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Leaning into SEO as Google shifts from search engine to portal

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Leaning into SEO as Google shifts from search engine to portal


Google’s SERP is almost unrecognizable compared to what it looked like just a few years ago. The changes aren’t just on the surface, either: Google is becoming less search engine, more portal, said Jessica Bowman, CEO of SEO In-house  and Search Engine Land editor at large, during her keynote at SMX Advanced this month.

This evolution is fundamentally altering the customer journey from search, with Google owning the process by enabling users to bypass clicks to websites to get information, take action and even transact. This will have repercussions for just about every company. Bowman offered several plans of action for SEOs preparing for these changes and said investments in SEO will be more important than ever.

Build and train your SEO army

“When I evaluate an organization, I find that every role has activities they do that affect SEO, and SEO needs to be integrated into those activities,” Bowman told Search Engine Land, “The SEO team has to figure out what those are and then train people to do that.”

Larger companies should incorporate SEO into their daily vernacular, said Bowman. This way, you can conscript dozens, if not hundreds, of staff members into your “SEO army,” get them advocating for it, quoting best practices, involving the dedicated SEO team and flagging missing requirements on a day-to-day basis.

Although non-SEOs aren’t expected to be authorities on the topic, their 20% of effort stands to make 80% of the impact on your brand’s overall optimization, Bowman said. It will be up to your main SEO team as well as upper management to empower them.

Expand writing competencies

Product information, news stories, how-to guides and various other types of content may receive higher visibility on SERPs if they appear as a knowledge panel, within a carousel or as a featured snippet. Your writers, be they bloggers, copywriters, social media managers or anything in between, need to be creating content that is comprehensive and authoritative enough to compete for organic visibility, said Bowman.

Writers across the company need to master concepts such as SEO-friendly JavaScript, schema, writing for the long tail, rich snippets and the “People also ask” section in the search results. As with any process, regularly reviewing copy and providing feedback can help assure quality and enable you to get the most from your efforts.

Master Schema and JavaScript for SEO

Understanding and correctly implementing schema on your site can help crawlers make sense of your content and, consequently, increase the odds that it gets displayed as a featured snippet. Featured snippets and other rich results, of course, illustrate the double-edged sword nature of Google’s portal-like interface: They increase your content’s visibility and yet users may not click through to your site because the information they need has already been presented to them.

Event, FAQ, speakable content and much more — Google now supports dozens of markups for various content types, making schema a valuable tool for modern SEO. If you’re using WordPress’ CMS, Yoast has revamped its schema implementation to streamline structured data entry, but it’s still important for your development team to be able to verify the quality of your code.

With Googlebot’s latest update, it can now see more of your content than ever. However, limitations still exist and brands should be cognizant of JavaScript issues that may hinder indexing. Before coding JavaScript, your teams need to be discussing what content search engines will and won’t be able to see. It’s also worth keeping in mind that other search engines may not be as equipped to render your content.

“Particularly for large, global companies, they need to think about these smaller search engines that are less sophisticated than Google but still drive a decent amount of traffic in international markets,” Bowman emphasized.

Monitor and study mobile SERPs

“The problem is, a lot of us work on our computers, and so we’re checking things out on the desktop interface,” Bowman pointed out. Beginning on July 1, all new sites will be indexed using Google’s mobile-first indexing, with older sites getting monitored and evaluated for mobile-first indexing readiness. Since the majority of searches now happen on mobile, brands need to closely examine the mobile SERP and account for updates and changes in order to create content that’s optimized for the devices their audiences are using.

“I think the reason that we, as an industry, have not been talking about this is because of that — we’re not really studying the search results on a mobile interface to truly see they’re [Google] taking it over, and as mobile takes over, they’re going to gobble up some of our traffic. I think once they’ve got it [the mobile SERP] mastered and they know it’s a strong user experience, it’s only a matter of time before they do that to desktop as well.”

Take advantage of big data

“Hiring a data scientist is better than hiring an SEO to study the data,” Bowman stated simply. Data scientists are better equipped to identify commonalities and trends that you can use to improve your optimization efforts, inform your content strategy and enhance user experience (UX).

During her keynote, Bowman also recommended that brands make use of the Google Chrome User Experience Report to compare site speed to the competition as well as reference UX metrics from popular destinations across the web. You can then be more proactive.

Google’s search results interface has changed dramatically, but brands and agencies that can shake the inertia, rally their staffs and reorient their processes will be the first to spot new opportunities and novel ways to reach their audiences.


About The Author

George Nguyen is an Associate Editor at Third Door Media. His background is in content marketing, journalism, and storytelling.

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Yoast 12.1 adds custom favicons to the mobile snippet preview

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Yoast 12.1 adds custom favicons to the mobile snippet preview


Yoast has released version 12.1 of its WordPress plugin; the update adds your custom favicon to the mobile snippet preview, matches Google’s font sizes on desktop search results and introduces new schema filters.

Yoast’s mobile snippet preview with custom favicon. Source: Yoast.

Why we should care

An accurate preview of your mobile and desktop listings enables you to get a better idea of what your customers see before they click through, which may help you optimize your snippets and encourage them to click on your results.

The new filters introduced in this update can also be used to control your schema output and provide searchers with pertinent information about your brand.

More on the announcement

Yoast 12.1 also adds the following filters for more granular control over schema output:

  • wpseo_schema_organization_social_profiles filters an entity’s social profiles. You can use it to customize social profiles within the Organization schema object.
  • wpseo_schema_company_name and wpseo_schema_company_logo_id filter your company’s name and logo from the theme options if it hasn’t been designated in Yoast SEO’s settings.
  • wpseo_enable_structured_data_blocks disables Yoast’s structured data block editor blocks.

For more on Yoast’s structured data implementation updates, check out our coverage on Yoast SEO 11.0 (general schema implementation), 11.1 (images and video structured data), 11.2 (custom schema), 11.3 (personal image and avatar structured data), 11.4 (FAQ structured data), 11.5 (mobile snippet preview) and 11.6 (updated How-to structured data block).


About The Author

George Nguyen is an Associate Editor at Third Door Media. His background is in content marketing, journalism, and storytelling.

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Google Updates Reviews Rich Results – Check Your Structured Data

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Google Updates Reviews Rich Results - Check Your Structured Data


Google announced an update to Reviews Rich Results. The goal is to improve the Reviews Rich Results for users and to
“address” abusive implementation and impose limits to where rich results trigger. Additionally,the “name” property
becomes required.

Reviews Rich Results

The reviews rich results are explained in Google’s Review Snippet developer page. Google takes your schema structured data related to reviews and show stars in the search results.

Screenshot of a Reviews Rich Result

The rich snippets developer page states:

“Review snippets may appear in rich results or Google Knowledge Panels.”

It’s the guidelines on their appearance in the rich results that is affected.

Limits Imposed on When Rich Results Reviews are Shown

Google announced that the display of rich results reviews will be limited. This means that any reviews outside of those limits will no longer show review snippets.

These are the allowed schema types:

Self-serving Reviews Not Allowed

Self-serving reviews are reviews of oneself. Google will no longer display self-serving reviews in the featured snippets.

This is how Google explained it:

“We call reviews “self-serving” when a review about entity A is placed on the website of entity A – either directly in their markup or via an embedded 3rd party widget. “

“name” Property is Now Required

In perhaps the biggest change to Reviews Rich Results is the mandatory requirement of the name property in the featured snippets.

Publishers who rely on schema structured data plugins, including Reviews WordPress Plugins, should check if their plugin is currently including the “name” property.

If the name property is not included with your plugin then look for an update to your plugin and update it. If there is no “name” update then it may be something your plugin maker has in a future update.

You may wish to contact your plugin maker to find out when this is coming because the “name” property is now important.

Will Rich Results Disappear if “name” Property Missing?

Google did not say if failure to have the “name” property in the structured data will result in a loss of the Reviews Rich Result. They only said it’s required.

“With this update, the name property is now required, so you’ll want to make sure that you specify the name of the item that’s being reviewed.”

This is an important update for publishers who use reviews structured data. Make sure your structured data is properly updated in order to continue to show rich results for your structured data.

Read Google’s announcement here

Making Review Rich Results more Helpful



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What really matters in Google’s nofollow changes? SEOs ask

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What really matters in Google's nofollow changes? SEOs ask


Google’s news Tuesday that it is treating the nofollow attribute as a “hint” for ranking rather than a directive to ignore a link, and the introduction of rel="sponsored"andrel="ugc" raised reactions and questions from SEOs about next steps and the impact of the change to a nearly 15-year-old link attribute.

Choices for choice sake?

As Google Search Liaison Danny Sullivan stated in a tweet Tuesday, the announcement expands the options for site owners and SEOs to specify the nature of a link beyond the singular nofollow attribute. The additional sponsored and ugc attributes are aimed at giving Google more granular signals about the nature of link content.

As a point of clarification, Google’s Gary Illyes tweeted that nofollow in meta robots will also be treated as a “hint,” but there are no ugc or sponsored robot meta tags. He also stated that he’ll be updating the official documentation to explicitly reflect this.

There is no real benefit for the sites that implement these new attributes instead of nofollow, other than organizational classification if it’s helpful. That has some viewing it through a lens of skepticism.

“Massive impact” whether you adopt or not

Drawing the focus back to that the key change that nofollow is now a ranking “hint,” not a directive, Sullivan tweeted, “As Gary says, that’s very helpful to our systems that impact *lots* of people. The new attributes are a minor aspect.”

That was in reference to Illyes earlier tweet that the treatment of nofollow could have a “massive impact on the end user.”

It can be hard to reconcile hearing that the change could mean significant improvements in search results for users while also being told that most sites won’t see any ranking affect from the new nofollow treatment.

According to the announcement, these changes have already taken effect (save for nofollow being used as a crawling and indexing “hint,” which goes into effect in March 2020). “In most cases, the move to a hint model won’t change the nature of how we treat such links,” Sullivan and Illyes wrote in the announcement. “We’ll generally treat them as we did with nofollow before and not consider them for ranking purposes.”

Who benefits from the new attributes?

Implementing the more granular sponsored andugc attributes is optional, and Google clearly stated there is no need for SEOs to go back and update any existing nofollows. So will site owners adopt the new attributes if they don’t have to?

As Sullivan has stated, the purpose of them is to provide options to help it classify these kinds of links more clearly. The nuances Google looks at between nofollow,sponsored and ugc attributes won’t have an impact on your own site and the new attributes are voluntary to implement. “If you do want to help us understand the web better, implement them. If you don’t want to, don’t,” tweeted Illyes.

More work?

Making the new attributes voluntary means you don’t have to bang down IT’s door, but it could also mean the change request may fall to the bottom of the priority list for a lot of companies and never get implemented. As consultant Kristine Schachinger expressed in the tweet below, even the slightest SEO change can be hard to get implemented.

Google seems very clearly fine with that. At this stage, the actual work involved should be minimal. If your dev teams can’t implement a code change to incorporate ugc or sponsored attributes for several more sprints, or quarters (and you’ve been implementing nofollow when appropriate), you don’t have to fret.

For WordPress sites, Yoast SEO plugin founder and Chief Product Officer Joost de Valk said Tuesday that support will be coming in the next release.

“It’s quite easy,” said de Valk. If other vendors follow suit, it could speed up adoption of the new attributes.

An opportunity for manipulation?

Now that nofollow is a “hint,” some are also concerned about spammers that might want to test out whether their tactics have a new lease on life.

Google says this shouldn’t spur spammers because most links will still be ignored just as before, whether they use the nofollow, ugc or sponsored attributes. Further, given that one of the stated reasons Google made the change to consider nofollow a “hint” is to be able to better understand link schemes, this spam tactic could be more risky than before.

What now?

This change should not have you overhauling your nofollow strategy. If you publish sponsored content or host forums or comments on your site, consider implementing the new attributes when you are able to make a code change. If you can’t or just don’t want to, there’s no harm in that either.

“On the surface, this only benefits Google,” Chris Silver Smith, president of Argent Media, commented via Facebook. “But, if you read between the lines, ‘hints’ mean a passing of PageRank or equivalent values. They’re already using Nofollowed links in some cases. They just want it easier to choose between links to use now in more cases.”


About The Author

George Nguyen is an Associate Editor at Third Door Media. His background is in content marketing, journalism, and storytelling.

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