7 min read

February SEO Updates

February was a busy month for SEO. With exciting new updates and features, there was a lot to learn in the past month. We’ve analysed all the top search updates and trending news from the past month to better understand how it will affect the search landscape. Below we have explained some of the most notable search news from the past month.

Gmail Shopping Ads

Google sent out emails to advertisers letting them know shopping ads will appear in Gmail from the 4th of March. Advertisers can make the most of the opportunity and all they have to do is ensure that their Google Shopping campaigns are opted into the “Youtube, Gmail and Discover” option. To do this, simply follow the steps below:

  1. Sign in to Google Ads
  2. Select a standard Shopping campaign in the Campaigns tab
  3. Click the Settings tab
  4. Under “Networks,” look for a checkbox next to “YouTube, Gmail, and Discover.”
  5. Ensure that this box is checked

However, due to the lack of information provided by Google regarding this, some do have concerns over this new update. Google did not address in the announcement how they will be targeting the audience, which could cause confusion for advertisers who are seeking to set their target audience.

Another main concern people had was that Gmail is primarily used these days for work or for professional purposes. The issue is that this audience is unlikely to be looking for a purchase. Conducting ads via Gmail could increase their costs without getting much back in terms of conversions.

Google Post images issue – resolved by Google

In the first week of February, reports started surfacing from people who were facing issues of Google posts being rejected because of non-compliance with their image guidelines. Many people complained as they couldn’t figure out the issue. Some assumed that it may be the quality or the use of stock images, but no one had a definite answer.

Google posted an update on the 10th of February claiming that they had made a “fix” and that issue was resolved. However, it was not clear if this issue came about due to a bug or an update which didn’t quite pan out as they expected.

Despite the issue being fixed, it’s clear that changes have taken place to ensure better quality images on Google posts. This shows the importance of having optimised, quality images in your content and how using these effectively can give you an advantage.

Google confirms no core update in February

In the early weeks of February, many were reporting significant fluctuations to their traffic and rankings. This raised suspicions that there may have been a major update rolled out at the beginning of February.

Google regularly update their algorithms as they continuously seek to “improve” their platform, but the majority of these changes are minor updates. However, several times a year, they conduct significant changes to their algorithm and the last one was in January. These are “core updates” and usually have some effect on traffic and rankings. Due to the significant fluctuations, many suspected that there had been a February core update.

When questioned regarding this, Danny Sullivan tweeted saying that they conduct updates “all the time” and confirmed that this was just another smaller update causing the changes.

Google stated that they will inform the public if major, noticeable changes are made to their algorithm which could affect your traffic and ranking figures significantly. Due to how often changes are made to the algorithm, it’s common for big changes to be noticeable to some. 

The full effects of these updates can only be properly evaluated sometime later as they take time to settle. Updates that cause big fluctuations are often reversed as Google conducts further updates and fixes.

Google Maps turns 15 with brand new features

Google Maps turned 15 on February 8th and Google celebrated this by introducing brand new features to their Google Maps app. With competition tightening from Apple, Google wanted to ensure that they stay ahead of their competition by welcoming brand new features themselves. The new features which were introduced in the new update were:

  • Explore: This allows you to find things to do around you or around a location, including events, restaurants, bars and cafes.
  • Commute: This feature gives live updates on the route to or from your workplace, or to another destination. This will give you step-by-step instructions to get to your destination in your preferred mode of transport. It also tells you how busy the route is and offers information on accessibility, security and even the temperature.
  • Saved: This tab allows you to save routes and destinations in one place.
  • Contribute: Help others with your reviews of places you’ve visited, share your pictures and edit any map information.
  • Updates: This replaces the “For You” tab that previously existed. It shows the events that are nearby with comments from local guides and certain publications.
Google Maps 15

Google announce new Partners Program regulations

The Partners Program was introduced by Google to give more credibility to agencies that provide paid search services. This aims to improve reputation and increase trustworthiness between agency and client. It’s been running for the past seven years but Google announced that they were going to make changes to the regulations that the agencies have to meet.

What are the new Google Partners Program requirements?

The Spending Threshold – The 90-day spend requirement, across all clients, has to be $20,000+. This dramatic change (double the amount that it was previously) could be the biggest factor preventing many agencies from being accredited as a Google partner.

Higher Number of Users Certified – Agencies need at least half of the users who have admin or standard access to their manager account to pass the certification tests in Search, Display, Video or Shopping. This is to ensure users have the essential skills to provide a quality level of service to clients.

Meeting Optimising Scores – Google evaluates the optimisation scores in your manager accounts, located in the recommendations tab, to determine whether an agency is meeting the required standards. Follow the suggestions from Google to meet these optimisation scores. But this can be frustrating for agencies as these suggestions may not be suitable for your client.

new google partners update

These are significant changes made by Google to ensure that agencies with most expertise and experience are classified as a partner, further increasing the impact of being recognised as a partner. The Google Partners page stated that these new requirements will be enforced from June 2020 onwards.

Birds of Prey name change for better SEO

Birds of Prey was released in the UK on the 7th of February, and due to a disappointing opening weekend worldwide, the movie studio decided to change the title of the movie to better catch the attention of the audience.

This decision was based on bringing the main character’s name to the forefront whilst shortening the quite lengthy word count of the title. This makes it much easier for users to search the film. Who’s going to type out “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” instead of “Birds of Prey

birds of prey seo title

Instead of squishing the main character’s name at the end of the long title, they decided to cut short the title and bring her character name to the beginning. This highlights the importance of branding 

Google to investigate deceitful link building practices

People on Twitter started complaining about a new deceitful form of link building. This link building tactic involves individuals contacting you, claiming that you’ve used an image that they own and demand that you credit them in the form of a backlink.

Google has taken note of this issue, with John Mueller comment asking people to send him examples of it. As the investigation is ongoing, it’s unclear what changes will be made by Google, if any, to combat this issue. But it’s certainly positive to see Google taking the initiative to combat black-hat tactics.

john mueller link building

John Mueller’s insights on links

John Mueller also provided some insight on links in a webmaster hangout session. A question was put forward to him asking if you could rank without having any inbound links and referred to a website as an example which ranked without any inbound links. They also asked if link building would have helped them rank quicker.

He responded by saying that it is possible to rank without links, but it would be much better and easier with links. As a website progresses, it should naturally get links to it. This reinstates the importance given by Google on inbound links to your website. Links can help you rank quicker and give your website more authority. Don’t ignore backlinks, they should occur naturally anyway.

New local SERP directories feature: “Find results on”

In the middle of February, Google rolled out a new SERP feature. “Find results on” shows a prominent directories box for local searches. The image below shows this brand new feature in action. It gives the users even more access to the local listings and their contact details, so they are not confined to the few contact details provided by Google.

new local serp feature

This promotes fairer search results so they are not displaying their own results above others. Google received a substantial antitrust penalty from the European Commissions for favouring its own content in the search results and they’ve been seeking ways of promoting a fair list of search results.

This feature has appeared in the UK, Belgium, Spain, Greece, France and most likely throughout Europe. As Google attempts to make changes to their SERP to adhere to the European Commission’s requirements, there is likely to be plenty of changes, and this might just be the first step.

Google Image Search icons update

Google has updated its image search results page by adding icons on the corner of images to show the user what sort of content that image leads to. These icons appear for: product pages, recipes and videos. This new update has rolled out on mobile and is due to be rolled out on desktops at the beginning of March. Danny Sullivan, from Google’s Search Liaison, shared the following image on Twitter:

google icons image update

These new icons replace the resolution tag. You can still see the resolution of the image if you click on the image and expand it.

Google is always looking to improve the user journey and this will help the users understand what sort of results are appearing on the image search results without having to go onto the webpage. It improves the clarity of the search results and whilst reducing bounce rates.

Mobile First Indexing will apply to all sites within 12 months

Google has been sending out notices via Google Search Console to sites with “mobile-first indexing issues detected”. These notices let the sites know which issues Google has detected when accessed by a mobile crawler. The messages also state “Google expects to apply mobile- first indexing to all websites in the next six to twelve months.”

mobile first indexing notice

If you get one of these notices it is likely something you should read and take action on. If Google has issues with accessing your site with the mobile-crawler, then it might impact your indexing and ranking of your web pages in Google.

Google Search 3D view

Google has started adding the option on mobile browsers for users to view third party products in 3D using AR. If you search for a product and there is a “View in 3D” button then you can now click on that to view the object in your location through your mobile phone’s camera. Burberry have been one of the first to do this (as shown in the example) and its had great feedback on social media.

burberry bag 3d view ar

Numerous apps already support AR to enable consumers to see how furniture and other objects look in their homes or to see what different eyeglasses or makeup would look on them.This shows how Google can start to enable those kinds of capabilities in the SERP for commercial queries and is great news for e-commerce sites.

Stay tuned for more search updates next month

Stay up to date with the latest in SEO with the Honchō blog and sign up to our newsletter. Or check out our previous SEO update posts, like the biggest search updates from January.

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