The holidays are upon us once again, ushering in a season synonymous with shopping, office parties, gift-giving, caroling and, of course, sticking it to Google. Mountain View’s favorite tech company has had a rough go of it recently, with employee walkouts, silly feature releases and heavily scrutinized tweaks to SERP layouts.
Don’t think for a second that the Content Marketing Weekly is too good to pile on the embattled search engine giant – ‘tis the season to bash Google, after all. In this week’s edition, we cover some more bad news surrounding the Google monolith, from image search bugs to an incognito mode that isn’t all that incognito.
Everyone knows your search results are influenced by your location, search history and other factors, which is why a lot of digital marketers use incognito mode as a quick way to view SERPs that have been effectively scrubbed of those factors.
However, a recent DuckDuckGo study suggests that incognito mode isn’t quite as neutral as we think it is. After comparing search results for select phrases across a number of different users in both incognito mode and normal search settings, researchers found that:
- Search results were frequently unique in some capacity to the individual, regardless if they used incognito mode or not.
- News and video infoboxes saw the greatest variation from user to user.
- Incognito and private browsing modes or logging out of their Google accounts had virtually no effect on how personalized their search results were.
Why does this matter? The study’s results give credence to claims that Google’s algorithms are creating “filter bubbles,” where the pursuit of relevance through search personalization isolates users and stacks the deck against new ideas and messages getting through to them. We usually think of filter bubbles through the prism of politics, but it can have troubling implications for marketers as well.
In particular, the DuckDuckGo survey suggests that device and location have a pretty significant effect on search results even when doing your best to anonymize SERPs. This is especially true for mobile users, whose search results are more likely to be influenced by their location. It just goes to show that you’re never getting truly impartial results with Google’s algorithms.
Not even Google is immune to the occasional technical glitch. Observant internet sleuths recently noticed that some image search data was missing in Google Search Console. While there was some early confusion regarding whether that data’s omission was an error or an intentional tweak aimed at reinforcing data privacy protections, Google’s John Mueller cleared the air, confirming that there was a known bug dropping image search data.
So far, the glitch’s reach seems to be limited to data related to image searches and the reporting featured in Google Search Console. If you noticed a drop in your search performance recently (and by recently, we mean like the past few days), this bug could be the reason for that.
It’s not all bad news for Google this week. We’ve actually got some pretty positive things to say about the company’s newest local pack update.
It seems like there’s always some cool new feature being added to Google’s local pack search results. The latest inclusion goes beyond location maps and store hours: a “sold here” label that lets users know if stores in their area sell a particular item they’re looking for.
Search Engine Land’s Barry Schwartz puts this feature to the test with general terms like “ceiling fans,” but it’s not hard to imagine this capability becoming more precise to refer to specific products or even incorporate websites’ online inventory checks.
Because the “sold here” label is so new – Google’s been testing it since November, but it appears to have been fully rolled out just this past weekend – there’s still no real info out there as far as how Google is applying it. Rest assured, the digital marketing community will get to the bottom of it, though.
Just to show that we here at the Content Marketing Weekly aren’t stuck in our own filter bubble, we’ll close things out by taking a step away from all the Google news to talk about some much-needed end-of-year SEO house cleaning.
As the year winds down to a close, this is a good time to check in on your site’s performance, run some audits and make sure that everything’s up to snuff. Over at Search Engine Land, Jeremy Knauff recommends taking the following steps:
- Check for any broken links on your site.
- Run a content audit.
- Test your page speed.
- Look through your WordPress plugins (assuming you use WordPress, of course).
- Review your site’s layout and functionality across different platforms, devices and browsers.
If that sounds like an awful lot of work to squeeze in between holiday office parties and Christmas shopping, well, all we can say is digital marketing is hard work. You never want to get complacent and let your site’s search performance drop because it’s in need of a little SEO TLC.
Read Knauff’s recommendations in full here.
That’ll do it for another edition of the Content Marketing Weekly, but stay tuned for another round of the latest digital marketing news, trends and updates.