Possible Google Mobile Update Causes Widespread Drop In Rankings

Few things can cause such a stir in the SEO world as a significant change in Google rankings, not least because such changes are so unusual. However, this is exactly what many commentators are reporting to have happened on 1st or 2nd September 2016. But what exactly has happened, and what does it mean for SEO professionals and businesses that rely heavily on their online traffic?

Was there a Google update?

While Google has not commented definitively, many experts are convinced that two different updates took place around the date in question.

The most significant was thought to be around core web search. A number of threads sprang into life on Twitter and other fora discussing significant changes in ranking, with sites seeing shifts of more than 100 places up or down from specific keyword searches.

The second issue was around local Google rankings, where similar SEO discussions reported the biggest change to local rankings that had been seen in a long time.

Google has not confirmed that any update took place at all, and this in itself is causing further debate within the general search community. What is certain is that something caused some significant changes to rankings and that it was seen across all industries and verticals.

Or was it something else? Ask Google!

If it was not an update, then what else could have caused this phenomenon?

Three days after all the excitement, Google reported that a system error dropped all Search Analytics data from 01 September to 06 September. But while some experts were still forming the words “That explains it!” others were quick to point out that this issue could not be related to the fluctuations in rankings.

Google also confirmed categorically that the rumoured update was not Penguin related. Google’s John Mueller stated on both YouTube and Twitter that Google is constantly updating, but that in terms of any update on 1st or 2nd September, Penguin could definitely be “ruled out” – the penguin is sleeping!

How much does it matter anyway?

While the updates, non-updates or system errors have provided plenty of fuel for speculation, some in the community feel that the whole thing is a non-issue.

Marketing professional and online commentator Larry Madill noted that the majority of Search Engine Results Page (SERP) results that he monitors returned close to their previous positions after a few days.

He felt that the incident followed a familiar pattern that he had seen many times before following an update (whether acknowledged as such or not). The phenomenon he reported was that the SERPS “get tossed around for about four days then slowly go back to normal.”

Bizarrely, Madill noted that it was the larger names in retail that took the biggest hits from the phenomenon, with companies such as Home Depot and Amazon losing several places on two significant SERPs.

This has led to some giving the phenomenon the nickname “The Big Brand Update.”

The only thing that is known for certain is that chatter was still rife long after the effects had all but disappeared.

What Does Google’s Travel Update Mean For The Industry?

Google Introduces A New Travel Update, But Will It Affect SEO?

Changes to Google’s destination search has got the travel industry in a spin, but does it really affect the way we do SEO?

It seems as though a week cannot pass by without another report about a major change at Google that has the potential to shake up the establishment. At first glance, the latest in a long line of such announcements looks set to hit a bunch of travel related sites right where it hurts most, in the pocket. But is that really going to be the case? Let’s take a closer look.

What Are The Changes?

Late in January 2016, Google announced changes to the way its mobile search interface would look with regard to travel information. Dubbed as Trip Planning, searchers looking for info on terms such as ‘where to go in Mexico’ or ‘Mexican destination’ will now be served with Google-controlled content rather than the standard organic results of old.

This is triggered by a knowledge-graph result that summarises relevant information into neat little boxes listed above the normal search results. The fear is that this new addition to the now four-year old knowledge-graph that everyone has grown used to will further demote organic placements whilst promoting sites that Google want to receive clicks – namely AdSense paid search material.

Will This Harm User Experience?

The jury is still out on this one, but the majority seem to be swaying towards an enhanced UX rather than an unwanted nuisance for those looking to make a straightforward search. For digital publishers, however, the response is likely to be a little different, but it’s not as much of an attack on the little man as it may first appear.

Who’ll Be Affected?

As we touched upon above, it’s likely to hurt the big players in the travel industry rather than the smaller travel blogs out there. Sites such as Lonely Planet, Yelp, Trip Advisor, huge news corporations and the larger travel sites are likely to be worst hit by these changes. These brands have totally dominated the destination search market for a long, long time, and this shake up is going to come as somewhat of a shock.

For those with smaller sites, however, the impact is likely to be minimal at worst. Think about it, if you’re not already ranking for top-tier keyword terms such as ‘where to go in Thailand’, what have you got to lose?

Travel companies and airlines may see a change in number of referrals coming from Google and this could hit profits. Some airlines and package holiday companies work very hard behind the scenes on complex digital marketing campaigns that help improve their search positions. This change has the potential to turn the industry on its head. In January 2014 we reported how one Google update saw Expedia dramatically lose traffic from Google. However, a drop of traffic from Google of around 25% was not enough to cause a major drop in revenue, and Expedia share prices continued to rise.

What Does This Mean For Google?

Naturally, Google is on to a winner with this move as more clicks on paid advertising means more money for the company. The change will also make Google’s other products more prominent too, pushing the likes of Google Maps and YouTube to the fore every time someone searches for these short-tail terms.

Until the changes have full rolled out we cannot really predict the long-term effects, but once again, Google is controlling how we obtain information from the Internet, and to some extent, who will win and who will lose.

How To Get Your Website Up To Speed With AMP

Google aims to speed up mobile Internet access. How AMP websites speed up the loading of web pages to reflect increased mobile use of the Internet. The factors to be aware of when creating AMP pages.

Google’s AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) is, as its name suggests, designed to improve web searches conducted on mobile devices by making pages load faster. With more and more people using their mobiles to access the Internet, Google wants to make sure the ‘mobile web experience’ is a good one.

Before the unveiling of AMP in October 2015, Google released a significant algorithm update focussing on a given website’s ‘mobile friendliness’ in terms of loading and rendering; this plays a large part in determining how high it ranks in search results. AMP takes this a step further for the search giant, and competes with other mobile web options such as Apple News and Facebook’s Instant Articles.

What is AMP?

AMP isn’t simply an app or business partnership in the way that Instant Articles or Apple News are; it’s a whole new way of creating web pages and effectively changes the mobile web. In effect, it is said to be changing the way the web is constructed by marginalising some technologies and advancing others.

Some web technologies that slow page loading down, such as JavaScript, are tightly controlled with AMP pages – a ‘library’ of JavaScript available from Google is the only type that can be used to create AMP pages, for example.

The general aim is to remove the ‘slow’ parts of the overall HTML. The result (at least so far) is plainer looking web pages, and some critics say it’s like looking at web pages from over twelve years ago.

This has an implication for advertising as most ads are created from third party web tools.

Open source

AMP is open source so publishers don’t have to use it, but due to Google’s dominance in Internet search it’s likely that AMP pages will rank well (at least for mobile friendliness). Consequently, web designers creating sites where organic search is important could well find themselves compelled to create AMP versions of web pages.

Creating your AMP pages

In effect, you or your web designer will be designing two versions of many of the web pages on your sites – some of the pages will be AMP with non-AMP pages running ‘side by side’. Because of the JavaScript restrictions and other constraints, forms, on-page comments and other features commonly used on web pages will be tightly controlled.

Site templates to accommodate AMP restrictions will likely need rewriting, and multimedia will have to conform to certain criteria of height and widths amongst others using AMP specific tools. For example, when embedding a YouTube video, a specific AMP YouTube component has to be used.

You’ll also need to modify the original non-AMP version of your pages to allow Google and other technologies supporting AMP to detect the Amp version of the page.

Google have said that it won’t automatically rank AMP pages higher than non-AMP ones, but has made no secret of its policy of rewarding faster loading pages with potentially higher rankings.

Caching

Another way AMP loads pages faster is by Google caching them – they ‘serve’ the page to the searcher from their servers rather than the website host’s. This is optional; a website’s AMP pages don’t have to be cached by Google.

The effect on advertising

How will ads be affected? Since virtually all ads are created using third party web tools, then not only the ads but much of the analytics has to be put to one side with AMP pages. While no ad network provided JavaScript can be run within an AMP page, a separate frame is loaded containing the ads and the creator’s JavaScript.

So far, only five advertising networks – four of which are owned by Google, AOL and Amazon – are supported, although any network can join. Presumably, so long as certain guidelines are met.

Overall

While faster page loading for an increasing part of web search – mobile – is a good thing, it’s argued that a technology company such as Google is taking yet more power from web publishers. The idea that it may be a case of having to follow a certain way is considered by some to be a throwback to the time when Microsoft dominated the browser market with Explorer.