It goes without saying that September 2018 was awash with updates, especially from Google, which celebrated its 20th anniversary. It took us quite some time to work through all the information.
Take a look through our September Roundup to see if you missed anything important from the likes of Google, Bing, and Yandex.
Correlate Research Tool Guide Published
In the last few days of August Tyler Hermanson published a useful and comprehensive guide for using Google Correlate; the tool that offers keywords based on similar time-based or regional search patterns in relation to a provided search query.
As Tyler rightly states, Google Correlate is an incredibly useful tool, but it's one that isn't likely being used by many people.
The tool stores trending data for all phrase-match search terms that exceed a certain threshold of search volume and endurance.
This means that as a user, you can upload data charted over time and Google will look for matching patterns in search volumes. You can also specify search terms if you don't have data of your own and Google will calculate the trending pattern and show those that are matching.
From the information provided, you can use it for a great range of purposes, including targeting an audience before the beginning of a new season, predicting the next big thing, and discovering which search queries are unlikely to benefit your campaign.
Read through Tyler's guide on Search Engine Journal and start experimenting with Google Correlate.
Google Introduces Dataset Search
On 5 September Google announced that it would be making it easier to discover datasets by introducing a new feature named Dataset Search.
Searchers can find datasets based on topics such as, "environmental and social sciences, as well as data from other disciplines including government data and data provided by news organizations".
The feature is aimed at scientists, journalists, data analysts, and anyone needing access to data relating to a specific topic.
Publishers can markup published data so that Google can provide it to searchers using the feature.
Available in a number of languages, Google said that, "as more data repositories use the schema.org standard to describe their datasets, the variety and coverage of datasets that users will find in Dataset Search, will continue to grow."
If your company regularly publishes data, you can now use page markup so that it can be served to users via Dataset Search. Google has released instructions on how to markup your pages, which you can read here.
Definition of Close Variants of exact Match Keyword Changes
Just a single day after releasing its Dataset feature, Google announced changes around what it considers to be close variants of an exact match keyword.
Google will now include variants that share the same meaning as the keyword, as well as implied words and phrases. Furthermore, exact words are no longer considered to be the sole trigger for ads to show on exact match keywords.
The meaning and intent of the search must now match the keyword.
You can see an example of how this will look in practice:
As we can see, each intent matches the original keyword, but as Google explains in its blog, you wouldn't show on terms like "Yosemite hotel" as although it refers to staying at Yosemite, the intent is still different.
The roll out is to take place throughout October, and then in other languages in the following months.
Pay close attention to search term reports for exact match keywords both before and after the rollout to modify what keywords you use. Those using scripts will need to make the necessary updates.
11 September Algorithm Update Reported
On 12 September Barry Schwartz reported discussion around a possible update that may have occurred the previous day.
Across Twitter and on search forums, SEOs were reporting ranking changes, alongside volatility within the majority of tracking tools.
Questions were also asked of John Mueller, who responded in a somewhat sarcastic manner:
Looks like 9.3— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) 11 September 2018
Throughout the ensuing days, people from websites of all kinds reported a mix of changes in traffic and rankings, which is expected, as Google updates its algorithm on a regular basis.
As always, ensure to stick to best practice search tactics and keep up to date with SEO news so that you have a clear idea of what Google expects and how it rewards good sites.
Tabbed Content Indexing Discussion Continues
Despite some interesting studies, on 14 September Gary Illyes defended Google's assertion that it fully indexes and ranks content within accordions and tabs.
Google first stated in 2016 that it gives full weight to content hidden in accordions and tabs for UX purposes.
The search engine has also tried to emphasise this claim on a number of occasions, including once by John Mueller in a Webmaster Hangout, where he said, "with the mobile-first indexing will index the mobile version of the page. And on the mobile version of the page, it can be that you have these kind of tabs and folders and things like that, which we will still treat as normal content on the page even. Even if it is hidden on the initial view."
Over the past couple of years, many studies have been carried out in order to ascertain whether this is in fact true, including one by Dejan, which concluded that Google is not treating content within tabs or accordions fully:
AFAIK, nothing's changed here, Bill: we index the content, its weight is fully considered for ranking, but it might not get bolded in the snippets. It's another, more technical question how that content is surfaced by the site. Indexing does have limitations.— Gary "鯨理" Illyes (@methode) 14 September 2018
As we can see, Gary is implying that indexing issues could stem from the way in which hidden content has been implemented, rather than it being implemented at all. We are currently running our own tabbed content indexing tests and will be reporting on them in the coming weeks.
Although there is a lot of mistrust between SEOs and Google around this subject, hidden tabbed and accordion content needs to be carefully implemented so that Google can index it.
If you suspect that your hidden content and or accordions are not being appropriately treated, check through your markup to see if you are following best practice guidelines.
Sound Search Becomes More Advanced
In late 2017 Google released Now Playing on the Pixel 2, which uses deep neural networks so that the device can recognise music being played in background environments.
In a tweet on 14 September, the company announced that it has now released a new version of Sound Search using the very same software.
Users are now able to use Now Playing technology through Google Search or the Google Assistant on any android phone to enjoy faster and more accurate results.
In the accompanying blog, Google states that, "Now Playing was not only useful for an on-device music recognizer, but also greatly exceeded the accuracy and efficiency of our then-current server-side system, Sound Search, which was built before the widespread use of deep neural networks."
Google mentions that its biggest challenge from the integration is the fact that there are now a thousand times as many songs as before (Sound Search alone had a catalogue of tens of millions), which could increase the chances of a false positive result.
To overcome this, significant changes were made in two areas, including quadrupling the size of the neural network, and doubling the density of embeddings (while also increasing the dimensions of each embedding from 96 to 128).
The index weight is also now based on song popularity, as the matching threshold is lowered for more popular songs, while the opposite treatment is offered to songs that are considered more obscure.
Google says that, "overall, this means that we can keep adding more (obscure) songs almost indefinitely to our database without slowing our recognition speed too much."
The world of audio search is becoming more advanced and increasing numbers of people are beginning to use it, even for everyday tasks such as looking up song titles.
Images to Display Copyright Information
Google has been battling to satisfy photographers and rightsholders for years, and on 27 September the search engine announced that it would soon show creator and metadata information in Google Image search results.
Visitors will be able to discover who the creator is and who owns the rights. The creator will usually be the person who took the photograph, while the credit might include additional parties or rightsholders.
Ashutosh Agarwal, a Google product manager, says that the search engine is teaming up with CEPIC and IPTC to "create better usage guidance for photographers, photo agencies, and publishers to include copyright and attribution information in image metadata."
As always, use only images that you have licences to and if you use images that are free for reuse and distribution, ensure to credit the creator and or copyright holders to avoid trouble later down the road.
Crawl Stats in GSC Can Indicate if Googlebot is Crawling Cautiously
In a Google Webmaster Hangout on 7 September John Mueller revealed that Googlebot is more cautious about crawling sites when it detects that the site’s server is struggling.
Mueller also says that if a server is limiting the number of pages that can be crawled per day, it makes it harder for Googlebot and it will take a lot longer for the crawler to do its job.
You can detect a cautious Googlebot in the "number of pages crawled" graph within Google Search Console to judge whether Googlebot has indeed adopted such an approach.
Google Tests the Blue Shield
Towards the end of the month, Michael Postorino noticed that Google was showing a blue shield icon in snippets for some government sites.
It is thought that Google may be testing the shield as a verification icon, similar to the blue ticks found on Twitter.
An example can be seen below:
Google, alongside other prominent media corporations, has taken up the battle against fake news and illegitimate news sites over the past couple of years.
Verifying prominent governmental websites could well be an extension of this campaign.
Google My Business Allowing Localised Editing
Google My Business has now provided the ability to edit the localised versions of business names.
Atlanta SEO Craig Harkins noticed the change and shared a screenshot on Twitter, showing that he was able to edit the location of his local McDonalds, as well as changing its name in Russian.
Currently, webmasters cannot change information in the Google My Business dashboard, but it can be changed when you edit a Google My Business listing directly in web search.
Other SEOs have since noted that they have been able to do this in their locations (such as Mexico), for the past couple of months.
If your business tends to have international visitors, but its name does not translate clearly, this is a good alternative to clear up possible confusion.
We assume the new changes will find their way into the Google My Business dashboard in time.
Google celebrates its 20th anniversary
On its 20th anniversary, Google celebrated two decades in search while simultaneously pledging itself positively to the ones to come.
In a blog post written by Ben Gomes, the search engine pledged to keep its focus on the user, offer the most relevant, highest quality information, rigorously test every change, and continue its algorithmic approach to search.
What's more, Gomes writes that in the coming years, there will be three fundamental shifts in Search:
Google is to shift its attention away from providing answers and more towards journeys.
It is to provide a queryless way to provide information so that it can offer relevant information related to a user's interests, even when they don't have a specific query at hand.
The search engine will provide a more visual way for users to acquire information, and is to redesign Google Images to help users find information.
Gomes writes that, "underpinning each of these are our advancements in AI, improving our ability to understand language in ways that weren't possible when Google first started."
Google has given us a good indication of where it is going to take search in the future. Getting to grips with new and growing aspects of search should be something that every SEO should keep in mind.
Mass Additions to Mobile-First Indexing
Around 19 September SEOs across the world noticed a dramatic increase in mobile-first inclusion notices, with many receiving large amounts of email alerts in Google Search Console.
Google Adds Experimental Features for Daydream
On 21 September new features for Daydream were announced for developers for the Lenovo Mirage Solo Daydream headset.
The first features worth mentioning are the APIs added to the Mirage Solo controllers, which now support positional controller tracking with six degrees of freedom (6DoF) so that users can move their hands in Daydream as naturally as they would in the real world.
They also feature a unique optical tracking system to help developers start building with 6DoF features that use machine learning and off-the-shelf parts to accurately estimate the 3D position and orientation of controllers.
Another notable addition is the see-through mode, which gives users the ability to see what’s in front of them in the real world while wearing the headset.
This feature makes use of WorldSense technology, which provides accurate, low latency tracking. Google states that the cameras are so precise on Mirage Solo that players can play real-life ping-pong while wearing the headset.
The additions open up a world of possibilities for developers to blend what is digital and what is real.
Google is also introducing the capability to open up Android apps to users enjoying Daydream so that they can play mobile games and use tools while in VR.
Developers will soon have the ability to add Daydream VR support to existing 2D apps without having to start from scratch.
If you're an app developer, it will be worth becoming familiar with Daydream and experimenting to see whether your apps could be of use in a VR environment. Like many technologies Google introduces, Daydream can only get bigger.
Google confirms that it matters where an XML sitemap is discovered
In a Webmaster Hangout John Mueller was asked if it still mattered where an XML sitemap was located by crawlers.
Mueller answered, saying that it depends on how they are discovered and that, "If [they are] submitted via anonymous ping, they're only valid there & lower levels. If you submit them through your SC account, they can be valid for any verified site or part of a site."
You can see the conversation yourself at the appropriate time, here.
The question of course, is somewhat relevant to Apple, which accidentally leaked the iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR names through its sitemap earlier in the month.
The file with the names has now been pulled, as you might expect, but not before The Verge was able to take screenshots. Read more about it all, here.
Don't put future products on your sitemap unless you've already made the appropriate details public.
Bing Introduces Bing AMP Viewer and Bing AMP Cache.
On 17 September Bing began the rolling out its Amp viewer and carousel in the US. It is expected to continue rolling out across the world, and will look like something like the below:
To enable AMP published content within Bing, webmasters must allow the Bingbot to fetch AMP content and enable cross-region resource sharing (CORS) for bing-amp.com domain.
Anonymous Aspect of URL Submission Tool Gets Shelved
Bing has announced that it is to retire the anonymous URL Submission Tool as the URLs being received by the search engine have been deemed to be too low quality.
Webmasters can still log in and access the Submit URL tool in Bing Webmaster Tools, and it now supports both Google and Facebook authentication in addition to other Microsoft accounts.
To use the tool, webmasters must now log in and verify their site and navigate to the Submit URL tool within the Configure My Site menu options.
Using Turbo Pages with Product Data
In the summer, Yandex promised that it would give online stores the opportunity to create cards of goods within its Turbo format.
In September it did so, and a whole lot more, as it is now possible to work with the basket and automatically generate offers for similar products within a store’s range.
It has also begun support for the Yaml (YML) format used by Yandex.Market and the Webmasters affiliate program "Products and Prices", so that stores do not need to create separate pages for Turbo pages (this part of the update is currently in beta).
To connect an online store to Turbo pages, a webmaster must follow the following steps:
- Specify a link to YML with product data
- Specify in Webmasters the address of the basket in which to put purchased goods 3 .Save changes.
By implementing the above, the following should appear on the card of a product:
- Product model
- Price of goods
- Product characteristics
- Product parameters and dimensions
- Add product to cart button
- Information sections in the form of a drop-down block
- Terms of delivery
- Description of the product or service
- Any applied discount.
Yandex is to remove the functionality from beta and add it to the settings of Turbo sandbox as soon as it is sure that all the basic wishes of store owners have been granted.
We recommend trying out the new feature, which has already yielded positive results for selected partners.
Site Quality Index ("X") added to Yandex.Webmaster API
On 6 September Yandex announced that X had been added to the Yandex.Webmaster API, which now means that webmasters can set up uploading the history of changing the index of site quality over the last year.
However, X cannot be transmitted when:
- The site is not yet indexed
- Its data is not uploaded to Yandex.Webmaster
- The site is not added to the list of sites
- Rights have not been confirmed by the user
If you are curious about API response codes, check out Yandex’s help guide.
In a case that has angered some SEOs, Google has decided that Chrome 69 (released 4 September) will no longer show www. or subdomains on websites within the address bar.
Although users can force Chrome to display the full address by disabling the ‘Omnibox UI Hide Steady-State URL Scheme and Trivial Subdomains’, it inhibits SEOs who might want to quickly look at the canonical URL of a page.
The issue prompted a discussion between Jerry White and John Mueller, with the latter stating that, "it seems to me that if someone is savvy enough to understand that there's something to watch out for, they'll watch out for it."
Critics have also pointed out there could be instances where two different sites look the same, which could lead to exposing some users to phishing attacks.
Prior to version 69's release, Google also told [Wired](https://www.wired.com/story/google-wants-to-kill-the-url) that URLs fail to convey a site's identity, so the search engine is headed for an alternative that provides greater security prospects.
The changes have no impact on rankings in search, but you can double click on a site within the address bar to check its full URL.
Cloudflare Launches Cloudflare Registrar
Cloudflare has launched its very own domain registrar, which it is basing on three main principles.
DOOM Engine made from Excel Formulas
Just when you think you're an Excel ninja - an impressive 3D engine for the computer game DOOM has been made entirely from MS Excel formulas.
Finding Metadata Optimisation Opportunities With Data Studio
Notprovided.eu has written a fascinating and worthy guide for finding quick metadata wins within Data Studio.
More info revealed surrounding Google’s podcast app
Earlier in the year, Google mentioned that it was developing an experimental podcasting app named "Shortwave". A series of possible reveals have been documented, here.
How to Build a Low-tech Website
Earlier in September, Earl Grey pointed us towards this fantastic article discussing how to build a low-tech website with an eye on sustainability and the environment. It's definitely worth reading, and we looking at ways to reduce our own electricity footprint.
Yandex Browser now prevents Cryptojacking
Yandex announced on 21 September that its browser now prevents cryptojacking and users will be warned against visiting sites that use devices for mining practices.
EU parliament passes controversial copyright reform
In a move that has led to much discussion among the tech community, the EU parliament last month passed a new copyright reform while leaving the "link tax" and “upload filter” open to a later vote.
John Mueller discusses image alt attributes for lazy loading images
Alt text can often be a forgotten part of SEO, but John Mueller discussed its importance in context with lazy loading images on Twitter.
Google Showcases Shopping Ads With Videos
Google has added further videos to Google Ads, which can now be shown for Google Shopping Ads. Read more about it here.
Google Maps now Showing Future Open Dates
Google Maps now shows dates that businesses will open in the future, with the exact date or month of the year being shown the local panel on web search or Google Maps.
Apple Releases Best Practice Guidelines for Podcast Marketing
Apple has released a best practice guideline for those wishing to market their podcast. It includes information such as how to package your podcast, as well as how to develop your audience.