Web Search & Marketing Newsletter - October 2016
Welcome to the latest monthly issue of our regular newsletter which features news, tips and advice on effective website marketing, with a particular focus on search engine marketing techniques and trends.
In the first article this month we look at Google's recent release of the long awaited Penguin 4. This should be interesting to SEO practitioners and webmasters who are keen to keep up-to-date with Google Search ranking algorithms and how those may impact their websites' rankings.
We also look at the major changes to Google's Keyword Planner, which is used by many SEO and AdWords professionals but is likely to be less so, as its data becomes less detailed. Finally this month, we look at the demo Analytics account that's been made available by Google. This should be useful for businesses, or users who want to become more familiar with the full range of reports and data sets.
On to this month's edition...
Google Releases Penguin 4
In a significant development for SEO practitioners and webmasters who are keen to keep up-to-date with Google Search ranking algorithms, Google finally released it long anticipated Penguin 4 at the end of September. Notably, the ongoing updates to this algorithm will now be on a real time basis, so that search results will be continually reviewed and adjusted based on the core Penguin criteria.
The so-called Google 'Penguin' algorithm update was first announced in April 2012. The update was aimed at decreasing the search engine rankings of websites that violate Google's guidelines by using 'black-hat' SEO techniques to artificially increase the ranking of a web page, particularly by manipulating the number of links pointing to the page through unscrupulous techniques and using poor quality websites.
We've covered the Google Penguin algorithm in previous issues of this newsletter, such as in October 2015. At that time we reported that Google was struggling to solve the issue of making the Penguin algorithm run in real time, which had been a "hard problem" for them. This caused its release to be frequently delayed, so the last official update was Penguin 3.0, which took place in October 2014, although since then there have been numerous updates to that algorithm to continually refine and improve the quality of the search results.
So the latest release of Penguin 4 has been an eagerly awaited development, but it only really means that changes in the rankings will be visible much faster, typically taking effect shortly after a page has been re-crawled and re-indexed. Historically, the list of sites affected by Penguin was periodically refreshed at the same time. Once a Webmaster considerably improved their site and its presence on the Internet, many of Google's algorithms would take that into consideration very quickly, but others, like Penguin, needed to be refreshed. With this change, Penguin's data is now refreshed in real time, so the ranking changes will be seen more quickly.
Another element of its release is that Penguin now devalues spam by adjusting ranking based on spam signals, rather than affecting ranking of the whole site. That raises the question that if Penguin no longer penalises spam links to a site, is it still necessary to use a disavow file to help recover from Penguin issues? (A disavow file is used by Penguin penalised Webmasters in particular, who want to disavow or 'annul' links to their site that Google feels are unnatural and just used for ranking purposes. It allows them to flag and remove links that 'somehow' pointed to their site and were previously hard to disassociate from).
Google's Gary Illyes has said that "specifically there's less need" to use the disavow file for Penguin, but he added "you can help us help you by using it. So, in a nutshell, it seems Google Penguin no longer penalises sites or specific pages, but rather just ignores/devalues the spammy links and so the rankings are adjusted in that way and not demoted, which should make Webmasters "happier", but Illyes also said that "manual actions are still there, so if we see that someone is systematically trying to spam, the manual actions team might take a harsher action against the site."
If you want more information about how Penguin 4 may impact your site's rankings, contact us now for details.
Major Changes to Google's Keyword Planner
A favourite Google tool is the Keyword Planner - originally known as the Google Keyword Tool - which is used by many SEO and AdWords professionals to research the keywords being used on Google. However, access to this tool has recently undergone some significant changes, the main one being that it's now necessary to have an active Google AdWords account to access the full data available to users.
The Keyword Planner is a free AdWords tool for advertisers to enable users to build new search campaigns in AdWords or to expand existing ones, but it's just as useful to identify the best search terms to target through an SEO campaign. It's possible to search for keyword and adgroup ideas, see how a list of keywords might perform, and create a new keyword list by multiplying several lists of keywords together.
Amongst other changes introduced fairly recently is that now, instead of showing individual search volume estimates for each keyword or keyword phrase, Google has decided it would be better to lump all of that data together. So even though the keywords 'SEO' and 'search engine optimisation' are two different search variants, Google displays the search volume for both as the same. So while you might think that each keyword or keyword phrase has unique figures for its searches per month, Google actually adds these two terms' results, to display the combined total for both.
It's worth noting that the Google Keyword Planner's figures have never been 100% accurate and this combined figure means that the tool is even less reliable than it used to be. As well as lumping data together, which can be an inaccurate way to perform keyword research or estimate search volumes for a Google Adwords campaign and it's been speculated by some that there might be additional keywords included in with this data, completely skewing accurate estimates. This is why experienced SEO professionals use other premium tools, like Moz and SEMRush.
In summary, the Google Keyword Planner is now combining:
- Plurals with non-plurals for any word in the keyword phrase
- Some acronyms with longhand version (e.g. 'SEO' and 'search engine optimisation')
- Stemming variants: -er, -ing, -ized, -ed etc keywords (ie. designer, designing, designed)
- Words that can be spelled with or without space (ie. car park and carpark)
- Words with and without punctuation (ie. kid toys and kid's toys)
These aren't always the case however, as 'Christmas Day' and 'Xmas Day' have different search volume results, which means that while Google is combining some data together, that's not a hard and fast rule across the board.
The other main change to the Keyword Planner is access. You would need to have an AdWords account to have full access to the data available from this tool, but not necessarily an active one, although this has now changed so that the data is more limited unless you are running an actively spending AdWords account. Although the spend is not necessarily high, it does mean that users do need to be spending money on AdWords for at least several weeks before being able to see the keyword data, which will otherwise be shown with some broad and fairly meaningless number ranges.
If you want to know more about how we can help your business succeed through essential keyword research, contact us now for details.
Google Makes Demo Account Available in Analytics
In a recent move to help Analytics users become more familiar with the full range of reports and data sets, Google has introduced a demo account of a real website - their Merchandise Store - which can be included into any Analytics account and viewed with all the active data.
Google has introduced this demo account as another learning tool for people wanting to get a better understanding and more familiarity with the Analytics reports and interface, and possibly in a roundabout way, promoting their merchandise store to shift more product! However, it's a significant new development that anyone with an Analytics account can access and work through.
Many Analytics users may only be running websites with low traffic volumes or with features that are not relevant to their situation, so the new demo account can provide reports with some high traffic volumes and potentially new or different settings in place, including ecommerce tracking data. Google has therefore decided to open this information out to anyone, and reveal what many companies would see as confidential information.
To access the demo account you can start here and click on the demo link once you are logged into your Analytics account, and this will import the Merchandise Store account / property, containing 3 views (although these are all reporting the same data at present, so all are using the same filters). There is linked AdWords and Search Console data showing, site search information and of course goals, events and ecommerce data, so a full array of reports.
You can also view real time data, access a number of preset dashboards and save shortcuts or set up or import custom reports from the Analytics Solutions Gallery. Of course, access is read only, so you can only view settings and not make any changes, but it's a welcome tool to have a good look around lots of reports with plenty of data and to use all the different functions available.
There's a good blog post here by Avinash Kaushik that helps you review some of the key areas of the demo account, which you can then translate across to your own data and hopefully find new ways to review and interpret your own website's performance.
If you'd like more information or help with the Analytics demo account, please get in touch.
We hope you've found this month's newsletter useful. Please contact us if you need any more information on the items covered, or our advice on any aspect of your website's performance. Also, if there are any issues you would like to see in future editions of this newsletter, please submit your suggestions to us.
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