Eli Schwartz

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It’s not always Google’s fault.

Early in December Google announced that they were launching a core update of their algorithm which in Googlespeak is just a refresh of their biggest product. In my opinion, algorithm updates are a good thing and benefit all Google users. No one would want to have an old operating system on their mobile device, so similarly we should want our Google searches to be running off the latest and greatest technology.

Every time there is an algorithm update, there are complaints on Twitter and inevitable blog posts about the winners and losers. Obviously, the losers are quite disappointed while the winners remain silent out of fear of igniting the Internet’s wrath against them. In all of this chatter there is a single protagonist: Google. I believe this attention is entirely misplaced and leads to bad decision making.

From the sites where I have access to their search console, I see both increases and decreases from this most recent update and the common theme is intent – content match. A site might have been ranking on a query that might not have been the best match for the intent of that query. Google’s algorithm refresh did a better job of identifying the intent, so the formerly ranking URL might have been demoted in favor of a URL that is more of a fit.

Likewise, the sites that I saw benefit from the update didn’t suddenly magically have better content. Rather, other websites that might have been “hogging” the rankings without the right match have now been demoted.

The greatest impact to web traffic in my opinion is shifting demand by real users. Google doesn’t determine that demand all they do is direct that demand for content into the right places. Google is a convenient bogeyman, but I think instead of focusing on Google algorithm updates, sites should be hyper focused on their users and their needs. Sometimes sites will benefit from mismatched intent, but it should be considered only temporary and will likely disappear eventually.

The best way to measure the risk of mismatched content to user queries is to look at conversion rates on pages. If there are pages that have a lower-than-average conversion rate when compared to the rest of a website, this might be a sign that the content isn’t the greatest fit for what a user might be looking for on that query. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, of course, but it is an avenue that should be looked at.

Another way to assess content is to look at the other sites that are ranking on the same queries. Do the other pages and results have similar themes or is your site an outlier? In the same vein, you can also look at Google knowledge boxes on your popular queries. If the knowledge box is aimed at a different topic or intent than your page, then this could be something Google might eventually identify as a mismatch to intent that should be demoted.

Regardless  of where you stand today in search results, remember that rankings are just a vanity KPI and it is your business metrics that should dictate your strategies. Stay focused on the customer/user and search engines will hopefully recognize your natural fit for the user.

Note: this is an oversimplified summary of an algo update and is not meant to be a granular look at how any site in particular benefited or lost in the latest update.


Google Suggest May Not Be as Useful for Keyword Research as Previously Thought

For many years one of the best tools for real time keyword research was to type a keyword into Google – and then pause before hitting enter. This tactic resulted in suggestions that showed what the top 10 real time suggestions around a particular keyword.

For example, one could type a company name and then see suggestions around “Stock price”, “contact info” and “careers”.

Or for a real time search, here’s what people are searching for on Super Bowl topics:

However, it may be that these suggested results are batched and stem from certain words within the query. If this is the case, then these suggested queries are not going to be as helpful for determining what is popular.

Here are a couple queries that have the word “helps me to” and result in the same suggested phrases.

But it’s not just queries that have the word “helps me”. Anything that has a verb in the query seems to elicit non-standard queries in both of these cases the result has a song connection.

With the keyword “gives me” the results can get even weirder, but at least they are bipartisan.

There are still some really helpful Google suggestions that appear very brand/keyword specific, however, the results above indicate that it may be prudent to always qualify all suggested ideas with a keyword research tool. Some of this ideas look helpful, but others just look to similar to the ones above.


Use your GDPR mandated privacy policy to improve your SEO crawl

On May 25th 2018 the General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR as it is known became the law of the land in Europe. While the focus of GDPR is specifically to protect the digital privacy of European citizens, the effect of the law is global since it can be quite difficult for companies to manage data privacy differently for a single region of the world.

The one area of this law that was the most visible for every Internet user in the entire world was the requirement that companies/websites be transparent with users about the collection and retention of personal data. Nearly everyone implemented the transparency requirement by updating their privacy policies, the often neglected page written in small font legalese, with new information on how they are handling data.

(The privacy policy is a part of the agreement between a user and a company, so updating the privacy policy forced the websites to inform the users about their new terms. This lead to a ceaseless onslaught of privacy emails in the weeks before GDPR went into effect. )

Since the primary goal of GDPR is transparency, companies/websites also needed to make their privacy policies easily accessible. The simplest way to make a privacy policy accessible is to place a link to it from every page of a website.

google footer

See Google’s footer with a link to the privacy policy

The eagerness of websites to ensure that they are GDPR compliant has created an unprecedented opportunity to improve SEO crawlability and discovery. Effective technical SEO hinges on facilitating the efficient flow of crawlers throughout a website and passing the authority of incoming external links in a structured way to valuable pages. While this ideal might be easy to implement on a content or media property, it can be very challenging on a site that has dynamic monetization flows.

When there are very defined goals for a webpage like checkout, lead completes, or click to call, SEO will likely be pushed to the back burner. Adding links or SEO-specific modifications in this case will be in conflict with these laser-like goals and link flow could essentially be blockaded on this page. This reality could be especially painful when these dead end are pages that attract a significant amount of in-bound links.  Those links may lift the domain authority of the site but are useless to individual pages that could benefit if the value were passed through to them.

Here’s where GDPR comes to the rescue. Fear of paying a hefty fine trumps consideration towards optimal user flows and many sites added a privacy policy link to every page of a website –even the formerly blockaded pages. 

Even Amazon which has very few exit options from their checkout page has a link to the privacy policy right next to the buy button.

Amazon buy button

Now with this link added on every page of a site, the privacy policy itself becomes one of the most valuable pages on a website, and it has the ability to spread this value throughout the site. Unlike marketing pages, the content in a privacy policy is typically driven by a legal department, and when it comes to legal documents the longer the better. Ambiguity is a beast to be slain and adding more words to make everything crystal clear is not just desirable, it is recommended.  The legal team will not object to adding content that adds clarity to the document, and this present an opportunity to add cross links which flow through consistent SEO architecture through the site.

Elaborating on the specific URL’s, with hyperlinks of course, where specific  helpful information may be contained is aligned with the general theme of the privacy content. At a minimum, linking to an HTML sitemap with every single URL of the website can also contribute to the user’s understanding of the overall pages on the website.

Here is an example of Google adding a link to their philosophy page in their privacy policy.


Google privacy policy

Used effectively the privacy policy can be almost as valuable as the home page of a site when it comes to driving search crawlers and links through a website. In testing I have conducted,  I have seen the incredible value that the privacy policy can add to the overall health of the site and it will likely work for any site you are optimizing. If you work with sites that have needed to make changes to become GDPR compliant, privacy policy optimization could be a great way to generate some unexpected SEO returns.




Google Test: Placing Domain on Top of Result Title and Removing URL Path

Google seems to be testing where they place the URL for a specific result. In the test I noticed today, the URL is on top of the result. The result has the title and snippet, but Google is only showing the domain of the result and not the full path. I


Google URL on top of result

Clicking the down error next to the domain only shows you the “cached” or “similar” options and there is no option to show the full URL path.


Google URL test drop down


I like seeing the URL in a search result because I want to know if the result is a blog post, PDF or some other URL that I might not click. Additionally, there are times that I just want to copy the URL without clicking on it, and this option would no longer be available.


This gets really confusing when there are multiple results from the same domain.

Here is how the traditional results look:

Google traditional results

And here’s the test:

Google test - Google



Google’s Hummingbird: Attempts to Target Search Options Based on Query Type

According to Search Engine Land, Google’s new Hummingbird algorithm is supposed to be more “precise and fast,” putting greater emphasis on understanding the intent of the user’s query. As a part of Hummingbird, Google seems to now do more than focus target results to the query intent; they are also adjusting the search options navigation based on the perceived user intent.

Here are some examples of what appears to be a work in progress by Google.

When I searched Google I see a standard search options navigation showing “Web”, “Images”, “Maps”, “Shopping”, “News” and “More”.



Adding the word nav into the query made Google think that I was looking for an application since they swapped “news” for “applications” as a search option.




When I searched Marketing Software the “News” option was replaced with “Patents”.



Showing “patents” as an option seems to make sense when the query contained software but when I swapped software with tools, Google replaced “patents” with “books.”



Curious, I queried the name of an actual book, Marketing in the Age of Google (by Vanessa Fox) to see if Google identified the query as a book. Unfortunately, Google thought that this query was for a video since they swapped the “books” option for “videos”.



I added the word book into the query to see if this would force “books” as a search option. However, Google’s intent matching was unable to recalculate so much so that they didn’t show any fifth option at all-only showing the four standard options.



Very specific queries,(Root Android 4.3 Forum) with the word forum showed “Discussions” as a search option…



But, if the query is less specific, (Android Forum) “discussions” is removed and the default “news” is shown instead.



Pasta dishes brings up “recipes” as a search option.


As expected, SEO blogs shows “blogs” as an option.



Changing the Google search options based on user queries seems to be in its very early stages; however, this feature could be useful for anyone trying to figure out how Google might classify a keyword.