Technical SEO Roundup January 2020

Development News

13 Feb 2020 13 minutes
By Ryan Siddle

Welcome to the first Technical SEO Roundup of 2020 and the first one of this decade. In it, we discuss news and updates from the world of development, Google, and Bing.

Development News

Schema 6.0 Announced

On January 22 it was announced that schema.org 6.0 was officially released with a series of core changes, updates to the pending section, changes to the bib section, and site improvement notes.

The organisation stated that it plans to release updated schemas on a monthly basis, although longer gaps may apply around holiday periods.

Action Points

Full details of the new version can be found in the release notes. We recommend reading through to see whether any schema additions or improvements could benefit your site.

New Cookie Model Enforced

On 16 January it was announced that Chrome 80 (released 4 February), will enforce the new secure-by-default model for cookies, as discussed in this Chromium Blog.

This means that from Chrome 80, the browser will treat cookies that have no declared SameSite value as Samesite=Lax cookies.

As a result, only cookies with a SameSite=None Secure setting will be available for external access, provided that they are accessed from secure connections.

Both Mozilla and Firefox have announced plans to follow the same model.

Action Points

Apply the SameSite=None Secure Setting to cross-site cookies on your site.

Google suggests testing for complications or exceptional cases, such as if any special policies need implementing, or whether you utilise a language that isn't yet supported. We advise reading through the GitHub repository for more information.

Bing Reminds us to Check our Margins

In order to reduce missed clicks, Bing announced that it had implemented a UX change to its search box.

Writing on 27 January, the search engine stated that users were having difficulty clicking its search box and that, "…sometimes even though users were clicking on our search box multiple times, their clicks were being missed."

The search engine said that in total, four per cent of all users clicking within the search box had one or more missed clicks.

To combat the issue, the search engine widened the margins of its search box to reduce non-clickable space.

Bing Search Margins

As a result, Bing states that lost clicks are nearly eliminated and user satisfaction has improved.

In a bid to offer guidance, Bing points out that the issue of non-clickable space is relatively common and that webmasters should check for similar issues.

Action Points

Bing recommends that site owners check the margins of their search boxes to help improve UX. Site owners can check the issue using Microsoft's Clarity tool. You can also apply for a free pilot test of Clarity.

Google News

Dynamic Googlebot Agent Live

On 12 January Bastiam Grimm tweeted to report that he had noticed that Google had put live its new GoogleBot user agent name for the new Evergreen GoogleBot.

Action Points

Update any User-Agent HTTP header pattern matching to allow for the dynamic numbers. Using a Regular Expression extraction on the version (major and minor) could prove to be useful as a metric in understanding when new features can be used. Cross reference compatibility with caniuse.com.

Expect to see the old versions of GoogleBot until the new GoogleBot user agent is fully live. When it is, the latest version of Chrome that GoogleBot is using will show in your server log files.

Mobile-First Indexing Guide Updated

The official Google Webmasters Twitter account announced on 22 January that there was a series of updates to the Mobile-First Indexing Guide.

The amendments and additions cover a variety of areas, including:

  • Crawling: Developers are now advised to use the same meta robots tags on the mobile and desktop versions of their site. Lazy loading of primary content is also discouraged.
  • Content: A warning has now appeared to emphasise the importance of showing the same content to mobile and desktop users.
  • Visual content: A completely new section, this discusses image and video guidelines and focuses on using persistent URLs and alt text for mobile and desktop images.
  • Structured data: Likewise, structured data should be identical across mobile and desktop versions.
  • URLs: Google advises against using fragment URLs on mobile sites and states that error page statuses should align between desktop and mobile sites.

Action Points

Maintaining order across your mobile and desktop sites is essential for both user experience and search performance. We recommend a full review of the above updates to ensure that your websites align with Google's revised best practices.

Google Search Console Showing TLS Warnings

Google announced on 17 January 2020 that websites using TLS 1.1 or lower will now be marked as Not Secure on the Chrome web browser. The Technical SEO roundup from March 2018 mentioned that the PCI Security Standards Council ("PCI SSC") must update all TLS requirements by July 2018 to remain compliant.

Action Points

Businesses must remove TLS v1.1 and below.

NGINX SSL module documentation shows the protocols to use. Remove "TLSv1.0 TLSv1.1" from the list.

ssl_protocols TLSv1.0 TLSv1.1 TLSv1.2;

Google Datasets Now out of Beta

Writing on The Keyword, Natasha Noy, Google's research scientist, announced that Google's Dataset Search is now out of beta. This means that academics and researchers can now use Dataset Search when conducting research by searching with keywords searches.

Noy states that: "The tool surfaces information about datasets hosted in thousands of repositories across the web, making these datasets universally accessible and useful."

Originally launched in beta in 2018, new features include:

  • The ability to filter results based on the types of dataset.
  • The ability to filter based on whether the dataset is available for free.
  • The addition of a map from Google if the dataset is based on a geographic area.
  • The addition of mobile-friendly support.
  • Significantly improved dataset descriptions.

According to Noy, DataSet has recorded over 25 million datasets, and that "anybody who publishes data can make their datasets discoverable in Dataset Search."

Action Points

I am a data provider: If your site is data-driven, you could consider using dataset schema to make your data more accessible.

I am a data consumer: That said, there doesn't appear to be a public API, so it would be a case of users ingesting the datasets through a designed workflow.

New Removals Report Launched

On 28 January Google announced that it had added a new Removals report to Google Search Console.

This gives webmasters the ability to remove a page from Google Search results temporarily. A temporary removal will last for around six months, and the cached copy of the page will also be removed from the search results.

If a webmaster wants to clear a cached URL, they can make a request and Google will wipe the page description snippet until the page is crawled again.

Two other options also exist in the report, an outdated content section for old and irrelevant content, and a SafeSearch filtering section, which highlights pages that were found to have adult content within them.

The latter section will contain information for when a page has been reported to Google by a third-party.

Action Points

The new tool should prove useful for webmasters that quickly want to remove content from Google Search. It will also help explain why some content might have been de-indexed because of third-party requests.

If the latter situation occurs, webmasters will now have the ability to unblock third-party requests, as well as personal ones they might have made in the past.

Quote Searching with Intent

Bill Slawski provided the search community with another breakdown of what the Google Quote Searching patent may mean for the future. Google already capabilities of understanding what sections within a video cover a particular user need. For example, searching for "How do I build a raspberry pi" in Google suggests that we view a video clip 113 seconds in.

Google Quote Searching with Intent

This patent takes the knowledge graph to the next level by extracting the quotes. Gary Vaynerchuk (@GaryVee) is currently indexing all of his video/audio content to become a knowledge graph that his visitors can search. Interestingly, he said the reason for this so that voice search devices could ask a question the future and his previous content may be able to answer, with specific quotations.

Action Points

To provide the best automated transcription, ensure that the content is well-spoken and into a microphone with no background noise. Some language dialects may find it more difficult to transcribe than others.

Data-vocabulary Support to be Sunsetted

On 21 January Google announced that it was to sunset support for data-vocabulary on 6 April 2020.

Partly due to the increasing popularity of schema.org, Google stated that "Search Console will issue warnings for pages using the data-vocabulary.org schema so that you can prepare for the sunset in time."

Action Points

Should you receive warnings within Search Console, identifying and changing the markup to schema.org should be straight forward. We recommend testing live markup using the Rich Results Test. John Muller mentioned that there are no plans to sunset microformats.

Featured Snippets Will Not Repeat on the First Page

Tweeting on 22 January, Danny Sullivan announced that pages that gain featured snippets would no longer appear further down a search result on page one.

It's worth noting, however, that it is possible to earn a featured snippet from the second page of results, so we advise monitoring traffic and tools for any instances of this.

Action Points

The news is advantageous to sites where competitors have appeared twice on the results page. You can learn more about how featured snippets work in this Help Center guide.

January 2020 Core Update Goes Live

Tweeting on 13 January, Google's @SearchLiaison announced that the January 2020 Core Update was live.

A global update, the rollout lasted until 16 January and several niches and categories were affected, as reported by several data providers in this article by Search Engine Land.

If you have been negatively impacted, it's worth remembering that it does not necessarily mean that your pages were of low quality or broke any guidelines.

Action Points

Google rarely offers specific advice on what to do if an update has a particular website. It has, however, published a list of general questions that you should consider if a core update hit your site.

We recommend reading through the list and familiarising yourself with Google's Webmaster Guidelines to ensure that your site adheres to modern best practices.

Bing News

Site Navigation via Voice Introduced on Bing Search iOS App

The Bing Search app updated for iOS in early January and brought with it direct site navigation via voice. This update means that Bing Search users using iOS can navigate entire websites by vocal instruction.

If a user uses voice commands to access the website, a prompt appears asking whether they would like to continue navigating the site via voice command. Users can then specify where on the site they would like to be taken to.

Action Points

Available on the Android app for some time, the update now provides parity between the two. To take advantage of the update, review schema markup opportunities across your site that will aid users utilising vocal navigation technology.

Bing Pages

The Search Engine Roundtable reported that Bing quietly launched Bing Pages as a beta program to help provide the search engine with information about individuals (over 16 years old) and businesses. Bing Pages helps to showcase social content from around the web.

Action Points

Bing are currently using the Twitter blue badge verification program as a starting list of beta users. You can claim your Bing Page.

Further reading

Google Patent to Annotate Images

Google may start annotating images according to improve image search results. Check out Bill Slawski's breakdown of what could happen.

Bing Builds Partnerships to Drive Fresh Signals

On 16 January Bing announced a string of partnerships that had furthered its vision to "drive a fundamental shift in how search engines find content using direct notification from websites."

Search Console Training Video Series Launched

Google announced on 14 January that it had published a new Search Console video series on YouTube. Designed to help beginners navigate the complexities of the console, the series covers a range of important issues.

Favicons Introduced Across Search Results

Tweeting on 13 January, Google SearchLiaison announced that favicons and ad labels were now introduced to the search results. Read about how to define your site’s favicon in this Search Console Help guide.

Google introduces My Business Provider

In mid-January, Google introduced My Business Provider to help large businesses partner with Google to help small businesses claim their online presence. This program will be of use to agencies, chambers of commerce, and other organisations assisting local companies.

15 Technical SEO Trend Predictions for 2020

Kevin has provided a great list of 15 technical SEO trend predictions by well known faces in the search industry.

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