Authors: Carolyn Wilborn, Robyn Riley, Kelsey Burnham, Nicole Moore

In our February 2022 SEO News Recap, explore the most recent news and updates from ROI’s SEO experts on search engine optimization, including insights into AI and SEO, Google Search Console errors, SEO site migrations, and more.

How Google Uses Artificial Intelligence

Google has made a lot of progress incorporating artificial intelligence and machine learning into its search algorithms, starting in 2015 with RankBrain, then neural matching, BERT, and now MUM. How AI powers great search results is the latest explainer from Google, explaining how each of these technologies has been used in search and how all of the systems work together. It’s a good top-level overview of the different systems and what each one does.

One of the most newsworthy points to come out of this article concerns MUM, the Multitask Unified Model. Although it has been used to improve searches on COVID-19 and related topics in video results, it is “not currently used to help rank and improve the quality of search results like RankBrain, neural matching and BERT systems do.”

This is important because many people have believed that MUM was being used for search currently. Google’s Danny Sullivan has said that the search engine will announce when this technology is integrated into search.

Google: SEO Site Migrations Are Hard Because URL Signals Need to Be Forwarded

Google’s John Mueller answered a question about site migrations and changing URLs. He says:

“Search engines like Google store their index on a per page basis…so if you change the address or the URL of a page, that page’s data has to be forwarded somehow otherwise it gets lost.”

When going through a redesign, replatform, retheme, or any other site migration/major change, you’ll want to make sure to put in 301 redirects, at a minimum, for your core URLs. John reminded us that it can take several months for Google to process the more important URLs and much more time for the less important URLs. He also recommends keeping redirects in place for at least 1 year for search engines, but ideally, forever for users.

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New Google Mobile Search Feature: People Search Next

Google added a new feature to mobile search results called People Search Next to “help people more easily get to and see popular next searches based on what they’re searching.” This feature appears right above Related Searches and may push some organic results further down the page. The plus side? Google has provided another source of research for keywords and content ideas.

Google Title Change Update

Google updated the way that they change the page titles displayed in organic search results with the goal to “produce titles that work better for documents overall, to describe what they are about, regardless of the particular query.”

Titles may be changed if they are too long or too generic, or don’t accurately reflect what’s on the page. However, because page titles are being changed by an algorithm, the resulting new title isn’t always what a site owner prefers.

A recent article from Search Engine Journal reports on an analysis of 80,000 title tags.

The analysis revealed that Google rewrites titles more than 61% of the time.

In addition to the above reasons, this study also found that titles with brackets and parentheses are also likely to be changed – 77.6% of the time with brackets, in particular. Writing page titles that conform to Google’s recommendations is the best way to minimize changes, which is important because there is no way to prevent Google from changing your titles. Google’s John Mueller can confirmed this, even when there may be a legal requirement for writing a title in a certain way.

Goodbye FLoC, Hello Topics API

Google has been looking for a third-party cookie alternative for a while now, introducing Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) in January 2021. The goal of FLoC was to target people by interest groups rather than cookies, theoretically eliminating privacy concerns.

Criticism of this method began soon after it was announced. In late January, Google announced that they would replace this proposal with the Topics API.

What is Topics? According to Google’s announcement, this proposal for interest-based advertising uses the browser to identify “a handful” of topics that a user is interested in, sharing three of those interests with advertising partners. Topics are only saved for three weeks and then deleted, and advertisers will get one topic from each of the past three weeks.

Google also says that Chrome browser users will be able to see those Topics, remove ones they don’t like, and disable the feature if desired. You can learn more about Topics on The Privacy Sandbox.

Google Search Console: Data Lost & Found

If you’re regularly checking your performance in Google Search Console (as you should be – or at least have a great SEO team that does it for you), you may have noticed a few issues with missing data this month.

As noted by Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable, there was a “logging issue on analytics for Search, Discover, and Google News” from February 1-3. Another issue was spotted relating to missing data around February 8-9, but that data appeared to be backfilled as of February 17.

Google’s John Mueller responded to a tweet on the second missing data issue, saying that “you can ignore these gaps” because they are not a sign of a problem on your site.

Blog | Google Search Console Errors Google Search Console errors can significantly harm the accuracy of your website reports. We’ve put together a list of some of the most common Google Search Console error reports, how to determine what might be causing your error, and, in most cases, how to fix it. Read the blog.

Subfolder Depth Doesn’t Really Matter for SEO

In a recent Twitter discussion, John Mueller was asked if Google prefers having content categorized in deeper subfolders, such as /blog/page vs. blog/category/page or even deeper. John says that, except in specific circumstances like adult content or country-specific content, it shouldn’t matter. Use what makes sense for your site and what you can maintain and track most easily.

Part of the concern with this type of question may be related to the concept of click depth; if Google or users need to click multiple times to find a page, it may be considered less important, if Googlebot can even find it. Click depth and subfolder depth are not the same thing, however, and do not necessarily send the same signals.

How Reviews on Google Maps Work

Google recently detailed the moderation system a review undergoes when it’s posted on Google Maps. Since machines are good at identifying patterns, they’re the first line of defense in determining if content is legitimate so that fake or fraudulent content can be removed before anyone sees it.

First, review content is reviewed for offensive or off-topic content. Then, the account who posted is reviewed for suspicious behavior, and finally the location is reviewed for media and social mentions to determine whether there has been uncharacteristic activity.

The process takes seconds, but even once a review is live, it continues to be monitored to see if it’s part of a larger cluster of reviews on a Google Business Profile or whether there’s a pattern of 1- or 5-star reviews posted in a short time frame.

Google Answers Common Backlink Questions

John Mueller recently responded to questions on backlinks and confirmed that not all links pass on full equity and that Google can give none or partial weight to backlinks. He also confirmed that links don’t count on a domain level, meaning that Google doesn’t use a metric like domain authority or rating to determine link value.

He also confirmed that reciprocal links can be natural, especially if you’re sharing a news mention of your site or if you’re a local business linking to neighbors. However, link exchanges attempting to manipulate rankings are against Google’s guidelines.

Google Introduces New Robots Tag: indexifembedded

In late January, Google introduced a new robots tag indexifembedded. Working with the noindex robots tag, the indexifembedded tag allows your content to be indexed when it is embedded on other pages without having to index the host page on its own. The content placed on a third-party website via iframe or other HTML tag can be indexed if the indexifembedded tag is used on the host site.

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