Weekly SEO recap: speed it up!

This week we’ve got to catch up a bit, as I was away on holiday for a while. Luckily Google took it slow in the last few weeks, basically doing nothing really interesting. They did put out a lot of stuff, it just wasn’t all that interesting. Let’s go over the bits that are interesting.

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AMP it up

At conferences, with demo sites, in forums, in blog posts and even in Google Search Console, Google is working hard to get people to adopt AMP. We’ve written about AMP before and I still don’t like it. It’s very much WAP all over again, it feels like going backwards. At the same time I do see the need to make the web faster for people in low bandwidth countries. We don’t feel that need as much where we are. The office I’m writing this from will soon have 3 separate 500mb (down and up) fiber connections. That’s more bandwidth than most countries in the world have per 1 million inhabitants, according to this list.

So in the next few weeks we’ll be implementing AMP here on Yoast. We’ve already seen that the go to AMP plugin for WordPress works but we need to fix some interaction issues between it and our Yoast SEO plugin.

Read more: ‘Weekly SEO recap: AMPlified spam’ »

Instant Articles for Facebook

In the same trend as AMP for Google, Facebook’s Instant Articles will soon (as in, in April) be available to all. There’s a WordPress plugin for that too, which I’m also looking at to make sure it sends the right data when Yoast SEO is installed.

Amit Singhal leaves Google

In the beginning of this month possibly the most shocking news of all came out. Amit Singhal is about to leave the company (end of next week actually). He was their head of search and very important in recent years in terms of choosing how search works and how rankings works.

Singhal’s replacement will be John Giannandrea, who is one of the most important artificial intelligence engineers in the company. If that doesn’t tell you where Google is going…

That’s it, see you next week!

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Weekly SEO Recap: guidelines & more

This week we had a whole bunch of “do this not that” type bits of news coming out of Google, but one big thing: updated Google webmaster guidelines. Those new guidelines led to more news as Google clarified some of the things those new guidelines say.

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Updated Google webmaster guidelines

Google has updated its webmaster guidelines. There was a lot to cover on that topic so I did that in a separate post. I would urge you to go read that if you haven’t as it’s a lot of interesting info.

Why valid HTML is important

In the update to the webmaster guidelines, Google specifically talks about valid HTML and links to the W3 validator. They’ve already come out and said that whether your HTML is truly valid is not a ranking factor, but that broken HTML can make it harder for them to understand a page.

Especially now that we’re adding more and more meta data to pages, it’s important to write HTML that is easy to parse by scrapers.

Clarification on page titles

I wrote about the page titles kerfuffle last week, and this week, luckily, John Mueller came out and clarified his remarks about titles:

Titles are important! They are important for SEO. They are used as a ranking factor. Of course, they are definitely used as a ranking factor but it is not something where I’d say the time you spend on tweaking the title is really the best use of your time.

So that is something where if you are focusing only on titles in SEO, if your SEO agency work is essentially going to people’s sites and say we will strip out all titles and rewrite them to include all the relevant keywords and you will rank ten places higher, that is not going to happen.

Nuance! I love it. Titles are important, but not the only thing. You need all the things mentioned above: a good site structure, a good design, etc. etc.

Google prefers shorter URLs

From a hangout this week, John Mueller said:

if we have two URLs and one is really short and sweet and this other one has this long parameter attached to it and we know they show exactly the same content we will try to pick the shorter one.

This is no surprise, but good to know. It’s also how they crawl: if you give Google 100 links to crawl and they all differ in length, it’ll crawl them in the order of their length. Funnily enough for XML sitemaps I’ve seen them crawl them alphabetically.

That’s it, see you next week!

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Weekly SEO recap: Google update galore

This week we started with a Google update that rolled out over the weekend. Then there was “some” more news that came out of Google. Ranging from Google Penguin to a Search Console homepage redesign, we’ve got quite a bit to cover, so let’s dive right in!

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Major update over the weekend

I won’t go into much detail on this as I already did that earlier this week, go read that post if you haven’t yet and want to know. It looks like more of the brand terms update that I covered last week too. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if we got another one this weekend. It looks like Google is testing at a huge scale.

Google Search Console homepage redesign

From the “this isn’t such big news, but it’s fun nonetheless” department; Google redesigned their Search Console homepage. Not the inner pages with info about your site, but the homepage has a brand new look.

Google Webmaster hangouts

One of the things you’ll see on that new homepage is times for things like webmaster hangouts. Some people have the time to attend all of these and I’m very grateful that they write up the stuff that comes out of them as sometimes they’re very, very interesting, like these bits from the SEM Post:

There are also bits that are at the very least very annoying. John Mueller said, according to this post, that titles are not a “critical ranking signal”. Well…. As my friend Philipp Klöckner said:

It’s as secondary as oxygen is to a human. It’s not the primary signal that defines your humanity, but it’s *&^%$ hard to do without it, right?

I honestly like John Mueller and don’t think he meant it in the way it was written down in the post linked above, but of course, several people already commented here on yoast.com asking about it. Titles are Important. Trust me on that one.

Google Penguin

Google Penguin is still weeks away, apparently. It will also, just as Google Panda recently, become part of Google’s core algorithm. What it means for something to be “part of the core algorithm” is explained in this post on SearchEngineLand. The bombshell sentence in that explanation is hidden in a quote:

“but essentially nothing changed”

More interesting is this part of the article, near the end:

Ammon Johns, in the hangout, then said, “Once they forgot how it works, it is core?” To which Andrey Lipattsev (of Google) replied, “That is exactly right.”

You might be surprised by this, I’m not anymore. It’s becoming increasingly clear that algorithms run and improve on their own and engineers don’t always know why something ranks somewhere anymore. Machine learning truly is the future of search.

That’s it, see you next week!

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Weekly SEO recap: it’s not Panda, not Penguin, it’s… Brands!

This week we had quite a bit of news. But…. I’ve written about it all, already. So I’m gonna be a lazy guy and point you straight at the three posts I wrote this week on Google changes:

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The week started with us not knowing much yet, but it’s good to read this to get an idea of what everybody thought had happened:

Google update: Real time Penguin? Or something else?

Then we realized it wasn’t really Penguin, so we moved on. We got the news that Google had made Google Panda a part of its core algorithm:

Google Panda part of Google’s core algorithm

And finally, we figured out what had changed in Google and what this update was really about: brand terms. Read this post for the full view:

Google core algorithm update: brand terms

In all honesty, this is what we’d call, in Dutch “een storm in een glas water”, which translates as: “a storm in a glass of water”, basically: much ado about nothing.

That’s it, see you next week!

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Weekly SEO recap: Happy new year!

First of all, a happy new year to you all! This is the first weekly recap of 2016 and the first weekly recap of the last 3 weeks so we have a few weeks of news to cover. Luckily, we weren’t the only ones taking it slow, so it’s about a normal week’s worth of news.

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Google “No country redirect” stops working, then comes back

For a short while I was slightly freaked out. You see, Google broke the NCR feature. NCR stands for No Country Redirect and allows you to go to google.com/ncr and it will not redirect you to your country’s local Google (in my case google.nl). Breaking that would force me into using a proxy all the time. Luckily, it’s back working now.

Google Search Analytics update

Google did an update to the Search Analytics in Google Search Console, a feature I love. The “full” report reads:

An update to web search logs analysis. This change may increase the total number of clicks and impressions.

It seems to have indeed increased the number of clicks & impressions on several sites I’ve seen, while changing nothing for some other sites.

Keep reading: Search Analytics in Google Search Console.

Google Knowledge Graph Search API

Google released an API to query its Knowledge Graph, replacing its old Freebase APIs. This could be a very useful API in specific fields, I’ll certainly be looking into what kind of interesting data it offers.

That’s it, see you next week!

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Weekly SEO recap: Let’s disambiguate!

This week we had a few interesting things happening, from a potential update to some new features and an important change in Google Suggest. Let’s dive in!

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Google adds disambiguation to Suggest

In a very interesting move this week, Google added disambiguation results to their suggest box, basically forcing you to choose for a specific topic when you’re searching. A search for [mercury] for instance shows this:

Google disambiguation results for Mercury

The 3 disambiguation results are marked with a long dash. Clicking on either 3 shows a knowledge graph panel on the right hand side, and, interestingly, none of the 3 results has Wikipedia as the number 1 result.

The disambiguation page for Mercury on Wikipedia has different options, so Google is at least not using that as its only source. A search for [ocampo] has 3 options, all of which do have a Wikipedia result as #1:

Disambiguation result for Ocampo

One more example, a search for [yahudi], delivers this:

yahudi disambiguation result

Whether you’re looking for the Jewish people or a film… Quite the difference of course in results. This makes it easier for Google to determine what it is you’re searching for, but it also makes it clear that you should optimize enough for Google to understand not just your keyword, but to understand your topic, which SearchEngineLand had a nice post about as well. This has profound implications for how you write articles, and for how you do keyword research.

Google to prefer HTTPS versions of URLs

Google has been giving a slight ranking boost to HTTPS URLs for a while now, at least, so they tell us. But now they’re going even further. When there is a working HTTPS version of your site, regardless of whether you link to it or not, Google will prefer the HTTPS URLs.

Google search update on the 16th?

Barry reported an update on the 16th, that sounded more to me like something had gone wrong somewhere. This sort of stuff happens all the time, and it seems in the comments that people were bouncing back after a few days. To me it’s always interesting to see when stuff goes wrong so badly.

Why having multiple XML Sitemaps can be useful

In an article on the SEM Post, they’re discussing whether you should have multiple or one single XML sitemap and what’d be the benefit of both. The most important thing John Mueller from Google says, in my opinion, is this:

I like to split up the sitemap file because in the Search Console you can look at the index stats by sitemap file and that sometimes makes it a little bit easier to understand what types of pages are currently being indexed and what pages aren’t being indexed.

That’s the exact reason why our Yoast SEO plugin has an XML Sitemap feature that creates a single index with XML sitemaps per post type. This makes it a lot more interesting to look at the XML sitemaps section of Google Search Console.

That’s it, see you next week!

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PS If you find disambiguation a nasty word, you’re not alone. I must have mistyped that about a dozen times while writing this post 🙂

Weekly SEO recap: don’t disavow the money!

This week was low on big news, and high on small tiny interesting tidbits, just how I personally like it most. The reason I like that most is that those tiny tidbits usually show you more about how Google and / or other search engines work than the big flashy news items. Let’s dive right in!

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An AMP ranking boost

Google is promoting AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages). We’ve written about it before. I’m obviously not a fan. Google is pushing it hard though, and in their latest release they’ve said that they’ll include AMP pages in the search results as of January and they “might” give them a ranking boost. This annoys me mostly because Google uses the phrase “might give a ranking boost” so often now that it’s no longer even worth listening to.

If everything Google said got a ranking boost did get a ranking boost, spammers would rejoice and big companies would lose all of their rankings because it’s impossible to keep up. So it’s not actually true. It just pushes us to do stuff. In the case of HTTPS / SSL, I’m all in favor and have been telling people why for years.

In the case of AMP I think that’s a stupid idea and we shouldn’t do it.

Google wants your appointments

Google is testing a feature that allows people to make appointments straight from the search results. Whether it’s for your practice, hotel, really whatever it is you have that requires appointments, this might be interesting. They’re testing it but they (accidentally I think) published the schema for it and then removed it, but of course, they were saved. It looks doable. If they go about opening this up to everyone we’ll probably add this to our Local SEO plugin.

Google on 301 redirects

If you create a 301 redirect, you have to really think about doing that. Because in HTTP, a 301 stands for permanent. Which is exactly how Google treats it, after a while. It can take a couple of weeks or sometimes even longer for a 301 to kick in and really transfer the value from one page to another. Once it has though, removing the 301 and getting the old URL to rank again is tough. This is a story about what you could do when you do decide to remove a 301. It basically says: really embed the page in your site, and have patience. Months of patience.

Disavow away

If you’ve been hit by Google Penguin, one of the tools you need to get out of that Penguin penalty is the disavow file. This let’s you tell Google “don’t count these links to my site”, basically saying that those links where bought or are otherwise low quality. The problem is: you can get too drastic in removing links.

This story is typical in that someone got an enormous boost in traffic when he accidentally removed a site’s disavow file. You really should only disavow the bare minimum, and not just disavow tons of our links because you will hurt your site too much. Play with this at your own risk though, the rewards can be big but the consequences can be too.

Mo’ money, less problems

Mo’ money, less problems, at least, that’s what Google seems to think. They’re testing out showing 4 instead of the regular 3 ads above the organic search results. Of course, this doesn’t make SEOs around the world happy. Not that there’s much we can do about it, but we’d rather have Google show our nicely optimized sites in the organic results.

The question is though: is this really surprising? There are keywords where I see people pay 10s of dollars per click. If Google can make sure you almost have to click an ad, it makes more money. That’s what it’s in the world for, despite what its fancy mission statement says.

Google is definitely not in the world to make a social network. It’s now dropping Google+ counts from its ads, just one more sign that the social network is truly dying.

Market share numbers

Every once in a while, Comscore and a few other companies will come out with market share numbers. In Europe, we’re all agreed that Google has like 95% of the market and usually more. In the US, that marketshare number is always remarkably lower. Remarkably, because most of the sites I’ve worked on in the US get 90-95% of their organic search traffic from Google as well, whereas it “should be” 70% or so according to those marketshare numbers.

This piece of research shows some signs as to those numbers actually not being very factual. At the same time, one of the reasons we’re seeing the difference between reported marketshare and actual traffic to websites is because Yahoo! and Bing are very effective at sending traffic to sites in their own portfolio.

Machine learning, human doing

If you’re interested in how Google uses machine learning, read this post. Basically John Mueller is quoted in it saying they have to balance machine learning and human decisions, which I’m guessing is hard. This part of the quote is key:

Sometimes it makes it hard for us to debug and diagnose what is actually happening there.

Googles sometimes don’t know anymore why something ranks where it ranks. I’ve noticed that before. It’s funny but not all that surprising given how many changes go in to the algorithm, the machine learning only makes it even harder.

That’s it, see you next week!

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Weekly SEO recap: Googlebot: Apples to…

A nice couple of small news bits this week, of course mostly about Google as usual, but also one about Apple’s spider! Let’s dive right in!

Joost's weekly SEO Recap

A Google phantom update

There was some discussion a few weeks back about whether an update had taken place. Our friends at SearchMetrics have shown that it was one without a doubt, and it looks a lot like the Quality Update we’ve seen earlier this year. They connect it to the quality guidelines I wrote about 2 weeks ago, which, if you haven’t, you really should read.

Penguin won’t be coming this year

Remember when I said last week that Gary Ilyes had been wrong before? I’ve rarely been proven right this quickly: Google Penguin won’t come till next year. Even though Google has said on numerous occasions, mostly through Gary, that it’ll happen this year. It is what it is, but if you were hoping to get out of your Google Penguin caused pain before the holidays, that hope is now completely gone.

Rel canonical everywhere?

We’ve done a lot of work with rel canonical here at Yoast. We were among the first to implement it and we still have the best rel canonical implementation in the business for WordPress. If you’re looking for a setting to enable it: no need. It’s always on.

In this weeks Webmaster hangout there were some questions as to whether it was wrong to have canonical on all pages. We’ve known this to be the right solution for most sites for quite a while, but it’s always good to get some confirmation.

No more changing your location in Google

If you were relying on Google’s filters to allow you to change the location you were searching from and see results for another country, tough luck. They’ve removed that feature altogether. I’m personally very sorry to see this go as it was sometimes fairly useful and now will need to switch to using proxies more often.

Applebot, disguising as Googlebot

If you see Applebot behaving weirdly in your logs (most people never bother to look and probably shouldn’t, but the best SEOs out there do look at those logs regularly), there’s a reason: it’s using Googlebot rules if you don’t have Applebot lines in your robots.txt.

Makes sense, I think, though I don’t know whether I like it much as a precedent. If every new bot would do this, it would make it impossible to do stuff specifically for Googlebot in your robots.txt file.

That’s it, see you next week!

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Weekly SEO Recap: AMPing up to SSL all the Penguins

This was very much the “week after” for us. Yoast SEO 3.0.4 saw the light, but other than that most of us are still recovering. It was also a week full with tiny little nuggets of newsy niceness. From SSL on WikiPedia to AMP to Penguin. Let’s dive in!

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SSL all the things

This is a pet topic of mine and will be for a few more years to come. We all care about privacy, but not everyone realises that saying that means you also have to make some choices. In particular, we should all make the choice to use HTTPS for all our sites. I wrote about that in January 2014 and my thinking didn’t really change.

This week Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia gave an interview (via The SEM Post). Some of the key quotes highlight why HTTPS is so important. With HTTPS, you can’t block specific pages on a site, only the entire site. Jimmy Wales tells the story of Wikipedia in China:

Around the time of the Beijing Olympics Wikipedia was opened up, the Chinese had a period of liberalisation of the internet, and they opened up and they allowed access to almost all of Wikipedia. But they were filtering certain pages, they were filtering about the usual suspects: things that are sensitive issues in China. So the Tiananmen Square incident; the artist Ai Weiwei; there’s a religious cult called Falun Gong; anything to do with Taiwanese independence -these are the kinds of things they were filtering, just those pages.

Now that Wikipedia moved to HTTPS, that makes that impossible for the Chinese government:

With https, the only thing that the Chinese authorities can see today is if you’re talking to Wikipedia or not, they can’t see which pages you’re joining, which means they no longer have the ability to filter on a page-by-page basis, so they can’t block just Tiananmen Square. They now have a very stark choice: the entire country of China can do without Wikipedia, or they can accept all of Wikipedia.

Unfortunately, that means that right now, all of Wikipedia is blocked in China. But it also means that they can’t profile people based on which pages they’ve visited anymore. I hope that this situation improves in China, but I also hope you understand just one more very solid reason to move to an all HTTPS web.

Google AMPing up on AMP

Gary Ilyes of Google has been talking about AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) a lot, and in a blog post, Google gave us something to chew on:

Google will begin sending traffic to your AMP pages in Google Search early next year, and we plan to share more concrete specifics on timing very soon.

What that means? Good question. I don’t know any more than you do at this point. I still don’t like AMP much, so I hope it won’t mean they’ll force us all into it.

In other mobile search news, Google has told us that you really shouldn’t use spammy (mobile) networks. What a surprise.

Google Penguin is coming

Google Penguin always seems to be “coming”. It’s almost like winter. But now we know that the next Google Penguin update will be a true update, not just a data refresh, and it’ll be real time. And it’s coming. Really. Apparently still in 2015 too, according to Google’s Gary Ilyes. But he’s been wrong before.

That’s it, see you next week!

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Weekly SEO Recap: Quality!

This week we released version 3 of our Yoast SEO plugin. I can honestly say we’re very proud of this release. I’ll recap a bit on the release and there was one bit of news from Google I don’t want to withhold you: they released the search quality guidelines they give to their quality raters to the public.

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Google Quality Rater guidelines

Google employs a group of people who manually rate their search result on a continuous basis. A feedback loop to tell them whether specific changes worked, whether some sits are spammy, etc etc. They give these raters a set of guidelines to work with. These guidelines were leaked before, but now Google has decided to just publish them publicly.

The SEM Post seems to have had it earlier than most people did, and had a fantastic write up about it. I’ll just point you there to read the whole thing. They also summarize the changes in comparison to older versions, which is very useful info.

Yoast SEO 3.0

Yoast SEO 3.0 came out with a bang. There were a lot of tweets, a lot of comments, a lot of forum posts, a lot of Facebook comments. Some very positive, some (ok, quite a few) negative. Things were broken for some people and we tried to fix them as well as we could. What most people don’t realize is that WordPress greatest strength for the user (the ability to run countless combinations of plugins and versions of plugins and settings etc.) is its biggest problem to anyone maintaining a plugin.

Yoast SEO is active on well over 4 million websites in the last count. That means there are also approximately 3.9 million different configurations. We can not possibly, ever, test everything that could occur. So when we hit release on an update as major as this, we know things are going to go wrong. Even when we’ve tested with our full team (8 full time developers) for 3 weeks in a row. The sheer size of our community just means that’ll always be the case. Taco wrote about what we did to get to the point of release.

In the beginning, it worked for about 95% of people, some people thought stuff was broken but clearing their browser cache fixed it. We’ve quickly rolled out 3.0.1, 3.0.2 and 3.0.3 updates, which seem to have fixed the issue for 98-99% of people so far. But even 2% of 4 million is still 80,000 installs where something is broken. Trust me, we know.

Yoast SEO 3.0 might, because of the above, look like a dramatic update to some, I think it was actually a very good release. Considering we re-built about 30% of our codebase in another language, the amount of bugs is relatively low. If you haven’t, go read the release post and see why we took the huge steps we did.

That’s it, see you next week!

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