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Need to Know: Google Updates to Ads, SEO, and Analytics

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Editor’s note: Keeping track of Google updates to Paid Search and Shopping, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and Analytics can be challenging. The sheer volume of updates and complexity alone make it difficult. But understanding what’s meaningful – and why – what’s superfluous, and what can have an outsize effect on your business is key. For this reason, we tapped LiveArea Digital Marketing experts for their insights into Google’s most recent updates – the ones you need to know about – along with a view of what’s coming.

Google Ads — Paid Search and Shopping

Sarah Willard

Internet privacy concerns have increased over the past three years, forcing many tech companies to shift how they collect and manage user data. As with everything else in 2020, it seems as if privacy concerns have escalated. There is more pressure on tech companies to align themselves with future restrictions that are inevitable.

Limits on Search Terms Reporting

One of the more frustrating updates was announced in early September when we learned that Google would begin limiting its search terms report. In Google Ads, the search term report is critical to managing account cost-efficiency. The search term report allows us to view how your keywords match user queries, allowing us to use this data to eliminate irrelevant and/or costly queries.

According to Google, this was done to “maintain our standards of privacy and strengthen our protections around user data.” They go on to say that the search terms report will only include search terms that a significant number of users have searched for.

This sounds innocent enough, right? So the most insignificant and irrelevant searches would disappear from the report. The problem is that this assumption underestimates the enormous amount of low-volume search queries that can accumulate in a single account. We have yet to know the extent. But what if, for example, search terms with less than five impressions are eliminated? That would be a significant amount of data eliminated. Simply put, this blind spot in data could put overall cost-efficiency at risk.

Digital Services Tax in the UK, Turkey & Austria

The next update is straight-forward. Google is adding a “Digital Services Tax” as a direct result of having to manage and comply with the complexity of regulations (including privacy regulations) in the UK, Turkey, and Austria. This means any ads served in these countries will be taxed, regardless of your location.

Starting on November 1st, a 2% fee will be added in the UK, while Turkey and Austria will see the addition of a 5% fee added. These fees are based on your total spend that month.

The bigger question is will this be applied in other countries? As tougher regulations expand to other countries, I would not be surprised to see fees extended, although Google had made no indication this is on the horizon.

Google Combines Custom Affinity and Custom Intent into Custom Audiences

According to Google, this update was rolled out to increase transparency for personalized advertising. From a management standpoint, this is a win. Consolidating these audiences saves time and reduces complexity.

As for performance, the main concern is whether any control is diminished. Since this was just released in mid-September, we are watching closely for any impacts, but so far we’re just seeing a shift in the UI. It is also important to note that this is a shift towards contextual targeting as Google continues to move away from third-party cookies.

Search Engine Optimization

Nicole D’Ortana

Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT)

Last year, Google introduced and open-sourced a neural network-based technique for natural language processing (NLP) called Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers or BERT. This technology enables anyone to train their own state-of-the-art question answering system.

This update, launched last October, is one of the most substantial updates Google has made to its algorithm in the past five years. BERT aims to improve the interpretation of natural language processing in search queries. This algorithm uses a contectual understanding of words before and after a keyword and also takes into account prepositions that can change the meaning of a query. This is in place of the previous model, which focused on reading a query from left to right only and using only the words preceding the key term.

There are no specific guidelines to optimize for BERT. Site owners should focus on continuing to create high-quality content that answers questions and provides value to target customers.

Featured snippet de-duplication

In January Google announced that sites that own a featured snippet listing will no longer have a repeated listing result in regular organic listings. This means that position 0 is now position 1. This is somewhat of a continuation of the site diversity update launched in July 2019, which limits the number of times a site can appear for a query to 2.

This will be a mixed bag for most marketers. On one hand, if you don’t own the answer box, there is more opportunity to secure a spot on the first page. If you do own the answer box for a query, your traffic may see a decline around those terms since you no longer own 2 of the top positions in Google.

Nofollow links

At the end of 2019, Google announced an update to how it will treat nofollow links, which were previously not indexed or crawled. As of this past March, Google now treats nofollow links as a “hint” for indexing and crawling so they can gather more information to properly rank websites. They also introduced the sponsored and UGC (user-generated content) link attributes for publishers. This means a few things:

  • Nofollow backlinks to a site can potentially give a small boost when they previously did not. This will likely be similar to how a non-linked branded mention is weighed. It will help sites receive some of the link equity they deserve from sites that use nofollow links to external sites.
  • Site owners who use nofollow links throughout their sites to prevent crawling and indexing will have to rethink their strategy. This was already not the suggested method to prevent indexing and crawling. Rather, publishers should be using the meta robots noindex directive or blocking in the robots.txt file.
  • New link attributes – Google has stated there is no need to change existing link attributes. These additional link attributes will help Google to better understand the use of links but it is not required.
  • o Rel= “sponsored” – identifies links created as part of an advertising campaign, sponsorships, or similar uses.
  • o Rel=“ugc” – identifies links created within user-generated content such as blog post comments and forum discussions.

Core Web Vitals Announcement Core Metrics

In May Google announced it will update core web vitals in 2021. This update includes the refinement of site loading metrics putting more emphasis on site speed. Google’s search console has been updated already with insights into these metrics so site owners can prepare for the future update.

Core web vitals include:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – Measures the loading time of the largest element on the page. The ideal loading time is 2.5 seconds or below.
  • First Input Delay (FID) – Measures the time it takes for a user to be able to interact with the page. Ideal loading speeds are less than 100 ms.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – Measures the visual stability of the page as it loads. An ideal measurement is less than 0.1 out of a score from 0-1.

Google Analytics

John Kalinoski

Google announced its next-generation analytics platform last year, releasing it as a public beta test. Since then, the team at Google has been busy working on (and releasing) major enhancements to this new platform. Similarly, the LiveArea analytics team also has been busy rolling out this new version of Google Analytics for clients so they can leverage the new features and start collecting data now. I encourage you to read our earlier blog post that succinctly spells out why you should implement the new Google Analytics platform alongside your current version.

Google Tag Manager

This year, Google announced its release of server-side tagging into public beta. This means you can now run a Google Tag Manager container in a server-side environment. There are a handful of benefits to moving server-side, including reducing client load, improving data quality, and greater control over the data shared (e.g. IP address isn’t sent to a third party) with third-party vendors. In my opinion, the biggest benefit to moving server-side is that you can reduce the amount of JavaScript run on your user’s browsers and improve your website’s page load performance.

In short, moving to server-side will allow your website to load faster while giving you more control over the data you collect and share, which is important in the data privacy-focused world we live in today.

If you have questions about any of these updates, contact us and a subject matter expert will get back to you.

Authors

Sarah Willard
Sarah is Manager of Paid Media for LiveArea.

Nicole D’Ortona
Nicole is Manager of Search Marketing for LiveArea.

John Kalinoski
John is Director of Digital Analytics & Data for LiveArea.

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