December 12

The Weekly Briefing: Google Knows When You’re Shopping

Senior SEO Specialist Josh Volk discussed a new knowledge panel feature that shows real time business traffic …

When you search for a local business on Google, you already expect to see a graph showing an hour-by-hour analysis of the busiest times at that location. It turns out, that information was only the beginning of this handy feature. Anyone who hates crowds will be happy to know that Google search results now display real-time business traffic updates. The search giant pulls location data from Android users (and iOS users if they opt in) to constantly update business traffic stats. Users can compare the current level of traffic to historical data to see whether the location is busier or less crowded than usual.

This means that Google can now track customers on an individual level in real time and convert that data into something meaningful for potential customers to use. It’s not just consumers who benefit; marketers can use this information to their advantage. If you are implementing a geofenced AdWords campaign, you can see how effective it is at drawing new customers with up-to-the-minute data. If you have a broader campaign, you can use a location’s historical traffic as a baseline for improvements over time. One thing is clear — Google is serious about leveraging its data to create new features, and using it strategically could help businesses.

Josh Volk had one more piece of information up his sleeve, as he discussed the importance of fixing canonical issues …

When the same content is located on two or more URLs, it tends to confuse search engines like Google. After all, the algorithm doesn’t know which page should count as authoritative and which one should be invisible. The canonical tag solves this problem by directing search spiders to the correct source for information. Placing rel=canonical in the backend of the page works wonders, but a surprising amount of websites don’t utilize this tag. Without it, link and rank signals can quickly turn into a mess, and that affects a page’s SERP position.

There are several reasons a website may have problems with duplicate content on several URLs. Some common mistakes include not having correct canonical tags for https sites, dynamic URLs, mobile sites and messy dynamic URLs. Sometimes a canonical tag already exists on each of these pages, but it only refers back to its own URL. While this isn’t a problem on its own, there should always be a canonical tag featuring the URL of the primary page to be indexed. When canonical tags are a mess, it impacts trust and confidence for search engines and lowers search ranking potential. If you’re experiencing canonical issues, there are two things you can do to resolve the problem:

  • Implement 301 redirects (easier for Google to understand)
  • Fix canonical URLs and direct to primary pages for indexing

In general, it is better to rely on 301 redirects if possible. That way, web crawlers don’t have to take the time to analyze the page at all, and it won’t be indexed. If this isn’t an option, developers should look at canonical tags on each individual page and make sure they are correct. It will take a little bit of effort, but the SEO benefits are worth it in the end.

Content Marketing Strategist Margaret McDonald reassured the team that keywords are still relevant despite RankBrain’s Intelligence …

Since 2013, Google has made it clear that voice search is an increasingly important factor for search rankings. Even if only a small percentage of searches occur using voice, the core algorithm has changed to accommodate them, and it impacts every text search. Google is now able to interpret natural language by using its RankBrain artificial intelligence technology. RankBrain is better at understanding context than other ranking factors, which means that the exactness of keywords is less important than before. Naturally you might assume that keywords no longer matter for rankings, but this isn’t the case — at least not yet.

There are endless ways to input a single query: You could type “Idaho largest city” or use your voice to ask, “What is the largest city in Idaho?” for example. Both of these queries mean the same thing, and today Google understands that. While this is great for searchers, SEO experts must decide which variant of a query to target, which is difficult when there are so many possibilities.

The best way to approach this new reality is by starting your keyword research as you always have, and look for the search volume of a specific keyword. You will probably see many similar keywords listed below your query, and the problem is choosing the one that works best. Luckily, most keyword tools allow you to group keywords together and display the most relevant option from a collection of keywords that mean the same thing. Since your new results are likely to have more differentiation than your initial keywords, you can pick out a few to incorporate into your title tags, headlines and body copy. This process should produce keywords that target both spoken and written queries, along with hundreds of possible variations. It may not be the perfect solution, but it’s the best way to speak to a form of artificial intelligence that’s always learning.