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Andrew Riker
M Posted 1 year ago
t 5 min read

Less than a decade ago, it was possible to rank on the first page of Google with little more than a block of mediocre content and a handful of spammy links. How things have changed.

Quality now sits at the center of many Google updates and initiatives. In the last two weeks, the search giant has launched two features aimed at helping searchers find authoritative content  — a “highly cited” label that appears in Top stories and an addition to the results page notification for breaking news stories. The product reviews update has also finished rolling out, although early data indicates that its impact has been relatively limited. 

In other news, search console data is now available in Data Studio, allowing for customized charts. Google Search Advocate John Mueller has also made several interesting comments about popups, out-of-stock pages, and AI-generated content. 

Here’s your curated collection of the latest news, updates and search tidbits from the last two weeks. 

Google launches “highly cited” label and expands “about this result” feature

Google has announced two new features that tie in with its broader commitment to providing users with authoritative, fact-checked content.

The first is a “highly cited” label in mobile results within the Top stories section. The label is currently live in some results. The idea behind the highly cited badge is that it helps users identify stories that other journalists and news outlets respect, and thus are likely to carry authority. 

The other is an improvement to “about this result” in relation to breaking news stories. Google has added extra tips to the rapidly evolving results notice to help searchers filter results. The about this result widget, which shows data about the source of a story or piece of content, will soon be available for all English-language searches. 

Impacts of Google’s product reviews update appear limited

Google’s product reviews update has now finished rolling out. The ramifications of the algorithm change appear much smaller than previous iterations, according to data from several sources, including BrightEdge.

To recap, the update targets web pages that publish low-quality product and comparison-style reviews. There’s a multitude of best practices that Google wants reviewers to consider when critiquing products. That said, it ultimately boils down to ensuring that content is honest, detailed, and focused on the user. 

If you’ve seen rankings change for your review content, don’t worry. Modifying reviews to meet guidelines and fit with the update should be a relatively straightforward process. 

Google creates new template in Data Studio for monitoring search traffic 

Google has published a new template in Data Studio for monitoring search traffic on top pages. Visits from Discover and Google News in Google Search Console can also now be tracked. 

Where Search Console provides a uniform set of charts, Data Studio allows users to customize and compare representations of data. Connecting your Search Console with Data Studio is a straightforward process, so if you want to view your data “out of the box” we recommend trying that out

According to an update published on Google Search Central, “ of today, the Search Console connector includes data for Discover and Google News traffic, similar to the data recently added to the API.”

Piping this data into a visualization platform like Data Studio will allow you to monitor and report with the valuable data that is only available from Google.

Google treats “out of stock” pages as soft 404s

Ever wonder if “out of stock” notifications on product pages might be harming your rankings? Well, according to a comment by John Mueller, there’s a significant chance the answer is yes.

Ecommerce listings showing an out of stock notice, which are largely inconsequential to online shoppers, are sometimes treated as soft 404s. 

In an SEO office hours hangout, Mueller said, “...when it comes to the normal search results, it can happen that we when see that something is out of stock, we will assume it’s more like a soft 404 error, where we will drop that URL from the search results as well.”

That said, there are exceptions. For example, if a product page doubles up as an informational resource, it may retain its ranking. Mueller also said that out-of-stock product pages would not detrimentally affect other pages on a site. 

AI-generated content is against Google guidelines

AI-generated content has received a lot of attention, with machines becoming ever more capable of producing content as good as that written by humans. However, as far as Google is concerned, it’s against quality guidelines. 

John Mueller said that content created by artificial intelligence falls under the bracket of spam as defined in Google Search Central documentation. As such, sites that use it may receive a manual penalty.

SEOs considering program-generated content should think twice, at least for the immediate future, and continue to write unique, engaging copy for intended audiences.

Google leverages AI in some search results

AI for content? Bad. AI for updating business details? Very good, at least if a recent pilot is anything to go by. 

Google recently announced a scheme to update business hours and certain pieces of road information like speed limits using AI-based programs. 

It’s still very early stages when it comes to artificial intelligence, but the presence of pilots like this one could presage a new direction in the way search engines organize web content. It’s a fast-developing area that SEOs should pay close attention to. 

John Mueller clarifies how Google views popups

Ah, the ongoing debate about popups. While Google has clearly stated that it dislikes large interstitials, smaller popups occupy a bit of a gray area. And there are a lot of mixed opinions about whether or not web admins should get rid of them completely. We know that intrusive mobile interstitials are still a no-no.

In a Google SEO office hours video, John Mueller provided some extra information about popups. He said: “often with banners, you have side effects on the cumulative layout shift, like how the page renders when it’s loaded. Or with regards to the…LCP I think, also from the Core Web Vitals side with regards to that page.”

In essence, non-interstitial banners could affect rankings because of potential negative effects on Core Web Vitals, especially related to CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift), which measures how much a page “wobbles” while loading and LCP (Largest Contentful Paint), which is an aspect of page speed. 

Popups are an important issue for SEOs, and information like this helps them to form a balanced view about how to use them.