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04.11.2021

16 min read

October 2021 Google Algorithm and Search Industry Updates

In this month’s Google algorithm and search industry updates post, we explore:

  • Google Publishes New Best Practices For Writing Title Tags;
  • Google Rolls Out New Eco-Friendly Search Filters;
  • Clarity on URL Length and Impact on SEO;
  • Google Changes More Structured Data Requirements;
  • The Impact Will Continuous Scroll SERPs Have On Google Search Console Impression Reports;
  • How To Deal With Temporarily Out-of-Stock Product Pages For SEO;
  • ​​Google on Why Product Price Isn’t a Ranking Factor;
  • Google Revises The Quality Rater Guidelines.

Following our approach in previous posts, updates are set out in terms of their significance using our traffic light system – a red light is used for a key update that should be a priority, a green light is for news that is less immediately significant, and amber is in between.

Read on for the latest news and updates in the search industry.

Google Publishes New Best Practices For Writing Title Tags 

Over the past few months, we’ve kept you up to speed with how Google has been rewriting title tags in the SERPs (see our August and September search updates posts to learn more about how Google is now generating title links for search results).

In October 2021, Google published a new list of best practices for writing title tags. The new guidance includes tips on how to prevent titles from being changed when Google selects the title links for your pages.

Published in the Advanced SEO section of Google Search Central, the post on ‘How to Write Title Elements for Google Search’ offers the following advice:

  • Ensure that every page on your site is assigned a title tag within the <title> element of its HTML.
  • Brand your title tags – e.g. ‘[Page Title] | [Brand/Website Name]’.
  • Choose descriptive and concise title tags (<title> elements that are too long can be truncated in the search results).
  • Use unique title tags and avoid boilerplate text. It’s bad practice to incorporate the same repeated phrase into <title> elements across different pages on your site – pages should be easily distinguishable by their titles.
  • Avoid keyword stuffing. Whilst it’s fine to target two different terms in a title tag, repeating the same words and phrases looks spammy to users and Google.

What does this mean for me?

It’s definitely worthwhile following these tips when writing titles for your pages. Firstly, best practice title tags help to improve your site’s organic visibility. Moreover, if Google chooses your <title> elements as title links in the SERPs, you’ll also be able to maintain greater control over how your brand appears in search and potentially increase click-through rates.

Google Rolls Out New Eco-Friendly Search Filters

Just in time for COP26, Google has launched some new filters to help users pick out the most eco-friendly options when booking travel, buying appliances, or navigating via Google Maps.

In a post entitled ‘Giving you more sustainable choices with Google’, it was announced that Google Maps will now show users the most fuel-efficient route to their destination as an alternative option to the fastest route:

Screenshot from blog.google

Available now in the US and in Europe from 2022, this new Google Maps functionality will show users how much fuel they could save as a percentage and how much longer the fuel-efficient route would take.

Google Shopping has also been updated to allow users to filter by the most eco-friendly products when searching for appliances. This includes energy-intensive products like dishwashers:

Finally, Google Flights will now show the associated carbon emissions per seat for every flight. This will enable users to filter the results to show flight options with the lowest carbon emissions:

What does this mean for me?

These new features will make it much easier for sustainability conscious searchers to make more eco-friendly choices when searching online. As a site owner, you’ll just need to ensure you include the relevant sustainability details on your pages.

For example, if your site sells dishwashers, just make sure to specify the energy rating of each appliance on the relevant product page and in the product details on Google Merchant Center. The energy rating of your products will then be displayed in the Shopping feed.

Clarity on URL Length and Impact on SEO

Google’s John Mueller has shed light on whether the length of a URL can have a direct effect on SEO

John stated that “The direct answer is no. The URL length doesn’t matter. We use URLs as identifiers, it doesn’t matter how long they are. Personally, I try to keep them shorter than 1,000 characters, but that’s just to make monitoring easier. The number of slashes in there also doesn’t matter.”

However, he did outline where the length or a URL does play a role in SEO and that is canonicalisation.

Canonicalisation is when multiple similar URLs have the same on-page content, Google will consolidate all signals from those pages into one URL.

In the process of deciding which URL to show in search results, Google may consider the length of the URLs as one of the factors.

John said that if they find a shorter and clearer URL, the systems tend to select that one.

What does this mean for me?

If you have multiple similar URLs on your site which all have the same content – it is likely that Google will index the page that has the shortest URL. This could mean that the page you want to be indexed is not necessarily going to be the one that Google selects.

 Ensuring that each page is unique and that URLs are different can help to ensure that the pages you want indexed are done so correctly.

Google Changes More Structured Data Requirements

Google announced a change to several structured data types. This change affects the requirements for the HowTo, QAPage and the SpecialAnnouncement structured data.

Removed the following structured data fields from documentation, since they are unused by Google Search and Rich Result Test doesn’t flag warnings for them:

  • HowTo: description.
  • QAPage: mainEntity.suggestedAnswer.author, mainEntity.dateCreated, mainEntity.suggestedAnswer.dateCreated, mainEntity.acceptedAnswer.author, mainEntity.acceptedAnswer.dateCreated, and mainEntity.author .
    
  • SpecialAnnouncement: provider, audience, serviceType, address, and category.

What does this mean for me?

You won’t have to do anything and rankings won’t be affected – however the structured data outlined will no longer be taken into consideration by Google.

What Impact Will Continuous Scroll SERPs Have On Google Search Console Impression Reports?

Google’s John Mueller assessed how Search Console Impressions Reports may change because of the new Infinite Scroll Search Results.

Following Google’s roll out of infinite scroll on mobile search results, there has been a debate as to whether this will have a dramatic impact on the number of impressions seen in Google Search Console reports. Continuous (infinite) scroll on search results currently only applies to U.S.-based queries, but will roll out to additional countries and languages in 2022.

When asked about how impressions are measured in a continuous scroll SERP, John gave the following response: 

“We have a Help Center page about what is impressions, clicks and positions (I think it’s roughly called) that has a ton of details on those impressions.

That’s something that I would look at first. It’s something I usually look at when I get this question. So that would be my recommendation first of all.

With regards to infinite scroll or kind of this continuous scroll setup that we’re trying out …I think it’s a little bit tricky because it’s hard to determine what exactly is happening from an SEO point of view.”

Mueller added that despite it appearing as a continuous scroll from the user’s perspective, Google still sees it as groups of ten search results.

He explained:

“Essentially, from our side we’re still loading the search results in Groups of ten…

And as a user scrolls down on the page we kind of dynamically load the next set of ten results there.

And when that set of ten results is loaded, that counts as an impression.

So that basically means that kind of the scrolling down and you start seeing page two of the search results, that we would see is like, well this is page two now and it now has impressions similar to if someone were to just click on page two directly in the links.

So from that point of view, not much really changes there.”

Impressions may go up although clicks should remain stable

It is natural to assume that by making page two of SERPs easier to reach for users, that there might be at least a small increase in people finding what they are looking for. 

Mueller also explained that he felt little would change in terms of impressions and that the number of clicks will mostly stay the same: 

“What I think will change a little bit is that users will probably scroll a little bit easier to page two, page three or four.

And based on that the number of impressions that a website can get in the search results will probably go up a little bit.

I don’t think it’ll be like an extreme change but probably it’ll be the case, more the case, that if you were ranking on page two then suddenly your website gets a lot more impressions just because it’s easier to reach page two in the search results.

And the number of clicks I suspect will remain similar because like people will kind of like scroll up and down and look at the results on a page and they’ll click on one of them.

So probably what will happen is impressions go up a little bit.

Clicks stay the same, that means the click through rate tends to go down a little bit.

And …if you’re focusing purely on click through rate, for SEO then I suspect that will be a little bit of a kind of …weird situation because it’s hard to determine did the click through rate drop because this page was shown in this continuous scroll environment?

Or did it drop because users saw it but they didn’t like to click on it as much anymore.”

What does this mean for me?

It will be interesting to see what impact, if any, continuous scroll has on engagement metrics including impressions, although Google’s John Mueller is confident that whilst impressions will increase for page two results, clicks will not change and therefore impact CTR data. 

As this update only applies to US mobile search results, its effects are unlikely to affect users outside of the USA. When the infinite scroll update is rolled out to the UK and other countries across the world, websites with a large number of pages ranking on the second page may see and increase in impressions without a corresponding increase in clicks. As a result, it may have a large impact on the overall CTR of the website.

How To Deal With Temporarily Out-of-Stock Product Pages For SEO

Google’s John Mueller has shared his advice for dealing with pages for products that are temporarily out of stock without adversely impacting the organic visibility of the page once the product is back in stock. 

Supply chain issues mean that many merchants are having difficulty keeping many products in stock and many are concerned with the negative user experience associated with showing a product or category page full of products that are temporarily out of stock, fearing that users may leave the site and never return.

John discussed whether removing the pages of temporarily out of stock items would negatively impact the ability of those pages to rank once they’re back in stock. He also suggested several other ways in which merchants can handle out of stock product pages.

John’s four tips on handling web pages for out of stock products without impacting the user experience or SEO:

Leave the page up

John’s first tip is to leave the product pages live, but to use schema.org structured data to inform Google that the product is out of stock and to update the structured data once the product is back in stock. 

This is usually the best method when the product is known to be back in stock relatively soon.

The next approach is to add the noindex meta tag to the page with the out of stock product and/or remove all links to the pages.

He explains how this works:

“However, if you decide to noindex these pages or if you decide to just remove the internal linking to these pages, then when that state changes back, we should try to pick that up fairly quickly as well.

And we try to understand these state changes through things like site maps and internal links.

So especially if you add a product back and then suddenly it has internal links again, that helps us to pick that up again.”

How to speed up indexing of newly in-stock product pages

John explains how you can use your internal linking strategically to speed up the rate at which search engines crawl any pages that contain in-stock products.

He shared this tip: 

“You can speed this up a little bit by being a bit deliberate with your internal linking.

So in particular, …when things are linked from the home page, we think that they’re a little bit more important and we go off and try them out fairly quickly.

If you add those products back and if you add a link to your home page saying, oh these things are not in stock again, then we can take that and say, oh this seems to be an important thing.

We will double check these pages a bit quicker.

And we’ll see if they’re actually now in stock or not.

So that’s kind of the direction I would go there.”

Use Google Merchant Centre 

Mueller also recommends using Google’s Merchant Center to tell Google about in-stock and out-of-stock products plus get free exposure in the following Google Search surfaces:

  • Shopping tab
  • Google Search
  • Google Images
  • Google Maps
  • Google Lens

John explained:

“I think also with regards to in-stock and not in stock, especially when it comes to products, one thing you can also do is kind of hedge your SEO together with Product Search.

So if you submit a Merchant Center feed, then we can also show those products within the… I don’t know what it’s called… the product search sidebar thing or product listing ads I think it used to be called …I don’t know what the current name is.

We can also show those products there.

And we can show them there based on the feed.

So we don’t necessarily need to re-crawl the individual pages to recognize, Oh the page says it’s in stock.

We can just recognize in the feed that you submit to us, like suddenly the availability changed, we can put that back in.

So those are kind of the aspects there.

On the one hand if you want to remove it with a noindex or just removing internal links, that’s fine.”

What does this mean for me?

If you are experiencing supply chain issues and have an excess of out of temporarily out of stock product pages on your website, consider using either schema.org structured data or Google Merchant Centre if the product is likely to be restocked quickly, or noindexing and unlinking the page if the out of stock status is expected to last indefinitely. Once the product is back in stock, utilise internal linking from key pages such as the home page to send strong signals to search engines and users that the product is back in stock. 

Google on Why Product Price Isn’t a Ranking Factor

In a Google SEO office-hours hangout from 8th October, John Mueller discussed product price, why it wasn’t a ranking factor, and how it could impact visibility for ecommerce stores in the SERPs.

While structured data can help Google understand the price and stock of a product, that doesn’t mean it uses that information in its ranking algorithms as John explained:

“Purely from a web search point of view, no, it’s not the case that we would try to recognize the price on a page and use that as a ranking factor.

So it’s not the case that we would say we’ll take the cheaper one and rank that higher. I don’t think that would really make sense.”

He also mentioned product price within shopping results, which work differently to regular search results, but couldn’t confirm whether they were a ranking factor in shopping.

What does this mean for me?

It would seem logical for Google not to use product prices as any kind of ranking factor since this can be easily manipulated but it’s good that this has been refuted by an official source (even if speculation and questioning may continue in the future). However, it’s still important to acknowledge product pricing, as well as stock availability, as visibility and clickability considerations in the SERPs. Search marketers should include relevant Schema types such as Offer and ItemAvailability on their product pages to help Google understand and potentially display this information for users.

For more on Schema, check out our beginners guide.

Google Revises The Quality Rater Guidelines

During October, Google announced five revisions to the Quality Rater Guidelines, and issued a new version of the document. The quality rater guidelines are used by third-party Search Quality Raters to evaluate content on the web. 

The new revisions are:

  1. Changes to ‘Groups Of People’ In YMYL Content – Google has added some new classifications to ‘groups of people’, including sex/gender, caste, and other marginalised groups.
  2. How To Research Reputation Information – Google has updated the wording in this section to include both ‘stores’ and ‘websites. They have also updated ‘positive reviews’ to ‘detailed, trustworthy, positive” reviews – a notable difference.
  3. ‘Lowest Page Quality’ – Google has expanded definitions of what it means for a page to cause harm, spread hate, or misinform users.
  4. ‘Upsetting-Offensive’ Definition – Google has completely overhauled its definition of “Upsetting-Offensive” to make it more concise.
  1. Minor Changes Throughout – Google has made minor changes to the wording throughout the Quality Rater Guidelines. 

What does this mean for me? 

The new revisions do not impact search rankings – rather, they give webmasters an insight into which factors Google deems valuable. However, some believe that we can predict changes to the algorithm due to the way Quality Raters are reviewing the content on the web.

If you are actively trying to improve your website content, we’d recommend that you read the Quality Rater Guidelines, to understand the type of content which will perform well in the SERPs.

You can also check out Liv’s blog post, for some quick wins to boost your content’s E-A-T.