#TWIMshow - This Week in Marketing

Episode 206 contains the Digital Marketing News and Updates from the week of Apr 1-5, 2024.

1. Recovering from Google's March 2024 Core Update - In the aftermath of Google's March 2024 core update, many website owners, particularly small businesses, have felt the impact of significant traffic fluctuations. Google's John Mueller provided some clarity and advice on how to address these changes, especially for those who've experienced a downturn in website performance.

The March 2024 update, one of Google's regular adjustments to its core algorithm, has been especially notable for its complexity and the breadth of its impact. Core updates are comprehensive, affecting various parts of the search algorithm, including how sites are ranked and indexed based on content quality, user experience, and many other factors.

One key piece of advice that emerged from Mueller's discussion is not to rush into making changes while an update is still rolling out. This is because the full effects and intentions of the update might not be immediately clear, and premature adjustments could inadvertently harm your site's performance further. Mueller emphasized, however, that if there are clear areas for improvement on your site, especially those unrelated to the core update's specific focus, it's always a good time to address them.

For businesses that have noticed a decline in rankings or traffic, Mueller's guidance focuses on long-term website health and user satisfaction. He suggests that optimizing your website for users—rather than search engines—is a critical strategy for recovery and future resilience. This approach, often termed "User Experience SEO," prioritizes how content and site design affect the user's interaction and satisfaction.

A specific area highlighted for attention was the use of paid links or aggressive link-building strategies, which can negatively impact your site's ranking. If your site has been engaged in these practices, addressing them can be a step towards recovery.

Mueller also advises diversifying your traffic sources to reduce dependency on search engine rankings. Focusing on building value for users can help attract direct visits and recommendations, aligning with Google's ultimate goal of rewarding sites that best serve their audience's needs.

In summary, the March 2024 core update underscores the importance of maintaining a high-quality, user-focused website. Small business owners looking to recover from or thrive despite these updates should focus on:
  • Patiently assessing the full impact of the update before making significant changes.
  • Continuously improving site quality and user experience.
  • Addressing specific known issues, such as paid links, that could harm your site's reputation with Google.
  • Building a more robust online presence that isn't solely reliant on search engine traffic.

2. Google's Approach to Canonical Pages - Google's Gary Illyes shed light on the intricate process of how Google selects canonical webpages. Essentially, publishers and SEOs traditionally view canonicalization as a method to earmark the 'original' or the most 'authoritative' version of a webpage for ranking purposes. However, Google's approach to canonicalization diverges significantly, focusing instead on deduplication - a method to identify and consolidate duplicate pages.

Illyes clarifies that Google's primary aim in identifying a canonical page is to choose a version that best represents a set of duplicate pages based on collected signals. This involves a meticulous process where Google first determines if a page is a duplicate and then selects the most suitable version for indexing. This selection is critical as, typically, only canonical pages are displayed in search results.

Google uses a variety of signals to make this decision, ranging from straightforward indicators like site owner annotations (e.g., rel=canonical tags) to more complex ones such as the page's overall significance on the internet. The importance of this process cannot be understated, as it directly impacts how content is presented in search results, especially for pages with multiple variants (e.g., product pages with different sizes or colors). Illyes's discussion also touches on the concept of duplicate clustering, where Google groups similar content together, and the notion of "centerpiece" content, which refers to the main content of a page that helps in the deduplication process.

3. The Role of Content Quality in Google's Indexing Process - Google's Gary Illyes revealed key insights into how Google's indexing process evaluates the quality of webpages. llyes's discussion, aimed at demystifying the indexing stage, highlights the significant role content quality plays in determining a webpage's crawl frequency and its ranking in search results.

The indexing process involves a comprehensive analysis of a page's textual content, including tags, attributes, images, and videos. During this stage, Google assesses various signals to gauge the page's quality. A critical takeaway for small business owners is the concept of 'index selection'. This step decides whether a page makes it into Google's index, a decision heavily influenced by the page's quality and the signals collected during the initial assessment.

Illyes emphasizes that even if a webpage is technically sound, it might not be indexed if it doesn't meet Google's quality threshold. This underscores the importance of creating high-quality content that is not only relevant and informative but also engages the target audience effectively. Google has expressed an intention to conserve crawling resources by focusing on pages that warrant crawling, further stressing the need for content to meet high-quality standards.

In addition to quality assessment, Illyes also delved into Google's approach to duplicate content, explaining the process of 'duplicate clustering'. This involves grouping similar pages and selecting a single canonical version to represent the content in search results. The selection is based on the quality signals associated with each duplicate page, highlighting the importance of ensuring each piece of content is optimized to stand out.

Ensuring your content meets Google's quality standards can significantly enhance your website's visibility in search results. Here are actionable steps to align your content with these standards:
  • Content Creation: Focus on developing content that thoroughly addresses your audience's needs and pain points. Tailor your content to reflect current search trends and demands.
  • Content Structure: Make your content user-friendly. Structure it in an easily navigable format, and consider implementing schema markup to aid Google in understanding the context of your content.
  • Content Refresh: Regularly update and refresh your content to keep it relevant and valuable, thereby improving your chances of being indexed and increasing your crawl frequency.

4. Navigating Google's INP - Google has launched a tutorial aimed at helping website owners identify and rectify issues related to Interaction to Next Paint (INP), which has recently taken over from First Input Delay (FID) as a Core Web Vital. This shift signifies a new approach in assessing user experience on websites, placing a renewed emphasis on the speed and responsiveness of interactive elements.

The tutorial provides a step-by-step guide on using Chrome DevTools to diagnose and improve your website's INP score, a critical factor for SEO and user satisfaction. The goal is to achieve performance within the 'good' threshold, representing the top 75th percentile of page loads, by addressing issues like long-running JavaScript tasks, excessive main thread activity, and overly complex Document Object Model (DOM) structures.

Here's a simplified breakdown of the process:
  • Using Chrome DevTools: Start by accessing the Chrome DevTools panel on your browser. This is crucial for the analysis and can be done by right-clicking on the page and selecting "Inspect," or using a keyboard shortcut.
  • Simulate a Mobile Device: Within DevTools, activate mobile display emulation and set the network to a mid-tier mobile speed. This helps simulate the user experience on a slower, mobile connection.
  • Record User Interactions: Navigate to the Performance tab, start recording, and then interact with the website as a user would. After completing the interactions, stop the recording to analyze the performance.
  • Analyze Performance: Look at the performance graph, focusing on the interactions track, which shows the delay between a user's click and the response on the screen. This will help identify the long tasks that slow down interactions.
  • Identify and Fix Problematic Code: The summary pane will guide you to the specific code causing slow interactions, where you can start making optimizations.
For small business owners, understanding and optimizing INP is more than a technical exercise; it's a vital step towards providing a superior user experience and improving your website's visibility in search results. Google's new tutorial highlights the importance of staying updated with the latest web performance standards and provides a practical roadmap for enhancing site responsiveness.

To ensure your website meets Google's expectations and provides an optimal experience for your users, engage with the tutorial, and apply its recommendations. By focusing on improving your website's INP score, you can contribute to a smoother, more enjoyable experience for your visitors, potentially leading to better engagement, conversions, and SEO rankings.

5. Debunking the Myth: Shared IP Addresses and SEO - In the digital age where online presence is crucial for businesses, small business owners often grapple with decisions about web hosting and its impact on Search Engine Optimization (SEO). John Mueller of Google once again addressed a common concern regarding shared IP addresses and their effect on a website's SEO performance. He emphasized that sharing IP addresses, hosting on shared servers, or using a Content Delivery Network (CDN) is standard practice and perfectly acceptable for SEO.

The apprehension that sharing an IP with other websites, particularly spammy ones, could detrimentally affect a site's SEO is unfounded. Mueller highlighted that the internet's structure necessitates IP sharing due to the limited number of available IP addresses. He clarified that, except in extremely rare instances where Google has taken action against entire hosts, sharing an IP address with other sites, even those considered spammy, has no adverse impact on a website's SEO reputation.

This reassurance comes against the backdrop of longstanding myths about shared hosting environments. Concerns that were perhaps valid in the early 2000s have persisted despite significant advancements in how search engines understand and evaluate websites. Mueller's clarification serves as a reminder that the technicalities of hosting are well understood by search engines and have evolved to accommodate the realities of the internet's infrastructure.

Moreover, Mueller pointed out the operational nature of CDNs, which frequently alter IP addresses based on time and location to optimize content delivery. This dynamism, inherent in how CDNs and shared hosting work, is well accounted for by search engines in their indexing and ranking processes.

For small business owners, this insight is liberating. It dispels the notion that expensive dedicated hosting is a prerequisite for good SEO. Instead, the focus should remain on the quality of the content, user experience, and other SEO best practices that directly contribute to a website's visibility and ranking.

6. YouTube's New Analytics Feature: New and Returning Viewers - YouTube has rolled out an insightful update to Studio Analytics, introducing a new feature that segments viewer impressions into two categories: new and returning viewers. This innovative addition aims to provide creators with a deeper understanding of their audience's composition, enabling them to tailor their content strategies more effectively to cater to both segments.

Understanding your audience is pivotal in crafting content that resonates. With YouTube's latest analytics update, creators now have the ability to see not just how many people are watching their videos, but whether these viewers are first-timers or loyal fans returning for more. This distinction is crucial for several reasons. For starters, it can help creators gauge the reach of their content and its appeal to a broader audience. More importantly, it offers actionable insights on how to balance content to attract new viewers while keeping the existing audience engaged.

Here's how it works: If a significant portion of your impressions comes from new viewers, it may indicate that your content is discoverable and appealing to a wider audience, suggesting potential for growth. On the flip side, a large number of returning viewers suggests strong viewer loyalty, encouraging creators to continue delivering content that keeps their audience coming back.

The feature is available in the YouTube Studio Analytics in advanced mode, offering creators a powerful tool to adapt their content strategy dynamically. Whether you're aiming to expand your audience or build a more engaged community, understanding the nuances of your viewers' interactions with your content is key.

7. Google's Ad Strength Metric - On April 5, 2024, Nicola Agius provided valuable insights into the heated debate surrounding Google Ads' Ad Strength metric, a tool designed to help marketers create more effective ads. Despite Google's emphasis on its importance, the metric has faced criticism, with some advertisers labeling it as inconsequential and asserting that campaigns with lower Ad Strength scores often outperform those rated excellent.

The crux of the debate lies in the diagnostic nature of Ad Strength. Some experienced marketers, like Mateja Matic (Founder of Dominate Marketing), argue that manual campaign setups often yield better results than Google's automated recommendations, leading to skepticism about the metric's relevance. Matic's viewpoint underscores a broader skepticism about Google's suggestions, suggesting that Ad Strength might not be the most crucial factor in campaign success.

However, Google's Brendon Kraham, Vice President of Search & Commerce, defended the significance of Ad Strength, positioning it as central to the company's advertising strategy. According to Kraham, Ad Strength serves as a crucial evaluative tool, especially in Performance Max (PMax) campaigns, where it assesses the breadth and depth of assets within a campaign before assigning a rating. Google advocates for PMax's asset generative capabilities, which have shown to significantly enhance Ad Strength scores and, by extension, campaign effectiveness.

Kraham's argument highlights a future of advertising increasingly driven by AI, with PMax exemplifying this trend. He suggests that PMax's ability to deliver a wide range of assets enables businesses to more effectively meet consumers' evolving preferences, thus reinforcing the importance of Ad Strength in modern digital advertising strategies.

Despite the ongoing debate, the core takeaway for small business owners is the necessity of balancing Ad Strength with other performance metrics. While Ad Strength can guide improvements in ad campaigns, particularly in diversifying and optimizing ad assets, it's crucial not to view it in isolation. Instead, advertisers should leverage their expertise and understanding of their audience to inform their strategies, even as they consider Google's recommendations.

What is #TWIMshow - This Week in Marketing?

This Week in Marketing is a weekly roundup of all the notable latest developments that you need to know to stay on top of your Digital Marketing game.