Why you should watch this replay
There’s been a major Google algorithm update this month, which is always a big deal for SEO. Don’t miss our experts’ discussion of all the latest SEO and internet news!
As always, our Head of SEO, Jono Alderson, will keep you up-to-date on the SEO news you need to know in August 2022. In this edition of our monthly SEO webinar, Jono is joined by Nichola Stott, a seasoned SEO and Managing Director of SEO/UX agency Erudite. Watch the replay or read our recap below to know more!
Stay on top of the latest news in SEO and register for our next (free) webinar on September 27, 2022.
Topics and sources
Google recently announced a new core update – the Helpful Content Update – which started rolling out on August 25. The focus of this update is to remove unhelpful content from the search results, particularly AI-written content and spam. So far, the impact seems to have been quite subtle. But as time goes on, we should see some more diversity in the results. More authentic human-written content from people who care and have opinions. That can only be a good thing; it’s so common to see a page with yet another set of advice that is just kind of generic and unhelpful. Hopefully this update will change that.
Google has introduced a new type of structured data and rich results: pros and cons. So now if you are editorially reviewing a product, you can say: here are the pros and cons, and those show up in the search results. That’s quite exciting! As a consumer searching for a new mobile phone or a car, this is quite nice for a quick overview of what you want to rule in or out with your consideration.We’re definitely going to see more like this – there’s some talk behind the scenes at Schema.org about doing the equivalent of this for declaring the main features of a product. So if you are selling an iPhone and you want to do something similar to this, you can say ‘it comes in blue, it has a camera phone’ and so on. And we’ll get similar rich results for that kind of stuff.
So when you’re searching, you can use quote marks with the aim of querying the entire database for something that exactly matches the phrase inside the quotes. It doesn’t really seem to work very well at all at the moment. Now, it’s still not going to give us exact content matching, but, according to the engineer, it should be much more accurate in extracting the right pieces from the metadata. Plus they’ll now show the search phrase in the snippets, so you can see the context those words appear in on the page.
Google has introduced a whole bunch of improvements to performance reports and Core Web Vitals metrics. Before, the reports in Search Console were a bit rubbish – they were fairly vague and you had to click a lot of things and dive down 10 levels to actually see what was going on and get a feel for what needed to be done. So this is a much nicer, more considered user interface. It’s worth taking a look and seeing which pages are slow, what’s wrong with them, what should be fixed. It’s much easier to ask and answer those kinds of questions now
Microsoft Bing news
IndexNow is a system where when you publish or update a post or page, you can ping Bing, and then Bing and a whole bunch of other systems ping each other, and then they can crawl it. So in theory, you get much faster calling and indexing. It’s a nice idea. It’s riddled with technical and environmental and conceptual challenges, but it could be good for the web. And Microsoft is saying now that 7% of all new URLs clicked in Bing in the last month, came via IndexNow. We added support for IndexNow in Yoast SEO Premium recently, so if you have that then maybe you’ll see some more traffic and value from Bing now.
The performance team in WordPress (something we’re deeply involved in) is doing some really exciting stuff. We almost got WebP images by default in WordPress 6.1, which is coming up soon, but there’s a whole bunch of politics and technical complexity that’s holding it up. It’s worth noting that WebP is supported in WordPress now. So if you are doing image optimization, you can convert your images to WebP, you can upload WebP images, but WordPress isn’t going to automatically do it by default for you. There’s like a whole bunch of performance questions, a whole bunch of storage questions.
Social media news
Pinterest has added hosted checkout capabilities for merchants. So if you have a Shopify store, people on Pinterest looking at your stuff can buy it right there. Lots of social media platforms have inbuilt ecommerce solutions now. Search is increasingly removed from the buying cycle and discovery cycle. We’ve talked before about using a kind of hub and spoke strategy where your website is still really important, but you need these social media platforms for discovery to bring people back in. But now the lines are blurring. The question of what is a search engine changes, and that raises the question of where you should do your SEO. We assume that should be your domain and website, but maybe it’s a bit more complex than that.
Google has done a big study and found that almost 40% of young people use TikTok when they’re looking for a place to go to lunch, or they want to buy some new shoes, or they want to read a book. They don’t go to Google Maps or Search, they go on TikTok and maybe Instagram and they consume short form video. This is huge. If you haven’t already thought about your strategy when it comes to this stuff, it’s time to start taking it seriously.
Other tech news
So we’ve all been waiting for AI and machine learning to become a thing. Now suddenly it feels like there has been a massive revolution and a step change. AI has become really good at generating stunning images based on prompts. These are images that you could hang in your home or use for a featured image in a blog post. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Content generation is progressing quickly too. It feels like we’re living in the future and the implications aren’t yet clear, but it’s huge. Still, we started by talking about how Google is working hard to remove a load of low-quality automated content from their search results. So the takeaway from this definitely isn’t to go and automate writing a billion blog posts, because that is bad. We need to figure out where AI can be helpful and assistive, rather than just shipping trash.
We’ve added a whole bunch of new features in Yoast Premium recently, including an emoji picker for page titles and meta descriptions. We also launched a front end SEO inspector. So now you can launch a sidebar in the front-end with your SEO metadata. And besides that, we’ve just launched a beta version of our Inclusive language analysis, which tries to spot if the words and phrases you are using might be offensive or exclusionary.
There’s been some new stuff in Yoast SEO free, too. We’ve overhauled the integrations page, and added some schema improvements, a whole bunch of bug fixes, and some performance improvements. And finally, in our Local SEO plugin, we added support for civic structures, which are like churches and zoos and museums. These have a weird position in the schema structured data space, but now you can use all of those in the plugin, which is really, really cool.
SEO strategy vs tactics discussion
Nichola talks about the difference between strategy and tactics, and tries to disambiguate the concepts. She breaks down the marketing process into four strategic elements and explains her perspective on how to build those elements into a real, workable strategy. She also shares some fantastic insights and tips about what tends to go wrong, and how to avoid that. Check out the full discussion in the video!
Questions asked during the webinar
You mentioned traditional marketing models like SWAT, what else can we learn from old school or offline marketing?
I mean, there’s all sorts of mnemonics and phrases and things like that. I would suggest not to get too hung up on those. There’s two other learning resources I would recommend for you. One is Think with Google, it is brilliant. They combine lots and lots of different data, online and offline, joining up. It’s fantastic. I’ve also got a great book recommendation, which is Marketing Strategy, by a lady called Jenna Tiffany. That’s a great book to read.
Another good exercise to do is understanding your brand voice. Who are you? What, what are your brand values? Making sure you’ve got that nailed down. If you’re a medium to a larger size organization, that’s probably really well established. And if you speak to your brand team or your internal PR team, get a copy of your brand book and brand guidelines. That will really help you. If not, if you don’t have that, if it’s your own business, I would suggest working on that first: actually establish who are we, and what are our brand values? And you can use that as something to pin, and it guides your decision-making as well.
When should you change strategy or at least review it and, and how do you know if you’re going in the right direction or in the wrong one?
I would review strategy on a monthly basis in SEO because it’s changing so quickly all the time. And we’ve got all of these macroeconomic factors that can happen at any time. So I think it makes sense to not be too utterly wedded to your strategy. And again, when you are justifying it, if it’s to yourself, fine, have a word with yourself. But if you’re justifying it to other people, set that expectation right at the beginning, because you don’t want to find yourself eight months in with the sort of scope of work that’s got something like ‘oh now we’re at war with’, or you know, ‘we can’t get those materials shipped over to you’. You don’t want to paint yourself into a corner.
So definitely revisit it on a monthly basis. Do you know if your strategy is working? Are those goals that you set at the outset moving in the right direction? If they are, then it’s working. If not, why not? You need to reassess what it is against that.
How harmful is illegal copying of blogs or entire sites, sometimes even entire websites including branding & design? Can bots see who the original belongs to? What can you do about this?
As with so many SEO answers, it’s at least in part. It depends. If you are a huge, successful household brand that everybody knows and loves? It doesn’t really matter if a whole bunch of other sites copy yours and clone your design and content. It’s a minor annoyance at best, maybe. But obviously many sites aren’t that huge. Then it’s really tricky. Google is generally quite good at working that out; there are signals that are hard to fake. Like, your business is the one that’s at your address. Not the ones who copied you.
Is it a problem? It can be problematic if you have other technical issues on your site. Like if Google finds somebody else’s first and then it looks like you’re second, that can be a bit messy. So you really wanna make sure you’ve got your house in order. Other than that, I think try and grow your site and grow your brand and put some distance between you and the sites that are copying you. The kinds of sites who are going to be doing this aren’t going to have big, strong domains. They’re not going to have lots of real people talking about them and linking to them and shopping with them. Build those signals and that evidence that you are authentic and legitimate, which is just the same thing as doing good SEO, and then gradually leave them behind.
One thing you can do is to lock down wildcard subdomains. If you are allowing wildcard subdomains in your domain hosting (or however), that can on occasion be hijacked. So someone could create 6471.this-is-your-website.com, copy your entire site on there, and then use that to link spam. That’s obviously quite a dangerous tactic. So make sure that you turn off the wildcard domain ability.
There are a couple of ways to solve it. You can file what’s called a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown request. You can also just contact their host. So if they haven’t hijacked your site, and it’s someone who’s just ripped your site completely? Generally contacting their host directly and saying ‘you are hosting a site that is doing this, what are you going to do about it?’ will often do the job itself before you need to do a DMCA.
Ann, one of the webinar attendees also left a comment about using WordProof, a blockchain based technology we’ve talked about before in the webinar. WordProof is useful because it helps to prove that you were there first, right? That will definitely make something like a DMCA takedown request much easier. If you can show something verifiable that confirms your content has been copied, it’s gonna make that much easier, faster, and more reliable.
I’ve started receiving video indexing issues. They only seem to tell me that the video share link is actually resolving to a different URL of that video. Or am I misunderstanding this? It seems like a waste of resources. Thoughts?
So Google recently, in the last week or so, updated Google Search Console with all of their new video reporting stuff. We’ve had a whole bunch of these, I’ve been looking at them. The reports are messy and confusing and not very informative, as is so often the case with these. I see a bunch of examples where they show what look like warnings, where actually you don’t need to do anything. Like if you have three videos on one page, which is not an unusual scenario, it will say we can’t work out what the main video is. That sounds like your problem. There isn’t a main video. What does that even mean, conceptually? Yes, there are scenarios where you have a main video, but quite often you’ve just got some videos.
I would not worry about too much if there are explicit errors – go in and have a look. If you’re running the Yoast SEO Video plugin and you’re getting warnings or errors, email, or tweet me and I’ll look at it. Otherwise I’d spend a little bit of time digging around, but if it looks like it’s just a bit unhelpful and the errors don’t make sense, probably ignore them.
I have a major spam problem in comments and pingbacks, should I delete all in WordPress or will this hurt me SEO? Deleting individually is impossible given the quantity.
I would work out how and where it’s coming from and prevent that with something like Akismet, which is Automattic/WordPress’s own spam protection tool, it is surprisingly good. And if that isn’t enough, then get on CloudFlare, which we talk about a lot. That might prevent some of the bots upfront.
I would also question the strategy behind having comments. Like, is it useful? Are they useful? Are they helpful? A lot of that kind of comment interaction mechanic has moved to places like Twitter, TikTok, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. I don’t know how much of a thing comments are for many sites anymore. And then you can go and delete all of that rubbish and you’ll be a happier, better person for it. And Google will not be confused that your pages are not in fact about dating in Saudi Arabia or whatever the content is.
Running a food blog I never know what to lay as ALT TEXT on my photos. I read for SEO you should describe what is in the picture imagining someone is blind, but I’ve heard other people say it’s important to name the restaurant. Which is correct?
If you’re reviewing a dish from a particular restaurant and taking a picture of that dish? I would put both in. So describe what the picture is, you know, what does this dish look like? How is it composed? How is it structured? Then towards the end ‘from Gordon Ramsey’s blah blah blah restaurant’. There’s no reason why you can’t have both. An alt text doesn’t have to be long, I wouldn’t worry too much about having an optimal length for an alt text. So just describe what’s in there. And then name the restaurant in the process.
Jono is our Head of SEO. He’s a digital strategist, marketing technologist, and full stack developer. He’s into technical SEO, emerging technologies, and brand strategy.
Nichola Stott is the founder and Managing Director of Erudite, the SEO/UX agency. Nichola has a passion for technical SEO and the overlap with good user experience and is a 20 veteran of the search industry. Nichola writes for Search Engine Land and speaks at conferences across the UK on topics around technical SEO, UX and strategy; and manages an ecommerce brand called silkup.com which she founded in 2018.