Ben and Jordan tackle the rapid-fire series of Google algorithm updates that began on September 10th with no-follow attribution changes (and additions), September 12th with original news reporting and the 18th with rich results clarifications.
Topics covered include:
- The addition of two new link attribution types
- The original reporting or ‘REAL’ news updates
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- Jordon Koene: LinkedIn // Twitter
- Benjamin Shapiro: Bio // Podcast Network // Twitter // LinkedIn
Ben: Welcome to an emergency Google core algorithm update version of the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro, and today we’re going to reevaluate the changing landscape of Google search after the September core update. Joining us is Jordan Koene, who is the lead SEO strategist and the CEO of Searchmetrics, Inc. Today, Jordan and I are going to pull back the curtain on what we have been calling the real news Google algorithm update.
Before we hear from Jordan, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses, monitor their online presence and make data-driven decisions. To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a complimentary consultation where a member of our digital strategies group will provide you with a consultation that reviews how your website, content and SEO strategies can all be optimized. To schedule your free consultation, go to searchmetrics.com/request-free-consultation.
Okay, on with the show. Here’s my conversation with Jordan Koene, lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics, Inc. Jordan, welcome to the emergency algorithm update version of the Voices of Search podcast.
Jordan: Hey, Ben. I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of bleeding here, but a few folks might need some stitches.
Ben: All right, well, playing up the emergency podcast element there, this is really three emergencies in one or at least three updates in one. Jordan, talk to us a little bit about the series of updates that Google has made to the core algorithm. What happened this past week?
Jordan: What we’ve noticed here in literally a matter of almost a week and a day here, Google made some pretty clear updates starting on September 10th talking about nofollow and nofollow attributes, quickly proceeded on the 12th about original reporting. Basically talking about how news in particular is going to be treated in the SERPs. Lastly, just recently, on Monday with a correction, or not a correction but maybe a clarification update on the 18th, they talked about rich results, in particular how certain stars and scores will be attributed in the search results. Really busy couple of days here for Google in terms of some updates around how SERPs are going to change and evolve and really actually to be genuinely honest, some really cool candor and communication from Google, which is something that we haven’t seen a lot of.
Ben: First off, on the communication front, I feel like in the last two Google updates, we’ve said something similar of like, oh, that’s interesting. Google is actually telling people what they’re changing. They’re announcing the changes. They’re being a little bit more transparent. Let me just go on the record of saying, well done, Google.
Jordan: Was that a golf clap or a legitimate audience clap?
Ben: That was a golf clap. I think everyone listening to this podcast appreciates an understanding of what’s changing so it doesn’t just feel like the rug has been pulled out from under us in the SEO community. Anybody from Google, if you’re listening, thank you very much for letting us know a little bit more about what’s going on. That said, there are these three changes that have happened, and they don’t necessarily seem to be all going after the same topic. You mentioned that there’s these new rules for links. There’s sponsored content, user generated content, and just generally the nofollow tag being updated. Let’s go into a little bit more detail about that specifically. Why do you think Google is doing this and what does it mean? What’s the actual thing that they announced?
Jordan: Yeah, Ben. Essentially, this is Google announcing two new link attributes and updating the no follow as you mentioned. The two new ones are sponsored in UGC, and this actually for me, I’m super excited about this because this allows Google to fight comment spam and to have a clear directional signal. There’s a directional signal from webmasters and bloggers about what kind of attribute and link they have on their site. It’s really great for Google to know, hey, I have this sponsored link, and then allow Google to make a decision about that link, whether it’s through an advertisement sponsorship, a blog partnership endorsement. These things, I believe they’re good things to have, but the reality is that you need to disclose. I think the idea of disclosure is what’s really important when it comes to the introduction of the sponsorship and the UGC attribute tags that Google has introduced.
On the UGC one, it’s essentially your ability to attribute the value of user generated content. If you have a lot of community rich content, safety reviews or comments or forum posts, you can now designate the links as being attributed to user generated content.
Ben: We’ve talked a lot about this in the gray hat SEO month about link attribution and about how people are getting manual penalties because they had old links and they were sponsored and then they go away, all sorts of problems related to linking and how there’s just this understood gray area about what a sponsorship is and what’s an authentic link and what’s purchased and what isn’t. It seems like Google is trying to tackle the problem of links and the value that they pass along by creating different types of links. I think there is still going to be some gray area when you think about what is the value coming from a sponsored link versus a non-sponsored link. If Google is going to make the sponsored links not as valuable, SEOs aren’t going to call their link sponsored. I think there’s still going to be a little gamesmanship here, but at least they’re giving the tools to enable people to call out what is sponsored, what isn’t, what’s created by the brand, what’s not, and then what is something that clearly should not be followed.
Jordan: I think you’re going down the right path in terms of how you’re thinking about this, Ben, which is that Google define this as hints, and I know hints is a very loose term, and they didn’t necessarily provide a very specific definition for what hints means. What I do like about what Google said here is that they’re going to use these rel attributes alongside other signals. What that means is that if there’s been a lot of maybe shady gamesmanship on a website, they’re going to use those other signals and then see how this real attribute is used to make a decision. That’s what I like about this, is that Google is actually saying we’re giving you more tools to disclose. Based on the nature of how your entire ecosystem works, we’re going to make a decision on the value of this link.
Ben: Let’s talk about the next update. This is the most interesting one to me and the one that we’ve seen the most impact from so far. It’s the reason why we’re calling this the real news update. Google made some changes around original reporting. What did they announce in terms of original reporting and how does that actually make a difference when bloggers and journalists are actually publishing their content?
Jordan: This is an exciting direction for Google. It’s an update that specifically focuses on the news and media category and really highlights the complexity of the ever changing cycle of news content in the SERPs. Google knows that this is a heavily trafficked and heavily searched arena for them, and their ability to refine results based on the original source is absolutely critical to both giving credit to who published that content, but more importantly to distinguish authority and authenticity. That’s a really important piece, especially with all the fake news and all the challenges that we’ve had in previous elections. Google’s ability to understand authenticity, it comes into factor here within this original reporting update.
Ben: It’s interesting to me that Google is trying to specify who is the original content creator, and they’re not necessarily giving a ton of opportunity for media publishers to be able to recap and write something that’s related to what the original content producer did. I think the example is the New York Times releases an article and then Fox News comments on it and writes their own article giving their spin. The idea here is that the original publisher, and in my example the New York Times article, is going to be more prevalent than Fox News’ response because it’s original.
Jordan: That’s right. They bundled this update also with changes to their rater guidelines. I think that this is an important thing for all of our listeners to understand, is that by Google saying that not only are they changing the way that they prioritize news content and basically defining it as original reporting, which we can talk a little bit more about what that means, they’ve also bundled this change with updates to their rater guidelines. Why is that important to distinguish? Because by then changing the rater guidelines, they’re actually changing the systems that influence the authoritativeness of websites and ultimately update the algorithms that prioritize content. This is by virtue, by nature, an update to not just Google’s overall core algorithm. This is actually an update to how Google’s algorithms prioritize news content.
Ben: It seems like they actually have a separate algorithm to dictate what is news as opposed to other types of content. They are creating specific rules for news, more breaking news and giving what’s broken more priority and precedence.
Jordan: That is correct. That is correct.
Ben: Broken as in announced, not broken as in does not work. There’s this last piece of update, which is the rich results. Talk to me about what that means. Is this just an easier way to get your five-star ratings to the top of Google search or what exactly is going on here?
Jordan: It’s kind of funny that we’re bringing this update up coming off the backs of the gray hat month that we had because this is obviously one of the areas that’s been exploited by a lot of let’s just say gray hat SEOs, and that is the use of stars or scores or ratings to distinguish or make your results more visible in Google. As you probably know, when you see a result in Google, you see the blue anchor text, the URL, and then often the description. In between the description and the URL, Google will sometimes include say a star rating, a number of reviews, some sort of a score to highlight the quality or the usefulness of that particular page or content. Google has announced an update on that in terms of how that can be used and basically more importantly, I think what is really important here is the limitations around how that will be used.
Ben: Does this mean that star ratings are getting more valuable, less valuable? What does that actually mean in terms of content related to evaluating your brand’s popularity?
Jordan: I’m glad you asked it that way. It’s on the eye of the beholder. If you are someone who uses Google frequently, like all of us, you’re going to get a higher quality output because essentially, the search results that actually have these ratings will have a much more authentic nature to them. Here’s what I mean by that. One of the updates to this is that Google will not allow self-serving reviews. The definition of self-serving reviews is that you are essentially self-publishing. You are denoting what is your rating and telling it to Google about your business. Google will no longer include self-serving reviews in the SERPs. These reviews now have to be from a third party that is genuinely aggregating and authentically aggregating those results.
What I love about this is that Google is going down the path of really creating and removing the biases behind ratings and reviews because obviously, if I self serve my rating, it’s always going to be five out of five stars, but when you really aggregate your rating from the community, there’s a very different outcome.
Ben: We’re not going to be penalized for me going on to iTunes and giving the Voices of Search podcast a five-star rating and saying it’s the best Voices of Search podcast ever created.
Jordan: Well, no. In this particular case, Google wouldn’t necessarily penalize you, but they wouldn’t include that rating. I think that makes a lot of sense. You and myself as the originators and authors of the Voices of Search, going on and rating our podcast in iTunes probably isn’t the most authentic rating.
Ben: I totally disagree. We should get a vote just like everybody else does. I shouldn’t be able to get five votes, but yeah, absolutely, we should be able to review our own content. That’s neither here nor there. Let’s talk about what the impact of the big updates that we’ve seen. Has there been a lot of changes in the SEO landscape now that these updates have been announced?
Jordan: Yeah. We’ve seen some big shifts in particular within the original reporting update. Specifically what we’re noticing there is a real shift in change in the results within Google news. I’m not talking about the news carousel or anything like that, but specifically if you were to go into Google news and say you were to do a search like Chinese trade war or trade war news. The interesting thing that we’ve noticed there is that, yes, there’s an element of recency that’s still valid in the news algorithm, so Google is going to prioritize articles that have been published recently. What we’ve also started to see is Google making that identification and connection with authority sources. What we’re noticing are websites like CNBC or Bloomberg, Business insider, those are sites that are heavily skewed towards the business type content, which the trade war would obviously be very pertinent to.
Not only that, many of the articles that are being shown by those brands are not the most recent. There’s that combination there of Google connecting the particular news topic to authority sources and leveraging this new update as part of supporting update.
Ben: It seems like this is a place where the rich get richer. If you’re a media news publisher with a recognized domain, if you have a lot of authority and you are breaking news, this is the New York Times, Fox News, CNN, people with an actual newsroom that are going to break a news story, they’re going to show up more often now, and the follow up articles that cascade after that sometimes which are fake news but also sometimes which are commentary about the original article. Even the updates about an article are not necessarily going to be surfaced.
Jordan: Absolutely. I also think that another unique dilemma that’s going to take place here is in the distinguishing features of what is considered a local news publisher versus a national news publisher. How will Google use original reporting to highlight a keyword query like San Francisco Chinese trade war news? Is it better for me to show the San Francisco Chronicle or to show the Wall Street Journal? Those are going to be some interesting things that I believe Google is going to evolve with this update, and it’d be really, really fun to watch how that changes in Google SERPs.
Ben: This seems to me a little bit like an identity crisis for Google where everything has been about speed. Obviously, we talk very often about site speed and about bringing you what’s relevant, and Google is actually going a little bit of a different direction here where they’re not going to bring you the latest and greatest. They’re going to show you the older, more established piece of content from a brand that they know is reputable. I do think that there is some risk on Google’s side where as a story breaks and new facts come out, they may be surfacing the original article, not necessarily the update that comes from a less established brand.
Jordan: You’re right. I think what actually Google is trying to solve for here is, you’re addressing it, Ben, is that pain point that their users are having, which is that oftentimes, users come with a very specific news intent. They’re trying to find that one article that they read three or four months ago, but because there have been so other articles, it’s nearly impossible to cut through and find that specific article. It becomes a needle in a haystack scenario. By Google introducing this original content, original reporting update, it allows us to find that specific piece of content. It’s similar to if you go to Twitter and you have a pinned tweet at the top, that’s a really useful experience. Obviously, that’s a very intentional experience but it’s in that vein, in that direction from a search result like experience.
Ben: It’s really interesting you say that. My next comment was going to be Twitter faces the same problem, and what they did was they allowed people to toggle between what’s the most important content in my feed to what’s the latest content in my feed. It used to be all chronological and then they started going the Facebook direction, serving what they thought was the most relevant and now you can go back and forth between the two. Google seems to be facing the same troubles that some of the social networks are having in terms of what content to show and when.
Let’s talk about some of the predictions that we have on how these updates are going to impact the SEO community. We’ve talked a little bit about the news feed and what’s happening there. It seems like this is going to prioritize brands with more authority. You’re going to see more content from the big boys, the well-established players. When we talk about some of the other rules in terms of the rules for linking and the rich results, what’s the community saying and what do you think is actually going to happen as this gets fleshed out?
Jordan: A couple of things. On the link attribute update, I think that we’re going to see a lot of commentary and testing over the next couple of months, in particular with nofollow and the changes around nofollow being used as a tool to block pages. A lot of websites have gone down that path and they’re going to have to reverse that and actually use that attribute as intended by Google now. That means it’s also going to be very interesting to see how sponsoring UGC evolve because they’re net new and people are going to start to introduce them onto their websites and see the impact there.
Specifically around this change, it’s going to be a test and learn type of an experience for webmasters. I think Google recognizes that. In fact, I believe that they mentioned that many of these things won’t be fully imposed until March 1st, 2020, so I mean a six-month runway here for folks to start to test and learn how these attributes will unfold.
Ben: What’s interesting to me about this is understanding the value of a sponsored link and understanding the value of a UGC link and comparing that to a regular old link. There’s going to be some trials and tribulations within the SEO community where people are moving links that they have that are sponsored and marking them as sponsored and they’re going to see less value or maybe they don’t. Figuring out whether you want to or don’t want to mark your links as sponsored and UGC and figuring out what works and what you can and can’t get away with. It’s going to be a really complicated topic, something we’re going to have to keep our eye on over the next six months. Jordan, what do you think is going to happen with the rich results?
Jordan: With the rich results, this is an area where I’m super excited because this is going to be clean up mode for Google, and they’re going to get a lot of riffraff and sneaky tactics out of the search results, and it’s going to do two things in my opinion. The first one is it’s going to allow for more real estate for results in a very local and localized market. That’s one of the bad things, the downsides of spamming, is that as you spam the SERPs, you’re essentially stealing real estate from legitimate players. I’m excited to see how that transcends and unfolds.
Also, it’ll be really interesting to see how brands evolve here, especially local businesses and organizations, how they evolve their partnership strategy and how they evolve their optimization strategy in other aggregators such as, say, Yelp or other review rating aggregators. It almost goes back to that how do I nurture a third party environment where people can provide feedback and reviews about my business? I really feel like it’s a great enabler for those small businesses that are listening to our podcast. To think more broadly about your strategy inside of these reviews’ ecosystems like Yelp for example.
Ben: From a personal perspective, I hope that Google nails showing the reviews for the best businesses. From a marketer’s perspective, man, it’s a scary thing to know that your reviews may be deemed as illegitimate if you’re incenting people to boost your ratings. It’s one of the tools that we have to show brand value, is to go and to generate a bunch of reviews. Obviously, some people are generating reviews that aren’t authentic, but potentially taking that out of the marketer’s hands to give people an incentive to drive reviews is something that could probably make it harder to get your business to have a high profile.
Jordan: Absolutely. There’s a lot of different applications to this across various categories. Think about the application of this to movie ratings, music and specific songs, recipes. Recipes is an area where this has been exploited like crazy. I really think that this is going to have a very unique set of changes to not only the amount of real estate that’s now available, but even more importantly, the legitimacy of those ratings and the encouragement for users to actually click on them when they are authentic.
Ben: Let’s land the plane here. As you reflect on the updates that Google has made, three different categories of updates, what does this tell you about Google’s overall strategy? Why did they do this? What may be coming down the pike?
Jordan: Well, first of all, this has always been a very busy time of year for Google. No big shock here that Google here in September and October is starting to make announcements. We’re starting to see some volatility show up in the SERPs. Not a big surprise. It’s the typical time of year for Google to release a lot of updates. The thing that I’m really impressed with is the communication and the followup on the communication, people submitting questions, getting response from Danny and others in the Google community. That to me is such an encouraging position as a webmaster, as an SEO operator, to really understand and then provide direction to our organizations on how to implement these changes.
I would expect to see more volatility over the next 30 to 60 days, and I would anticipate that that volatility will come and meet in this direction around intent. What is the intention behind the search query and the content that’s being served? Because many of these updates are in that vein, and I would expect that Google will be coming out with more updates along that side.
Ben: In the SEO community, the only constant is change. We’re going to keep an eye on it, mostly in our winners and losers segment at the end of every month. If you haven’t been listening to that, we have Tyson Stockton, Searchmetrics’ director of service, come on the podcast once a month and talk about some of the changes that we’re seeing across different industries. That’s one of the places that you can keep up to date with how these Google updates are impacting the SEO community.
That wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics, Inc. We’d love to continue this conversation with you. If you’re interested in contacting Jordan, you can find the link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes or you can contact him on Twitter where his handle is jtkoene, J-T-K-O-E-N-E. If you have general marketing questions or if you’d like to be a guest on the show, you can find my contact information in our show notes or you could send me a tweet at benjshap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility or to gain competitive insights, head over to searchmetrics.com/request-free-consultation for your complimentary advisory session with our digital strategies team. If you liked this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and check back with us next week. All right. That’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.