Search Marketing Update: Webmaster Tools Changes, App Indexing, and More

It’s been a while since our last search marketing update. If you missed our post a few months back, we discussed Google’s algorithm change to Hummingbird, their update to Penguin, and other small modifications to search engine results pages (SERPs).

Since then, we’ve seen a few subtle changes to how Google is addressing site-specific issues in their search marketing tools (Webmaster Tools), along with some changes to SERPs. Follow along as we cover each of the changes in the sections below.

Changes to SERPs

Shortly after our update in late October, Google began testing displaying site name in exchange for the URL in snippets of SERPs. They’ve since tested a nicer approach that shows both site name and URL in snippets.

Here’s a screenshot of the test:

Photo credit: Search Engine Land

Google is also testing ads on the knowledge graph. If you’re unfamiliar with the knowledge graph, it’s Google’s knowledge base to enhance search engine results with semantic-search information gathered from a wide variety of sources, like Wikipedia.  Google’s voice search is closely aligned with the knowledge graph.

Here’s an example of an ad on the knowledge graph:

changes to serps
Photo credit: Search Engine Land

According to several sources, they seem to be pulling local ads directly into the knowledge graph. The ad clearly shows how Google is trying to monetize the knowledge graph as soon as possible. I wouldn’t be surprised if other car dealers or retailers are stressing with this change.

Updates to Webmaster Tools

Google has a new manual action penalty within their guidelines that is being described as an image mismatch. Google says an image mismatch violation is when some of your site’s images are being displayed differently on SERPs than they are when viewed on your site. Though many might consider this as a form of cloaking, Google actually doesn’t call it cloaking in the guidelines.

Here is a screenshot taken from Webmaster Tools with the issue:

webmaster tools1
Photo credit: Search Engine Land

If you see this in Webmaster Tools for your site, we suggest the following recommendations:

  • Make sure that your site is displaying the exact same images to users as it does to Googlebot. Do not participate in “anti-hotlinking” tools.
  • Once you’re sure that your site is displaying the exact same images as those seen by Googlebot, request reconsideration of your site.

On December 4th, it was announced that Google Webmaster Tools will now display crawl errors specific to smartphones.  This is extremely valuable considering a recent report by BIA/Kelsey that expects 2015 mobile local search volume to surpass desktop local search for the first time. In 2016, they expect mobile to exceed desktop by 27.8 billion queries.

Here is some of what’s reported in this crawl error report:

  • Server errors: A server error is when Googlebot got an HTTP error status code when it crawled a page.
  • Not found and soft 404s: A page can show a “not found” message to Googlebot by returning an HTTP 404 status code or when the page is detected as a soft error page.
  • Faulty redirects: A faulty redirect is a smartphone-specific error that occurs when a desktop page redirects smartphone users to a page that is not relevant to their query. A common example is when all pages on the desktop site redirect smartphone users to the homepage of the smartphone-optimized site.
  • Blocked URLs: A blocked URL is when the site’s robots.txt file explicitly disallows crawling by Googlebot for smartphones. Typically, such smartphone-specific robots.txt disallow directives are erroneous. If you see this error, you should check your server configuration.

App Indexing and Linking

Companies with helpful mobile apps for their consumers will now benefit from Google’s new app indexing initiative. App indexing allows webmasters to connect pages from your website with specific content within your Android app. This lets consumers using Android to open apps directly from relevant mobile search results.

Take a look:

Photo credit: Search Engine Land

For example, a company or restaurant with a mobile app can create a page specific to recipes, then benefit from more engagement in SERPs. If you want to get this working immediately, start by:

  1. Annotating app links for each page on your website (or through a sitemap) that can be opened in your app to specify how the page’s content can be opened in the app.
  2. Adding intent filters for deep linking in your app manifest to specify how to reach specific content inside your app.
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