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Technical SEO Roundup March 2019

23 Apr 2019 12 Mins

Welcome to the March 2019 Technical SEO Roundup, where you will find a summary of integral technical SEO news and updates from last month, including both Google and Bing.

Google

Google Explains How Dates Work Within Featured Snippets

Writing on the Google Webmaster Blog on 11 March, the search engine explains how and when it chooses to show dates within featured snippets, as well as providing advice on best practices.

In the article, Google states that it might show the date of a page when it can determine that the information would be relevant for the user, such as if they are reading a news article.

The search engine explains that it determines a date using multiple factors, including any date listed on the page itself, or one provided via markup.

Google also says that it does not depend on any one single factor since some elements might contain mistakes or might not be visible.

The article highlights several best practice procedures for applying dates to pages:

  • Ensure clear and visible information.
  • Implementation of datePublished and dateModified schema.
  • Ensure to use the correct time zone designator for AMP or non-AMP pages.
  • Use ISO 8601 format for dates.

InfoAction Points

Ensure to be clear and consistent with how you date your pages and that your structured data is accurate. Read through the article to discover further best practices, alongside specific guidelines for Google News.

Google Offers Advice on how to Suggest Canonical URLs

In a post published on the Webmaster Blog on 26 March, Google offered useful advice for webmasters who want to inform the search engine about which URL should be the canonical URL for a webpage.

Search Console's URL Inspection tool now shows the Google-selected canonical for any URL entered.

If you believe that there is a better one that should be used, and you are a verified owner of the property, you can follow the steps on this Search Console help guide on how to suggest your preferred choice.

Google warns webmasters that using the site: or inurl: operators do not represent a good way to discover the Google-selected canonical. The search engine also mentions that it has changed the URL Inspection tool so that it will now display any Google-selected canonical for a URL, and not just for the properties that you manage.

Additionally, Google will retire the info: command, which had been used as an alternative way to view a canonical URL.

InfoAction Points

It's crucial to know which URLs Google has selected to serve to its users. Review your canonical URLs and follow the steps mentioned in the guide mentioned above if you believe Google has not selected your intended URL. You should look at reasons as to why this might be, such as improper use of the canonical tag or misconfiguration.

New Actions Added to Sitemap Report

On 20 March, Google announced on Twitter that it had made a series of ease-of-use changes and feature additions to the Sitemap report within Google Search Console.

This comprises of the following additions:

  • Open the sitemap content in a new tab
  • Delete a sitemap
  • Review the granular details of a sitemap containing errors
  • Verify RSS and Atom feed sitemaps

InfoAction Points

The new features somewhat improve the usability and feature set of the report. To view the changes yourself, log into Search Console, access the relevant property and select the "Sitemaps" report.

Google Does not utilise rel="next"/"prev" markup

In reply to SEOs Barry Schwartz and Adam Gent on March 21, John Mueller, Google's Webmaster Trend's Analyst, tweeted that Google does not take rel="next" or "prev" elements into consideration when crawling paginated URL series.

It is unclear when Google stopped supporting the markup, but John Mueller later stated that it had not done so "for a number of years."

After much discussion on Twitter, a spokesperson, in conversation with Search Engine Land, later said: "We apologize for any confusion. This was an oversight and something that we should have communicated proactively before taking down the documentation."

InfoAction Points

Google's updated recommendations state that single-page content is preferred by users, but multi-part content won't be penalised by the search engine's algorithms. It is not advised that you take this as a signal to strip out existing rel=next/prev markup, as it is reportedly still in use by other search engines, and can also be used as a prefetch signifier or accessibility feature by browsers.

Mobile Friendly and AMP Tests now support Code Editing

On 25 March Google announced that it had added code editing in both mobile friendly and AMP testing tools. This feature was already present in Search Console tools such as the Robots.txt tester, allowing for on-the-fly testing of additions and removals.

You can access the AMP Test tool here, and the Mobile Friendly Test tool here.

InfoAction Points

Use the updated tools to quickly test out changes to code without the requirement of publishing it on your live site environment. This will help ensure that your update will meet your intended outcome.

Securi Report finds that 51% of site hacks are related to SEO

A report released by Sucuri found that over half of sites hacked in 2018 were done so to manipulate the success of a site's SEO campaign.

The data shows that 51.3% of cases last year were related to SEO spam campaigns; up 7.3% from 2017.

Referred to as "Search Engine Poisoning", SEO spam attacks are typically tough to detect and involve hackers abusing a site's rankings to monetise the site through PHP compromisation, database injections, or .htaccess redirects.

Google has been very clear that it takes site security very seriously, and a hacked site can find itself deindexed entirely in extreme circumstances.

InfoAction Points

If Google suspects that your site is hacked, you will be notified through Search Console. Bing will also provide similar notifications in its Webmaster Tools. Review your site security regularly and ensure that every component employs the latest security patches.

Google Gives Name to Mid-Month Core Update

Tweeting on 15 March, the Google SearchLiaison account stated that it might be useful that core updates were given names, and therefore announced that the core update that rolled out around 12 March would be named "March 2019 Core Update":

It is rare for Google to offer names for its updates, and some have been renamed in the past. For instance, the Panda update was originally named the Farmer update.

InfoAction Points

Google updates its core algorithm a few times every year, although this is the first time in many years that one has been given a name. Named updates could be useful for webmasters looking to research updates in the future. Read more about the March 2019 Core Update in this article

Image Thumbnails Showing More Often in Mobile Search Results

In a blogpost published on 11 March, toolset provider RankRanger reported that Google was showing an increased amount of thumbnails within mobile search results snippets.

As mentioned in our January Technical SEO Roundup, Google has pledged to change the way in which people view images in search, and this could be an element of that evolution.

RankRanger said that the average number of thumbnails per search has risen from four to five, while Eric from Moz also reported a rise in images.

InfoAction Points

The change is particularly significant when it comes to competition within SERPs. Ensure that your images are correctly scaled and optimised and feature the recommended alt or title elements, as well as semantic markup, for improved opportunity to appear as thumbnails alongside your pages.

Subscribe With Google Launched

Google announced on 20 March that it was launching its Subscribe With Google service, which is designed to help publishers boost their online subscriptions.

Rather than entering information into a form to subscribe to a publication, users are now able to simply click "Subscribe" to access an offer that they would like to buy.

Google states that users can pay with credit cards previously associated with their Google account and can "Sign in with Google" to access a publisher's products.

InfoAction Points

The new feature will benefit publishers looking to gain online subscriptions. Google is only working with selected publications for the moment, but this number is soon to increase. Find out more about how Subscribe With Google works in this video.

Bing

Bing Makes String of Search Updates

On 20 March, Bing announced a range of new updates regarding visual, voice, and image search.

Text-to-speech Thanks to advancements in deep neural networks, the updated Bing App can now provide text-to-speech so that it can speak answers to a user's queries in a "voice that's nearly indistinguishable from a human's."

Intelligent Answers It also means that the Bing App can provide users with more intelligent answers than previous versions, and the company says that: "Bing can now provide answers to more complex questions, such as 'what are different types of lighting for a living room', quicker than before."

Visual Search Bing states that it has "made strides in efficiency" around visual search and writes that users can research products or similar products that they like within images, as well as view purchase options and prices.

A video displaying some of the features can be viewed here.

According to Bing: "Visual search automatically detects and places clickable hotspots over important objects you may want to search for next." The search engine states that all the improvements were made possible thanks to Azure N-series virtual machines that are running NVIDIA GPUs.

InfoAction Points

Bing is becoming increasingly sophisticated in the different disciplines of search. Keeping up to date with their advances could be a way of increasing traffic and visibility in a significantly less competitive playing field. You can read up on the search engine's best practice guidelines for marking up your images for example, in this Bing guideline.

Additional Reading

Google Launches new JavaScript YouTube Series

As discussed in our last Technical SEO Roundup, Google has begun a new JavaScript video series to help bridge the gap between SEOs and developers. Watch the first episode, presented by Google developer Martin Splitt.

Google Publishes Webspam Report 2018

On 21 March, Google published its annual webspam report, detailing the different kinds of webspam it encountered in 2018. Read up on some of the most common types, alongside what measures the search engine employed to combat them.

No Special Treatment Offered to Google Partners

On March 22 John Mueller tweeted to clarify that Google Partners are offered no unique insights into core search, as some nefarious Google Partners have claimed in the past. If you have been wondering about this yourself, you can read the Google's Third-Party policies, here.

Google Drops Further Reports From Search Console

As reported by Search Engine Land on March 28, Google has dropped further reports from the old Search Console, including Data Highlighter, International Targeting, Remove URLs, Crawl Stats, Robots.txt Tester and URL Parameters.

Google Begins Automatically Transcribing Podcasts

Google is making it easier for users to find podcasts, as it has started to automatically providing transcripts in metadata. Read Julian Wang's article on how his works, here.

Patent Suggests how CTRs Could be Used for Personalised Search Results

On 18 March, Bill Slawski published an article examining how an updated patent by Google could be used to rank websites.

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