The Week in Search is a weekly column produced by the Studio team to keep marketing professionals and ecommerce merchants up to date on changes in the search industry, and provide valuable context on what it all means. If you have questions or think we missed something, email us directly.

Bye Bye Old Search Console

It’s been a long time coming. This week, Google officially announced the sunset of the majority of Old Search Console dashboards and reports. They’ve slowly been rolling over tools and reports to the New Search Console dashboard for the last year. Here’s their official statement:

“Today we are reaching another important milestone in our graduation journey, we are saying goodbye to many old Search Console reports, including the home and dashboard pages 👋. Those pages are part of the history of the web, they were viewed over a billion times by webmasters from millions of websites. These pages helped site owners and webmasters to monitor and improve their performance on Google Search for over a decade.”

They then posted a photo of the team that was responsible for the migration.

Studio Takeaway: We love the New Search Console dashboard, enhanced reports, and better functionality. You can still find a lot of the legacy tools in your left hand navigation, but they won’t work if you have verified your domain via DNS. Now that Google is mostly done with the migration, we’re looking forward to improvements and new features.

Google Expands Link Relationships with rel=”UGC” and rel=”Sponsored” Attributes

In a lengthy post on the Webmasters blog, Google announced that they are adding two new link relationship (rel=”attribute”) attributes: “UGC” and “sponsored.” 

On top of that, they also shared that they will change the way it interprets the rel=”nofollow” attribute. In March 2020, it will be viewed as a “hint” as opposed to a directive, which is how it has been used by webmasters for the last 15 years to prevent Googlebot from crawling pages from links and passing authority to other websites. 

According to their announcement, this change is designed to create more accurate assessments of link equity and better delineate between different types of backlinks on the web. 

Here’s the breakdown from the post on the two new attributes:

“rel=”ugc”: UGC stands for User Generated Content, and the ugc attribute value is recommended for links within user generated content, such as comments and forum posts.”

“rel=”sponsored”: Use the sponsored attribute to identify links on your site that were created as part of advertisements, sponsorships or other compensation agreements.”

These definitions were followed by an extensive FAQ section on exactly what SEOs and webmasters should do with these new tools. According to Google, it’s not necessary to go through all of your links and update them to the new attributes as the nofollow will still be honored and treated the same. Here’s their explanation:

“If you use nofollow now as a way to block sponsored links, or to signify that you don’t vouch for a page you link to, that will continue to be supported. There’s absolutely no need to change any nofollow links that you already have.”

SEOs and other web marketers are erring on the side of skepticism about what – if any – benefits this change is going to have. Forensic SEO consultant, Andy Bleiweiss tweeted this:

Many SEOs view the cost of training and implementation on websites will greatly outweigh the potential benefits of changing all of your existing rel attributes. Others see this as an incentive for web spammers to take advantage of the change in rel=”nofollow” directive status. 

Following that announcement, Google followed up by saying that the meta robots nofollow directive will now be viewed as a hint.

Last but not least, Bing jumped on this change and stated that they’ve always viewed “nofollow” as a hint. Ahead of the curve, Bing.

Studio Takeaway: While we may not go back and update all of our clients’ link relationships, there is a valid use case for the UGC and Sponsored link attributes. We have a lot of social media clients that rely on UGC for content on their website.

This update seems to be aimed at giving Google a more accurate assessment of how much weight to give to a specific link, helping to devalue paid links that look like natural links, and possibly changing what search queries certain pages will now show up for. 

Google Makes Updates to the Quality Raters Guidelines

Last week, Google quietly updated it’s Quality Raters Guidelines document, a 167 page PDF that outlines how quality raters should evaluate website content. This is the 2nd time they updated the document this year. Thanks to some web sleuths, we know that the following sections have been updated:

  • 2.3 Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) Pages
  • 2.5.2 Finding Who is Responsible for the Website and Who Created the Content on the Page
  • 2.6.1 Research on the Reputation of the Website or Creator of the Main Content
  • 5.1 Very High Quality MC
  • 5.2 Very Positive Reputation
  • 5.3 Very High Level of E-A-T
  • 5.4 Examples of Highest Quality Pages
  • 12.9 Rating on Your Phone Issues
  • 13.2.1 Examples of Fully Meets (FullyM) Results Blocks
  • 13.6.1 Examples of Fails to Meet (FailsM) Results Blocks

Notably, changes to the YMYL and E-A-T sections of the guidelines broadened the definition of “content,” added in a distinction between “shopping” content and “finance” content, and added more details about how news sites should be evaluated.

The Quality Raters Guidelines isn’t meant to be a look into Google search algorithms, but instead “show us fundamentally what Google wants their algorithms to do,” according to Google’ VP of Search, Ben Gomes.

Studio Takeaway:  Google’s big push in 2019 has been website quality. In a group meeting last week here at Studio, we discussed how these quality guideline changes are impacting industries that might be considered “high-risk,” like vaping, e-cigarettes, firearms, CBD, and alternative medicines. 

We’ve noticed a lot of alternative health clients seeing a drastic change in their rankings this summer, leading us to believe that guidelines on YMYL and E-A-T need to be followed more directly. That type of site needs to be highly scrutinized because it seems like Google is taking specific aim at any site that recommends or sells products not backed by scientific consensus. We’re also seeing cases where a website owner’s reputation is having an impact on whether their site ranks or not.

Google Says Headings Aren’t That Big of a Ranking Factor

John Mueller shed some light on how headings are assessed in terms of a site’s overall ranking. Ultimately, they’re not that important. He said this on a Reddit thread:

“Headings on a page are great for SEO & accessibility, but they’re not going to make or break your sites rankings. Be reasonable in what you mark up as a heading, pick things that help to explain what the pages are about. See it a bit like highlighting something on a page that you hand out — you want to make it clear what the page is about, but if you use too much of it (or don’t highlight anything at all), then it’ll take more effort for the other person to understand at a glance.”

John Mueller

Studio Takeaway: We’ve never seen a huge impact on site performance after a heading update, so it’s not surprising that they aren’t a huge SEO factor.

Other Interesting Links