Home » Marketing » Search Kernel 12/16: your monthly search marketing news in a nutshell

Search Kernel 12/16: your monthly search marketing news in a nutshell

by Mark Hannant, Senior SEO Consultant
23rd Dec 2016 - 10 min read
Search Kernal header for Further

In our second edition of The Search Kernel we’re looking at the events in December as well a brief look at 2016 with a few forward thoughts for 2017. If you missed it, here’s our first installment.

What happened in SEO this month?

Content Keywords report retired in Google Search Console

Content Keywords is an older feature of Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) that gave a loose hierarchy of keyword relevance of your website based on what it saw when it crawled.

Google’s fair reasoning for retiring this feature is the fact that Search Console now has much improved tools to serve all the needs Content Keywords once could, such as Search Analytics, Fetch as Google and notifications when your site is hacked.

Find out more about the retirement of Google Content Keywords here.

Feature phone Googlebot report also retired

Another older Google feature to receive an overhaul this month was how feature phone sites are crawled and served.

For those unfamiliar with the term “feature phone”, it means phones that are not “smart” but have internet capabilities.

Google stated the following in relation to changes on feature phone content:

  • Googlebot for feature phone has been retired, meaning it will no longer crawl sites as a feature phone-agent.
  • Sites should use a rel=”alternate” tag to clearly specify a handheld version of a page to Google.
  • A number of Google Search Console feature phone-related tools have been retired, including special sitemaps extensions for feature-phone, the Fetch as Google feature-phone options, and feature-phone crawl errors.

This only affects a small number of sites, as many stopped serving content or optimised experience for feature phones a long time ago.

Find out more about Google’s changes to feature phone crawling here

In another change to Google Search Console, “property sets” has been upgraded with more features.

This is a useful way to monitor performance in Google for multiple sites all at once, say a collection of subdomains or even Android apps, and better understand how your business is performing in Google on the whole. It also has practical application for monitoring a migration to HTTPS by combining HTTP and HTTPS profiles into one set.

Find out more about changes to property sets here

Bing increases sitemap size

Whilst Google, at this date in time, still has limitations on the file size or number of URLs that can be included within an XML sitemap, Bing has recently upgraded to process files up to 50MB in size.

We wouldn’t recommend doing this at this moment in time, as the Google limit is still 10MB and/or 50,000 URLs.

Find out more about Bing’s changes to XML sitemap processing here

Google cleans up its language in structured data

Google has this month updated their schema guidelines to state you should not include profanity or offensive language in your site markup. Doing so could result in your rich snippets being removed from search results, thus potentially reducing click through rate.

“Profanity and vulgar language are prohibited. Do not include reviews that contain vulgar or profane language.”

This could be particularly harmful if your site has customer submitted reviews marked up with schema, that are not moderated or are published to include rated-R language.

View Google’s updated Critic Review Guidelines here

Google to combat inappropriate searches?

There has long been a history of Google auto suggest and results being inappropriate or based on controversial fact/opinion, examples being Romanians influencing search results to change the world’s negative opinion of Romania or the controversy around Google giving a creationist snippet for a result about dinosaurs.

(Image via theguardian.com)

The most recent saga of this has been around 2016 election results and “fake news”, with Google auto-suggest and the appropriateness of some search results again being questioned around sensitive subjects such as sexism and the Holocaust.

You can read more about how Google are aiming to combat these issues and the challenges it faces here.

Algorithm fluctuations on 15th December

There was a highly significant fluctuation in global ranking activity on 15th December on Google. The increased activity from is visible in Algoroo’s ranking fluctuation monitor. There’s limited coverage for this so far, so we’ll be analysing what signals this change impacted next year.

STAT and Screaming Frog power up

We’ve seen two major changes to core tools we at Further use for all types of SEO tasks this last month.

The first was from STAT, a rank tracking platform, whom introduced a new dashboard rammed full of performance insights.

(Image via getstat.com)

The second was from the legendary SEO crawler tool, Screaming Frog, whom released a highly-requested feature that now crawls hreflang tags (on-page HTML implementation only for now), visual page rendering and whole load more in a 7.0 update of the tool.

(Image via screamingfrog.co.uk)

Predictions for SEO in 2017

As this is the last Search Kernel update of 2016, we decided now is a good time to outlay a few thoughts into what 2017 will bring. Let’s revisit these later and see how correct we were!

Dan Callis, SEO Analyst:
“I believe mobile SEO will become even more separate from traditional desktop SEO with the loaming Mobile-First update. This means it’s important to not only ensure you’re following best practice for visitors using a mobile device, but to also make sure you’re tracking mobile performance as standalone metrics within your SEO reporting platform(s).”

Mark Hannant, Head of Organic Search:
“All elements of the online experience will continue to be scrutinised and developed by search engines. We’re already seeing security being covered (HTTPS), access of formatted information (structured data), speed and compatibility (AMP, PWA and Mobile-First indexing) all being pushed as Google aims to  improve the user experience. Similarly the intent behind keywords and increased relevance for users in terms of personalisation and location will continue to be important for ranking highly.“

For a more in-depth vision for 2017, check out Gianluca Fiorelli’s prediction over on the Moz Blog.

What’s happening in Paid Advertising this month?

For the final post of this year, we wanted to highlight, in our opinion, the Top 5 Biggest PPC updates of 2016. In no particular order, these are as follows:

  1.     Removal of the Right-Hand Side Ads

At the beginning of the year, Google introduced something that now seems like a very obvious change to its results pages – it got rid of the paid search ads on the right-hand side (which is now being used for displaying shopping results). As a consequence, there were additional paid ads introduced in the search results column, meaning, organic got pushed down. Less Paid inventory above-the-line has made the competition for appearing on top of the page more fierce, hence, slightly higher CPCs. There are studies, however, that prove CTR increase because of this change, as there is less distraction to the searcher by the right hand-side ads.

More on this topic can be found here.

  1.       Expanded Text Ads

Probably the most talked-about topic in PPC this year. Following the removal of the right-hand side ads on Google, the new text ad format was released. More characters per ad made advertisers to rethink their ad messaging and for some, these were quite intensive days/weeks to get the ETAs up and running. As usual, it got released on Bing good couple of months later. The results from the new ETAs have been controversial, however, from now on the old text ad format is no longer available so we all now need to adapt to the ETAs and make them work.

If you’re interested to find out more on this topic, have a read of Alise’s earlier blog post

  1.     Bing Shared Budgets

End of 2016, Bing released Shared Budgets – a feature that has been available on Google Adwords for a rather long time and has proved to be a quite essential feature. What this means is that advertisers can now categorise campaigns and give them a combined budget which is great when you want to maximise clicks and optimize unutilised budget. This is also great when working on a new account as Bing will indicate which campaigns are performing well and receiving more traffic, and allocate budgets accordingly.

Read more about Bing’s Shared Budgets

  1.     Device Bidding

Google has finally brought back the device bid adjustments, meaning, advertisers can now set mobile bids, desktop bids and tablet bids independently or make them dependent on each other. This again was a long-awaited update by marketers which now encourages better campaign optimizations and strategies.

Read more about Device Bidding

  1.     New Google AdWords Ad Extensions

There have been multiple ad extensions rolled out in 2016, thus making the ads more feature-rich and explanatory. As such, Structured Snippets and Callouts are great extensions to highlight main areas and services of your business which definitely helps to raise expectations of the business for a user just by reading the advert. Next, Message extensions were released in Q4 this year. These have given customers even more options to get in touch with businesses and is definitely in line with Google’s mobile-first ideology. Finally, the latest addition has been Affiliate Location extension which is made for businesses selling their products through retail chains. All these ad extension’ developments suggest an opportunity for more customisable ads which can help to drive great engagement rates, if used cleverly.

Predictions for Paid Advertising in 2017

Alise Arente, Paid Digital Account Executive:

“My predictions are that we’ll keep seeing new mobile-orientated features rolling out which will enhance and ease user experience on the SERP. We’ve already seen ‘message extension’ being added to the list in late 2016 thus giving users another option to connect with businesses. Also, I believe there will be developments in audience targeting as well as  enhancements in Google Local Ads which might even lead to a separate bidding platform on Google Maps. Moreover, I’m certain Paid Social will continue innovating with new ad placements and formats so definitely an exciting year ahead where advertisers will need to keep on their toes to be ready to adapt and use these to their advantage.

Darren Barr, Paid Digital Manager:

“Paid advertising is becoming more diverse, with brands seeking new, creative ways to generate brand awareness and/or traffic. We are finding that more of our clients are talking about paid social and are increasingly aware of the value they provide in maximising reach and generating brand awareness. In 2017 I can only see this growing and it seems as if social platforms are fully aware of this. Facebook for example is becoming more saturated with ads and Facebook is continually increasing its targeting options and the ad formats available to meet this demand; for example the recent introduction of canvas ad format”.

“Another thing I see happening next year is greater use of Bing, and in particular their shopping ads. Many agencies managing the accounts of eCommerce clients will be using Google shopping ads (formally know as PLA or product listing ads) however, with Google becoming ever more saturated and with a new opportunity in Bing, I can only see the use of this ad format increasing”.

That wraps up a busy year in search. Have a restful holiday and here’s looking to another exciting year in search in 2017!

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