2018’s Google Updates and What We Believe Comes Next

2018 has been a year of significant change, both in the online and offline world.

While legislation such as the GDPR and Article 11 and 13 of the “Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market” kicked EU marketeers back into gear (in terms of data and copyright protection), Google confirmed three core algorithm updates on top of several smaller updates, warnings, tests and roll-outs.

Understanding the Developments in Digital Marketing

In times of significant change like these, it is important to take a proactive stance in trying to predict developments in digital marketing. Rather than running behind the facts, we need to understand the intentions behind them and determine what might be coming next.

Here, we’ll have a look at this year’s Google algorithm updates so far, tie them in to recent laws and legislation, and extract our core projections from them. This will help us formulate a list of dos and don’ts for the upcoming year.

2018’s Google Algorithm Updates (So Far)

In 2018, Google confirmed having made the following changes to their search algorithm:

8 March – “Brackets” Core Update

In March 2018, Google confirmed a core algorithm update which wasn’t further specified. Lots of sites saw their rankings fluctuate, but Google didn’t provide any more reasoning behind this update.

14 March – Zero-Result SERP Test

On 14 March 2018, Google started running a week-long test where they removed all organic results from certain date, time and unit conversion queries. All that showed was a Google Knowledge Graph and a ‘Show All Results’ button. Even though the test only lasted a week, it made total sense to us, especially in relation to voice search, which only requires brief, accurate answers.

26 March – Mobile-First Index Roll-out

Towards the end of March, the long-awaited Mobile-First Index finally came into action, with Google suggesting they would be gradually migrating sites that follow the best practices. Site owners will be notified of the migration to the mobile-first indexing process through notifications in their Google Search Console.

17 April – Unnamed Core Update

Google ran another unnamed core update in April, which caused a spike of volatility in rankings. The Google Search Liaison confirmed via Twitter that these core algorithm updates happen routinely throughout the year, and that the general advice remains to stay focused on building great content.

13 May – Snippet Length Drop

Just as we all got used to higher character limits (up to 300) for Meta Descriptions, Google rolled back most snippets to their original character limit of 150 – 160. We expect that this is due to longer snippets taking up too much space on mobile SERPs.

14 June – Video Carousel Introduction

On 14 June 2018, Google shook up SERPs with video results by moving all video content from the organic results to a dedicated video carousel. In practice, this means our search results became more visual and less text-heavy due to the removal of text snippets.

9 July – Mobile Speed Update

Around three and a half months after the Mobile First Index roll-out, Google launched their Mobile Speed Update in order to reduce bounce rates and improve user experience on mobile devices. The update was said to affect only the slowest mobile sites and both significant and incremental site speed improvements would be rewarded.

24 July – Chrome Security Warnings for Full Site

In an attempt to improve overall web security for their users, the latest version of Google Chrome started marking all non-HTTPS sites as ‘not secure’. Before this update, warnings would only show up for unsecured forms.

1 August – “Medic” Core Update

August’s Google core update was dubbed the “Medic” update, as it especially affected websites in the health and wellness sectors. Of all three core updates of 2018, this one caused the heaviest ranking flux across all verticals. Although the Digital Marketing community is mostly speculating about the reasons for the fluctuations, we suspect that an increase in importance of E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trust) signals such as quality backlinks, expert authors, links to expert bios, reviews and resource lists is a major factor.

Mobile-First

Updates in Rules and Regulations

Alongside these Google Updates, two major laws and regulations rolled out across the EU:

25 May – The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation)

Within the European Union, not a single company or employee was able to escape the impact of the General Data Protection Regulation. Upping the data protection requirements for companies whilst increasing the rights of individuals to access and control the personal data that enterprises hold of them, both data processors and data controllers now have to meet the higher standards set by the European Commission.

12 September – Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market

The latest legislative vote that hit Digital Marketeers in the face consisted of the recent updates to European Copyright Law. Articles 11 and 13, which have now passed the European Parliament, are the main causes of concern. Whereas Article 11 prescribes a “link tax” – a remuneration to artists and journalists whose work is quoted or previewed by tech giants such as Facebook, YouTube, Reddit and Google News – Article 13 tightens the requirements for content sharing sites to filter out content that is copyright protected.

Although the new law won’t take effect until the individual European countries vote on it and the European Parliament has their final say, there is a chance that Article 11 and 13 will change our SERPs and backlink practices considerably.

What We Can See is Happening

When we tie in this year’s Google algorithm updates with developments in EU legislation that affect the state of the digital landscape, we can identify a trend towards:

  • Increased online security and privacy protection
  • More measures against copyright infringement (so more rights for content creators)
  • A focus on user experience, especially on mobile
  • Voice-search-facilitating features
  • An emphasis on expertise, authoritativeness and trust

Voice Search

What Does This Mean for Digital Marketeers?

As Digital Marketing professionals, I believe this means we will need to anticipate these developments in the following manner:

Do:

  • Improve our user experience on mobile. Google’s emphasis on site speed and the roll-out of the Mobile First Index point towards speedy sites with simple and responsive designs, which encourage users to increase their time on site with rich, engaging content
  • Make sure our websites and data processing services use the highest levels of encryption. This is to ensure that our customers’ and subscribers’ data doesn’t get leaked in harmful and expensive data breaches that will also get us fined, and our websites won’t get marked as insecure by Chrome
  • Stay on top of our Privacy Policy and Cookies Policy. Investing in our Privacy Policies once might not be enough. If we start using your web visitors’, customers’ and subscribers’ personal data in different ways at any point, we’ll need to inform them that our Privacy Policy has changed
  • Invest in news stories and rich content. As Google’s search results are becoming more visual in terms of video and image previews, and we may be able to make money from backlinks pointing to our content soon, we’ll want to start investing in creating newsworthy stories and rich content sooner rather than later

Bonus tip: use a video sitemap to inform search engines about video meta data

  • Capitalise on in-house experts. When we connect the impact of the “Medic” core update with recent updates about Google wanting to fight fake news, it makes sense to predict that trust indicators are becoming increasingly important. We will want to identify our in-house experts, profile them, and publish their research and stories
  • Get our own subscribers. Although the future and implications of the “link tax” law are unclear as of yet, generating links from search engines and Social Media may become harder in the future. This is why we should capture our audience now so we can stay in touch with them via our own, secure channels such as apps or email
  • Optimise for Featured Snippets. With Google’s voice search being on the rise and mobile use increasing, we want our snippets of content to appear in the Featured Snippets. We’ll need to find out what questions our audience is asking and provide the most helpful, clear and concise answers

Don’t Waste Your Time On:

  • One-answer queries. Chances are we will stop ranking completely for factual queries such as ‘who is Barack Obama’s wife’, ‘what is the time in Vietnam’ and ‘weather in London’. Google will monopolise the answers to these queries in their knowledge graphs, which will be read out loud in response to voice queries on Google Assistant and Google Home
  • Desktop-centric web design. With Google’s Mobile-First Index rolling out across all websites, designing our copy, content and web design with desktop in mind is a thing of the past. Simplifying our online presence to fit mobile devices is more future-proof than creating a desktop-friendly presence, then fitting it to a mobile screen. Make sure to verify structured data on your mobile site as well as on the desktop version
  • Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). Even though, as Digital Marketing professionals, our intention is to live by Google’s guidelines, these guidelines don’t always represent the most suitable solution to the challenges we face. In our experience, Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) aren’t always worth spending time and resources on – there are often more effective ways of improving site speed
  • Meta descriptions. Google’s guidelines on the character limit for meta descriptions are constantly changing, but in practice, we can see that the search engine will typically serve the right kind of description for your web pages anyway. The only instance in which we would definitely recommend writing optimised Meta Data is for visual or interactive content, as it may be harder for Google to extract text snippets from this
  • Disavow links. Yes, trust factors are important when it comes to improving your rankings, visibility and traffic, but at Koozai we’ve seen more positive results from generating fresh, quality links than from disavowing old links that may be less trustworthy. Unless you observe an obvious attempt to sabotage your site via negative SEO, we won’t recommend spending a fortune on disavowing links.

What Do You Believe Comes Next in Digital?

Are our views aligned when it comes to the future of search and digital? Is there anything you believe I’m missing when it comes to the recent updates and developments? Leave a comment below and share your insights.

Lola Michels

About Lola Michels

Lola Michels is a Content Strategist at Koozai. She spends her days creating comprehensive content strategies that help her clients meet their digital marketing goals, including SEO and Digital PR objectives.