Google released an official update in March 2022, but there were once again reports of volatility in search results outside of official release dates. Google denied that any other major update occurred during the month and reminded us that their algorithms change every day. Outside of Google Search, Google also announced the end of Universal Analytics. Although this will not impact your ranking in Google, it is important news to act upon if you are not yet using Google Analytics 4 (GA4).
March 23rd – Product Reviews Update
On March 23rd, Google released news of a new algorithm update via a tweet on the Google Search Central twitter account. The boringly named “March 2022 Product Reviews Update” is the third in a series of updates concerning product reviews. The two previous updates were launched in April 2021 and December 2021.
Information in the tweet indicated that the update was for English-language pages only and was expected to take a few weeks to complete. It also linked to the article Improving Product Review ranking, one year on written by Perry Liu and Alan Kent published on the Google Search Central blog that gives further information on the new update and how Google handles reviews featuring more than one product.
The article also repeats information that the Product Reviews updates have only concerned English-language pages so far, but that other languages will be implemented soon. Their recommendation is to apply best practices whatever language you write product reviews in.
Replying to questions on Twitter, Google Search advocate Alan Kent informed us that this update would not be applied to product pages on ecommerce sites but could apply to a product review (including product comparisons) published on an ecommerce site. He also confirmed that ranking changes experienced just before March 23rd had nothing to do with the March 2022 Product Reviews Update.
Unconfirmed update March 18th
Various sources, including Barry Schwartz again, reported volatility in Google search results from March 18th and Barry suspected that a big update was underway by March 20th. Considering that changes were big enough to warrant contacting Google’s public Search Liaison Danny Sullivan over Twitter for confirmation that something was happening. Danny replied to Barry that he had checked and that there was no broad, major update ongoing although he reminded Barry that there were changes to the algorithm every day.
A few days later, on March 23rd, Danny published an article Our Search Liaison on 25 years of keeping up with searchon The Keyword blog in which he stated that in 2021, “We conducted more than 800,000 experiments and ongoing quality tests to make sure the results we deliver — and changes we launch — actually make Search more useful for people. And we feel pretty confident this process is working. Over the last seven years, our internal metrics based on quality rater data show we’ve decreased the number of irrelevant results by over 50%.”
Unconfirmed Local Search Update
Also on March 23rd, local SEO expert Joy Hawkins signaled that she was seeing a Rollback of the Vicinity Updatereleased in December 2021 – specifically to a filter penalizing keyword-rich business names. There was no confirmation of this update from Google, but she described it as an improvement.
Google does not use Meta Keywords tag
On March 15th, Google released a new #AskGooglebot YouTube video featuring John Mueller to answer an old question, “Whether the keywords meta tag matters for Google SEO?” In the short video, the short answer, which is “No”, is repeated a number of times including in the statement, “We do not use the contents of the keyword meta tag in Google search.” This information was confirmed by Google as far as back as 2009, but it appears that some website owners are still asking for confirmation from Google thirteen years later.
Some users of SEO plugins are also confused into thinking that target keywords are used to generate a keywords tag. We wrote an article, Meta Keywords, Focus Keywords, Target Keywords, Focus Keyphrase Demystification, in 2019 to try and defuse this misinformation.
Universal Google Analytics to be discontinued in favor of GA4
On March 16th Google released the news that the most used version of Google Analytics, Universal Analytics, will be discontinued in 2023. The software will stop recording visits to sites on July 1, 2023. Data available up until this date will remain accessible for at least 6 months, but at some point shortly after January 1, 2024 it will become inaccessible.
Unlike previous version changes to Google Analytics tags and software, data from Universal Analytics will not migrate to Google Analytics 4. In the Analytics Help page Universal Analytics will be going away, Google strongly encourages users to set up Google Analytics 4 as soon as possible in order to start building historical data. Comparing a month’s data with the same month the previous year is a popular use of Google Analytics. But you will not be able to compare Universal Analytics data with Google Analytics 4 data from within Google Analytics 4.
Google provides a guide to enable website owners work out which version of Google Analytics they are currently using. This is based on the property ID.
- Universal Analytics property IDs start with UA and end with a number (UA-XXXXXXXXX-1).
- Google Analytics 4 property IDs have only numbers (XXXXXXXXX).
If you currently use Universal Analytics and want to keep using it as long as possible, the best practice is to create a GA4 property before July 1st of this year and install it alongside Universal Analytics. This way, you can keep using the more familiar Universal Analytics, but also start collecting data for when you, inevitably, need to make the step over to the newer software.
Using SEOPress Free, you can install both Universal and GA4 codes on your WordPress site using the General tab of the Analytics screen.
Note that you can also install Matomo – a Google Analytics alternative – using SEOPress. Installation is available via the Matomo tag in the Analytics screen. This software may interest users in the European Union where Google is having some problems making Google Analytics compliant with GDPR laws protecting personal data. You can feasibly install codes for Universal Analytics, GA4 and Matomo if you want to keep your options open on which web analytics software you will be using for the next few years.