Google usually has some fun in April, but they decided to cancel April 1st again this year. Vice-president Marvin Chow sent an internal memo asking the company to respect people fighting COVID-19 by pausing the jokes.
They did continue to make some webmasters miserable, though, with confirmed and unconfirmed updates to the algorithm. Although those dreading the arrival of Core Web Vitals, may have been cheered by news that its implementation has been moved back.
Official Product Reviews Update
Google officially announced a new update to the Google Search algorithm on April 8th. They stressed that it was not a core update and only concerned product review pages written in English.
This update should only have a negative effect on sites offering product reviews with affiliate links to eCommerce sites. In their announcement, Google says that research showed that users prefer in-depth product reviews rather than lists of products with superficial information on many products. They say the change in the algorithm will therefore favor these better product reviews in search results.
This update should not touch the ranking of product pages on eCommerce sites, although product pages move up positions as low-quality product review sites drop out of results.
Giving advice on how to react to this update, Google suggests that owners of product review blogs should ask themselves whether their reviews:
- Express expert knowledge about products where appropriate?
- Show what the product is like physically, or how it is used, with unique content beyond what’s provided by the manufacturer?
- Provide quantitative measurements about how a product measures up in various categories of performance?
- Explain what sets a product apart from its competitors?
- Cover comparable products to consider, or explain which products might be best for certain uses or circumstances?
- Discuss the benefits and drawbacks of a particular product, based on research into it?
- Describe how a product has evolved from previous models or releases to provide improvements, address issues, or otherwise help users in making a purchase decision?
- Identify key decision-making factors for the product’s category and how the product performs in those areas? For example, a car review might determine that fuel economy, safety, and handling are key decision-making factors and rate performance in those areas.
- Describe key choices in how a product has been designed and their effect on the users beyond what the manufacturer says?
Page Experience Update (Core Web Vitals) Delayed
As we discussed in our article Core Web Vitals and WordPress SEO, Google will shortly release a new update introducing Page Experience as a ranking factor.
This was expected to launch in May, but in a new announcement, Google now says that it will launch progressively from mid-June and only be fully operative in August 2021. The delay may be linked to recent changes in way one of the three Core Web Vitals scores is calculated: CLS was changed on April 7th. But it may be to give more time for website owners to improve their scores.
The same article from Google also revealed the new Page Experience Report in Google Search Console. This gives clearer indications of good URLs – those that pass the Page Experience assessment. The help page on this new tool is also one of the clearest descriptions yet on how this new ranking factor will work. It serves as a reminder that passing the Core Web Vitals assessment is not the only aspect of the Page Experience ranking factor.
More Unofficial Updates?
We are still following Marie Haynes and Barry Schwartz for alerts and analysis on Google updates. Knowing that changes were happening around the official Product Review Update, Marie believes that up to 4 other unofficial updates may have occurred over the month. April 3rd, 15th, 18th and 22nd / 23rd being the dates that she reported.
Barry reported on the April 23rd update as something that affected web search and local search at the same time and unrelated to the Product Review Update.
Web Spam Report / Reminders on Protecting Sites from Hacking
Google published a report on its fight against Web Spam on April 29, but this is actually a retrospective of its work in 2020.
Google usually defines web spam as low-quality pages that are artificially boosted in search engine results. Although in this report, they include work they do against pages that try to mislead or fraud visitors.
Google says that it detects and blocks an outstanding 40 billion spammy pages every day. This is a 60% increase from 2019, due largely to their advances in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to fight spam by detecting auto generated and scraped content.
They also alert website owners to the fact that a lot of spam is published through hacked websites. In many cases, owners are not even aware that their sites have been hacked and are publishing spam. Creating an account with Google Search Console can help WordPress site owners get early warning when a site is hacked. Use our guide to set up Google Search Console using SEOPress. To help protect your WordPress site from hacking you can also set up two-step authentication in WordPress.
Google FLoC and WordPress
This is not strictly an SEO story, but you may have seen reports that WordPress has gone head-to-head with Google in April over the subject of FLoC.
FLoC – Federated Learning of Cohorts – is a new tracking technology that Google is currently testing to replace third-party cookies as a means of targeting web users with advertising. FLoC works through collecting visitor data via the web browser and rather than storing data on individual visits to websites, FLoC subscribes visitors to groups, called Cohorts, based on their interests. The name FLoC also used meant to be suggest users being grouped in flocks, as in A Flock of Seagulls. An idea expanded on by GS Jackson in this LinkedIn article.
The news about WordPress going against this technology actually stems from a discussion among WordPress developers on whether to block FLoC in the core WordPress code and thus blocking this tracking system on over 40% of websites. Carike, who posted the proposal, cites the Electronic Frontier Foundation and explains that “placing people in groups based on their browsing habits is likely to facilitate employment, housing and other types of discrimination, as well as predatory targeting of unsophisticated consumers.”
Apple’s Safari started blocking all third-party cookies in March of this year. Google says that Chrome will start blocking third-party cookies in 2022.