Episode 191 contains the Digital Marketing News and Updates from the week of Dec 11-15, 2023.

1. Google Reiterates: Domain Age Does Not Impact Search Rankings – In a recent discussion, Google’s John Mueller addressed a long-standing question in the SEO community: Does the age of a domain name impact Google search rankings? This topic, often debated among SEO professionals, has been clarified by Mueller, providing valuable insights for business owners looking to understand the nuances of search engine optimization.

Key Insights from the Discussion:

  • Domain Age and Rankings: Mueller stated that the age of a domain name does not impact Google search rankings. This clarification dispels a common belief among SEOs that older domain names correlate with top rankings.
  • Misinterpretation of Google’s Patent: The misconception about domain age as a ranking factor may have originated from a misreading of a Google patent titled “Information Retrieval Based on Historical Data.” The patent, however, focuses on identifying spam sites using domain-related information, not on boosting the rankings of legitimate domains.
  • The Role of Domain Data: The patent mentions using domain data to catch throwaway domains used by spammers. It indicates that valuable, legitimate domains are often paid for several years in advance, unlike spam domains. However, this information is used to predict the legitimacy of a domain for spam detection, not for ranking purposes.

This clarification from Google means that focusing on the age of your domain as a ranking strategy is misguided and highlights the importance of accurate information in the SEO industry. Instead, attention should be directed towards creating high-quality, relevant content and optimizing your website for a better user experience. It is a reminder to always seek clarity and accuracy in SEO strategies, ensuring that efforts are directed towards genuinely effective methods.

2. Google Chrome: Phasing Out Third-Party Cookies for Enhanced Privacy – On January 4, 2024, Google will begin testing a new feature that restricts third-party cookies by default in Chrome, impacting 1% of users globally. This rollout is part of Google’s broader initiative to phase out third-party cookies entirely by the second half of 2024, marking a significant shift in online privacy and digital advertising practices.

Key Aspects of Google’s Update:

  • Testing of Tracking Protection: The new tracking protection tool will be rolled out to a small percentage of Chrome users, starting with 1% globally. This feature is designed to limit third-party cookies, which have been a fundamental part of the web for nearly three decades.
  • Impact on Websites and Advertisers: Websites that depend on third-party cookies for advertising or other purposes might face challenges due to this rollout. It’s crucial for site owners to prepare in advance for a web without third-party cookies.
  • Google’s Privacy Sandbox Initiative: This initiative aims to develop technology that safeguards online privacy while providing tools for successful digital businesses. The primary objectives are to phase out third-party cookies and reduce cross-site tracking, maintaining free online content and services.

For small business owners, especially those relying on digital advertising, this update signals a need to adapt to new privacy-focused online practices. The phasing out of third-party cookies will require a shift in how businesses target and reach their audiences online. Preparing for these changes is essential to ensure continued effectiveness in digital marketing strategies.

3. Google’s Local Search Algorithm Update: Prioritizing Open Businesses – On December 16, 2023, Google announced an update to its local search ranking algorithm, emphasizing the ‘openness’ signal for non-navigational queries. This change means that Google now ranks open businesses higher in local search results than those that are closed, particularly during the business’s operating hours. This update is a response to the evolving needs of users who are increasingly looking for immediate services or products.

Key Aspects of the Update:

  • Strengthened Openness Signal: Google’s local search algorithm now considers whether a business is currently open as a more significant factor in ranking for local pack rankings. This change applies to non-navigational queries, where users search for types of services rather than specific brands.
  • Impact on Business Visibility: Businesses that are open at the time of a user’s search query are more likely to appear higher in search results. This update benefits businesses that operate 24/7, as they remain visible even when competitors are closed.
  • Advice Against Manipulating Business Hours: Google’s Search Liaison, Danny Sullivan, advised against changing business hours to appear open 24/7 unless true. This manipulation could lead to penalties or adjustments in the ranking signal in the future.

For small business owners, this update underscores the importance of accurately listing business hours on Google. Ensuring your Google Business Profile reflects true open hours can improve your visibility in local search results, especially during your operating hours. This change can significantly impact customer footfall and inquiries, making it crucial for businesses to update their profiles accurately.

4. Google Confirms: Publishing Content in Both PDF and HTML Formats is Acceptable – On December 13, 2023, Google’s John Mueller clarified a common query regarding the publication of content in both PDF and HTML formats. In a recent AskGooglebot video, Mueller confirmed that it’s perfectly fine to publish content in both formats, as Google’s systems can index them separately, even if the content is technically a duplicate.

Key Insights from John Mueller’s Statement:

  • Independent Indexing of PDF and HTML: Google can find and index both PDF and HTML pages separately. This means that even if the content in both formats is the same, they can be shown independently in search results.
  • Managing Duplicates: If Google’s systems identify the content as duplicates, they usually defer to the HTML page version. However, website owners have control over this through various methods like using a ‘noindex’ HTTP header or robots meta tag to block indexing of one format, or using the ‘rel=canonical’ link element to indicate a preference.
  • Practical Use Cases: Mueller highlighted that the choice of format often depends on what the audience prefers or requires. For example, restaurant menus are best suited as HTML pages for mobile viewing, while forms or guidebooks might be more practical in PDF format.

Google’s stance on publishing content in both PDF and HTML formats offers businesses an opportunity to diversify their content strategy. By understanding how Google indexes and handles these formats, business owners can make informed decisions about content publication, ensuring their information reaches the audience effectively in their preferred format.

5. Google Takes Action Against Parasite SEO – On December 11, 2023, Google’s Search Liaison Danny Sullivan announced that the search company has taken steps to address the issue of ‘parasite SEO.’ This term refers to the practice of leveraging high-authority third-party websites to rank content that otherwise wouldn’t perform well in search results. Sullivan indicated that while the specific change related to the upcoming helpful content update isn’t live yet, Google has implemented other measures to combat this problem.

Key Points from Google’s Announcement:

  • Addressing Third-Party Content Abuse: Google has enhanced its systems to better handle third-party content that falls under the category of parasite SEO. This includes content hosted on reputable sites but created primarily for SEO manipulation.
  • Ongoing Efforts: Sullivan emphasized that Google will continue to refine its approach to dealing with such issues, indicating an ongoing commitment to maintaining the integrity of search results.
  • Advice for Content Creators: The advice given by Google regarding third-party content remains relevant. Creators are encouraged to focus on producing helpful, people-first content to be recognized as valuable by Google’s algorithms.
  • Impact on Business Owners: This development is particularly important for small business owners who rely on organic search traffic. Understanding and adhering to Google’s guidelines is crucial for maintaining visibility and credibility in search results.

Google’s proactive steps to address parasite SEO highlight the importance of ethical SEO practices. For business owners, this serves as a reminder to focus on creating high-quality, user-centric content rather than resorting to manipulative tactics. Staying informed about these changes and aligning with Google’s guidelines is key to achieving long-term success in search engine rankings.

6. Googlebot Crawling Experiment: Surprising Insights for Website Owners – On December 14, 2023, an intriguing experiment conducted by technical SEO expert Kristina Azarenko revealed the impact of disabling Googlebot from crawling a website. This experiment, which ran from October 5 to November 7, offers valuable insights for business owners about the importance of Googlebot crawling and its effects on website performance.

Key Findings from the Experiment:

  • Impact on Favicon and Video Search Results: The website’s favicon was removed from Google search results, and video search results took a significant hit, which still hadn’t recovered post-experiment.
  • Stability and Volatility in Search Positions: While positions remained relatively stable, there was slightly more volatility in Canada.
  • Slight Decrease in Traffic: The website only saw a slight decrease in traffic during the experiment.
  • Increase in Reported Indexed Pages: Despite pages having ‘noindex’ meta robots tags, they ended up being indexed because Google couldn’t crawl the site to see those tags.
  • Multiple Alerts in Google Search Console (GSC): The site received multiple alerts in GSC, such as ‘indexed though blocked by robots.txt’ and ‘blocked by robots.txt.’

This experiment highlights the critical role of Googlebot in maintaining and updating a website’s presence in search results. For business owners, it underscores the importance of ensuring that Googlebot can crawl their site effectively. Any impediments to crawling can lead to unexpected issues, such as outdated information in search results or the indexing of unintended pages.

7. Google Ads Unveils Expanded Video Reach Campaigns – On December 12, 2023, Google Ads announced a significant enhancement to Video Reach Campaigns (VRC), offering businesses more formats to maximize their brand awareness on YouTube. This update reflects the evolving ways people engage with YouTube, from mobile Shorts to TV screen browsing, presenting brands with diverse opportunities to connect with their audience.

Key Features of the Update:

  • Expanded Video Formats: Video Reach Campaigns now include the ability to scale video creatives to in-feed and Shorts, in addition to in-stream ads. This expansion allows advertisers to reach viewers across various YouTube formats, increasing the potential for brand exposure.
  • AI-Powered Efficiency: Leveraging Google’s AI, multiformat ads in VRC deliver enhanced reach and efficiency. Testing has shown that campaigns opting into all three inventory types (in-feed, in-stream, and Shorts) achieved an average of 54% more reach at 42% lower CPM (Cost Per Mille) compared to in-stream-only campaigns.

Case Study – Bayer’s Midol Campaign: Bayer utilized VRC for their Midol multi symptom relief campaign, opting into in-feed, in-stream, and Shorts ads. A head-to-head test against in-stream-only VRC revealed that the multiformat approach delivered 30% more reach at a 45% lower CPM.

8. Google Ads Enhances Business Operation Verification Process – On December 12, 2023, Google Ads announced the rollout of a comprehensive guide to assist businesses in completing their Business Operation Verification. This new resource aims to clarify the verification process, providing detailed explanations and examples to help advertisers understand and successfully navigate the verification requirements.

Key Features of the Update:

  • Step-by-Step Guide: The guide offers a clear, step-by-step explanation of the Business Operation Verification process, including reasons for verification failure and example scenarios where verification might be required.
  • Easy Accessibility: The guide is accessible through the billing icon in Google Ads and via in-account prompts, ensuring that advertisers can easily find and use the resource.
  • Clarification on Verification Requirements: The document outlines specific scenarios and reasons why a business might need to undergo verification, helping advertisers to better prepare and complete the process efficiently.
  • Google’s Commitment to Transparency: This update reflects Google’s ongoing efforts to maintain a secure and transparent advertising environment. By providing additional information to advertisers, Google aims to enhance the overall experience and effectiveness of the advertiser verification program.

Google Ads’ introduction of a detailed guide for Business Operation Verification is a proactive step towards supporting advertisers in meeting compliance standards. For business owners, this resource is a valuable tool in optimizing their advertising efforts and maintaining a credible presence on Google’s platform.

9. Meta’s Threads App Embraces Decentralization with ActivityPub Integration – On December 13, 2023, Meta announced a significant step towards decentralization and interoperability for its Threads app by integrating with ActivityPub, a decentralized social networking protocol. This move allows Threads content and profiles to be accessible via other Fediverse-based apps, marking a notable shift in Meta’s approach to social media.

Key Aspects of Meta’s Integration with ActivityPub:

  • Threads Content Viewable on Mastodon: The integration enables Threads content to be viewable on Mastodon and other ActivityPub-based systems, effectively plugging Threads into the Fediverse concept.
  • The Fediverse Concept: The Fediverse is a collection of independent, federated servers working together to facilitate open social media access. It aims to reduce centralized control, allowing each server to establish its own parameters and algorithms.
  • Meta’s Shift Towards Decentralization: Historically, Meta has been known for its ‘walled garden’ approach. This integration represents a significant move towards decentralization, potentially connecting Threads content to a range of tools and platforms that utilize the ActivityPub standard.
  • Interoperability and Data Portability: The integration aligns with Meta’s commitment to data portability and control over content. It also facilitates a broader connection into the Mastodon network, expanding Threads’ audience reach and engagement.

Meta’s integration of Threads with ActivityPub is a bold step towards a more open and interconnected social media ecosystem. For business owners, it presents an opportunity to leverage the expanded reach and interoperability offered by this integration, potentially enhancing their social media strategy and audience engagement.