How Would Search Engine Optimization Change if Google’s Algorithm Were Public?

As Google continues to battle lawsuits, there’s talk that it may be forced to reveal its algorithm. Could this actually happen? And what would change if it did?

Google May Be Forced to Reveal its Search Algorithm to an SEO, the headline on Search Engine Journal announces. 

For those not in the loop, back in 2012, a company called Foundem filed a suit against the search engine giant. A price comparison search engine, Foundem alleges that it was the victim of anti-competitive practices by Google in 2006. Specifically, it claims that Google intentionally manipulated its search engine results page (SERP) to bury the site. 

The accusation, notes SFGate, was tied to several algorithm changes that penalized sites with large quantities of duplicate content and changed how Google handled URL canonization—known respectively as Gilligan, Jagger, and Big Daddy, per Moz. At first glance, the whole suit may seem cut-and-dry. 

Foundem simply doesn’t want to acknowledge that its business model became irrelevant, which was ultimately the real reason it foundered, claims the International Center for Law & Economics.

The courts clearly disagreed, and the fact that Foundem continued to perform well in other search engines was admittedly suspicious. So it was that the two companies found themselves embroiled in a years-long legal dispute. And here’s where it gets interesting.

Let’s circle back to the Search Engine Journal piece we cited at the beginning. As part of the court proceedings, Google revealed documents detailing its algorithm to the court—confidentially, of course.  In April 2020, Foundem reportedly demanded that the company bring in SEO expert Philipp Kloeckner to interpret them.  

Google’s response, understandably, was that doing so would compromise the integrity of the entire search engine. Foundem responded that it could simply withdraw the documents afterward—seemingly forgetting the extreme competitive advantage Kloeckner would gain as a result of the process. It couldn’t withdraw them either, however—the documents were key to its defense.

And so it was that Google faced an ultimatum. If Google neither withdraws the documents nor consents to provide them to Kloeckner, the judge will simply give them to Kloeckner himself. And that could ultimately lead to the documents being released to the general public. 

We expect one of two things would happen as a result of this.

If we were to be optimistic, this could completely change the face of the web. Armed with a complete understanding of content quality and ranking signals, SEOs and marketers could create better, more relevant content than ever before. It would be a golden age for search.

If we’re being realistic? We’d probably regress to the early days of SEO—a chaotic mess where the SERP is poisoned by black hats and spammers. Not exactly ideal, in other words. 

Either way, we don’t think it’s likely that Google will reveal its algorithm. Far likelier that it will choose to withdraw the documents and eat the fine. That small dent in its revenue would be far smaller than the damage it would incur from its algorithm being made public.

What Can You Do if Google Displays The Wrong Title on the SERP?

We’ve received a sobering reminder that no matter what we do, our search engine optimization efforts are ultimately at Google’s mercy. At least that’s the message the search engine giant sent in August. Midway through the month, SEO experts noticed some massive changes to how titles were generated on the search engine results page, as reported by Search Engine Journal.

Rather than pulling SERP headlines from a page’s title tag, Google instead began replacing them with everything from H1 tags to anchor text from internal links. Per Search Engine Land, it didn’t take long for the company to confirm that yes, it had indeed changed how SERP titles were generated. It claimed that its algorithms now generate titles that describe what a page is actually about — regardless of the query or title tag.

There’s just one problem. Evidence suggests that, at least in this case, those algorithms aren’t exactly working as intended. Some of the changes seem, to put it bluntly, absolutely nonsensical — one expert noted an instance where they replaced a page’s title text with copy from a completely different page.  

At first glance, this seems like a huge problem. After all, what’s the point of planning out metadata like title tags if Google is simply going to ignore it? As is often the case, however, there’s a bit more going on here than one might at first assume.

First and foremost is the fact that, according to Google, 80% of results will still use your title tag on the SERP. This means that instances where Google uses a different or ‘wrong’ tag will be relatively rare. Google further lists a few specific cases in which it will replace the title tag:

  • It’s too long
  • It’s stuffed with keywords
  • It’s boilerplate, containing generic copy or lacking keywords

“A focus on good HTML title tags remains valid,” the company maintains. “Our main advice…to site owners remains the same. Focus on creating great HTML title tags. Of all the ways we generate titles, content from HTML title tags is still by far the most likely used.” 

Further, as noted by SEO expert Brodie Clark, most scenarios in which Google replaces a page’s title tags actually end up being beneficial.  For the most part, the changes end up being an improvement, providing “a better preview of the content to come.” And in the rare cases where they end up being detrimental, a site owner’s best bet is to take a step back and re-evaluate.

And more importantly, to double-check that their existing HTML titles follow SEO best practices.  

5 Excellent Tips To Help You Do SEO on a Budget

Search engine optimization needn’t break the bank. If you know what you’re doing, it can be done without spending a cent. Here are some tips to help you do so.

Search engine optimization (SEO) need not break the bank — and anyone who tries to tell you it does is in all likelihood trying to sell you something. While it’s certainly true that there’s no shortage of premium SEO tools available, they mostly just cut down on a lot of work you’d otherwise need to do manually. And while there are certainly SEO firms that can do an excellent job of managing your website, you don’t strictly need them in order to succeed. 

It’s entirely possible to take care of all the SEO on your website while barely spending a cent — here are some tips to help you do exactly that. 

Leverage Your Own Expertise With a Blog

Here’s a question for you — what are you good at? What skills do you possess that the layperson lacks? What might you be able to teach others if you took the opportunity to share your expertise? 

Whatever your business or industry, you’re bound to know something you can share with your audience. Something they might be interested in learning. Translating that into a thought leadership blog could be a valuable means of bringing in new traffic, particularly if you’re keyed into the kinds of questions your audience is asking. 

Use Any of a Number of Free SEO Tools

Just because there’s such a wealth of premium tools available on the web, that doesn’t mean you’re completely adrift if you don’t use them. There are actually quite a few free tools that can help you achieve most of what you could with a paid subscription if used in tandem with one another. Some examples include: 

Draw in Traffic With User-Generated Content

Depending on your industry, you might actually be able to create some buzz on social media through your audience itself. Not only will this show other people that you have an audience engaged enough to actively work with your brand, but it also shows that your brand is trustworthy and open to conversation. Plus, if a contest or campaign on social media goes viral, you’re looking at a massive influx of traffic. 

Pay Attention to Local SEO

Local SEO is unique in that it doesn’t actually require much in the way of expenditure. All you really need to do is fill out your Google My Business page. Once that’s done, simply ensure you have your business’s name, address, and phone number on each page of your website, and keep an eye on local reviews. 

Manually Take Care of Internal SEO

For most smaller websites, internal/technical SEO isn’t terribly difficult to manage. Particularly if you’re using a content management system like WordPress, you’ll have access to multiple plugins that allow you to take care of everything from website performance to mobile friendliness to your sitemap. And if you’re uncertain where to start, tutorials like Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO can be a great help.  

The Critical Link Between User Experience and SEO

A positive user experience impacts more than your conversion rate. It’s actually a ranking factor, and one you need to pay attention to.

User experience has always been crucial, both on the web and off. It influences everything about how users interact with your brand, from conversion rate to brand loyalty. And if your site is not designed with the end user in mind — if visiting is not a positive experience for your audience — then nothing else matters. 

In light of that, it should not come as any great surprise that it’s a ranking factor. Google has long been tweaking its algorithm with the user in mind. Everything from relevance to context to intent boils down to user experience. 

More recently, that culminated in Google’s Page Experience Update. 

What Is The Google Page Experience Update?

Currently, in the process of being rolled out and due to be completed at the end of this month, the page experience updates spins several new metrics into Google’s ranking algorithm, known as Core Web Vitals. These vitals are then measured alongside several other signals, which together are used to assign a page experience score, viewable through the Google Search Console. 

The factors measured as part of the page experience score are as follows: 

  • Core Web Vitals
    • Largest contentful paint. Essentially, this is a measurement of load time. The fast a page loads, the better, but ideally, this should occur within 2.5 seconds, per Google.
    • First input delay. How long after loading a user can interact with a page. Google recommends this score be less than 100 milliseconds. 
    • Cumulative layout shift. This measures a site’s visual stability. 
  • Use of HTTPS (required) 
  • No obvious security issues
  • Usability on mobile devices
  • Lack of intrusive content such as popups
  • Page safety/security

How To Take a UX-Focused Approach to SEO

More than anything else, the Google Page Experience Update provides a benchmark for optimizing the user experience on your website. By following the framework outlined by Google, there’s the opportunity to do more than improve your PageRank — you can potentially improve conversions, as well. So, with that in mind, let’s wrap things up with a bit of advice on what you can do specifically to improve your page experience score. 

  • Prioritize Performance.  Where possible, avoid using any content that could potentially impact performance, such as JavaScript, CSS, and rich media. 
  • Streamline Your Interface. Keep your site simple and easy to navigate, without any unnecessary visual elements. 
  • Make Sure Your Site is Mobile-Friendly. Self-explanatory. A mobile-friendly site is non-negotiable in 2021. 
  • Police your ad network. Or simply don’t use an ad network at all. 
  • Make sure you’re using HTTPS. Again, self-explanatory. Security, like mobile usability, is non-negotiable. 

User experience is crucial. It always has been. Just remember that while it’s essential to have a good page experience score, that’s still no substitute for quality content. 

How to Improve Page Speed for SEO

Even before page speed was a ranking factor, it was crucial. A slow website contributes to lost conversions and abandonment. Here’s how you can improve yours.

Page speed has been used as a ranking factor by Google for quite some time now. It’s not difficult to understand why, either. In recent years, every change made to the algorithm has been deployed with one goal in mind — a better user experience. A website that takes too long to load makes for a negative experience. 

These days, our time is at a premium. Our attention is being pulled in a thousand different directions at once. As a result, we’re hyper-sensitive to anything that we feel wastes our time.

And a slow-loading website does precisely that. Although common knowledge technically places the ideal load time at anywhere from two to five seconds, the truth is that faster is always better. As reported by Marketing Dive, even one extra second is enough to make more than half of mobile users abandon a site.  

Suffice it to say; you don’t want that to happen — so with that said, here’s some advice for improving your website’s performance and speed. 

Choose the Right Backend

First and foremost, you’ll want to make sure you choose a web host that provides you with enough bandwidth to host your site and the capacity to scale as necessary during periods of high demand. You may also want to use a content delivery network, which uses distributed proxy servers to ensure your visitors are always connected to a server that’s geographically nearby. Finally, if you’re using a platform like WordPress, only install plugins you absolutely need. 

The more unnecessary plugins you bog down your backend with, the greater the chance you’ll end up negatively impacting your site’s performance. 

Keep Things Light

Javascript and rich media have one thing in common. They both have the capacity to exponentially increase your load times if they’re used inexpertly. Avoid using them whenever possible, and stick to static content. 

For situations where you absolutely must use JavaScript or CSS, leverage asynchronous loading, which will allow the page to load and render side-by-side with the code. 

As for media content, tone down on animation-heavy interfaces, and compress all images and files. This is especially important for mobile users, who are often on devices and connections with less processing power than many desktop browsers. Finally, do not, under any circumstances, use autoplay video.

Seriously, just don’t do it.

Reuse Page Elements

The more HTTP requests each page on your website requires, the longer it takes for that page to load. As such, especially in the early design phase for your site, you should constantly look for opportunities to streamline things. This may include loading an interface as a single image, using a static background that persists across your website, or even serving the site as a single page. 

Ensure You’re Using Browser Caching

Browser caching is particularly important for repeat visitors to your site. How it works is simple. Previously-loaded static elements are stored in the user’s browser when they visit. When they return to the site, it queries their browser to load those elements near-instantaneously. 

As you might expect, this has a huge (and hugely positive) impact on performance, and significantly improves page response time, particularly if you’re reusing static elements across your site, as we recommended in our previous point. 

Test With Google PageSpeed Insights

Finally, once you’re confident you’ve incorporated all the performance enhancements you can, test your website with Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. This will analyze your website’s overall performance, identify any potential bottlenecks, and provide you with suggestions for things you might improve. This is your bread and butter for performance optimization — expect to visit and revisit this page a lot. 

The faster your website loads, the better. Follow the tips outlined here, and keep looking for opportunities to improve. Optimization, after all, is a process — there’s always some new improvement to be made. 

Are SEO Certifications Actually Worth It?

There’s no shortage of search engine optimization certifications online. But are any of them actually worth pursuing?

As with any field that requires some level of expertise, the search engine optimization (SEO) space is filled with self-proclaimed experts looking to profit from their knowledge — and not from applying it. As a result, you can learn everything you need to know about SEO for a nominal fee and come out of it with a shiny certificate that lets you show off your knowledge. It sounds like a pretty good deal, right? 

Wrong. 

If you’re a marketing professional, SEO certifications aren’t going to win you any clients. They care about what you can do, not about whether you have a piece of paper that says you do keywords well. And if you’re looking to learn SEO on your own, there are better ways than paying out the nose for a course that offers nothing beyond what can be found in Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO

“I run an online education company that has taught SEO to over 3,000 students around the world,” writes SEO expert Brian Dean. “Despite the fact that we offer several different SEO programs, we don’t offer SEO certifications…An SEO training course is a great way to learn, [but] most programs don’t allow you to put your knowledge into practice.” 

In other words, a certification or training program can be helpful if you’re feeling overwhelmed and have no idea where to begin teaching yourself SEO. By working within a structured learning environment, you can learn at your own pace and with the help of someone who verifiably knows what they’re doing. There’s less risk of being led astray by a snake oil salesperson or following bad advice. 

Specific advanced certification programs can also be quite helpful, as they break down complex concepts and ideas into something that’s more easily digestible. Take Schema Markup, for instance. And some of the certifications offered by Google, such as Analytics Academy, Google Marketing Platform, and Search can be a great way to brush up on your skills. 

Better yet, Google’s certifications have a characteristic the other programs don’t. They’re free. So long as you have a valid Google account, you don’t need to pay a cent — all you need to do is complete an assessment on Skillshop, and you can start learning. 

It seems like that’s a bit more valuable than shelling out to a third-party vendor, no? 

SEO certifications and training programs aren’t without merit. They can be an excellent way to learn as a beginner, provide a good refresher if you’re feeling shaky on certain things, and help you understand advanced concepts. Ultimately, though? 

Most certification programs are quite simply a waste of money. They don’t teach you anything that isn’t already freely available online. And unless they feature guided instruction from an educator, they don’t provide a better experience, either.

Save yourself the time, money, and effort — practice your SEO in the wild instead. 

The Crucial Role of SEO in Fighting Fake News

Fake News may be a phrase coined by a former presidential administration, but misinformation has run rampant for years. SEO has a vital role in fighting it.

“Fake News” is more than a buzzword invented by Donald Trump. For all that it’s a powerful tool for research, communication, and collaboration, the Internet is also a pervasive source of misinformation. The problem is that one can publish whatever they want online, and aside from sites like Snopes, there’s really no way to hold people to any real standard of truthfulness or factuality.

For most of the Internet’s history, reasonable people have been able to ignore the lunatic fringe handily. It’s not as if they were hurting everyone. As long as their conspiracy theories and sensationalist rhetoric weren’t actively hurting everyone, they’re free to believe what they want, right?

The onset of the coronavirus last year demonstrated the problem with that line of thinking. Fearmongering, sensationalism, and lies have run rampant throughout the pandemic, from anti-mask rhetoric to the controversy surrounding the recent presidential election. In stark and disturbing detail, we saw exactly how much damage a single false story can cause. 

It should come as no surprise, then, that as reported by CNet, even Google is making an effort to curb the spread of harmful misinformation with a new feature called About This Result. Unveiled in a keynote at the company’s I/O Developer’s Conference near the end of May, About This Result is a snippet that contains the following information: 

  • What a site says about itself.
  • What others say about the site
  • Details such as website security, when Google first indexed the site, etc. 

It’s easy to forget that in many ways, Google is the arbiter of what many of us see online. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is simply the mechanism by which it categorizes and classifies content. About This Site is an important step in the right direction for the search engine.

But it’s not enough.

The biggest issue with Google from the perspective of curbing fake news is that SEO doesn’t care about whether or not something is true. While the argument could certainly be made that authenticity is a cornerstone of website quality, Google’s algorithms ultimately focus on providing people with what they want to see. And if that happens to be a website filled with conspiracy theories about masks, vaccines, and the election? 

Well, who’s Google to judge? The algorithms are simply doing what they were designed to do, disclaimers notwithstanding.

To address the spread of misinformation and ensure we don’t see events like the Capitol riots or anti-mask movement, Google needs to do more than throw up a few disclaimers. We need some metric by which we can measure accuracy. Perhaps more importantly, that metric needs to be treated as a ranking factor.

Because otherwise, fake news will only continue to spread, and Google will be helping.

3 Reasons Your Content May Have Been Removed From the Search Engine Results Page

If you’re SEO-focused, being removed from the search engine results page can be devastating. Here’s how to avoid it.

The search engine results page (SERP) is the core focus of search engine optimization (SEO). Pages that can make it to the coveted first page are incredibly well-positioned for higher traffic and an improved conversion rate. Similarly, pages that fall further down in the results often see their numbers plummet. 

This makes sense. After all, can you even remember the last time you looked past the first page of the SERP? We certainly can’t. 

As it turns out, there’s a third fate that can befall a site, something even worse than losing PageRank — de-indexing. 

It’s okay if you felt a momentary chill run up your spine. We did too. The idea of being removed from Google altogether is honestly chilling. 

If you plummet to the bottom of the SERP, you can feasibly recover in time. But if your de-indexed, that’s it. Exit, stage left. 

But as reported by The Search Engine Journal earlier this month, it mercifully isn’t something that happens often. According to Google Search Liaison Danny Sullivan, de-indexing is something Google takes extremely seriously. It’s something that’s only applied in the most extreme circumstances.

The first of these involves illegal content. In addition to content that may be actively harmful, Google makes it a point to fulfill the legal framework of each country in which it operates. Generally, its algorithms can detect this kind of thing on their own, but users can also manually submit a removal request if they see something they think breaks the law. 

The second involves personal or sensitive information. Generally, Google evaluates this on a case-by-case basis. However, certain categories of content tend to be frequently de-indexed. 

  • Financial, medical, or protected legal data. 
  • Government-issued IDs or other data that may be used to commit fraud. 
  • Intimate photos or videos published without consent. 
  • Information that was clearly published in an attempt to frighten or intimidate someone (or inspire others to do so). 

Believe it or not, there’s a third reason your page might be removed from the SERP. However, most of the time, it’s not due to direct action on Google’s part (the 2019 deindexing bug notwithstanding). Per Moz, it’s possible to deindex your entire site accidentally

So basically, you might be removed for illegal content, harmful content, or as a result of user error. It’s a somewhat surprising revelation, as common knowledge for the longest time maintained that black hat techniques could potentially lead to removal. More than anything else, this drives home an essential truth about SEO, one we would all do well to remember.

Ultimately, none of us know precisely how Google’s algorithms work. Everything we know about SEO is based on a combination of breadcrumbs and guesswork. It’s usually informed guesswork, mind you — but it’s also far from gospel. 

Exploring SEO in the Medical Field

Whether you’re a private practice or a larger medical clinic, implementing SEO isn’t something you can afford to ignore. Learn why you need SEO.

You might think search engine optimization isn’t something you’d need to worry about as a healthcare professional.

However, you’d be wrong. Whether you’re an optometrist, family physician, dentist, or another type of medical professional, you are still a business at the end of the day. And like any business, you need a means of standing out from your competitors — of bringing in new patients. 

But how exactly do you do that? 

First thing’s first, Google My Business. Given that most of your lead-generating traffic will be local, and given that your Google My Business page is crucial to local SEO, ensuring this is filled out in its entirety should be your first step. A patient should be able to tell, at a glance: 

  • What your practice does.
  • Where your practice is located.
  • Your practice’s website, if it has one (it should). 
  • Hours and location.
  • High-quality photos of your clinic/office, including the exterior/waiting room.

A side bonus of using Google My Business is that it also allows patients to leave reviews of your practice. Pay attention to these. Thank people for their positive reviews, and make an effort to reach out and rectify negative reviews. 

You should also consider establishing your practice on a site like WebMD, which allows patients to search and rate physicians of all stripes. 

Beyond that, you’ll want to ensure your website is modern, easy to navigate, and includes your name, address, and phone number (NAP) on every page. You might also consider optimizing your pages for local search by including references to certain areas of your city or location-specific landing pages. 

More importantly, make sure it works seamlessly on mobile devices. Most people now browse the web on their smartphones. There’s no excuse for a site that isn’t mobile friendly, and a doctor that can’t even be bothered with maintaining a professional website doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

You might also consider leveraging some form of digital booking software or perhaps even a virtual care platform. With so many people sheltering in place of late, the ability to receive medical care without having to leave the house could be a substantial potential draw for patients. 

Last but certainly not least, let’s talk content marketing. As with SEO, it’s probably not something you’ve thought much about. But it’s an untapped market and one with a great deal of potential.

Again, it’s about inspiring confidence in your patients, establishing yourself as a trusted voice in your field, and providing your patients with valuable medical advice in the process. Given that there’s a very good chance you don’t have the time or energy to run a blog yourself — especially now, medical professionals are exhausted and overworked — you might consider hiring a marketing agency to take care of things for you.

After all, your time is valuable, and they can help ensure you use it efficiently, all while getting your name in front of as many new patients as possible. 

Apple’s App Tracking Transparency Feature Is Only a Bad Thing for Facebook

Apple is releasing an iOS update that will notify users when an app wants to track them. Facebook has spent months rallying against it. But most brands were doing personalization wrong to begin with.

“We believe users should have the choice over the data that is being collected about them and how it’s used,” wrote Apple CEO Tim Cook in a December 2020 Twitter post. “Facebook can continue to track users across apps and websites as before, App Tracking Transparency in iOS 14 will just require that they ask for your permission first.”

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, that tweet was one recent shot in an ongoing feud between Apple and Facebook about a new feature coming to iOS. Known as App Tracking Transparency (ATT), it explicit consent from users before an app can track details about a user’s device or their activities outside the app. Understandably, Facebook was less than enthralled by this concept.

Per CNBC, the social network late last month launched a new ad campaign titled “Good Ideas Deserve to be Found.” Although company executives claimed the initiative was aimed at supporting small businesses during COVID-19, the real motive of the campaign was immediately clear. It’s another effort by Facebook to undermine Apple’s decision — another thinly-veiled attempt to make it seem like giving people ownership of their personal information is a bad thing. 

Facebook even launched a website on the topic, positioning itself as a champion and Apple as a villain. Because as we all know, if there’s one thing Facebook cares about, it’s small businesses. That’s why it blocked all Australian publications from its platform last month to protest a law it didn’t like

As pointed out by Inc.com’s Jason Aten, Facebook is the only one that stands to lose anything from these changes

As for personalized, paid advertising, for most businesses, it’s utterly ineffective. Not because there’s something wrong with the format, mind you. Because most businesses have no idea how to target their ads.

“The effectiveness of digital ads is wildly oversold,” writes Sinan Aral, Director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy. “Brands pay consultants big bucks to “target” their ads at the people most likely to buy their products. But unless the targeting is directed at customers who aren’t already prepped to buy the products, the conversion from click to cash will not generate any new revenue.” 

In other words, most advertising is targeted and personalized towards people who are already likely to purchase a brand’s products — they frequently even have prior awareness of the brand. 

Never mind the fact that, as noted by marketing expert Neil Patel, small businesses generally enjoy the most success from local search engine optimization, not from paid advertising as Facebook seems to suggest. Competing with big businesses on platforms like Adwords is generally a recipe for failure. Focusing on local SEO, creating Google My Business and Facebook Business pages, and uploading your name, address, and phone (NAP) information to relevant directories is a far superior recipe for success. 

Facebook has never cared about user privacy. It has never cared about supporting small business owners or ensuring their success. As the Cambridge Analytica scandal drove home, Facebook only cares about profiting off the backs of its users. 

All the shallow ad campaigns in the world won’t change that fact.