A review of the major SEO-SEA events of 2017

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The year 2017 was marked by Google announcements, algorithm updates and new features, as well as ongoing trends and changes yet to come. So let’s look back at some of the major SEO and SEA events which impacted upon our search practice during 2017.
Here then, is another chance to review some important SEO and SEA milestones of 2017 via our SF infographic.

Event SEO SEA 2017 Infographic

Popupgeddon: the end of interstitials [SEO]

Google announces that, as of 10 January, 2017, all sites displaying an interstitial or an intrusive popup on the mobile version of their platform will lose places in the rankings!
The popups or interstitials involved are those which are large enough to obscure the page information which was initially called up by the search request. The penalised interstitials are those displayed between the search results page and the first page to be viewed on the site: all interstitials displayed on the site after a second click have not been penalised. All « regulation » popups are not affected (cookies to check the age of the user, identification popups/ members area of a site, and very small interstitials). There are two possible remedies: either delete or reduce the size of the popup.

Chrome displays a new warning for unsecured pages [SEO]

As of January 2017 (with Chrome browser 56), pages containing a password or credit card field will see a « Not Secure » warning if they are not compliant with HTTPS protocol. Google is committed to a rolling policy of gradual eradication of unsecured pages.

Adwords call extensions become automatic! [SEA]

Call extensions allow you to feature phone numbers directly from your ads on the Google SERPs page. However, call extension has not been integrated by all advertisers. That’s why, as of 06 February, 2017, Google will now apply an automatic extension to mobile ads provided that the landing page contains a phone number. There is also an option to disable this feature.

2017 has been the year of the voice search [SEO]

Between the voice assistants featured on smartphones and PCs (Cortana, Google Now, Siri) and those available as standalone devices (Google Home, Amazon Echo), 2017 has unequivocally been the year of the voice search. And behind this development, a notable trend is becoming apparent – emerging markets are prominent first-time adopters. Usage in both India and China is now running at 55%.

Google accelerates mobile display with AMP Lite [SEO]

Google continues to make gradual improvements to this new format, which was launched in February 2016. And now, in January 2017, Google has announced the launch of a new lite version for AMP. Just to recap: thanks to the use of cache content, AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) aims to display mobile content instantly, in less than 2 seconds. The creation of a Lite version of AMP is aimed at users facing low broadband speeds or using a device with low RAM. This version includes optimization of images and image data as well as font optimization. External font sizes will be reduced with the « amp-font » tag and will then be loaded instantaneously.

Google tests the average price of a hotel night in the SERPs [SEO]

In January 2017, the giant from Mountain View tested the inclusion of complementary data about the price of a service – in this case displaying the average price of an advertised hotel night. This feature occurs at Local Panel level and is only triggered when the search involves a « hotel » query.

An AMP carousel dedicated to your site [SEO]

Without a doubt, 2016 was the year of the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). And from February 2017, an update will allow several AMP carousels to be displayed in the SERPS (search results) pages. These new-format carousels can now highlight AMP results from a single site.

Google Instant Apps : plus besoin d’installer une app pour l’utiliser ! [SEO]

Google began the testing of its first Android Instant Apps in January 2017. These apps will no longer need to be downloaded to your smartphone for use, instead they will function as website content which can be « streamed » directly to your phone. Google is performing these tests with four US app publishers: BuzzFeed, Wish, Periscope and Viki. These new apps are created as a series of small independent modules which can be deployed at the user’s request and started up very quickly. Thus, mobile users can access part of the app without having to install it on their smartphone. However, to take advantage of the entire app function and content the user will then have to opt to save it on his device.

Google Images traffic sees a decline [SEO]

Since 07 February, 2017, Google has updated its Google Images interface, and as a result there has been a tenfold reduction in the volume of traffic attributable to this source. The explanation is that the image found in the Google Images results formerly showed the page concerned in the background and thus loaded the traffic tracking tag, which then resulted in a log recording. Images viewed in the Google Images interface now include a link to visit either the relevant page or the original image file.

Emerging new uses and behaviours: « Visual shopping » for e-merchants [SEO]

The masters of tomorrow’s shopping will be those who succeed in making the shopping experience smoother on smartphone – from discovery onwards, right through the shopping journey. Shopping via « visual search » makes it possible to create a direct link between the discovery of a product and its purchase, and thus to reduce the distance between the initial inspiration and the final consumer action. Today, there are several apps available which allow you to test or implement « visual shopping » within your e-commerce strategy. The most recent release is the Pinterest Lens app, which uses your phone’s camera to recognise items, and then, in addition to ‘pinning’ them, offers you options to buy similar items on its social network. Pinterest uses solutions such as Curalate, Olapic and Project September to recognise the targeted objects, tag them, and then associate them with products.

Feedback on the Phantom update: significant fluctuation in rankings [SEO]

The SEO world is now talking about an update described as a quality update (assessing content and user experience among other issues). Better known as a Phantom update, this was rolled out as of 07 February, 2017. The sites mainly affected by this update at the beginning of the year are those which ignored Google warnings about:

  • the presence of multiple intrusive advertisements (hidden in the content, or occupying a dominant position at the top of the page),
  • misleading content poorly related to the search engine request that guided the user to the site,
  • forcing Internet users to execute multiple clicks just to obtain the content they were looking for,
  • the use of interstitials and other aggressive pop-ups shown to Internet users arriving on the page direct from the SERPs

Review star threshold reduced on Google Maps [SEO]

Since the end of February 2017, some small, but important, innovations have appeared on the Google Maps business cards (managed by Google My Business): the minimum number of reviews requirement previously needed to display a Google star rating has now disappeared, and the method of calculating the average review score for low-rated cards has also changed. A business listing on Google Maps originally required a minimum of five reviews to trigger the award of a star. However, this stipulated threshold can no longer be seen, and we notice some stars have been awarded after just one single review.

Featured snippets are becoming more and more visible [SEO]

According to Moz’s MozCast tool, featured snippets are now present in 14.9% of searches viewed in their survey sample. These Mozcast figures are for searches in English listed on the US index. In September 2016, Rank Ranger identified featured snippets in 0.6% of their sample, but that figure has now increased more than tenfold !! Though its snippet feature is a French language version, we can still expect a further sharp increase in the frequency of reports, which could more than double in the longer term to reach around 14 to 15% …

Google tests a new expandable Sitelinks display format on mobile [SEO]

In response to the mobile boom, Google is trying to broaden its appeal to mobile users by offering an enhanced user experience. It is this dynamic which is driving an innovation that is currently being tested in the United States (March 2017). To combat the problem of lack of space on the mobile format, Google is providing users with the option to choose expandable carousels as an extension format to view extra content they wish to see.
This format can display up to five different types of ad extension:

  • Sitelink extensions
  • teaser extensions
  • structured snippet extensions
  • review extensions
  • price extensions

This innovation will benefit everyone, because it will also allow advertisers to gain extra space and visibility, as well as increasing their CTR. Meanwhile, the user will gain a better understanding of what the advertiser has to offer.

Adwords: Has an exact match just become approximate? [SEA]

A Google announcement at the end of March 2017 made a big splash this week among Adwords customers: the Mountain View outfit plans to change the way it handles the correlation between ads and targeted searches. In a few months, Google will increase its use of certain types of « close variant » when user specified parameters request an exact match. This means that now exactly matched ads will be displayed alongside variants with, and without, the articles, pronouns and/or prepositions included in the search query, or with other substitute function words included, as well as with variants where the search terms have been reordered.

Fred update

At SMX West, Google confirmed that a Fred update took place between 07 March and 08 March, 2017. Most of the sites affected have a common denominator: the main purpose of the site would appear to be the sale of advertising space and affiliations rather than the delivery of relevant information to Internet users. Indeed, while most of these sites do have an « informative » format (blogs or websites), they all seem to have a significant amount of advertising space. Some sites saw a day to day reduction in site traffic volumes of between 50 and 90 percent.

Price extensions now available on all devices! [SEO] 

Up until now, this type of extension has been reserved for mobiles but is now available on desktop and tablet as from the end of March 2017.

Google deploys Rich Cards in France [SEO]

Released in the US last May, Google officially announced the launch of Rich Cards in Europe, and of course in France, as from this Thursday, 23 March, 2017. With their more useful and relevant right-to-left scrolling, Rich Cards aim to offer much more visual smartphone results than current formats.

“Collection”, le nouveau format publicitaire de Facebook [SEA]

A l’instar de Google dont les dernières nouveautés ont concerné en priorité le mobile, Facebook a présenté début avril 2017 son tout nouveau format 100% mobile : “Collection”.
“Collection” se présentera sous la forme d’une publicité vidéo qui pourra s’accompagner de 4 à 50 photos de produits qui redirigeront vers le site ou l’application du e-commerçant pour procéder à l’achat. L’annonceur pourra choisir les 4 premières photos sous la vidéo et le reste sera automatiquement sélectionné par Facebook en fonction du profil de l’utilisateur, l’objectif étant de proposer l’expérience la plus pertinente possible à celui-ci.

Google Trusted Stores becomes Google Customer Reviews [SEO]

In early April, 2017, Google announced it was replacing the Google Trusted Stores programme with Google Customers Reviews. After a few months of testing in some markets, Google has now opened this new programme in France, Germany, United States, Great Britain, Australia and Japan. Just to recap, Google Trusted Stores was launched in 2011 and was used to evaluate e-merchants who registered for the programme. A rating of up to five stars was then supplied by users. This review rating appeared on the product cards in Google Shopping. According to Google, the click rate of e-merchants participating in this programme can increase by 10%.

Google Images continues to evolve [SEO]

On 10 April, 2017, this popular search engine announced two new image-related features: « Similar Items » and « Style Ideas ». They should appeal to lots of users and divert attention away from earlier updates.
Google’s new « Similar Items » feature aims to highlight products close to those sought by Internet users, as well as also allowing the option to purchase articles from any site included within the displayed selection. All of these similar items are displayed in carousel format just below the clicked image. Such item suggestions are made possible via the use of machine learning techniques focused upon the recognition of shapes and images. To date, this feature is available exclusively for mobile searches and the Google Search Android app, but Google is already considering extending this feature to other media.

Google News: Videos in search results! [SEO]

Since April 2017, Google has been testing the display of suggested clip videos in the search results. So video clips can appear as a direct answer, or particular video extracts of these videos can feature as the best solution to a user’s search query. The real story is that the video can begin to play at whichever point in the video seems the most relevant to the query entered.

Google steps up the hunt for fake news and launches Project Owl [SEO]

Les élections présidentielles américaines ont vu un phénomène exploser : celui de la diffusion de fausses nouvelles et de faits alternatifs, qui se retrouvent référencés dans le top des résultats de recherches. Pour combattre ces fakes news, Google lance le projet Owl en fin avril 2017 avec :

  • a form to gather Internet users’ views on the quality of Google’s auto-complete suggestions (Google Instant and Google Suggest) as well as another feedback form about « featured snippets »,
  • an evolution of the Google algorithm, which will now adapt in accordance with this feedback: in effect, quality content will be privileged,
  • the recommendations given to quality raters will also be adapted to help them detect false information.

Google launches a shopping ads project on the Display Network [SEA]

Shopping ads have gradually emerged as the leading type of product search query on Google. When they were first launched, they appeared in a box to the right of the search results, but now they appear in position 0 and have their own tabs which enable users to see all shopping results. It’s reached the point where shopping results have become a real price-comparison tool for Internet users. In order to continue to develop this type of advertising, Google has just launched a pilot project deploying shopping ads on the display network (May 2017). According to Google, for the present, these shopping ads will only appear on premium sites in the fashion and interior design sector.

Google applies stricter ranking signals to encourage a switch to HTTPS [SEO]

Google has officially communicated that it is increasingly likely to it will show warnings that your site may not be secure in certain circumstances. The implementation of its more restrictive rules is scheduled for the update of its Google Chrome browser version 62, as of October 2017. In making these gradual adjustments to its ranking criteria, Google’s clear goal is to progressively encourage all websites to switch to HTTPS protocol

Google Jobs: a new resource for job offers! [SEO]

We have seen snippets about job vacancies in the search results (SERPS) since May 2017. Google for Jobs is an intelligent ad aggregator, which gathers data collected from a number of market players, including Linkedin, Facebook , Monster and ZipRecruiter etc.
This tool uses its powerful Artificial Intelligence capability to link and match candidates and recruiters.

The new AdWords interface [SEA]

The current interface which advertisers and agencies have been using for more than 15 years is undergoing a complete redesign. Some have already tested the new beta version and discovered a more graphic interface which makes it easier to work with statistics. The new AdWords will be easier to use, more visual and offer more functions.

  • The ability to create campaigns based on business goals
  • The ability to make upstream estimates for display campaigns
  • Google Optimize and Google Surveys 360 will now be integrated into the AdWords interface
  • Smarter planning in DoubleClick Bid Manager
  • Improved customer journey through Google Attribution (beta), which can collect data from AdWords, Google Analytics, and DoubleClick Search.

Featured Snippets and Infinite People Also Ask (PAA) [SEO]

Tomorrow’s search will be personalised, predictive and ubiquitous. Virtual assistants are fully involved in this evolution and their development will modify our behaviour: we want direct and relevant answers without having to make any personal effort to consult sources. Google has anticipated this new era of the personal assistant and is trying to provide enriched answers which can adapt to our natural language. The rise of the Featured Snippets and PAAs (People Also Ask) is evidence of this trend. The latter is performing well in the United States, where its popularity has increased by 57 percent over the last five months.

New major Google update [SEO]

During June 2017, there has been a lot of fluctuation in the Google index, and the Google update of 25 June, 2017 is undoubtedly one of the most important since the beginning of the year. The web giant has confirmed the update has occurred, but has been less forthcoming about the reasons for its new ranking penalties.

Stricter rules for Symantec certificates: ramp-up of HTTPS protocol [SEO]

As of 08 August next, Symantec certificates issued before 01 June, 2016 must be revalidated by an independent certification authority, otherwise Chrome will consider them invalid. Note too, that Mozilla is also planning similar measures. In recent months, Google has accused Symantec of irregularities discovered during audits. Apparently, control procedures performed by some of its partners or subsidiaries do not meet expected standards issued by the CA/Browser forum.

The ad arrives on Facebook Messenger [SEA]

Via a blog post, Facebook has announced the extension of its advertising solutions to Facebook Messenger. After some testing in Australia and Thailand, Facebook has now decided to deploy its Messenger advertising formats in all markets:

  • Messenger ads will be presented on the application home page and will redirect users to the advertiser’s site.
  • Click to Messenger ads will be more personalised and will redirect users to a conversation after an interaction on Facebook, Instagram or Messenger.
  • Sponsored ads will offer advertisers a new audience to target users who have previously started a conversation with them.

Google posts can be published in SERPs [SEO]

Google Posts are now active in France as from July 2017. Owners of Google My Business cards have received an email notification saying: « You can now post special events, promotions and more on your Google listing ». These publications appear in response to a search query involving the company name. In practical terms, your My Business interface will now show a new menu section. A classic post will be deleted after 7 days, while events will expire on the relevant date.

Google Possum Update [SEO]

On August 22, 2017, Possum’s proximity filter was rolled back, thus several Google Maps entries hidden by Possum have now reappeared. Joy Hawkins, an American local SEO specialist was the one who spotted this change in Possum. She calls it Google Hawk, because as the hawk (Hawk) chases the possum, so the update has returned in the latest version. We prefer to refer to it as Google Possum 2.0.

New Google Conversion Tracking [SEA]

In September 2017, Google announced the deployment of a new conversion tracking feature to capture conversions which could otherwise escape AdWords. This new tracking was actually developed in response to Apple’s own implementation of Intelligent Tracking Prevention, which prevented the triggering of third-party cookies after 24 hours. Conversions made by an Apple user after 24 hours thus escaped AdWords, because cookies were stored in a Google domain and not on the advertiser’s site. Google has updated its conversion tracking by developing a new Google Analytics cookie to retrieve click data which is then stored directly on the advertiser’s site.

Google’s record fine [SEO]

On 27 June, 2017, after a lengthy procedure, the European Commission decided to impose a fine of 2.4 billion euros if Google did not change its practice of abusing its dominant position in the price-comparison field. The deadline set by the Commission was 28 September, the day this newsletter is published.

Google is currently live-testing its Mobile First Index [SEO]

The introduction of the Mobile First Index was launched in October 2017. The first Mobile First Index tests are visible in the SERPs and can be recognised by the appearance of a title tag and meta description in mobile format for dedicated mobile sites (Excluding mobile tags longer than 70 characters on mobile, or 65 on a desktop)

Google will allow « parallel tracking » on Adwords URLs [SEA]

Current url tracking can visibly slow the display of the page because it occurs sequentially. However, when parallel tracking is employed the landing page is displayed immediately! In practice, page loading takes place as normal, while the tracking processes continue to run in parallel in the background. The user experience and perceived performance are significantly improved by this new approach: the resultant gain achieved can be several hundreds of milliseconds. Although Google has not given a specific date, in principle, the « parallel tracking » option should be be available in Adwords accounts by the end of 2017. This will then become the default option at the beginning of 2018.

Ajax: may soon no longer use the Escape_Fragment [SEO]

Because in a Google Hangout dated 20 October, 2017, Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller, a great Google prophet, hinted that even though the escape_fragment was no longer recommended, but still crawled by robots, this would soon no longer be the case.

Google Maps now has a hotel comparison facility [SEO]

In Google’s search results, local search queries now generate a « local pack », taken from Google Maps, which includes a map showing the top three local results – which are themselves listed under the map. These are then followed by the natural results. For the task of finding hotels, this interface is already rich in photos and features of available establishments (Wifi, number of stars, price etc.). But Google never sleeps and has once more enriched this tool in October 2017: room prices are now displayed directly on the map.

Showcase Shopping Ads [SEA]

Showcase shopping ads are a new advertising format which became available in November 2017. The ads take the form of a carousel of products which appears in response to generic requests suggesting an intention to purchase an item – e. g. « backpack » or « furniture ». This format is only available via the new Adwords interface.

New Search Console currently being tested by some users [SEO]

New Google Search Console features have been tested by some users since November 2017. Among the innovations there is a new search analytics report feature on indexing which shows the listing of urls indexed by Google and includes very detailed information about the indexing status of urls
2017 has been a rich year for search. Powerful new trends are already anticipated for 2018 with the deployment of the Mobile First Index and the rise of voice and semantic searches.
If you follow all SEO news, read this article from Web 20 Ranker on hyper competitive ranking.

Stay tuned for 2018!

Andréa Bryand / @Seotastique
Aurora Rivera / @AuroraRiveraSa