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WTF happened with Google this month?
Google caused confusion – and frustration – with the unveiling of changes to page experience. Plus, we unpack Google's recent reviews system update
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Hello, and welcome back. Jessie here, back again from the rainiest weekend in Toronto in recent memory. Perfect for staying inside, reading a thriller and listening to a mix of the new The National record and a Hayden throwback.
This week: We’re diving into the recent Google news and updates. The search engine caused confusion – and frustration – with the unveiling of changes to page experience. We unpack what’s new and what was just perplexing. Also this week, a look at the recent Google reviews system update, which notably did away with “product” in the title.
Let’s get it.
What we’re reading: Google updates
Page experience: A signal or a system?
The news: On April 19, Google announced they removed four ranking systems from its documentation: the page experience, mobile-friendly, page speed and secure sites systems. As well, the Page Experience report in GSC will soon “transform” (Google’s terminology) into a page with best practices in the coming months.
Here’s what Google said: “[W]e've added a section on page experience to our guidance on creating helpful content and revised our help page about page experience. We think this all will help site owners consider page experience more holistically as part of the content creation process.”
Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller said page experience signals are now considered by Google as more of a "concept" vs a ranking signal. “This is not a change in how ranking works, it's more about how we've been thinking about these elements,” Mueller specified on Twitter.
Google’s Search Liaison Danny Sullivan then clarified that those four ranking systems (including page experience) were never really systems, but instead ranking signals.
Sullivan wrote on Twitter that the update “does *not* say page experience is somehow ‘retired’ or that people should ignore things like Core Web Vitals or being mobile-friendly. The opposite. It says if you want to be successful with the core ranking systems of Google Search, consider these and other aspects of page experience.”
Systems and signals are different, Sullivan noted, with a system generally making use of signals. He went on to clarify that removing a signal from the documentation should not be understood to mean they’re unimportant.
Sullivan then highlighted the factors that Google does care about a lot.
“Those seeking to provide a good page experience should take a holistic approach, including following some of our self-assessment questions covered on our Understanding page experience in Google Search results page,” says Google, in the blog post released last week.
“Google’s core ranking systems look to reward content that provides a good page experience,” the blog says. That includes establishing best practices like having strong Core Web Vitals, having a speedy, secure site, focusing on E.E.A.T and writing for readers. Basically: be good, not spammy.
Also noted: Page experience isn’t a requirement for Top Stories. If Google News best practices are met and policies followed, the content may be considered.
TL;DR: Google considers page experience a signal, not a system. Take a “holistic approach” to providing a great experience for readers and create content that’s useful and people-first. And if you want ChatGPT to explain it, well, Lily Ray already did it for you.
April 2023 reviews system update
What it is: Google’s April 2023 update to the product reviews system nixes “product” from the title, indicating an expansion of content types that fall within its purview. The stated objective of the system is to reward quality reviews that provide “insightful analysis and original research” by writers with expertise in the topic.
What Google says: “Reviews can be about a single thing, or head-to-head comparisons, or ranked-lists of recommendations. Reviews can be about any topic. There can be reviews of products such as laptops or winter jackets, pieces of media such as movies or video games, or services and businesses such as restaurants or fashion brands.”
The system, Google notes, is meant to evaluate standalone content (articles, blog posts or similar pages) that aim to provide a recommendation, opinion or analysis. It’s primarily evaluated on the page level. Not included are third-party reviews (user-generated content in a comment or crowd-sourced review platforms).
Why it matters: Lily Ray wrote in a blog post for Amsive Digital that this is the seventh update to the system in three years – an indication it’s proving difficult for the search engine to algorithmically promote real, high-quality content over thin, less useful summaries of products and services.
The updates, Ray notes, all underline the importance of having real people really review something – and showing how the reviewer actually performed their tests. This is the extra E (for experience) recently added to E.E.A.T.
There’s a clear emphasis from Google on demonstrating your authority and expertise, and earning the right to rank in search results. Google’s documentation includes a huge list of things to consider when reviewing products, services, destinations, games, movies or other topics.
What else to read: Healthline does a great job signalling E.E.A.T for reviews.
More Google news
Google is working on a search engine to incorporate more AI while also developing Project Magi.
The search engine pushed a fix to resolve some inappropriate or unexpected site names displayed in search results.
Google is becoming more aggressive with rewriting title tags.
The bottom line: Google and the search ecosystem can feel quite volatile. But, if you focus on what you can control (i.e., not Google’s algorithm), and on the reader (creating human-centered content that provides useful information or solves real-world problems), you’re doing your job.
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