2018 saw Google updates and a focus on mobile
So, 2018 was an exciting year in SEO, with a number of large Google search algorithm updates, big changes within Google’s management team, mobile first indexing and all the changes with Google Search Console. In addition, Google local, Google My Business and maps related changes were very active this year.
The reliance on structured data within Google search and the pullback on personalization features, shows signs of where Google is headed with rankings. Let’s not forget the huge shifts in voice search with Google Assistant and other devices, including big Google user interface changes this year. And Bing wasn’t quiet at all this year in search. Here is our recap:
Google search ranking and algorithm updates
Google has made numerous search ranking algorithm updates this year, some were big, some were small, some were confirmed, some went unconfirmed – heck, some were even pre-announced.
Speed Update. For example, the Speed Update was pre-announced in January of 2018 and released several months later in June. The update, according to Google, only impacted the slowest sites in terms of their ranking position in search. Google said it “only affect a small percentage of queries.” We posted a large FAQs on the speed update so you can catch up on that quickly.
Medic Update. Probably the most substantial search ranking algorithm that was felt by the SEO community was the so-called “Medic Update.” It happened around August 1. Google confirmed it happened after the SEO community took notice. Google classified it as a “broad core algorithm update,” something they do several times per year. This specific update was fully rolled out about a week later and seemed to a wide range of sites around health and YMYL categories. Google told SEOs there is “no fix” to get your site to rank better overnight with this update. We have pretty deep coverage of this update over here.
Other search algorithm updates. Google also confirmed, after the fact, the March core update and the Aril core update.
In 2016, Google began its mobile-first indexing experiment. In short, Google wanted to start crawling and indexing the web from the view of a smartphone and not a desktop computer. And Google did that in a big way in 2018 by starting to roll out the change to many many sites in 2018.
Google also began sending out notifications through Google Search Console when a site was moved to mobile-first indexing.
Today, 3 years later, Google said over 50 percent of search results are now indexed through mobile-first indexing.
To learn more about this, see our mobile-first indexing FAQs, the recent clarifications on this topic and Google’s very own developer docs on mobile-first indexing.
Structured data. The overall theme with SEO this year, specific to Google, was probably around how much emphasis Google has put towards structured data and schema. Enabling speakable markup for voice search related queries, a new indexing API for job posting schema, image search changes, various updates to recipe markup, new job posting guidelines, the new Q&A schema, live stream support, datasets schema, how to, QA, FAQs schema and so much more. The list goes on and on.
Personalization is light. With all the fallback on Facebook targeting, and using personal data for targeting over 2018 – Google made a point to say they don’t use personalization that much. Google said at best, personalization is light and used for things like knowing when to show local results, when to show American football versus European football and things like last query used. Although, DuckDuckGo released a study saying Google does otherwise.
Google Search Console and other tools
Google Search Console. It was a very busy year for the Google Search Console team, with giving access to the new Google Search Console to everyone, then removing the beta label from the new version and redirecting some old Search Console reports to the new version on December 13th.
Google also started showing Search Console snapshots directly in the search results for site owners. Google removed the ability to use the public URL submission tool, and changed the limits and quotas on crawling and indexing within Search Console. Google also made it easier to gain access to Search Console by automatically verifying you if you have a Google Analytics account.
New slow site notices started going out via Search Console, Google tested a new form of domain properties for cross site reporting, and added a bunch of reports for event listings, AMP, links, mobile usability and so much more. Let’s not forget the new awesome URL inspection tool that gives you a snap shot of how Google sees your page at any point in time.
The new Search Console came with 16 months of historical data, and Google added that to the Search Console API as well. They also expanded the API to give you 25,000 rows of data.
Lighthouse. Google updated the PageSpeed Insights tool to bring in data for Lighthouse. Version 3.0 of Lighthouse was released this year and there is a new SEO audit tool in Lighthouse.
Google Posts. Google Post was a feature that Google spent a lot of time fine-tuning this year. They tested many user interfaces around Google Posts in desktop and mobile search. They updated the Google My Business console to enable Google Posts on the web or via the mobile app. But ultimately, at least towards the end of this year, Google Posts traffic and engagement levels have declined according to many local SEO experts. You can follow all the changes to Google Posts this year over here.
Google My Business. Google My Business is the control panel for local SEOs and business owners to manage their local listings in Google Maps and Google search. Recently, Google vastly updated the Google My Business mobile apps to let business owners update and manage their listings on the go. Google added more “insights” data, analytics, to the portal including branded searches, more query data, and even created an Agency dashboard for local SEO agencies.
Google added new attributed for women led and veteran-led businesses. Google also let business set open dates before they open up for business. Google updated the Google My Business API numerous times over the year.
Mobile search and voice assistants
Voice assistants and the spread of the adoption of Google Home and Google Assistant devices was and still is of much interest to the SEO community. How Google responds to someone asking “Okay Google, tell me about X,” is something at the top of mind of many SEOs. Google’s featured snippets play a big role here, and SEOs know that. Google Home devices are still considered the smartest out there, but there is competition with Amazon Echo, Apple Home and Microsoft Cortana to name a few.
Google released their Google Home Hub, the voice assistant with a display. We reviewed it in detail from an SEO perspective and a local perspective. Google even let you trigger the Google Assistant by asking Siri.
It is also important to read the Google voice search quality raters guidelines.
Google UI changes
One constant in the SEO and Google world is “change.” And that is what Google did a lot this year between many user interface tests and changes. Google rolled out a new design for desktop search results with a rounded search box that sticks to the top of the page. Google officially now shows zero results as it is being called for time, calculations, and conversions related queries on mobile. The Google mobile home page now shows a discover feed and not just a simple search box. Google also rolled out the more results button on mobile.
Google increased and then decreased their snippet length in a very noncommittal manner. Google autocomplete predictions expanded this year, began showing famous people cameos in search.
AMP. On the AMP end, Google released a developer preview of showing the publisher URLs in search and not the Google AMP cache URL. Google launched AMP stories in search, and lots of other AMP related features listed here.
Other big Google news
In addition to all of that, Ben Gomes replaced John Giannandrea after he left Google as the head of search to work at Apple as the head of AI.
Plus, Google+ is closing down earlier than expected after several security incidents.
Bing was very active this year as well – more so than in past years. Bing is taking efforts to improve crawler efficiency, fixed backlogs with Webmaster Tools, after shutting down their public URL submission tool like Google did.
Bing also did a lot of work around intelligent answers, their AI with Bing spotlight, facts from multiple sources, and big improvements to visual search including solving complex math problems and other areas.
Bing now supports JSON-LD for markup. Bing supports viewing AMP content for news via mobile search. They also created a Bing entity search API for public use.