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SEO: Google’s Algorithm Hasn’t Changed, or Has It? – Practical Ecommerce


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SEO: Google's Algorithm Hasn't Changed, or Has It?
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Everything you need to know about Google’s ‘Possum’ algorithm update

Wondering what’s up with local search rankings lately? Columnist Joy Hawkins has the scoop on a recent local algorithm update that local SEO experts are calling ‘Possum.’

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Google’s car will automatically pull you over for the police

google-autonomous-car

Google’s self-driving cars might yield the road to emergency vehicles, like police cars, automatically. A new U.S. patent shows sensors inside the car recognizing police lights, red and blue, and moving to the side of the road before the emergency vehicle passes.

This may reduce accidents associated with drivers not knowing what to do when an emergency vehicle charges past. There have been plenty of accidents like this, where a driver has hit another car or hit an object on the side of the road, as they try to avoid the emergency vehicle.

See Also: What is going on at Google’s self-driving car unit?

Google is currently inputting a large amount of data to teach the sensors the difference between sunlight, traffic lights, and emergency vehicles. For now, police cars are the focus, though it might extend to other vehicles that require drivers to yield the road.

Maybe your should pay attention to the road…itself

Communication between cars and roads could be another way to alert self-driving cars of emergency vehicles. That may reduce the time spent moving back into the lane after the vehicle passes, if all cars are connected and autonomous.

The search giant has been building various programs for its self-driving system to make it friendlier and safer than human drivers. It recently added functionality to recognize multiple cyclists and provide them with adequate space on the road.

Even with these seemingly small updates, Google and other self-driving operators still have a large blank space in the encyclopedia of what to do in certain situations. It’s part of the reason Google, Uber, and others are adamant about testing cars in the real world, as its the perfect way to experience random encounters on the road.

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Search in Pics: Google’s upcoming birthday, Bing 20% share balloons & fruit bar truck

In this week’s Search In Pictures, here are the latest images culled from the web, showing what people eat at the search engine companies, how they play, who they meet, where they speak, what toys they have and more. Bing Ads balloons for 20% UK marketshare: Source: Twitter Google Brazil…

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Google’s AMP Viewer: the Tinder UX for content?

Google’s hosted AMP viewer takes the risk — and commitment — out of clicking a mobile search result. Contributor Barb Palser discusses what this will mean for publishers.

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What’s happening with Google’s self-driving car project?

google car

Chris Urmson, the chief technology officer of Google’s self-driving car project, left earlier this month, alongside two other veteran engineers.

The departure is significant, Urmson was the last of the three primary engineers (excluding Google co-founder Sergey Brin) in the self-driving division that came from Stanford’s Stanley vehicle in 2005.

See Also: Get ready for a thermonuclear autonomous ride-hailing war

Sebastian Thrun and Anthony Levandowski, the two other notable faces, left in 2013 and 2014 to start Udacity and Otto, respectively.

Losing the talent that started the project is a natural transition in Silicon Valley, most of the original engineers at Facebook, Twitter, and PayPal moved on after a few years. But a natural transition is not always healthy for the company, and in Google’s case, the lack of key faces in the self-driving car division could lead to a colossal waste of time and money.

New Competitors Emerge

The self-driving market is heating up, Ford recently announced a Level 4 autonomous vehicle without a steering wheel or pedals will be available in 2021; BMW made a similar announcement a few months before.

General Motors acquired Cruise Automation for $600 million and spent $500 million for a chunk of Lyft. Tesla announced 100 million miles travelled on AutoPilot earlier in the year, trumping Google’s three million miles completed by its self-driving cars.

If that wasn’t enough for Google to worry about, Uber, the ride-hailing giant, plans to add self-driving Volvo SUVs to its fleet this month.

No large automaker has signalled interest in Google’s self-driving system, which could be disastrous for the search giant. Urmson, before leaving, was looking for partnerships with GM, Ford, and other major autos.

Without partnerships, Google will have to manufacture its own vehicles or work with a smaller automaker, like Fiat or Volvo. From there, it could sell the cars or compete in the ride-hailing market with Uber.

Both options don’t sound enticing, from our projections, there will be less car ownership in 2020 and self-driving cars will cost more to manufacture than current automobiles. It will also be incredibly hard for Google to beat Uber in the ride-hailing market.

What looked like a firm grip on the self-driving market has slowly eroded into a questionable future for the search giant. The self-driving division is valued at $10 billion, but costs from R&D have worried investors and Google management. That may even lead to the sale of the division, if Google does not see a viable future market for its self-driving cars.

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Google’s premium-level Ad Grants program no longer accepting applications

The Grantspro program offers non-profits up to $40,000 per month in search advertising grants.

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Google’s mobile friendly label has now been removed from the search results

Google officially says goodbye to their mobile friendly label this morning. The mobile friendly label no longer shows up in the search results.

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With Panda in stealth mode, why Google’s quality updates should be on your algorithmic radar [Part 1]

What are Google’s quality updates (aka Phantom updates), and how can you recover? In part one of a two-part series on Phantom, columnist Glenn Gabe explains the history and possible mechanics of these algorithm updates.

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17 days of 2016 Rio Olympic Google Doodles: A full list of Google’s “Fruity Doodle” images

From the start of the games through closing ceremonies, Google replaced its usual homepage logo with the following animated images.

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Does Google’s next big OS have a touch of Fuchsia?

Mountain View, CA, USA - April 14, 2013: Google bikes for employee transportation inside Googleplex.

Fans of Google’s Android and Chrome operating systems will want to keep their eyes on a new project recently mirrored on GitHub called Fuchsia, and despite it appearing on the open source repository source, very little is actually known about the project as of now.

There haven’t been any official announcements from Google, seemingly because the project is in its earliest stages of development.

In an IRC chatlog distributed on popular technology news aggregate Hacker News, Google’s Brian Swetland stated: “The decision was made to build it open source, so might as well start there from the beginning,”

What we can expect is an operating system that isn’t based on either the Chrome or Android systems. In fact, Fuchsia may not even be based on an existing Linux kernel. Android Police, the site that initially reported on rumors of the new project, expanded on Fuchsia’s use of the Magenta kernel, a powerful solution for operating systems that power a variety of device types down to the simplest IoT systems.

As a kernel, Magenta has the ability to scale from small connected devices to mobile, and even desktop systems.

If Chrome is the solution of choice for desktop systems, and Android the designated operating system for mobile, then it stands to reason that Google’s next big operating system project would be focused on the emerging Internet of Things market, a quickly-evolving ecosystem of networked systems and devices that span many levels of size and complexity.

Is Fuchsia the next step for Chrome and Android?

Other rumors indicated that Fuchsia would become the base for a new generation of Chrome and/or Android, enabling these systems to take advantage of tomorrow’s demands. With augmented reality and VR putting additional strain on current-generation hardware and software, a streamlined operating environment would make expanding on these applications easier.

Nick Mediati of PC World theorized: “One possibility I see is where Google uses Fuchsia instead of Linux as the underpinnings for next-generation versions of Chrome OS and Android. That is, both would use some form of Fuchsia — or the Magenta kernel — as the underlying basis of the two operating systems (as well as the operating system for other Google devices such as the Chromecast).”

Whatever the case may be: This is going to be one project worth watching.

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Why links are still the core authority signal in Google’s algorithm

Link metrics have been the foundation of Google’s ranking algorithm since the beginning, but could anything ever surpass links as a ranking signal? Columnist Jayson DeMers speculates.

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Yelp, TripAdvisor: Google’s mobile ‘best-of lists’ hide our content

Google is adding content for users on the go, but some local search rivals see the move intentionally marginalizing their content.

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What is going on at Google’s self-driving car unit?

chris-urmson-google-self-driving-car

Google is losing three key executives in its self-driving car unit, including Chris Urmson, the chief technology officer and technical lead.

Urmson was, for many, the face of Google’s self-driving car. He spoke at most events, indicated what the unit was focused on, and is a well respected figure in the self-driving industry.

See Also: Boeing eyes a solution with Google Glass

Before joining Google, Urmson was an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University. During his time, his team won a DARPA grand challenge that involved driving an autonomous car in the desert.

He doesn’t have a clear idea of what’s next, but said he is “ready for a fresh challenge.” That may hint at things slowing down inside the self-driving car unit, as the company starts to work on strategies to make the unit, valued at more than $10 billion, profitable.

Google continues self-driving…but where?

To add to that, Google brought in an auto industry veteran, John Krafcik, as CEO of the division. Krafcik was previously the CEO of Hyundai USA, so he knows how to make an automotive firm profitable.

“If I can find another project that turns into an obsession and becomes something more, I will consider myself twice lucky,” said Urmson on his Medium page.

Jiajun Zhu, a principle software engineer and founder of the self-driving unit, is moving to a startup. Dave Ferguson, a machine learning lead, is also reportedly leaving, though his LinkedIn hasn’t been updated.

Google has been updating us on the self-driving car mission every month, but speculation on the business model and partnerships are starting to bubble. Where Uber has a clear business plan, Google doesn’t; it also hasn’t publicly mentioned any large partnerships.

If Google is unable to convince firms like Ford, Volkswagen, Hyundai, and others that its self-driving car system far exceeds the rest, it may struggle to make income, since it doesn’t have the manufacturing chops to develop a car that can rival Tesla or General Motors.

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How does Google’s local algorithm work in 2016?

Columnist Andrew Shotland shares insights gleaned from a large-scale statistical analysis of local search ranking factors in Google.

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Excited about Google’s new map ads? You should be!

Google Maps ads are changing to help local businesses become more visible. Columnist Will Scott discusses the four features you should be most excited about.

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Google’s power of censorship: who controls the controllers of the internet?

Imagine a world where Google has no secrets, where all search engines play fair, and where SEO doesn’t have to be synonymous with “page one.” Sound like a fairy tale?

The Internet is often cast as the great democratizer, and Google its noble gate-keeper. There’s no doubt that search engines help us easily navigate the web, but we have to remember that Google is a corporation, not a public service.

Our faith in its wisdom and guidance is based on little more than a carefully planned PR scheme. Behind that curtain, few of us really have any idea what’s going on. That kind of blind trust may be dangerous for content creators and consumers alike, both in terms of what we see and what we get.

In a recent column for U.S. News & World Report, artificial intelligence expert Dr. Robert Epstein detailed 10 different ways Google uses blacklists to censor the Internet. Some of them seem perfectly within reason – noble, even: banning weapons sales through its shopping service, for instance, or blocking payday loan sharks from AdWords.

Few are going to argue with these measures. In fact, it’s nice to see a little corporate responsibility every once in awhile.

At the same time, though, how can we know when and where to draw the line? At what point does “corporate responsibility” become a catch-all phrase for “Google does what Google wants”?

toy robots

The point Epstein makes is that with virtually every case of good Samaritan censorship practiced by the “do no evil” company, similar tactics have been used to justify some pretty blatant power grabs or downright bullying.

When media sources in Spain began demanding that aggregators pay fees for content, for example, Google News simply pulled out of the country altogether, and Spanish-based digital news sources have taken a serious hit since.

Consider too, the case of E-Ventures Worldwide, an SEO service website that had all 365 pages of its site blacklisted from search engine results because Google deemed them “pure spam.”

True, these revelations are not shocking for people who deal in SEO. Our line of work more or less entails tracking and following every algorithm-scented footprint or bit of guano we can find that might lead us to the keys of Google’s ranking systems, even while we live in constant fear of punishment from its all-knowing servers.

It comes as no surprise that Google harbors a tremendous power to influence, say, the results of a certain upcoming political election, or even to sway public opinion on the latest Taylor Swift/Kanye West escapade. The question is – and it’s a contentious one – where does it all end?

At what point (and sooner or later, there must come a point) will the authorities and powers-that-be have to reign in Google’s master controls over internet content and searchability?

After all, the FCC’s net neutrality ruling last year made internet service practically a public utility – in regulation, if not in name. And after broadband service providers, no one has more influence and control over the flow of the web than Google does.

“If Google were just another mom-and-pop shop with a sign saying ‘we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone’, that would be one thing,” Epstein writes. “But as the golden gateway to all knowledge, Google has rapidly become an essential in people’s lives – nearly as essential as air or water. We don’t let public utilities make arbitrary and secretive decisions about denying people services; we shouldn’t let Google do so either.”

The day of reckoning for Google may come sooner than you might think.

Despite a long line of similar cases that have, without exception, ruled in Google’s favor – giving them free range to rank and rate content in whatever way they please – the E-Ventures case in Florida is actually making some headway.

Back in May, the federal judge on the case ruled that Google had “anti-competitive, economic” motives for blacklisting E-Ventures’ pages: the better SEO companies are at their jobs, after all, the less businesses need to pay for AdWords, which is how the search engine makes most of their revenue. It’s not, as Google argues, simply a matter of “free speech” anymore.

On a larger scale, the European Union is also trying to crack down on Google’s Internet monopoly.

Google claims 90% of the search engine market across the continent (compared to just 64% in the US), and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, the European Commission’s competition chief, Margrethe Vestager, says the company is unfairly using that leverage to promote its own advertising materials over that of the competition’s.

This is the third shot the EU has fired at Google in less than two years. Previously, Vestager & co. have filed antitrust complaints against the company over their search engine dominance and over the mandatory Google apps that come pre-loaded with every Android phone. “Google’s magnificent innovations don’t give it the right to deny competitors the chance to innovate,” Vestager says.

All three charges will likely come to a head before the summer’s through. So far, Google has, of course, denied any wrongdoing. But if the Commission succeeds in making a case, Google may have to pay as much as 10% of its revenue (i.e., in the neighborhood of $7 billion per annum) to the European Union to foster a more open, inclusive market.

google stat

It all begs the question: what would an SEO world look like where Google wasn’t necessarily the prime target of our efforts? Furthermore, what would happen to SEO analytics if Google’s criteria was for page rankings were completely transparent?

Experts have been saying for years that SEO strategies should be thinking outside the Google search box, but few other engines have been able to make so much as a dent in the web.

Bing, by comparison, is still only a tiny blip on the radar, with 14 billion indexed pages to Google’s 45 billion. The fastest-growing search engine on the scene is DuckDuckGo, a service that brags enhanced privacy and security.

While they manage to pull in 100 million visits every month, it’s still not much compared to Google’s 100 billion. Meanwhile, social media is trafficking more content than ever, and other search services like Yelp and Flickr have cornered markets where Google lags behind.

If the European Union has its way, more competing search engines might be able to increase their power, size, and scope – and forever change the internet landscape as we know it.

The bottom line: There is a world outside of Google. But will we know what to do with it once we’re there?

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Google’s Smart Bidding will soon include ability to set Target CPA by device in AdWords

Smart Bidding reporting is getting more robust, and the bid automation tool will continue to take more conversion signals into account, says Google.

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Google’s ban on payday & high-interest loan ads going into effect now

After a week’s delay, the ban on predatory lending ads for AdWords advertisers is beginning to roll out.

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Google’s Keyword Planner tool just became even more inaccurate

You’re probably familiar with the Keyword Planner tool, which is one of the best sources we have to spot opportunities and make the business case for an investment into paid or organic search campaigns.

One of the things it provides is guidance on the volume of searches for any given query. The numbers reported in the tool have always been somewhat vague. They are rounded up and numbers end with at least one zero. A pinch of salt has always been required when digesting the data.

It turns out that these numbers are now even more imprecise.

Jennifer Slegg spotted that Google has started to combine related terms, pooling them all together and reporting one (bigger) number.

No longer can you separate the data for keyword variants, such as plurals, acronyms, words with space, and words with punctuation.

As such it would be easy to get a false impression of search volumes, unless you’re aware of the change. No sudden jump in search queries, just an amalgamated number. Be warned.

Here are a couple of examples…

Bundling together anagrams and regional spellings

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 11.10.33

Lumping together plurals and phrases without spaces

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 11.08.47

The problem could be exacerbated by third party tools. Jennifer says:

“For those that don’t notice the change – or worse, pulling the data from tools that haven’t updated to take into account the change – this means that some advertisers and SEOs are grossly overestimating those numbers, since many tools will combine data, and there is no notification alert on the results to show that how Google calculates average monthly searches has been changed.”

So yeah, this isn’t exactly good news. In fact, I can’t think of any benefit to the end user, but Google has a history of obfuscating data, so perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

That said, it once again pushes the focus towards relevance and context rather than pure volume. Advertisers and content creators would do well to focus on optimising clickthrough rate and landing page performance, rather than just shotgun marketing.

Guesstimated data aside, you can use Search Console to make sense of actual performance. Map your page impressions to organic (or paid) positions and you’ll get a sense of how accurate the Keyword Planner data is for any given term.

It’s also worth remembering that there are seasonal factors at play with the reported data. Volumes shown are an approximate figure based on 12 months search data. You might get a better idea of more accurate monthly figures if you cross-reference data from with Google Trends, which will show seasonal spikes (February is a big month for flowers).

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 10.48.33

Keyword Planner replaced Google’s Keyword Tool and Traffic Estimator about three years ago. Users of the old tools initially complained about missing the broad match and phrase match options. Now, they’re going to miss even more detail around keywords and data.

Proceed with caution, as ever.

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