Google Research, 2019 main changes and trends

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We just stepped into the new year, but in these lazy days we can still dwell and fruitfully look back at the entire 2019 of both the SEO and Google research: not only to remember those rollercoaster moments that influenced our projects, but also (and mainly) to draw out useful indications for the future. Right after our 2019 list of Google updates on an algorithmic level, now it is the turn to expand our view on the whole ecosystem.

Search results and zero click trends on links

The main element to focus our attention on is probably the increase of zero click researches on Google, meaning all those queries directly solved on Google’s search results page and, hence, of users not clicking on the links placed within the SERP. As George Nguyen reminds us on Search Engine Land, during the entire 2019 this trends reached its historical peak, representing over 50% of Google searches.

The drop in organic clicks has been definitely caused by the changes on the user interface inside Google’s search results page: for instance, in the last two years rich answers are more than doubled among mobile queries, by removing the need for the user to click on a result, and is also increasing the typology of structured data supported by Google in order to generate rich results inside the Research.

Changes the interaction of users with SERPs

These developments and the predominance of rich results influenced the way people navagate through search features, giving birth to what has been called pinball pattern, a kind of interaction in which users bounce their sight and attention among elements in an irregular way.

We are probably still talking about a work-in-progress, but it is already leading to the creation of new strategies to intercept users: as Rand Fishkin suggests (very critical with Google, that he defines as “all sites competitor“), now is the time to invest on brand awareness and optimization rather than on organic clicks, by taking advantage of the visibility offered by Google (with rich results too) so to improve our own visibility and win user trust.

Quality raters, modifications to the guidelines also influencing the SEO

As we know, Google employs a small army of about 10k external contractors to evaluate Research results: even if they do not directly influence charts and ranking, quality raters provide feedbacks helping Google to improve its algorithms. Over the year, the guidelines these human beings have to follow have been updated a total of three times.

Back in May, guidelines have been updated with more explicit references to Google’s EAT paradigm and have provided indications on the evaluation of interstitial ads within pages and on the authority and expertise level of content creators.

In Semptember the highlight has been on the focus on content sources, especially for the news and Your Money Your Life themes, and have been added some references on hate and violence speech as elements that could determine low scores in the assessment.

With the last update in December, in the end, Google recommended quality raters to stay objective and unbiased while performing their job, without letting “personal opinions, preferences, religious beliefs or political views” influence them.

Interventions on Googlebot and news for crawling, indexing and ranking

There have also been a lot of technical interventions developed by the californian company’s team, that maybe in the 2019 more than ever worked to enhance the Research system as a whole.

First big news is the new indicizzazione system: from July 1st on every sites still unknown to Google has been integrated in the Index by using the mobile-first index, so the less new sites can be integrated whenever Google considers them ready.

In May was instead launched the evergreen Googlebot, the evergreen version of the crawler Google scans the Web with, now able to always be updated to the latest Chromium version: this means that, despite some limitations (especially with JavaScript), the bot can see a bigger part of the site’s contents, sparking less cases of scan problems.

Another important date was September 1st, Un’altra data importante è stata il 1 settembre, when the new quando sono entrate ufficialmente in vigore le nuove direttive sulle rules supported by Google on Robots Exclusion Protocol officially entered into force, especially deprecating the use of the noindex within robots.txt file.

The new nofollow and two new attributes for links

One of the biggest surprises came at the end of the summer: it was September 11th when the SEO community was shocked with the announcement of a change in Google’s behaviour toward the rel nofollow of a link for ranking matters, turned from mandatory direction not to follow into simple hint. For the occasion, two new link attributes have been launched as well, a.k.a UGC and sponsored, so to respectively signal the references generated by users and the ones integrated after a business agreement.

And talking about surprises, in 2019 we officially said bye bye for good to rel=prev/next as indexing factors, paging markup officially removed after that – as confessed by John Mueller – Google was not using it anymore for years.

The same Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst was also the key actor of another SEO hot topic of the year, by claiming that H1 titles are useless for ranking, that it doesn’t really matter how one uses them and that is also possible to integrate multiple H1 headings in the same page with no penalty whatsoever. Actually, beyond any Google or Googlers’ evaluation, the quality of on page contents passes through headings too, that are a useful element in order to provide a better user experience and a clearer reading to people.

Other trends in the SEO world

Extremely relevant is the visual search area as well, meaning the images search, slowly becoming a key element of Big G’s strategy, that during 2019 added new features to Google Lens, such as live translations, the chance of scanning and researching the site’s menu objects and “style ideas” which take advantage of the recognition ability of images for the e-Commerce (also integrating themselves with the new Google Shopping).

Numerous works on Google Images too, that stays the second most widely used search engine in the world, and that saw several interventions made even on its design and usability this year.

Local research and algorithmic updates

Another side full of activities for Mountain View was the one dedicated to the local research; first of all, Google My Business evolution went on, adding new tools dedicated to the owners of business activities, such as collective reviews, a new screening and searchable shortnames program.

In November, though, a strong volatility on Google’s local SERPs has been noticed, and the company later confirmed the launch of an algorithmic engine update for this kind of queries, called Nov. 2019 Local Search Update. Edits have been mainly tied to relevance, with a correlation to the neural matching that should help to understand whenever a query contains local search intents.

Google’s expansion

2019 was also the year Google has kept on expanding its attentions on other field: on travels, for instance, the US juggernaut started the research for hotels and rented houses directly on SERP, with an integration to the search system and Maps. A tool further enhanced in the following months with Trips, a single web interface with which it is possible to perform the research of flights and hotels, destinations and a bookings timeline.

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