World news has been dominated by COVID-19 in first quarter of 2020 and while the pandemic has also affected work at search engines, important updates have happened in Google over the past 3 months that bloggers need to be aware of.
Before diving into the latest news, can we just take this opportunity to wish that all SEOPress users across the World are in good health and safe with their families during these worrying times. At SEOPress we are working full-time from home and continue to develop the plugin and provide full customer support to PRO users.
COVID-19 features and advice from Google
In March, Google added special COVID-19 alert features for searches containing certain keywords to make sure that users were seeing official advice in each country. A dedicated website has also been created.
Following restrictions to public events, Google added new properties to Events schema to allow webmasters to indicate virtual, postponed, and canceled events. These properties were added to SEOPress version 3.8.4 on March 20th.
The Google My Business team gave advice to businesses affected by COVID-19 and Google Webmasters gave advice on how to pause a business online without impacting search results. One important take-away from this is that Google do not recommend disabling the whole website.
Favicons come and go
January 17th Google changed the presentation of search results on desktop computers to integrate favicons as they are used on mobile results. But rolled back this change a few days later – possibly after negative user feedback about the general layout of results. Favicons are used on mobile still and are likely to return on desktops. For more information on how to set a favicon for Google see this help page.
January 13th Google announced it had launched a core update to its search results algorithm. Giving very little detail and a link to the usual advice dating from last year.
February 7th to February 9th saw a lot of reports of major changes to SERPs and loss of traffic for some websites, but with no confirmation from Google. These changes seemed to have been rolled back on February 12th.
February 14th Stephanie Newton reported changes to local search results in Google (3-pack results and Google Map results) as shown in Brightlocal’s Local RankFlux tool.
Other reports indicate that Google carried out major updates on March 3rd and again March 25th. Again, without confirmation from Google themselves.
Featured snippets change
Featured snippets have previously been referred to as “Position zero” results as they arrived before the traditional 10 organic search results in a page. The page in the featured snippet was also included in the 10 results although it was not necessarily the first organic result.
From January 22th, this changed Worldwide. The page positioned as a featured snippet is no longer repeated in the following organic results.
Features snippets are no longer a position zero, but position one – in reality, a new way to rank 1st in Google. Some SEOs are not pleased with this change as they believe that some users considered this position to be sponsored and ignore it. Google gives advice on opting out of featured snippets here, but be aware that setting the NOSNIPPET tag blocks all snippets, featured and normal. You need to experiment with the MAX-SNIPPET tag to try and loose a featured snippet position.
Mobile First indexing
Google has been moving over to mobile indexing for a few years. 70 % of the index is from the mobile version of websites and all new sites are being indexed in their mobile version. March 5th, Google announced that the whole index would be based on mobile versions of pages from September 2020.
Nofollow, no more
On March 1st, Google changed the way it handled the NOFOLLOW directive in links. See our dedicated article about how this change affects WordPress sites.
SEO for beginners
Launched at the end of 2019, Google continues publishing videos explaining SEO for beginners. Non-beginners are also analyzing content in the hope of gleaning new information about how Google works. Interestingly in episode 10 about snippets, Google suggests that META DESCRIPTIONs for blog posts could include author name and publication dates. If you want to implement this in SEOPress you can set the automatic META DESCRIPTION template to something like this:
%%post_author%% %%post_excerpt%% Last modified %%post_modified_date%%