledge Graph and the panel you see on the right-hand side of your screen. The Knowledge Graph is the engine that powers the panel that’s officially called the Knowledge Graph Card. In this card, you’ll find the most visible result of the work the graph does. When there’s enough data about a subject, the card will be filled with all kinds of relevant facts, images, and related searches.

Check out Target’s card in the screenshot below, and you’ll see how much information it provides.

Anatomy of the Knowledge Graph

When Google released the Knowledge Graph in 2012, they made an excellent introductory video and supporting website. These explain in easy to understand language how exactly the graph works and how it influences the results you get when you search for a specific term. Check out the site and video; they are still as relevant today as they were then:

Examples of search results

In recent years, content presented by the Knowledge Graph has become much more interactive. At first, it featured only static content, like images, social media profiles, and general information about the search. Today, it is continually expanding in possibilities. If you search for a movie, you can directly book tickets to see it at your local cinema. Search for a local store, and you know exactly when the busiest times are. Google likes to experiment with the graph, what it shows and how it’s presented.

Let’s look at some examples of recent listings.

Recipes:

knowledge graph chocolate
Movies:

knowledge graph alien

 Music:

knowledge graph music
Image slider:
knowledge graph slider

These are just a few of the possible variations of information that can be found. What you see might even change depending on where you are in the world.

Getting your content in

To get your content in the Knowledge Graph, you need to become an authority on your subject. Find out what people search for by doing keyword research, write excellent content and make sure your site is fully optimized and mobile-friendly. Use structured data to mark up important elements of your site to make it easier for Google to understand what it is all about. Register your site with Google Search Console and My Business. Keep in mind, structured data in the form of Schema.org is becoming increasingly important.

Yoast SEO and the Knowledge Graph

If you have a business and need help getting your information in the Knowledge Graph, fear no more, because Yoast SEO can help. Just by setting up Yoast SEO – optionally supported by Local SEO – and filling out the information on your site, you automatically enable the data that Google needs to fill the Knowledge Graph. After that, you can use regular SEO tactics and structured data to fill in the missing pieces. Keep in mind though that it’s Google that determines what it adds to its Knowledge Graph.

Conclusion

The Knowledge Graph is an important part of the search experience in Google. It powers many of the innovative new ways data shows up in the search engine. Getting your information in there is of the essence, especially if you have a business. If so, you have to make sure your business details are correct, sign up for Google My Business and add everything you possibly can. Many other parts of the Knowledge Graph are generated from structured data, like reviews, movie information, events, so be sure to mark up your data in any which way you can.

Read more: ‘Structured data: the ultimate guide’ »

SEO basics: What is SEO?

SEO is the acronym for Search Engine Optimization. It’s the practice of optimizing websites to make them reach a high position in Google’s – or another search engine’s – search results. SEO focuses on rankings in the organic (non-paid) search results. In this post, I’ll answer the question “What is SEO?” and I’ll explain how we perform SEO at Yoast.

Google’s algorithm

In order to make web pages appear in high positions in the search results, SEO tries to shape a website according to Google’s algorithm. Although Google’s algorithm remains secret, over a decade of experience in SEO has resulted in a pretty good idea about the important factors.

Read more: ‘What does Google do?’ »

In our view, the factors in Google’s algorithm can be divided into two categories, which determine the ranking of your website together:

1 On-page SEO factors

On-page SEO factors are all the things you can influence on your own website. All kinds of technical aspects of your website are important for the chances of your website to rank in the search engines. WordPress actually is a rather SEO-friendly platform. Combined with our Yoast SEO plugin, most technical challenges are covered.

The structure of your website, your site speed and the content of your site are other important on-page SEO factors. Just browse through the different categories of our SEO blog to find all those important on-page ranking factors.

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2 Off-page SEO factors

Next to on-page SEO factors, there are off-page SEO factors. These off-page SEO factors are a bit more difficult to influence, though. The most important off-page factor are the links to your site. The more (relevant) sites link to your website, the higher your ranking in Google will be.

Keep reading: ‘Link building from a holistic SEO perspective’ »

Another off-page factor is the competition or the niche of your specific website. In some niches, it is much harder to rank, than in other niches. The competitiveness of your market therefore also has a large influence on your chances to rank.

Yoast on “What is SEO?”

At Yoast, we believe in what we call holistic SEO. SEO should never be a trick. It should be a sustainable long-term strategy. Using tricks in order to fit Google’s algorithm only works in the short run. Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Google wants to show their users the best result for a specific keyword. If you want to rank for that keyword, you should simply try to be the best result.

Be the best result!

Being the best result means focusing on technical excellence, great User Experience, flawless website security, and really awesome content. You should focus on all the aspects of website optimization in order to be the best result. That’s what our holistic SEO strategy is all about!

Read on: ‘10 tips for an awesome and SEO-friendly blogpost’ »

Interview with Maile Ohye (Google)

According to Maile Ohye of Google, “SEO is evolving into what Loren George McKechnie described as ‘search experience optimization’. It’s less about top ranking, and more about optimizing the searcher’s journey. It’s the intersection of content, UX, and as always, staying smart about search engines.” We had the chance to ask Maile a couple of questions, and she was able to give some interesting answers.

Maile is Developer Programs Tech Lead at Google. Since 2005, she has been working on making the search engine better. One of her works include the release of rel=”canonical”, plus rel=”prev” and rel=”next” for paginated content. Lately, she is focusing heavily on mobile.

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Is Google’s AMP project really going to change the world? If so, can you give our dear readers some pointers on preparing for the upcoming shake up?

The AMP project can definitely make the web better for a lot of people on mobile phones, especially with sub-optimal reception. Ideally, if we could travel back in time, web browsing on mobile phones would have become popular with a format like AMP HTML already in place — instead we had a lot of code-heavy desktop pages that were designed for a broadband connection then ported to mobile. As for an upcoming shakeup, that’s not on our roadmap! AMP isn’t “Google AMP”, it’s an open source project with hundreds of developers who have contributed.

If you’re asking, how will AMP HTML impact Google Search? We still want relevant results for users — we just know users hate slow page loads and AMP is a pretty surefire way to fix that problem and maintain a fast page longer-term. As for pointers on AMP, Yoast, your plugin and blog posts are great. We also have Codelabs if your readers want more info.

AMP is focusing on delivering super fast mobile pages, but will probably grow into much more than that. How will the technology eventually compare with, for instance, progressive web apps?

AMP is great for content-based webpage experiences with basic interactions — it’s not for super-interactive webpages like GMail or Maps. That’s where it can coexist with progressive web apps (PWAs). If you have a more dynamic website, AMP can be great as the initial landing page — the first experience of a user to your site can be AMP fast. Once the user clicks another link on your site, the AMP page can bring them to a PWA experience. (Here’s a demo of a PWA for CNET).

Isn’t Google confusing the web development world by supporting and building these – and other – new technologies? It’s getting nearly impossible to tell if something will ‘stick’, don’t you think?

I agree the number of options can be daunting and “will it stick?” is on many SEOs’ and marketers’ minds. I think with AMP and PWAs, it’s not about Google nearly as much as it’s about what’s best for your customers. AMP and PWAs were spearheaded by Google efforts, but neither are Google-proprietary technologies and both help your visitors whether direct traffic or from Search.

Google is also pushing voice search, AI and making its search engine smarter by way of machine learning (RankBrain). Is it possible that Google will eventually circumvent sites by giving the answer to nearly all questions itself?

First of all, internally, we talk about Search as an ecosystem that includes websites/site owners, users, and a search engine. In other words, websites and site owners are a requirement in search success! When Google provides an answer, we care about attribution. You’ll notice featured snippets still link to a URL for more information. Additionally, there are many queries where a single answer isn’t the end-game. Sites still play a large role in fulfilling searchers’ needs. Sometimes users want to browse, compare, research, learn, go on a journey. Quick answers will never be enough for a broad range of use cases.

A couple of weeks ago, Gary Illyes created major upheaval on the web after announcing that Google will eventually use two separate indexes, one for mobile and one for desktop. This announcement shows once again that mobile is the driving force in this world. Could you tell our readers how this new ranking method will influence their sites and what they should do to not get lost in the shuffle?

With mobile-first indexing, we’ll still have a single index just like the past (we haven’t built two). We still have several Googlebots to help crawl web and apps and get content: Googlebot for desktop, Googlebot for smartphone, Googlebot for images, etc. The difference is that we want to think of the mobile version of a page (the page retrieved by Googlebot for smartphones) as the primary version of the content. This is because worldwide, more people search on mobile than desktop. Now our index can better reflect what mobile searchers will see.

We’re testing the mobile-first index to make sure that searchers still have a great experience. To “optimize” for a mobile-first index, make sure that what you serve to mobile users is the version of the content you’d want Google to index, not a paired down version, or a version that gets updated later than desktop, or version that redirects to the mobile homepage. In most cases, if your site uses RWD (responsive web design), you’ll be fine.

We’d like to thank Maile for taking the time to answer our questions! Follow Maile on:
Twitter
LinkedIn

Maile will also speak at the upcoming WordCamp US conference, where she will give an update on search and mobile trends.

Read more: ‘Setting up WordPress for AMP: Accelerated Mobile Pages’ »

SEO basics: What does Google do?

How does Google work? What does Google actually do? For many of you this will be fairly old news. But for all the SEO newbies: let me explain (in easy to understand prose) what Google actually does. Understanding Google could really help you create an SEO strategy that works!

How does Google work?

Search engines like Google follow links. They follow links from one web page to another. Google consists of a crawler, an index and an algorithm. Google’s crawler follows the links on the web. It goes around the internet 24/7 and saves the HTML- version of all pages in a gigantic database, called the index. This index is updated if the Google crawler comes by your website again and finds new or revised web pages. The new version of this page is saved. Depending on the traffic on your site and the amount of changes you make on your website, Google crawlers come around more or less often.

For Google to know of the existence of your site, there first has to be a link from another site – one that is already in the index – to your site. If crawlers follow that link it will lead to the first crawler-session and the first time your site is saved in the index. From then on, your website could appear in Google’s search results.

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Google’s secret algorithm

After indexing your website, Google can show it in the search results. Google tries to match a certain search query with web pages that it has indexed. To do so Google has a specific algorithm that decides which pages are shown in which order. How this algorithm works is a secret. Nobody knows exactly which factors decide the ordering of the search results.

Google’s algorithm isn’t static. It changes regularly. The factors that determine the ordering and the importance of the different factors change very often. Although the algorithm is secret, Google does tell us which things are important. We don’t know how important though, and we don’t know whether Google communicates about all factors. Testing and experimenting gives us a relatively good feel for the important factors and changes in these factors. We incorporate these factors in our SEO plugin and tell you about it in our many blog posts.

Google’s results page

Google’s results page – also known as an SERP– shows about 7 or 10 links to sites which fit your search the best (according to Google). We refer to these results as the organic search results. If you click to the second page of the result page, more results are shown. The further down the results you are, the less likely someone is going to find your site.
Above the 10 links on the first page are paid links, most of the time. These links are ads; people have paid Google to put these links at the top of the site when people search for a specific term. Prices for these ads vary greatly, depending on the competitiveness of the search term.

The value of links for search engines

It’s very important to have a basic understanding of how Google and most other search engines use links. The number of links pointing to a page is used to determine how important that page is. So, the more links a specific site has, the more important search engines think it is. Both internal links (coming from the same website) as well as external links (from other websites) could help in the ranking of a webpage in Google. Some links are more important than others, though. Links from websites that have a lot of incoming links themselves are generally more important than links from small websites with only a few incoming links.

The importance of links actually was something that lead to active link building. As long as you are collecting links that are useful and logical, link building can be a good SEO strategy. But if you are collecting (or worse buying) shady links, Google may punish you for that. Read more about the dangers of link building in this article.

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SEO and Google

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of optimizing sites to (attempt to) make them appear in a high position in the organic search results. In order to do so, SEO tries to shape a website according to Google’s algorithm. Although Google’s algorithm remains secret, over a decade of experience in SEO has resulted in a pretty good idea about the important factors.

We monitor all communications by Google about (changes in) the algorithm and we test what actually works in the search engines. At Yoast, we advocate holistic SEO. Your SEO strategy should never feel like a trick. Google wants to show the user the result that fits his or her search query best. If you want to appear high in the results for that specific search term, make sure your website fits that search term.

Read more: ‘How to write a high quality and SEO friendly blog post’ »