Google updates of 2017

A little look at some of the Google updates of 2017, what they might mean for your website, and how this could impact 2018 and beyond.

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The trouble with working in the marketing and media industry is that the year just seems to fly by – maybe because we are having too much fun – but mostly because we are always working ahead in order to meet our deadlines well in advance.

It’s barely even September yet and already I am fed up of hearing about Christmas 2017 because it feels like it has been circulating on the marketing radar since way before we even packed away the tree from last Christmas.

Don’t panic, I’m not about to drop the first instalment of Browser Media Christmas blog posts of 2017… not yet anyway. But, all of this C-word chit-chat has certainly had me thinking about what’s happened so far this calendar year.

So, let’s take a little look at some of the Google updates that have rolled out in 2017, what they might mean for our websites right now, and how this might impact things in 2018 and beyond.

January 2017 – Mobile pop up problems

As part of the movement toward a mobile first world, Google sent out a warning way back in August 2016 about the negative impact that intrusive interstitials (pop-ups) have on user experience (duh) and site load times. Those webmasters that ignored the warning started noticing changes to their rankings in January of this year.

Google clarified the situation in the following update on its WebMaster blog:

“Starting today, pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as high. As we said, this new signal is just one of hundreds of signals that are used in ranking and the intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content”.

February 2017 – Black hat and black coffee fails

In February, SEOs started speculating that a major algorithm update was underway focussing on the way Google detects and discounts spammy links. This was neither confirmed nor denied by Google but for those naughty peeps who had previously taken part in aggressive, black hat link building techniques (tut tut tut) it seemed to hit real hard.

Around the same time, Google kicked up another storm for the eCommerce world… in the U.S. at least, with the launch of Google Express purchases. Through simply speaking a command to their Google Assistant device, consumers are able to make direct purchases from retailers. I am not in the U.S. and I don’t have Google Assistant, but I’ll take a strong black coffee if anyone is delivering?

March 2017 – not exact keywords

March brought about big changes to the keyword bidding process within Adwords. Up until this point, close keyword variations had included: misspellings, singular forms, plural forms, acronyms, stemmings (such as floor and flooring), abbreviations, and accents; but Google removed this requirement, and in the world of PPC exact match no longer means exact match.

As the awesome blog post linked just above goes on to explain, Google then went a step further, expanding close variant matching to include any additional rewording and rewording for exact match keywords, stating that: “Early tests show advertisers may see up to 3% more exact match clicks on average while maintaining comparable clickthrough and conversion rates”.

The month also brought about more algorithm update rumours after many reported witnessing huge drops in organic traffic levels. The industry dubbed this algorithm update “Fred”. Although unconfirmed by Google, Fred did not mess about; he swooped right in and attacked those low-value content sites that appeared to be revenue focused rather than user centric. Some eyewitnesses describe him to look something like the image below, but again, the details are unconfirmed.

Image via:

April 2017 – easier ads for all

Google image search was transformed with the introduction of a “similar items” feature on mobile. The update uses clever AI tech to identify products within images, displaying an array of matched products to users so they can go on to browse the items and shop til they drop.

Store owners that want their products to show up in image searches and help to “make the web more shoppable” were instructed to update and optimise their schema markup. And it didn’t matter how much time that took because around the same time, Adwords launched smart display campaigns – an update which automates the entire ad creation, design, bidding, and targeting processes.

May 2017 – Changes to AdSense make sense

In a bid to further balance publishers’ needs with those of users, Google released two new updates to AdSense. Firstly, new technology enabled quicker removal of violating ads as well as preventing ads showing across inappropriate pages. Secondly, the launch of a new policy centre gave publishers instant access to everything they need to know about the actions they make that may affect their adverts, websites, and pages.

In May, Google also implemented location extensions onto YouTube ads including details about business location, opening hours, photos, and CTA buttons, which would all allow users to better investigate and react to ads.

June 2017 – Major algorithm changes or nah

SEOs were circulating more rumours of another “serious algorithm update” in late June. Unsurprisingly, it was neither confirmed nor denied by the Google gods. When challenged about fluctuations in rankings and traffic levels, John Mueller’s feedback was quite simply “We make updates all the time”.

What will the next Google update be?

When I set out writing this blog post, I thought I’d go right through to the present day, but I guess it actually makes more sense to wait and see what else Google does (or does not) have in store for us webmasters. So I’ll update you all again in around 16 weeks’ time when this year officially comes to an end.

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