Authors: Robyn Riley, Carolyn Wilborn, Kelsey Burnham, Nicole Moore
In our April 2022 SEO News Recap, dive into the latest news and updates from ROI’s SEO experts on search engine optimization, including insights on Google’s AI tools, visual search improvements, Google Analytics latency issues, and more.
March 2022 Product Reviews Update Released
In late March, Google released its third product reviews update in the past 12 months. According to Google, this review was focused on rewarding more in-depth details, reviewers who have physically used the products, unique visuals and other information, and comparisons to similar products.
Rolling out from March 23 to April 11, users reported that the update was slow to start but was likely the cause of increased ranking volatility around March 31 and April 5.
While this and previous product review updates are focused on sites that review products on their pages (rather than sites that have ratings and reviews of products from shoppers on the site), we have seen these updates impact clients who do not post reviews.
Remember: If you’re selling a brand name product that other sites are including in reviews, you may experience an indirect ranking impact as those review sites move up or down on the search results page.
MUM & BERT: Identifying People in Crisis & Shocking Content
Thanks to Google’s AI tools, MUM and BERT, users will be more supported on the searching platform. MUM has been expanded to detect personal crisis searches, such as suicide, domestic violence, and sexual assault. These types of queries will lead to a hotline being readily available in the results, along with information that is catered to help those in need.
Similarly, BERT’s role is helping to reduce the likelihood of searchers running into unwanted shocking content. Sometimes, results can be named in a nondescript fashion but feature explicit content related to ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender. BERT has improved to be better able to identify when searchers are seeking out explicit content or when it is unwanted, reducing unwanted results for all users.
Spring Cleaning: The URL Parameters Tool
The Google Search Central Blog released an article at the end of March stating that the URL Parameters tool in Google Search Console would be deprecated in one month.
This legacy tool was created so site owners would have “granular control over how Google crawled their site by specifying how certain parameters affect the content on their site.”
Google has become much better at understanding which parameters are useful and which aren’t, and since only a small amount of the configured parameters in the tool are useful for crawling (~1%), the tool will no longer be supported.
There is no action needed by site owners; however, you can use robots.txt or hreflang to specify directives for Googlebot.
Google Explains Why Google Does Not Crawl & Index Every URL
Google’s John Mueller explained why Google (and third-party tools) do not crawl or report on every single URL on a website. He says:
“It’s theoretically impossible to crawl it all, since the number of actual URLs is effectively infinite. Since nobody can afford to keep an infinite number of URLs in a database, all web crawlers make assumptions, simplifications, and guesses about what is realistically worth crawling.”
He also explained why search engines and SEO tools often display different indexed content, links, and metrics.
Visual SERP Improvements
Among Google’s most recent updates, viewers will discover more visual results for certain queries. It is important to take note of this update because it may affect site traffic and change position spots for traditional results.
To push more traffic to pages, consider including more visual mediums. Google’s enhanced AI system can tell when a searcher is looking more for visual content and will show results accordingly.
In addition to Google’s visual search results, users are also able to search using both an image and text. Those with the Google app on Android or iOS phones can upload an image along with a search query, such as “red dress.” They can even take a photo in the moment, if they prefer. This additional information gives Google the ability to share more visual matches, such as dresses for sale that are similar to the query at hand.
Google Analytics Latency Issues
If you’ve had issues with Google Analytics real-time reports lagging behind, you’re not alone. Reports of issues on Universal Analytics (UA) started in early April, with Google acknowledging one issue on April 7 and another on April 11.
Another reporting delay, this time affecting reporting data for Google Analytics 4 (GA4) and Google Analytics for Firebase, was confirmed on April 14.
The issues from April 7 and 14 are reportedly fixed. However, according to Google, latency issues with UA will not be completely resolved because “Google Analytics 4 (GA4) properties have an improved Realtime report that does not suffer from this issue.” Users should, the company says, “consider implementing an GA4 property alongside your existing Universal Analytics property.”
If access to real-time analytics is important to your site, you can try waiting for a few minutes and reloading the UA page. Otherwise, make sure that you’ve set up GA4 on your site to see this data.
Google Warns About AI-Generated Content
While automatically generated content isn’t strictly against Google’s guidelines, Google’s John Mueller referred to AI-generated content as “spam” in a recent Google Search Central SEO office hours hangout.
This was followed not long after by an update to the main webmaster guidelines, which clarify that AI content is against Google’s guidelines when it is “intended to manipulate search rankings.”
Danny Goodwin at Search Engine Land has a good writeup on how Google has approached this topic historically, and the potential difficulties that Google may have determining whether or not a content is written by a robot. For now, your focus should always be on high-quality content that is useful to people, no matter who writes it.
There’s No Technical Way to Capture Featured Snippets
The word “snippets” is thrown around a lot when we talk about Google search results. We have standard search snippets, featured snippets, and rich snippets, as well as their variations. So, it’s not surprising that people can be easily confused by the technical requirements of each.
Google’s John Mueller was asked on Twitter how to help a site rank in featured snippets, to which he replied that there’s “no technical method for achieving that” and to focus on other things that are more useful for the site.
While this appears to have been a clear question from someone who was simply seeking information, ROI’s SEO team has heard similar questions from clients – and it’s often where the terminology gets confusing. Here’s a quick rundown of the three main types of snippets and how each can be structured to perform better:
- Standard snippets: This is the title, URL, and meta description for each page in the search engine results page (SERP). Each of these three pieces should help clearly explain what the page is about, but remember that Google can change the title and the meta description if the algorithms determine that there may be a mismatch between what the site provides and what is actually on the page.
- Featured snippets: When Google pulls one (or two) pages out of the SERP and highlights it in a larger size at the top of the page, this is a featured snippet. The only way to capture featured snippets is to (a) provide what Google believes to be the best answer to the search query and (b) provide that answer in the format that Google is looking for (paragraph, list, table, or video).
- Rich snippets: Rich snippets begin with the standard snippet, but also provide additional information, such as review stars, price information, availability, and more. There are specific technical requirements to show rich snippets on the SERP, and they need relevant structured data markup on the page to qualify.
If you have any questions about snippets or other SEO topics, reach out to connect with one of ROI’s SEO experts.
Google: Out-of-Stock Products May Impact Search Visibility
John Mueller recently confirmed that Google may reduce the visibility of product pages with out-of-stock items. Google treats these URLs as a soft 404 error and can drop the URL from search results.
This won’t always be the case, however. If product pages contain a lot of information, they can still be relevant for people searching for a specific product. It’s important to note that out-of-stock product pages won’t impact the rest of a site’s rankings.
YouTube Search Insights Available to All Users
Video is a growing area in Google Search, and YouTube is one of the biggest drivers of video traffic on the web (not surprising, since it’s owned by Google).
There are a number of SEO tools available to help creators find relevant video topics and keywords. The platform is launching YouTube Search Insights and making it available to all creators and brands by the end of April. This tool aggregates data from the previous 28 days to show what a channel’s viewers are searching for and indicate if there are content gaps (meaning that a viewer searched but wasn’t able to find a relevant video). This looks like a great tool to help creators improve their content planning process and create more relevant videos.
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Are Internal Links in Headers & Footers Treated Differently?
John Mueller recently confirmed that while internal links are important signals to Google on the hierarchy of your site content, where those links are located on a web page is not a factor. No matter whether internal links are in the footer, header, or main content, they are viewed equally.
Google does take into consideration the text surrounding internal links in the main content of pages to understand the content, but not as a signal of how important pages are.
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- Google Search Central Blog. Improving Product Review ranking, one year on.
- Google Blog: The Keyword. More helpful product reviews on Search.
- Search Engine Roundtable. Now Finished: March 2022 Google Product Reviews Update.
- Search Engine Roundtable. Google Now Using MUM For Detecting Personal Crisis Searches & BERT For Detecting Shocking Content.
- Google Search Central Blog. Spring cleaning: the URL Parameters tool.
- Search Engine Roundtable. Google Search Results Rolls Out Much More Visual Design In Grid Formats & More.
- Google Blog: The Keyword. Go beyond the search box: Introducing multisearch.
- Search Engine Land. Google claims to fix Google Analytics latency issues.
- Search Engine Land. Google Analytics confirms another reporting delay today.
- Twitter. Tweet from John Mueller @johnmu.
- Search Engine Journal. Google: Out Of Stock Products May Impact Search Visibility.
- YouTube, Google Search Central. English Google SEO office-hours from April 1, 2022.
- Google Search Central. Webmaster guidelines.
- Search Engine Land. Google doesn’t want your AI-generated SEO spam content.
- Search Engine Journal. YouTube launching new search insights tool.
- Search Engine Land. Are Internal Links In Header and Footer Treated Differently?