Google’s search algorithm updates and what these could mean for you

Google has announced new search algorithm updates in the past week, with key updates to its BERT algorithm, and improvements to spelling, indexing, subtopics and several other features now in place to build ‘a more helpful Google’.

The new updates are all geared around gaining an even better understanding of a user’s query and subsequently rank relevant results in return.

We’ve rounded up everything you need to know.

UPDATES TO BERT

The BERT algorithm has been updated to now apply to almost all queries, up from 10%. Google cites a deep investment into language research and, after last year introducing BERT language understanding systems, has revealed BERT is now used in ‘nearly every’ query in English. 

This means BERT will now understand natural language and question queries even better.

What to consider: It’s a big jump to go from 10% of queries to almost all queries! BERT is another algorithm that Google tells us we can’t optimise for, and there’s a lot of mystery around how it impacts results.

Fundamentally, this algorithm focuses on natural language and seeks to understand queries, suggesting that Google will become more receptive to content written in a conversational manner and be able to better answer questions. 

BERT also deals with query ambiguity, words with multiple meanings and homonyms – writing within the full context of a topic should be beneficial for both text and voice search.

IMPROVED SPELLING

An improved spelling algorithm is now in place. This uses a deeper neural net to decipher misspellings, something which Google believes will see greater improvement to spelling than all of their improvements from over the last five years. Good news for the 10% of search queries misspelled each and every day! What to consider: Google says this is a better update to their spelling algorithm than all other updates in the last 5 years, and that it will improve their understanding of the context of misspellings. This might help surface sites for more misspelt queries, particularly around brand misspellings.

INDEXING PASSAGES

We are set to see a new ability to index “passages” from pages to improve results for detailed queries. This will involve a much better understanding of the relevancy of specific passages and will provide more accurate results for queries where the relevant answer might be confined to one paragraph deep within content.

This has been introduced to tackle the specific searches that Google often found the hardest to get right. This is set to be rolled out next month and will impact 7% queries. Find out more on this in Search Engine Land’s recent post.

What to consider: The announcement of ‘passage indexing’ is already infamous within the SEO community due to the semantics around ‘indexing’. Google has had to quickly announce that passages of text aren’t being indexed independently of a wider page as implied, but that passage indexing is actually a ranking change. 

It does mean that passages of text from a page of content can be surfaced in search results when hyper-relevant to a query, even if the wider page context isn’t focused on that query or topic. It seeks to find needles in haystacks.

This could have an impact on CTRs of affected queries – if an obscure query is answered within the search result there is no reason to click through, but if the answer wouldn’t have otherwise surfaced it at least raises awareness of the brand.

It also means that content producers can write in depth across many topics within one piece of content – there is less concern about being hyper-focused on one topic in the knowledge that individual passages can be ranked.

A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF SUBTOPICS

We will begin to see a greater, more diverse range of content delivered when searching for broader topics. Google is applying neural nets to help understand subtopics around an interest. We should see this rolled out by the end of the year.

What to consider: This is a consumer focused update and it will be interesting to see its appearance in situ when rolled out. The focus is on suggestions around broader topics, so site owners should ensure that their content and categories incorporate relevant sub-categories to enhance the possibility of this content being surfaced.

If you found this update useful, check out our latest blog posts for the latest news, and if you’re interested in finding out more about what we can do for your brand, get in touch with the team today.

Important Advice for Your Cookie Policy in 2019

The ICO recently updated its advice on cookie use, primarily moving from implied user acceptance basis to explicit opt-in for “non-essential” cookies, under which analytics and marketing cookies fall. This obviously has deep implications for the tracking efforts of online businesses. This post will look at what the updated advice says, and what steps businesses should take.

The new guidance is set by the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) – a full guide is available at the ICO website and can be downloaded as a PDF for reference.

 

What are the key takeaways from the new advice?

  • You must tell users about all cookies used and what they do

Whilst PECR doesn’t definitively outline the “clear and comprehensive” information you should give about the cookies you use, it should generally cover the cookies used, why they will be used, what is being placed on the user’s device, and ease of rejection.

  • Consent must be explicitly given

In the recent past, it has been acceptable to have user consent of cookies implied by continued use of a website or app. Implied consent is no longer compliant – users must freely give explicit consent.

  • Necessary cookies are exempt, but analytics cookies aren’t deemed necessary

“Strictly necessary” cookies are those which ensure a website or app can remain functional, such as cookies used to administer a shopping cart. The guidelines are quite clear that analytics and tracking cookies aren’t considered “strictly necessary”, and require explicit user consent.

  • Revoking consent should be as simple as giving consent

Whatever mechanism is provided for the user to provide their consent should be easily accessible to revoke this consent at any time.

  • “Cookie walls” are not considered freely given consent

A cookie wall refers to the act of blocking usage of a website or app if the user doesn’t consent to cookie policy. This is against the guidelines, as consent must be given “freely” – a cookie wall is considered enforced consent.

  • New guidance sits alongside GDPR

PECR compliance needs to be considered before GDPR compliance – GDPR compliance is then applied to any cookies that deal with personally identifiable data.

Who’s doing well?

Predictably, the ICO are showcasing best practise with a large pop-up, clearly outlining the difference between necessary and analytics cookies, and providing an opt-in for analytics cookies. The “C” icon at the bottom left follows the user throughout the site and can be clicked to open the pop-up to change policy acceptance at any time.

The pop-out interface used by the ICO is a plugin provided by https://www.civicuk.com/cookie-control, which is customisable to cover marketing and social sharing cookies in addition to analytics, as shown on their own website.

Cookiebot is used by some of our clients thanks to its simple WordPress plugin. Their plugin can be seen in action at Cookiebot.com and shows the explanatory detail required alongside opt-in tick boxes. Clicking “Show details” gives the detail of exactly which cookies are used, and what for.

Are you at risk?

One of the debates now is whether these new guidelines will be enforced, or even if they are enforceable – the ICO advice for non-compliance is quite woolly in terms of who could be penalised and what the punishment could be. Whilst the above examples show us what good might look like, we are seeing relatively little uptake in the wider world – either because organisations are accepting the risk, or because the relatively low key announcement has been missed by many.

This article isn’t exhaustive and shouldn’t be used as the basis of a compliance policy. Our advice would be to absorb the full guidelines from the ICO and take legal advice on the next steps to take.

 

Fusion Natural Edge Nominated for Northern Digital Award

Prolific North’s Northern Digital Awards 2019 will take place on the 31st January and here at Fusion HQ we’re delighted to have been nominated for ‘Search Agency of the Year’ for the second time.

We’ve also been recognised for our unique SEO software, Natural Edge, which has been nominated for ‘Best Digital Tool or Software’, and we couldn’t be more proud of the recognition that Natural Edge has received.

We thought it might be a good idea to explain a little more about our Natural Edge software and how it is helping give our clients a competitive edge in an increasingly competitive SEO marketplace.

Background

As an SEO team, a key part of our day-to-day activity is keeping our clients ahead of the curve in organic search – and outranking their competitors. If a prospective customer searches for a cycling related keyword, for example, then we’d want our bike retailing client to be among the first to appear, with high visibility in all the right places.

Several years ago, we sought out SEO software that would be able to assist with doing this – for ourselves and our clients.  It needed to be adaptable to algorithmic changes (like the increasing prominence of localised search), flexible from a pricing point-of-view, and offer clear reporting metrics that clients could use to inform the KPIs they set and the ROI of our services.

However, the tools we looked into didn’t meet our clients’ needs. Ranking software would only give you your keyword position without considering how much traffic you would gain, for example. It might only benchmark a small set of competitors, or keywords would be looked at in isolation rather than holistically, missing out on larger insights that can truly drive a strategy forward.

Instead of spending big on little return, we invested in proprietary technology of our own, building a highly adaptable and cost-effective suite that could tailor bespoke solutions for our clients’ needs – giving them the Natural Edge required in order to shine.

What can Natural Edge do?

Natural Edge was nominated for the award on the basis of its versatility and the range of benefits it offers to its users – and our clients. However, here are just some of the highlights:

  • See the bigger picture

It’s easy to become obsessed with individual keywords.

Natural Edge identifies every site ranked on the first page for each relevant keyword in each location, and uses our proprietary algorithm to calculate how much traffic a site will earn from its positions. Natural Edge collates all of this data and presents a league table ordered by the highest traffic drivers, so that results are easy to understand and analyse.

  • Identify true competition

Competitors in search are very different to competitors in daily business life. In fact, the majority of brands are competing with companies they’d be incredibly surprised by.

Natural Edge benchmarks clients against anyone who ranks on the first page for specified keywords in every location they have presence. Finding out who you’re up against has never been clearer.

This provides a range of opportunities for growth, from identifying high priority keywords to target, inspiring new content ideas and analysing competitor backlinks to spot potential partners.

  • Understand what drives competitor visibility

While some sites rank for dozens of long-tail keywords, others rank highly for a couple of high volume phrases.

Natural Edge tells you how competitors have built their market share, allowing you to flesh out your digital strategy with key industry insights.

  • Understand local performance

Natural Edge offers highly localised insights, highlighting the composition of organic search results by identifying the number of localised and map results generated at a keyword level. A client can enter their locations into Natural Edge, thereby identifying generic keywords that create local results, and identify share of voice and individual keyword rankings for each of those locations.

Why we’re so proud to be up for nomination

At Fusion, we’ve been working with award-winning retail clients for over twenty years, delivering exceptional service with demonstrated ROI whilst using best-in-class innovation to create unique solutions to today’s digital problems.

Natural Edge is just one example of how our team’s outside-the-box thinking, and we’re beyond chuffed that our hard work and expertise is being acknowledged by one of the region’s leading authorities in the field.

Greatest of all, however, is the fact that it’s a testament to our team’s quality and ability, as a cutting-edge independent agency producing award-nominated software, and investing in genuinely pioneering solutions to achieve our clients’ goals.

Interested in what our services can do for you? Get in touch with the Fusion team today at hello@fusionunlimited.co.uk or learn more about Fusion Natural Edge here.

Fusion Unlimited Nominated for Four Northern Digital Awards

Northern Digital Awards Shortlist Badge

Rounding off an excellent year for Fusion Unlimited, we are delighted to have received four nominations for this year’s Northern Digital Awards including Large Digital Agency of the Year.

Presented on the evening of Thursday the 26th of January at New Dock Hall in Leeds’ Royal Armouries, the Northern Digital Awards celebrate the region’s most significant achievements in digital marketing, with a panel of judges who rank among the industry’s biggest names.

The Large Digital Marketing Agency of the year award is for those agencies who, in the judges’ opinion “have produced fantastic results and made a positive contribution to the industry. The judges will be looking not only at levels of business obtained but also for examples of the standard of work delivered for their clients”.

For our work with Your Move on a hyper-local PPC campaign that specifically tailors marketing activity to the areas in which Your Move operates, we’ve been nominated for the Northern Digital Award for Best PPC Campaign.

Elsewhere, our successes with in-house software development have seen us receive two nominations for Best Digital Tool or Software: Fusion Feed Catalyst intelligently and dynamically aligns paid search and marketing activity to correlate with clients’ varying stock, pricing and promotional campaigns, while Natural Edge enables our clients to gain a bespoke insight into their SEO performance at a regional and retail location level & identify strategies accordingly to drive improved SEO visibility.

With our ‘Retail Marketing campaign of the year at the Online Retail Awards and 5 nominations at the National Search Awards, this has been a year to remember for our clients and all the team here at Fusion!

Fusion Unlimited Shortlisted In The 2015 PROLIFIC NORTH AWARDS

Prolific North Awards 2015

We’re excited to announce that Fusion Unlimited have been shortlisted as best SEO & PPC Agency in the PROLIFIC NORTH AWARDS 2015.

This year, the third annual Prolific North Awards will celebrate industry excellence and highlight and reward outstanding campaigns and exceptional talent in the creative and media industries across the North of the UK.

The 2015 award ceremony has attracted over 700 of the north’s leading creative and media professionals.

Winners will be announced at the award ceremony on Thursday 30th April at The Point, Lancashire County Cricket Club.

We’re  delighted to have been nominated for best SEO and PPC agency category and look forward to another awards night!

Google to Begin Favouring Mobile Friendly Results in SERPs

Google tablet

Google have announced that they will be “expanding the use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal” from April 21st and the change will “will have a significant impact in search results”.

This is big news, as it’s rare that Google give so much advance notice about an algorithm change that they say will have a dramatic impact on search results.

I think you can assume that if a website doesn’t get the “mobile friendly” snippet in mobile results, that site will see their mobile visibility reduce drastically, and this will be the point in time where mobile results will change dramatically from desktop.

You can use the following link to get advice from Google as to why a site isn’t mobile friendly:

https://www.google.co.uk/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/

The same post also announced that Google may start to display relevant mobile app information in search results for users that are logged in and have the relevant app installed. This update is already in place, therefore organisations that have a mobile app as well as a website may want to consider Google’s guide to getting app content indexed

HTTPS – Examining Google’s Newest Ranking Factor

HTTPS

One of the main talking points in the SEO industry right now is Google’s recent announcement that they will count https as a ranking factor.

Google say the update is a “light” ranking factor, impacting 1% of queries, but it is likely they will decide to turn up the dial in time. To quote the announcement:

“…while we give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS. But over time, we may decide to strengthen it, because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web”

Having seen Google’s softly softly approach before, reading between the lines they appear to be telling site owners rather than suggesting to them that they should be updating to HTTPS. I imagine there will be an amnesty period “to give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS”, but eventually HTTPS will become a fully blown ranking signal. This is what Google wants, and you either play by their rules or suffer the consequence of lowered rankings.

So what exactly does HTTPS mean?

HTTPS is the secure version of HTTP, which creates a secure connection for the user and stops sensitive information from being leaked – HTTPS has therefore been a standard implementation for securing ecommerce shopping carts. Google’s recommendation is to make all static content secure and not just pages that transfer sensitive data. The main benefit for site owners is that it prevents “Man-in-the-Middle” attacks, a type of hack that relays data between two parties through a third middle man.

As per Google’s announcement, instructions for implementing HTTPS in a satisfactory way are as follows:

  • Decide the kind of certificate you need: single, multi-domain, or wildcard certificate
  • Use 2048-bit key certificates
  • Use relative URLs for resources that reside on the same secure domain
  • Use protocol relative URLs for all other domains
  • Check out our Site move article for more guidelines on how to change your website’s address (although it soon became apparent that Google Webmaster Tools doesn’t allow site moves from HTTP to HTTPS yet)
  • Don’t block your HTTPS site from crawling using robots.txt
  • Allow indexing of your pages by search engines where possible. Avoid the noindex robots meta tag.

 


Moving to a full HTTPS implementation gives site owners the benefit of a fully secure connection, but with some minor downsides. The first is the cost of implementation – it costs around £50 for a certificate (avoid free or cheap certificates) and then a couple of hours for the server configuration – so not exactly prohibitive costs. The biggest challenge is getting the implementation right, so it’s important that someone with experience sets the server up. One final downside is that HTTPS requests will slow page load down slightly, ironic given Google’s constant banging of the drum on improving site speed.

To conclude, unless you’re in the (unclear) 1% of queries impacted, it’s unlikely that switching to HTTPS immediately will provide a noticeable improvement to your rankings. But given Google’s ominous tone of saying they are “giving webmasters enough time” and they “may decide to strengthen”, it’s fairly clear which direction they would like to head in, and adding HTTPS implementation should be on your road-map for the coming months.

Why You Need to Pay Attention to Google’s Mobile Announcements

Google Mobile

I’ve seen couple of interesting pieces from Google recently around mobile SEO and reading between the lines I think we could be seeing a bigger push from them in the next couple of months with regards to rewarding sites with a good mobile experience, or more ominously, demoting sites that don’t tow their line.

On an Official Google Webmaster Central Blog post a couple of weeks ago, Google announced they might highlight underneath a search result that you may be redirected to the site’s homepage rather than the page you were hoping to land on, because a mobile equivalent doesn’t exist. It’s been an issue since the dawn of the smartphone, where many sites will blanket redirect users on mobile devices to the homepage rather than equivalent mobile URLs. It was common for developers to use this shortcut when rushing to develop a mobile site, but it’s always resulted in a frustrating user experience and it looks as though Google is highlighting they share this opinion.

Google call these “faulty redirects” and they have helpfully provided a report in Webmaster Tools that shows if this is an issue for your site. The report can be accessed under Crawl > Crawl Errors and then the smartphone tab. From here you can get an idea of the scale of any issues as well as problem URLs.

Depending on your resources, our preferred order of fixes would be:

  • Develop a responsive or adaptive site which resolves all content regardless of device
  • Redirect users to an equivalent mobile URL
  • If the mobile URL doesn’t exist, present the desktop page instead. To quote Google, “Doing nothing is better than doing something wrong in this case”.

Another tidbit of information suggesting Google’s mobile direction came from Matt Cutts at the recent SMX Advanced conference. To quote Sugarrae in her Matt’s You&A talk wrap-up:

“He kept saying how important it was for us to be mobile ready. He asked the audience how many people had auto-fill markup on their mobile site forms. Hardly anyone raised their hands. Danny said “that’s not mobile” and Matt said “yes it is“.

Emphasis is mine – once again Google are hinting at the importance of mobile user experience, and that they may be seeing UX and “traditional” optimisation as interchangeable.

Another interesting quote came from UK head of performance Matt Bush, who says he’s “yet to see a really good creative mobile campaign“.

It all suggests to me that Google will be placing a much higher emphasis on mobile in the coming months, and I think we could be 12-18 months away from seeing substantially different search results for mobile devices than those on desktop. And that’s before you even consider voice search or wearable media! The “faulty redirect” development would also suggest that mobile factors are going to play a bigger part in organic algorithms overall.

With our clients seeing anything up to 40% of traffic just going to handheld devices, but often without conversion rates to match, it’s essential that site owners start getting their houses in order and not just from an SEO perspective, but also UX, creative and cross device tracking.

I’ll leave you with another quote from Matt Cutts’ SMX Advanced speech: “The mobile dominant Internet is coming faster than most people in this room realise“.

How the Google Venice Algorithm Changes Your Local Search Strategy

How the Google Venice Algorithm changes your local search strategy

Google recently announced around 40 algorithm changes that have taken place during February 2012, or are about to be rolled out. Whilst most SEOs attention was drawn to the “link evaluation” point, and the fact that Google may soon make big changes to how they evaluate the characteristics of links to judge the content of a destination URL, it’s the roll out of an algorithm called “Google Venice” which has caught our attention today.

The “Google Venice” algorithm update focuses on local results. Historically, a generic keyword search e.g. for “fitted kitchens”, would most likely return a Google Places map result with some local listings, alongside some generic non-local standard organic results. However, we are now seeing many generic searches that generate a Places map result and generic results, as well as featuring some local results in the main organic listings.

Google uses a number of methods to detect where a user is based – most notably, the user can set their default location in their search preferences, and Google will also look at IP address and to some degree past search history.

This is big news on two fronts. First of all, there’s a clear advantage for businesses with a local physical presence to gain visibility for generic phrases amongst searchers in their area.

Secondly, bigger nationwide companies who have strong visibility for generic phrases despite not having a physical presence in the searcher’s area will most likely lose visibility, at the expense of local businesses.

Any business with physical and online presence must consider this as part of their search strategy if they weren’t before, at a local SME level as well as national multi-store retailers. Our recommendation would be to first identify searches relevant to your product and service which may trigger the Venice algorithm, and to ensure that on-page optimisation elements target those products/service combined with location. For businesses in one location this will most likely be your homepage, whilst multi-store businesses should scale this across individual location pages. The big challenge for multi-store businesses will then be tracking results for multiple phrases across multiple geographic areas, and it remains to be seen how effective standard off-site SEO practises will be in improving Venice results.