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SERP News: Google Adds More Media to the SERP as a Bug Misplaces Results!


SERP News Banner May 2019


Another month has come and gone and in some respects, the Google SERP is not what it once was. As April becomes a distant memory, the SERP is now a far more visual place with multiple search features showing display level increases. AMP also eked its way back into the news throughout April with a motley collection of announcements & updates. Of course, there were various spikes in rank fluctuations and a myriad of changes to a plethora of SERP features!

Oh, and did I mention a Google bug resulted in the removal of countless pages from the index? 

Ready to jump into the thick of it all?! 




More Images and Videos Enter the SERP 



Back in March, I reported that Image Boxes on page one of the Google SERP had undergone a moderately significant decrease. Prior to the SERP feature's fall from Google grace, it appeared on roughly 10% of all page one SERPs, which is exactly where an April 13th spike brought the Image Box. The story, however, does not end there. On April 19th, our SERP Feature Tracker recorded a second spike that placed the Image Box on 13% of page one SERPs (US - desktop). 


Image Box Increases

The Image Box underwent two sharp display level increases during April 


However, the story doesn't end there either. Having seen so many changes to the Image Box's display levels, I dug a bit deeper only to find a peculiar sort of pattern. If you look below you'll notice that Google, over the past few months, has been experimenting with removing Image Boxes from the SERP only to restore the feature to previous levels after a short period of time. In the case of the April spikes, the increase does diverge from this pattern in terms of the actual display level, which is noticeably higher than the more recent trends. That said, it could very well be the case that the April spikes will be all but temporary as Google again places the Image Box in SERP feature detention. 


Image Box Trends

Image Box trends over the past few months show a pattern of data reversals


Coincidently, if you want to call it that, on April 19th, Google also placed more video carousels onto the desktop SERP. Representing a near 25% gain, Google's increase in video carousels brings the feature close to the display levels originally seen back in June of 2018 - when the feature first hit the desktop SERP. That number is significant as over time Google seems to have removed the desktop video carousel from certain SERPs due to relevancy concerns. As such, the recent return of the SERP feature to such heights may indicate that Google has found a way to ensure the video carousel is highly relevant to the queries that bring it up. 


Video Carousel Spike

On April 19th, desktop video carousels underwent a sharp display level increase 


While on the subject of SERP feature data shifts, let me mention that Featured Snippets underwent a slight increase during April as well. On desktop (US) the coveted zero-position box moved from showing on 6% of SERPs to slightly over 7% while on mobile Featured Snippets went from showing on 9% of mobile SERPs to appearing on north of 11% of mobile SERPs. 

Featured Snippet Increases

Featured Snippets underwent a gradual two percentage point increase (US - desktop) during April




A Google Bug Wreaks Havoc on Indexation



As part of what was one of the most substantial Google bugs I've ever witnessed, 4% of the entire Google index was deindexed. The first scent that anything was amiss was first registered on April 5th. At the time, there was a voluminous number of reports coming on that sites were seeing their pages deindexed. The next day, Google's John Mueller confirmed that indeed a bug was behind the deindexation and that a fix was in the works.

The search engine initially thought the problem was resolved on April 6th, however, the process to reindex the pages ultimately took longer than was expected. By April 9th, Google said that the re-indexation was nearly complete, however, it was not until the 11th that Google declared the problem completely resolved. 

Note, there is no indication that the bug, through the need for reindexation, impacted the rankings in any way. That is, once a page was reindexed it appears it maintained the same rank as was shown on the SERP prior to the bug. 





AMP Reenters the SEO Conversation with a True URL Solution & Proliferation of AMP Stories 



AMP has not made its way into this monthly Google news digest for some time. That has all changed as the speedy mobile format made two newsworthy splashes in April. The most significant "splash" addresses not only a longstanding problem with AMP but the most notable thorn in its side... URLs. The issue, of course, revolves around Google caching the AMP page and then serving its own URL instead of that of the site per se. There's no need to go into how "unhappy" this made many publishers. Why harp on the problems of the past when we can ruminate on the problems of the future (i.e., Google's solution)? 

Enter the "Signed Exchanged." To deal with AMP's URL woes, Google revealed a new AMP URL plan in mid-April, one that revolves around a "Signed Exchange." What in the world is a "Signed Exchange?" In a nutshell, it's a new technology that enables a publisher to distribute its content through third-parties but keeps the attribution for itself. Sounds good, except that this tech only works on Chrome. Thus, if the AMP page in question is accessed via FireFox and the like, Google's URL will still appear.   
 

Google URL for AMP Page

The need to address AMP URLs is highlighted above as the site's own URL is only visible via a workaround


Now, just as publishers have gotten their AMP URLs back, Google also announced that AMP Stories will become a standalone SERP feature. That is, Google has opened up the creation of AMP Stories to all and will be placing a standalone series of AMP Stories at the top of the mobile SERP for relevant queries. The search engine has stated that they will begin doing as such with "travel content" but will move on to other content categories as time goes on. 

This is a bit of a double-edged sword. Having AMP Stories available to all and to more content categories could be a nice way to build brand recognition and the like. At the same time, it's just one more SERP feature to distract users from the organic results. I am curious to see the role of links within the new AMP Stories. I have not seen the use of links within the AMP Stories put out by publishers like the Washington Post. That said, Google Stories, which appear for famous folk inside the Knowledge Panel, and which are aggregately formed by Google, very much rely on links within the stories. I would hope to see the merging of these two Story formats so that the proliferation of AMP Stories also means the insertion of links within them. 




Rank Fluctuations in April 2019 



What would any good coverage of Google news be without a bit on increased rank fluctuations, i.e., Google updates? According to the Rank Risk Index, there were two incidents of noticeably increased rank fluctuations. The first such instance ran from April 4th through April 9th and reflected a rank fluctuation level of 80/100 at its peak. 


Desktop Rank Fluctuations

Rank fluctuations underwent two noticeable increases on desktop in April 



The second Google algorithm update took place on April 26th - 28th and appears to have been less extensive. In this case, not only was the update's roll-out shorter, but rank fluctuation levels only hit a high of 71/100. 

Interestingly, in both instances, the rank fluctuations tracked on mobile were less extensive. Specifically, the second update of the month produced only moderate increases in rank fluctuations. 



Mobile Rank Fluctuations
Unlike desktop, April's second instance of increased rank fluctuations only reached moderate levels on mobile 





Additional Changes to the Google SERP Made in April 2019 



It's time to round up the rest of the changes to the Google SERP that were brought to the forefront during the month of April. Oddly enough, some really big changes went under the radar, while some smaller, yet no less interesting changes made their way to the forefront of the conversation around the SERP. 


Big Changes to Mobile Knowledge Panels



Speaking of changes to the SERP that got a bit glossed over, have you seen how the Topic Layer used to fund the Knowledge Panel with content has progressed? Towards the end of April, a report came out highlighting how tabs within various types of Knowledge Panels (each being related to a unique entity) have become far more comprehensive.

In specific, all sorts of entity categories have received new tabs presenting new content within the mobile Knowledge Panel (with some spillover to desktop). The tabs these various entity categories have received is very specific to the nature of the entity type. For example, a Knowledge Panel that represents a fictional character now generally contains a tab indicating the actors/actresses who played that character. 


Fictional Character Knowledge Panel

Knowledge Panels representing fictional characters now show with a tab of the entertainers who played them on TV or in movies 


Now, I'm not 100% sure that all of these changes hit the SERP in April. What I can say is that these changes are very new and have not been discussed. More than that, the update to the Knowledge Panel showcases how deep Google's Topic Layer is and how specific Google is when utilizing it. In short, from a directional perspective, this is one of the most significant updates I saw during the month as it points to Google's overall abilities.


Deeper News Fact Checks

 

Google announced a series of updates that work towards ensuring news content on the SERP is accurate. Firstly, Google has made it possible for news publishers to tag the article as being fact-checked. To this extent, publishers can indicate what information was verified. Google refers to the tagging process as "ClaimReview." To support its "ClaimReview" Google also announced the Fact Check Markup tool which simplifies the tagging process. 

The tools, per the announcement, are pertinent to news content within the EU and the UK. That said, one would have to think that they will make a US appearance (and beyond) should they prove to be effective. 


Changes to Date Commands and Publication Dates within Organic Results 



Google is now testing a way to use a search command to find results either before or after a given date. The commands let users look for results according to set time periods (i.e., a week) or according to custom date ranges. 


Google Search Before/After Command

Implementing the before and after commands produced organic results with a very specific range of publication dates 


Speaking of dates, Google is toying with the idea of removing them from appearing as part of certain organic results. The placement of inaccurate dates within the organic results has actually been a sore spot for the search engine for some time now. This often leaves Google on the defensive trying to explain why it placed an inaccurate date within a given search result. Part of the issue is lack of a cohesive standard for indicating a piece of content's date of publication. As a result, Google's Danny Sullivan said the placement of a date within the organic results may, in certain instances, be "a behavior we [Google] might change."


Google For Jobs Gets a Work From Home Filter



With the increasing popularity of working from home coupled with the growing aggregation of job listings that is Google for Jobs, a filter to search for remote positions makes perfect sense. Towards the end of April, Google announced that its jobs search engine, Google for Jobs, will include an option to search for work-at-home positions within the 'Location' filter. 


Google for Jobs Work From Home Filter

The 'Work from home' sub-filter being implemented for nursing jobs in Los Angeles 


[As an aside, Google for Jobs is one of the many unique search engines that Rank Ranger is able to track rank for.]


Google's Audience Reviews Expand



Google has long offered users the ability to share their own reviews of a TV series or movie within the Knowledge Panel. These audience reviews, however, now apply to other forms of media. While conducting a bit of research I happened on a Knowledge Panel for music media that offered the 'Audience Reviews' section within it. 

Music Media Audience Reviews
Google's 'Audience Reviews' now appear within SERP features related to music media


The Local SERP Feature Roundup 

 

As always, Google's local SERP features underwent a string of changes and tests and as always some of them are quite telling as to where things may be headed as Google's focus on all things local search features continues. To this, it should be noted, there is increased speculation that Google wants to take local listing monetization to new extremes. 


Google Posts as Testimonials 



Google Posts are one of the most dynamic local features and one that from Google's perspective presents a tremendous amount of potential. While the feature has been used to present custom curated content within the Local Panel, Google is now letting businesses highlight reviews within Google Posts. In this way, Google is making the feature far more relevant to local businesses. All this does make the notion of Google monetizing the element more fathomable.  
 

Local Pack Menu Icons & Double Reservation Buttons 



Local Packs have indicated what is mentioned on a listing's site for a few months at this point. Now, Brodie Clark has spotted Google indicating what is on a restaurant's menu within the Local Pack itself! 

Beyond the Local Pack (i.e., within a restaurant's Local Panel) Google is offering more reservation options. Specifically, the Reserve with Google program, which now applies to restaurants, is offering users the ability to reserve a table on a future date via the insertion of a second CTA button (as spotted by local SEO expert Mike Blumenthal). Of course, and as discussed on The In Search SEO Podcast, the Reserve with Google program presents the search engine with extensive monetization possibilities


Two Reserve with Google CTAs

A restaurant showing two CTAs for the Reserve with Google program 


Google My Business Shortnames for Easy Business Listing Access



Google is now letting businesses create a condensed name with which to more easily represent your local business. Google is referring to this new name as a "short name." In essence, the "short name" is a URL that guides users directly to your Google Business Listing. Imagine it like this.... You ask a good customer of yours to leave a review on Google. What would this customer have to do? Why they would need to do a brand search to find your listing (assuming you're not using some sort of tool to send a review link or the like). No longer. Now you can give such a customer your "short name" - which is for all intents and purposes a URL to your listing. I like it. 

Short Name - GMB

An example of a Google My Business 'short name' being set up within the platform (Image Source: Search Engine Land via Mike Blumenthal)





The Details Count When It Comes to Google! 


Counting Tree Rings


I could end off here with sermonizing on the importance of having well-optimized images and video content available. With increases to both the Image Box and video carousel, that would be a logical choice for a conclusion to this month's edition of the SERP News. But I'm not going to go there. To me, the biggest news item of the month is actually the one I ended with, short names for Google business listings!

I know what you're thinking, I've gone off the deep end. First off, that happened a long time ago. Secondly, it's important to ask why Google wants to offer what is all but a business listing URL. I mean, sure, it's helpful, it's nice, but that's not why Google did it. Imagine that a business is paying for an array of elements and features associated with their business listing... would such paying customers be happy with telling users to leave a review by doing a Google search? That's kind of low-class, inefficient, and borderline amateur. No, if you're going to monetize the heck out of the business listings you need to give your paying customers a more business-like way to steer customers to such a listing. Enter the short name. 

It just goes to show you... we can discuss major changes to the SERP until we're all blue in the face. Or, we can analyze what's important, apply a critical eye, and maybe stay a step or two ahead of things! 

Well, I hope this has been as helpful and fun for you as it was for me! See you again next month for another edition of the SERP News! 




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