Google has been busy this summer. Head of Web Spam Matt Cutts may be on leave, but judging from the uptick in search updates, it looks like the rest of the Google team just kicked into overdrive.
In the past two months alone we’ve seen three major changes spanning both organic and paid search: the updates to AdWords Quality Score information, Panda 4.0, and of course, the most recent changes to Google authorship.
Here’s a quick rundown of what’s new and why marketers should care.
1. Author photos get the ax from SERPs.
After years of pushing the importance of Google Authorship, Google announced author photos would no longer be included in search results. For those just catching up, here’s a before and after example from Moz:
Source: Moz Blog
Photos were a huge selling point for publishers and authors alike to verify their content with Google as they were thought to draw significantly higher click-through rate and traffic compared to non-verified organic results.
While this update doesn’t dismiss the importance of verifying your content – authorship mark up still plays a part search rankings – the photo dismissal does downplay the visibility of authorship in SERPs.
Why did Google give author photos the ax?
Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller says the change supports an effort to create a seamless user experience across devices. This is consistent with the Google SERPs redesign rolled out in March.
Yet, even with author photos gone, there are numerous reasons to verify your content with authorship markup. Authorship still delivers an added author byline and enhanced snippets for those with verified content.
Bottom line is you should still verify your content for SEO purposes, but Google will no longer deliver the photo and click-through rate boost as extra incentives.
2. Google reveals new AdWords quality score details.
First, it’s important to recognize that the AdWords Quality Score itself has not changed since October 2013. The big story here is the release of Google’s “Settling the (Quality) Score”, a new white paper meant to help settle the debate on the value of quality score. However, given the amount of chatter this whitepaper has generated (100k+ search results and counting) , this paper may do more to fuel the discussion than settle it.
Why the debate? The point of contention stems from Google downplaying the importance of quality score as a mere “engine warning light” compared to Google’s position on quality score in 2011.
As a recent SearchEngineLand piece contends, many search marketers remain wary of Google’s recent changes to quality score information.
3. Finally, Panda makes a comeback.
Matt Cutts took marketers by surprise when he tweeted the release of Panda 4.0 in late May.
Much like the original Panda update back in February 2011, Panda 4.0 is meant to punish sites that publish what Google considers to be weak content and reward those that publish quality, original content
After a long line of Panda updates, why should we care so much about Panda 4.0?
First, the very fact that Panda 4.0 was announced served a warning sign of major shifts to come. As all Panda iterations after Panda 24 and 25 in March 2013 have been unannounced and included as regular monthly algorithm updates, it’s a big deal when Google takes the time to officially update marketers.
Also, 4.0 was significantly larger than its predecessors, affecting 7.5% of English language queries compared to 1-2% by previous Pandas.
Finally, Panda 4.0 will serve as the new blueprint for future algorithm updates. This means even if your site was not affected this time, the changes implemented by 4.0 are only the tip of the iceberg.
What’s next for search?
While it’s tough to predict what’s next, we do know Google will continue to tweak the algorithm to deliver a better search experience to users. The best way to future proof your SEO is to stick with straight up, honest-to-goodness, quality content.
We’ll cover actionable tips on how to do just that in our next webinar, “Google’s Latest Update: How it Will Impact You”, on Tuesday, July 22nd at 10AM PT. Register to save your spot today. Hope to see there!