Some of us are still getting used to the idea of being in a new year, but if the news covered in this roundup is any indication, time waits for no one. Big changes are coming, and a few of them may have been on top of us before we even realized what was happening.
The changes covered in this roundup are going to rock the SEO world. Yes, there are a lot of new opportunities for the underdogs out there, but unfortunately for some, a few gravy trains have just jumped right off the tracks.
Fortunately, after the breaking news, I’ve got everything you need to stay on track. That includes the best guides of the last month and a few super-sampled case studies that are going to tell you how to keep up with the future.
The first item is sure to cause some concern. Google created a lot of drama when it tested a feature that allowed it to scrape content from sites and generate a new page.
How Google responded to accusations that it is scraping snippets
Google has placed a strong focus on expanding the role of the featured snippet for several years now.
It’s there to provide a one-stop answer for direct queries. At first, that meant summarizing some of the most important information with a snapshot of the top results. Then, it expanded into creating customized returns for direct questions.
However, the most recent move has created a ton of drama. The featured snippet is now creating custom pages with content pulled directly from other sites without displaying a link to them.
This prompted immediate outrage from site owners who were convinced that Google was plagiarizing content for its own benefit or even experimenting with ways to cut others out of the search process.
Google was accused of testing the waters before becoming a publisher itself—a search engine that was focused on delivering searchers to its own content. Google came out strongly to deny these charges and affirm its dedication to its website-owning users.
Following the outrage, Google team members publicly discussed making links more prominent, or even the first visible part of any generated snippet. This has moderated fears a bit, but everyone will be watching the snippet and how it is used a little more closely now.
There’s also another major risk you should be aware of. If you use WordPress, you may be exposed to a vulnerability that could tank everything.
Does a newly discovered WP plugin flaw place your entire site at risk?
WordPress is one of the most popular tools for building a website and social media compatibility is one of the biggest priorities for new sites. That’s why everyone should pay attention when one of the larger social media plugins develops a serious vulnerability.
The plugin “Simple Social Plugins” is currently used by more than 40,000 sites. Every one of those sites is now at risk of having newly-registered users given broad administrator privileges.
A patch has already been released, but not all sites are set to download and apply it automatically. Make sure you do that ASAP if you have the plugin. Even better, make sure that you deliberately disable new user registrations unless you have a good reason to allow them.
It wasn’t all bad news for the last few weeks, but before we get to the better stuff, let’s look at what Google is doing to sites that mimic public agencies.
Are sites that mimic government results getting the hammer?
You can always tell an authentic government site by the use of the .gov domain. However, some enterprising individuals have been generating leads from less-savvy searchers by camping out on .com and .org versions of well-known agencies like the IRS and DMV.
This has been happening for years, but the most recent moves seem to indicate those days are over. Google has hit those sites—hard. In the linked example, “irs.com” was stripped of 80% of its visibility. Finding it now will take scrolling farther down the page (if it shows up at all).
I linked Cyrus Shepard’s Twitter thread directly here because it inspired some great discussion. In addition to the graph that he provided, quite a few other people you’ve heard of jumped in with their own tests and data.
If you’re running one of these sites, this is probably a clue that you should get out now. This crackdown is consistent with moves that Google has been making for years, and they’re probably going to come down even harder in the months to come.
It’s not all stormy skies, though. There were some interesting developments that happened over the last few weeks, including a slew of high-value guides. Let’s start with one that does a deep dive into the changes necessary to take a gray hat site white.
What changes need to be made to go from a gray hat to white hat?
Based on Google’s moves over the last few months, they’re placing a higher value on links that are built out from outreach links from solid, aged websites.
Naturally, that has a lot of website owners feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Many sites that use gray hat links haven’t been penalized by all means, and some of them have a very enviable position. Why risk rocking the boat by replacing old links with new ones?
Well, the latest guide/case study I’ve produced for Authority Builders shows that you may be able to have your cake and eat it, too. By replacing the right links at the right velocity, a website can hold onto its position even as it quietly replaces every link in the profile.
This guide tracks the actions that were taken over a period of 6 months—the total time it took to replace every link. It’s packed with helpful information about the timelines, ratios, and methods that were used from start to finish.
Another good indicator of the types of links you want to build is checking on what your competitors are doing. Ahrefs recently released a massive guide that tells you how to do just that.
How to perform a comprehensive analysis of your competitors
There is no better way to understand what’s going on in any niche than by checking out the competition. Few guides other guides go into as much detail about what that means and how to do it as this one does.
The recommendations depend heavily on the Ahrefs tool (as you might expect from their content), but they aren’t pulling your leg about how much that tool will tell you.
Using the data generated as a baseline, the guide shows you how to see who among your competitors is the most prominent, where they’re getting their traffic from and who is building links out to them—even their keywords and what snippets they’ve managed to nab.
The guide is lengthy and richly detailed with examples, so you are likely to learn something even if you’ve never done any competitor analysis in the past. This is a good enough guide to get you started on a lifetime of expertise on the subject.
This and the Authority Builders guide should give you a lot to test out over the coming month, so I feel comfortable moving onto an unusually beefy selection of case studies.
There were some great ones over the last few weeks, starting with some sunnier implications for the featured snippet.
How the double snippet search will change things for SEOs
The featured snippet is in the process of expanding, and most recently, Google announced that it was testing a snippet of twice the size. Instead of one snippet per result, there are now two.
That’s (possibly) great news for competitive underdogs who have had trouble unseating the reigning site for their niche, but the purpose of the new expansion goes far deeper than that.
The new space seems to be intended to allow Google to present more complete information in situations where there are multiple interpretations or points of view. At least, that was the result of intensive testing by Moz in this case study.
For example, if the searcher looks for a type of insurance policy, do they want to know what the typical terms are, or do they want to shop for one right now?
However, there was some troubling news for people hoping to take on the top dog. In many of the results, both of the new snippets were from the same site. That means big sites may be able to monopolize both slots for different services.
These results are interesting, but the feature remains in testing and is likely to take a different form by the time it’s released. The next case study in the roundup covers information that’s a lot more definitive: How Google is using reviews.
How is Google using reviews to gather data about businesses?
Reviews are one of the most prolific types of content online, with tens of thousands of sites dedicated to millions of individual instances. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Google has a much wider view of reviews than just what the writer intended them to say.
As this case study shows, Google is using the reviews and all the metadata to learn everything about your business. This starts with what it assumes to be the most popular services, but also extends to who it thinks might be best served.
This case study is as helpful as any guide, however, because it takes a comprehensive look at what Google identifies as a review and where it finds them. That information can be very helpful if you need to figure out where you should be working on developing reviews, and what details they should involve.
Reviews are an important type of content, but the next case study in the list takes a look at blog posts and uses more than one billion examples to paint a picture of what the future will bring for content marketing.
What an analysis of almost 1 Billion blog posts can tell you about content marketing
Blogs remain one of the most common and most important forms of content to this day, and this case study by Backlinko just might offer you the best possible chance of understanding everything that they mean to search.
The guide itself is quite long, which is why it’s very helpful that they decided to provide a summary right at the beginning. The summary includes some of the most consequential things the data revealed about what blogs perform the best in search engines, on social networks and when attracting links.
Many of the correlations that were revealed by the data seem to confirm the validity of current best practices. For instance, long content attracts significantly more backlinks than short content and social media loves a good list (in fact, they love lists almost 200% more than how-to content).
There’s plenty of information in here that will comes as a surprise to even the most experienced SEOs, though. Like the fact that really long headlines are highly correlated with more shares, and that headlines with question marks on them perform about 25% better than headlines that done.
These clues should all come in very handy because, as the data shows, less than 2% of all published posts account for ¾ of all social shares combined. You need every trick and advantage you can think of to make sure your posts rise above the noise to join that exclusive club.