Episode 194 contains the Digital Marketing News and Updates from the week of Jan 08-12, 2024.

1. Google’s Clear Message: No ‘Perfect Page’ Formula for Search Rankings – Google’s Search Liaison, Danny Sullivan debunked a common myth in SEO: the existence of a ‘perfect page’ formula for achieving high rankings in search results. 

Danny emphasized that there is no universal formula or set of rules that websites must adhere to for high placement in search results. This clarification challenges the widespread belief, dating back to the early days of SEO, that specific word counts, page structures, or other optimizations can guarantee success in search rankings.

According to Danny, third-party SEO tools often suggest creating pages in certain ways to succeed in search. However, he asserted that these tools cannot predict rankings accurately. Their advice is usually based on finding averages among top-ranking pages, but Google’s algorithm values both commonalities and unique differences in content. Following such generalized advice does not guarantee a top ranking.

Instead of focusing on mythical formulas, Danny recommended prioritizing helpfulness and relevance to users. For instance, including an author byline should be based on its usefulness to readers, not because it might supposedly boost rankings. His key advice is to put readers and audience first, as being helpful to them aligns more closely with the various signals used by Google to reward content.

For small business owners, this means shifting focus from trying to crack a non-existent ‘perfect SEO formula’ to creating content that genuinely serves its audience. This reader-first approach is more likely to resonate with the diverse and evolving signals used by search engines. It’s not just about organizing content; it’s about making your site more accessible and relevant to both your audience and search engines.

In summary, Google’s message is clear: there is no perfect blueprint for guaranteed rankings. However, creating content that genuinely serves its purpose continues to be rewarded. This approach encourages small business owners to focus on quality and relevance, rather than chasing elusive SEO shortcuts, ultimately leading to a more robust and effective online presence.

The question for you: Who will you listen and follow? Danny Sullivan, Google’s Search Liaison or a third-party tool who makes money when can keep you as a customer? 

2. Author Bylines Don’t Impact Search Rankings – Google’s Search Liaison, Danny Sullivan, stated, “Author bylines aren’t something you do for Google, and they don’t help you rank better.” This statement addresses the belief that including author bylines and bios on a website can directly influence its ranking in Google’s search results. Sullivan emphasized that these elements are for the benefit of the readers, not for the search engine.

He further explained that while publications with author bylines may exhibit other characteristics that align with Google’s criteria for useful content, the bylines themselves do not contribute to better rankings. This clarification dispels the myth that specific structural elements like author bylines can be used as a shortcut to achieve higher search rankings.

John Mueller of Google also previously stated (Sep 20, 2021) that author bylines are not a requirement for Google Search. This reinforces the idea that while bylines can enhance the credibility and transparency of content for readers it is not going to give you a ranking boost. 

For small business owners, this means prioritizing the creation of content that genuinely serves the needs and interests of their audience. By focusing on being helpful and providing value to readers, businesses are more likely to align with the various signals Google uses to reward content. This approach not only enhances user experience but also supports long-term SEO success without relying on misconceptions about specific page elements.

3. Navigating the Japanese Keyword Hack: Google’s John Mueller Offers Recovery Advice – In a recent interaction on Reddit, Google’s John Mueller provided crucial advice for website owners who fall victim to the Japanese keyword hack. This is especially relevant for small business owners who manage their websites and are concerned about online security and SEO.

The Japanese keyword hack is a type of SEO spam attack where a website is injected with thousands of foreign language pages, often in Japanese or Chinese, without the owner’s knowledge or consent. This attack can significantly impact a site’s search rankings and integrity. In the reported case, a website owner discovered over 20,000 such pages suddenly indexed on their site.

Mueller’s advice for recovery begins with identifying how the breach occurred. It’s crucial to understand the vulnerability that allowed the hack, to ensure it is properly secured. He suggested considering automatic updates or switching to a hosting platform that handles security as potential solutions.

For SEO implications, Mueller advised that once a site’s most important pages are cleaned of unwanted content, they can be reindexed quickly. He reassured that old hacked pages, if not visible to users, do not pose immediate problems and can remain indexed for months without issue. Importantly, Mueller clarified that spammy backlinks pointing to these invisible indexed pages do not require disavowing. Instead, the focus should be on cleaning up the site’s visible content and preventing internal search results from being indexed.

Regarding the issue of spammy backlinks causing internal search pages to be indexed, Mueller clarified that this was separate from the hacking issue. He recommended against disavowing the links, as the pages would naturally drop from search results over time. Proactively blocking search results pages from indexing, using methods like robots.txt or noindex, is advised for both new and existing sites to prevent exploitation by spammers.

For small business owners, this incident underscores the importance of website security and regular maintenance. Regular security updates, malware scans, and link audits should be part of routine website management. It’s a shared responsibility between website owners and search engines to keep search results free of hacked and spammy content.

In summary, Mueller’s advice highlights the need for proactive security measures and vigilant maintenance to protect websites from hacking and spam attacks. By focusing on these areas, small business owners can safeguard their online presence, maintain their search rankings, and ensure a trustworthy experience for their users.

4. Google’s Updated Guidance on Search Snippets – Google has recently updated its documentation to clarify how its algorithm selects snippets for search results. Traditionally, it was believed that the snippet in search results, which consists of a title, URL breadcrumb, and a brief description, was derived mainly from the meta description of a webpage. However, Google’s updated guidance indicates that the primary source of the snippet is the page content itself, not the structured data or the meta description.

This update represents a shift in how meta descriptions might be written and how content is optimized. The previous version of Google’s documentation implied that the snippet was mostly derived from the meta description, suggesting that on-page content could also be selected for the snippet. The new documentation makes it clear that the page content is the main source of the snippet, with the meta description being used only when it describes the page better than other parts of the content.

Google has removed a substantial amount of content from the previous version of the documentation, including a paragraph that advised site owners on how to suggest content for snippets. The new wording emphasizes that snippets are primarily created from the page content, and the meta description is used only when it might give users a more accurate description of the page than content taken directly from the page.

5. Google’s Temporary Reprieve for Select Sites on Third-Party Cookie Phase-Out – Google Chrome has started restricting third-party cookie access, a significant change that began on January 4, 2024, and is expected to reach 100% of users globally by Q3 2024. Recognizing the challenges this transition poses, Google is offering a limited “Deprecation Trial” to allow websites and businesses additional time to migrate away from third-party cookie dependencies. This trial is specifically for non-advertising use cases and will temporarily re-enable third-party cookie access for eligible third-party services until December 27, 2024.

To qualify for these trials, services must meet strict eligibility criteria set by Google. Services categorized as advertising-related will not be approved, and origins matching known ad-related domains, including subdomains, will be rejected. Only services with proven functional breakage, not just data collection issues, are eligible. Applicants must provide detailed steps to reproduce the broken functionality in bug reports, and Google will only accept requests where apparent breakage is validated.

For approved services, unique access tokens can be added in Chrome to enable trials. Google has granted a grace period until April 1, 2024, for approved sites to deploy their tokens, addressing the short window between registration opening and the initial blocking of cookies for 1% of traffic.

This extension is not intended to relieve data collection inconveniences but to allow services with functional breakage to use third-party cookies. Business owners relying on third-party services or cookies should conduct an audit of their site’s usage and prepare contingency plans. With the rollout already underway, it’s crucial to address potential impacts before a larger percentage of visitors are affected.

6. Google Search Console Retires Crawl Rate Tool – Google has officially removed the crawl rate setting tool from Google Search Console. The crawl rate limiter was a legacy tool within Google Search Console that allowed website owners to communicate to Google how frequently their site should be crawled. It was primarily used when a website experienced server load problems due to frequent crawling by Googlebot. However, Google has deemed this feature no longer necessary due to improvements in its crawling logic and other tools available to publishers.

With the removal of this tool, Google now relies more on its enhanced crawling logic to determine the appropriate frequency for crawling websites. Googlebot now automatically adjusts its crawl rate in response to how a site or server responds to its requests. For instance, if a server consistently returns HTTP 500 status codes or if the response time for requests significantly lengthens, Googlebot will automatically slow down it’s crawling.

This means that Google’s automated systems are now more adept at managing crawl rates without manual intervention. While this may reduce the level of control website owners have over crawl rates, it also simplifies the process, as Googlebot will intelligently adjust its behavior based on the site’s response. Google has set the minimum crawling speed to a lower rate, comparable to the old crawl rate limits. This adjustment aims to continue honoring the settings that some site owners had previously set, especially if the search interest is low and the crawlers do not waste the site’s bandwidth.

7. The Evolving Role of Hashtags on LinkedIn – On January 12, 2024, Andrew Hutchinson reported in Social Media Today about the changing effectiveness of hashtags on LinkedIn. For a long time, LinkedIn did not support hashtags. However, in 2018, the platform reactivated hashtag discoverability and began encouraging users to categorize their posts using hashtags. The goal was to segment content better, enabling LinkedIn to show users more relevant content. But as algorithms have evolved, the necessity for hashtags has diminished. Modern social platform systems are now adept at understanding the context of a post’s text, visuals, user history, and all keywords included, making hashtags less critical for content categorization.

LinkedIn’s current stance is that while hashtags can be helpful for viewers to easily identify what a post is about and find related posts, they should be closely related to the topic of the post to be most effective. LinkedIn also considers conversation topics and keywords to surface relevant information. This suggests that LinkedIn is now less reliant on hashtags for maximizing discovery. However, when searching for conversations on a specific topic, users can still use topics or hashtags.

For business owners, this means that while hashtags in LinkedIn posts are less relevant than before, it’s still important to be mindful of the keywords mentioned in the main post. Understanding and tapping into the right conversation streams based on target topics is crucial. Following popular pages and people within your business niche can provide insights into common hashtags related to your sector. Additionally, searching for hashtags in the app can help identify trending topics and discussions in your industry.

Research by LinkedIn expert Richard van der Blom indicates that using 3-10 hashtags in LinkedIn posts used to significantly boost reach, but now hashtags provide no additional reach boost. This change suggests that LinkedIn is gradually deemphasizing hashtags as a discovery tool, focusing more on topical relevance rather than maximizing reach.

LinkedIn’s system is not designed for virality, so hashtags do not necessarily function on LinkedIn the way they do on other social media platforms. This could be part of LinkedIn’s strategy to prevent users from gaming the system with hashtags.

8. Expanding E-Commerce Horizons: X’s New Partnership with Shopify – On January 9, 2024, X announced an expanded partnership with Shopify. This collaboration is set to open new opportunities for Shopify merchants to promote their products on X’s platform, aligning with X’s vision of becoming an “everything app.”

The partnership is designed to enable all Shopify merchants to reach a broader customer base by leveraging the power of X Business. While X already had a deal with Shopify in 2022 to display products in-stream, this new development promises to facilitate broader product awareness actions, enable easier catalog uploads, and provide more ways for Shopify merchants to maximize ad outcomes.

Shopify President Harley Finkelstein highlighted the importance of reaching customers wherever they are. He emphasized that more platforms mean more choice, entrepreneurship, and opportunities for business growth. Although many details of the partnership are yet to be disclosed, the collaboration is expected to offer significant benefits for retailers.

X’s work with Shopify could potentially facilitate new opportunities for retailers in-stream. This would be particularly impactful if X’s vision of integrating peer-to-peer payments and transfers in the app materializes. Such a feature could lead to innovative ways for retailers to expand their audience and leverage X’s reach.

For small business owners, this partnership represents a significant opportunity. It suggests that leveraging platforms like X, in conjunction with e-commerce giants like Shopify, could be a strategic move to expand their digital footprint and reach new customers. The potential for in-stream payments and transfers could further enhance the customer experience and streamline the purchasing process.

9. Microsoft Has A New Ad Creation Tool – On January 11, 2024, Microsoft announced a significant update to its retail media tool, introducing a new Creative Studio element powered by generative AI. The new Creative Studio allows users to generate entirely new ads in various formats using conversational AI prompts. This AI-powered solution is designed to boost creativity and productivity, particularly benefiting retailers and advertisers by simplifying the process of creating banner ads. The tool’s ease of use is particularly advantageous for smaller businesses that may lack the resources to run effective banner campaigns.

One of the key features of this tool is its ability to create ads based on just a product URL. Users can then further customize the creative for different channels. Microsoft ensures that the AI-generated ads will automatically align with each retailer’s style guide. Additionally, users have the flexibility to customize ads by updating and emphasizing selected words and phrases, cropping and cleaning up backgrounds, and modifying other ad elements, all based on text prompts.