Welcome to the first roundup of the year for all of the biggest SEO news.
The last 30 days were fairly quiet for SEO, and I’m sure everyone was pretty happy with that after some of the high-tension drama that we covered in our last roundup.
But that doesn’t mean nothing important happened. These last days of the year gave us a lot to take forward into the new one.
First, I’m going to take you through some of the more in-depth guides that came out recently, and what they can teach us about 2019’s best practices for recovering from the medical update, retail SEO, Outreach and even PBN management.
Then, in SEO news, Google developers and their representatives had a very chatty couple of weeks. Various reps and developers appeared in social media comment, videos and blogs to provide clarity that you’ll want to put into action soon.
I’m going to give you a small tour of their advice and the hints they offered on what to come.
Last, I have a hodgepodge of other items that shouldn’t be missed, from newly released features to some interesting SEO community debates.
Let’s start with how someone managed to make a full recovery after being shellacked by the medic update…
How penalized sites are recovering from the medical update
A lot of people were spooked by what happened when Google released its Medic update on the first of August.
The sites that were hit (and there were many of them) were hit hard. The case study in this guide starts with a site that lost more than half of its organic traffic over a month, and lost 5 SERPS positions for most pages.
Now, we’re finally seeing people able to pull themselves out of that hole, and we’re learning how they’re doing it.
That’s the basis of this guide, which is written by someone whose site was hit in that update. A short assessment of what went wrong is followed by a highly actionable list of the changes that were made to overcome the penalty—and the surges in ratings that followed.
This one absolutely can’t be missed if you or a client is trying to recover a medical site. The conclusion of the case study, however, really comes down to making the changes that are the best for quality and user experience in the first place.
In the next guide, we’ll look at Google’s own (plentiful) recommendations for retail UX.
Does Google’s “leaked” UX playbook for retail contain insights for SEOs?
Google is notorious for being coy about what it considers to be the most important factors for ranking websites, perhaps because of the fear that SEOs will try to game anything that they put in writing.
However, the guide that was released (some say leaked from a limited release) isn’t at much risk of being gamed because it covers…well, just about everything.
It’s a UX guide designed for use by major retailers, but in a roundabout way, it covers just about every on-page SEO issue with specific advice about what to implement, and what impact it can be expected to have.
It also features a bunch of “do this-not this” examples that will be helpful for anyone trying make changes (or defend strategies to a client).
While most of these recommendations won’t be new to experienced SEOs, the whole thing is worth a look to consider what it says about what Google thinks is best.
Now, to drift a teensy bit away from what Google prefers, let’s look at Rank Club’s recently released guide on the best PBN practices for the New Year.
The 7 best practices for PBNs in 2019
PBNs are still alive and kicking, even if some of the simpler strategies for making them work have been replaced with more complex and carefully balanced ones.
Enter the guide from Rank Club, which is focusing on this particular grey hat area of SEO, and doing it better than most. Rob Rok slid in just as the New Year started with some detailed advice for people who are willing to put the work into getting the most out of PBNs.
The guide is pretty comprehensive, including both strategic and technical advice for balancing PBNs with other tactics, and getting through difficult spots like the sandbox period.
If you’ll be making PBNs part of your strategy, don’t miss out on these new best practices.Next, we’re looking at a guide that brings outsourcing into 2019…
7 ways to future-proof your outreach efforts
Outreach is beginning to mature into one of the most powerful and reliable SEO techniques, which also means that it’s going to be easy to overdo things and set yourself up to be penalized later.
Instead of doing that, check out this fresh guide from Pete King of Authority Builders that looks into the ways that you can build out your long-term goals while implementing outreach strategies.
More than just a guide on the broad strokes of strategy (though it covers that, too), this piece contains a lot of specific and actionable information on how to safely manage sending mass emails and ensure deliverability in a post-General Data Protection Regulation Act (GDPR) world.
You want to stay compliant with this new EU legislation, because the fines can be pretty significant if you aren’t. So, hit this guide up to learn how to mass mail legally even if you aren’t making a massive push for outreach right now.
Now that we’ve covered all the interesting guides that came out over the last 30 days, let’s get to all the insight that Google’s team has slipped to us…
How Google is responding to warning signs that searchers can’t differentiate between paid results
It all started with a post on Medium covering a study into searcher behavior. The study itself claimed that more than half of all people between the ages of 18-34 could not differentiate a paid result from an organic one.
That may sound a little unlikely to those of us who are hyper-aware of how paid results are behaving at all times, and it also got pushback from Google engineer Paul Haahr.
Paul pushed back on the idea in a twitter thread that created some really interesting discussion with quite a few visual aids.
Paul’s position was that ads were clearly labeled, and that the data he had seen from the search side didn’t show any confusion about which was which. Several others responded with images of how Google’s Ads had evolved to appear more organic.
It wasn’t an argument that anyone was going to solve in one interaction, but it’s interesting that engineers are taking a more active part in community discussions.
Fortunately, the next time a Googler showed up to give advice, it was a lot more immediately actionable.
Can bad link structure lead to pages being removed from the index? (Yes)
John Mueller, a Webmaster Trends Analyst, weighed in by request when a user wanted to know if it was possible that a large number of their pages were de-indexed due to Google following a (“wildly irrelevant”, in the opinion of the asker) canonical.
The man asking the question had experienced possibly one of the worst effects from this kind of incident, with over 50,000 product pages seemingly de-indexed. While he was convinced that his URLs weren’t the problem, this is certainly advice that others are going to want to take.
Now, one more tip from our friend John before we move on to some of the actionable news of the last month…
Can negative SEO threats simply be ignored?
Negative SEO extortion has become a troubling trend. Over the last few years, a lot of website owners have received some kind of anonymous threat that demands cash or website changes as protection against SEO attacks.
What kind of attacks? Most threats involve references to CTR and bounce rate assaults.
As you probably already know if you’re reading this, a sudden jump in your bounce rate, or shift in your click-through rate, can quickly change Google’s perception of your pages. When the change is dramatic, it can lead to quick penalties.
Those who think they can force these penalties—through networks or armies of bots—will sometimes threaten to do so if they don’t get a payoff. But is there any reason to take them seriously?
John Mueller says no, at least as far as CTR and bounce attacks go.
He did get some pushback that you can check out in the replies, but it’s hard to believe that negotiating with these cyber terrorists is ever going to work out. After all, once you’ve paid up once, you’re more of a sure meal ticket than the many others who send the threats straight to the trash folder.
Well, that’s it for the hints from Google Employees. Let’s move on to some of the news that you won’t want to miss. First, what happened in Google’s quiet Dec 15 algorithm rollout…
What changed in Google’s quiet Dec. 15 algorithm updated
“Update?” you may be asking, “what update?” That may have been the intention of Google when they dropped some new changes right before the holiday season.
Tweaks to the algorithm were made without any real announcement, but the fact that the algorithm had changed came across pretty clearly in the data outputs of various tools tracked by SEO Round Table.
Check out a healthy buffet of graphs at the link provided, and make sure you check your own to see if any changes have affected you in a big way. The post has a lot of interesting discussions where users are reporting both significant drops and surprising improvements.
Update: Glen Alsopp also reported on an update this month so make sure to check out what he thinks too.
And speaking of great discussions, no one should miss the following community debate about which of two duplicate articles on different platforms can expect the best results.
Debate: which result comes out on top when original posts are duplicated elsewhere?
It started with a basic premise that was sure to draw different opinions from SEOs: “An author writes a post at his own blog, and publishes it at an online magazine. Which would Google rank more highly?”
Cyrus Shepard weighed in with evidence that the URL with the highest authority has a tendency to become the canonical version, drawing traffic away from the original and delivering it to the most prestigious copy, based on authority.
More than a few “checkmarks” weighed in to speculate on what different attributes might determine whether one ranks higher than the other. The question wasn’t really resolved, and can’t be until Google is clearer about how they look at link inversion.
Now, we’re going to look at one new feature rollout that you can start taking advantage of immediately.
Google newest “rich result”, and how SEOs can take advantage
Google has just added questions and answers as a new rich result. That means that anybody using structured data to mark Q&A content can now hope to have that content previewed as a formatted special result.
Most searchers use queries when looking for the information they want, so this is an opportunity to match searcher intent in a more precise way than is possible with just the meta title and description.
These rich results go right to the top, so they could be a way for you to break out if other competitors are beating you for other types of results. Make sure you implement the QA structured data to start taking advantage of this feature immediately.