When I look back on 2016 and reflect on the dramatic changes in Google Search, I can’t help but think that Bob Dylan predicted this would happen when he penned these famous lyrics back in 1964.
“And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no telling who that it's naming
For the loser now will be later to win
Cause the times they are a-changing”
The lyrics are like a prophetic warning that even Nostradamus would be proud to claim as his own, because, as the song title suggests, “the times they are a changin’”, and a changin’ fast in the search world. If you want your website to stay relevant to Google in 2017 and beyond, you best listen to Bob and “be a changin’” too.
Why? Let me explain what’s going on here.
Over the past 10 months, Google has — and will continue to — change more facets of their Organic and Paid Search programs (Google Search Engine and Google Adwords) than they have for the past 16 years.
As discussed in an article I wrote earlier this year, the reason for these changes around the Googleplex have to do with their multi-billion dollar “mobile-first” bet that was placed when they killed right-hand ads on search in February.
They’ve since doubled-down on that bet by unleashing the Mobilegeddon update on the world in April, and went all-in by announcing the creation of an entirely new Mobile-First Index in December.
If all that wasn’t enough to get your stomach in knots, they’ve got big changes in store for 2017 too, beginning with a new search penalty that will affect tens of thousands of websites in the Google organic rankings.
Before panic sets in, and we get too deep into the specifics of how each Google update will impact your casino website, here’s a quick breakdown of everything that’s going on.
2016 Major Google Search & Adwords Updates
- Elimination of Right-Hand Ads
- Google Penguin 4.0
- Expanded Text Ads
- The Mobile-First Index
2016 Minor Google Search Updates
- Social Site Integration In Search
- Rise Of The Knowledge Graph
2017 Google Search Update
- Interstitial (pop-up) penalty
To get a better understanding of just how significant these changes are, let’s unpack each of them in a bit more detail so you can see the bigger picture.
We’ll start with the 2016 Major Google Search & Adwords updates, touch on the 2016 Minor updates, and finish off with what’s coming in 2017.
Ready to go?
Great, let’s dive in!
Elimination of Right-Hand Ads (February 2016)
To help lay the groundwork for the mobile-first push in February, Google started rolling out their new “ad display structure” on their search engine which changed two important things.
It eliminated all right-hand ad positions and it limited the overall number of ads shown for each search query.
Here’s how the ad positions looked on the Google Search Engine for the past twelve years leading up to the February 2016 update:
- Up to 3 top ads
- Up to 7 right-hand ads
- Up to 3 bottom ads
And here’s how the ad positions look now following the update (see graphic below for visual):
- Up to 4 top ads
- Zero right-hand ads
Up to 3 bottom ads
The number of ads displayed for any single search query has gone from a maximum of 13, to a maximum of 7 – a net loss of 36% of ad space.
The loss of ad space has led to increased competition among advertisers who are now fighting to retain their previous ad position on the dwindled ad inventory by outspending their competition.
The result has been higher costs per click across most Casino-centric verticals such as gaming, hotel, restaurant, and entertainment.
Mobilegeddon (April 2016)
Back in April of 2016 Google released an update, lovingly coined “Mobilegeddon” by SEO geeks, to their ranking algorithm that gave a significant boost to mobile friendly pages in the organic search results.
The Mobilegeddon (aka mobile-friendly) update didn’t come as much of a surprise as Google had been hinting at this transition for some time, but what did catch some observers off-guard was the depth and breadth of their commitment to serve the mobile user.
Google Penguin 4.0 Update (September 2016)
They took their sweet time, but after three long years Google finally made an update to the Penguin Algorithm with the release of version 4.0 in September.
Never heard of Google Penguin? No problem, here’s the quick backstory.
Google Penguin was introduced in 2012 as an algorithm update designed to catch websites that were spamming the Google search results and not getting filtered by the main algorithm.
The penalty for websites caught in the Penguin filter meant immediate and permanent removal from the Google Index (a death sentence).
With the release of Penguin 4.0, Google is running their new algorithm filter in real time and making it more granular by only penalizing certain pages it deems “spammy” and not dropping entire websites from the index as they did before.
This change is good news for website owners who can now clean-up their backlink profiles and disavow any link-spam that’s affecting their organic search rankings and costing them free traffic from Google.
Expanded Text Ads (October 2016)
For the last 16 years (since 2000), the Google Adwords ad configuration has consisted of three separate lines of 25-35-35 characters (one 25-character headline, and two separate 35-character description lines).
The new ad layout configuration is 30-30-80 characters (two separate 30-character headlines and one big 80-character description).
Why the sudden change to the new format and a 47% increase in total number of characters in each ad?
It’s all about increasing ad revenue for Google on mobile. Here’s how it shakes out.
Bigger ads with more characters take up more screen space, more screen space means it’s much more likely that a user will click the ad since it’s the first, and likely the only thing they see on their screen after a search is performed.
Sounds like a win for advertisers, right? Don’t we all want to get more clicks on our ads?
Of course we do, but only if the cost for those clicks stays the same or goes down, and that’s not what’s happening.
While it’s true click though rates have been going up with the new ad format (as Google has been trumpeting from the mountaintop), so has cost per click, which conveniently did not get reported.
Remember, it doesn’t matter how high your click through rate is when your cost per click goes up along with it. When clicks cost more, as they do now, you’re getting less customers for the same ad spend.
Mobile First Index (November 2016)
In November 2016 the big “G” announced they’re in the process of splitting their search index into two completely different versions: the current Desktop Index, and a brand new Mobile-First Index that will only serve users on a mobile device.
This change makes sense since mobile users exceed desktop users on Google, and it’s only going to get more one-sided as time marches on.
The Mobile-First Index is far from complete and won’t be fully rolled out until sometime in 2017, but the message from Google is clear: it’s a mobile world now and there’s no going back.
Social Site Integration In Search Results (2016)
Google has basically abandoned its own Google+ platform and has been actively seeking to incorporate social posts and updates from other platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram into user search queries.
Many social media profiles already rank in Google and will become a bigger part of the digital landscape as social and search become even more intertwined in the coming years.
Rise of Google Knowledge Graph (2016)
The Knowledge Graph enables you to search for information on Google such as places, celebrities, music, cities, sports teams, buildings, geographical areas, movies, works of art, and more and get instant information on them via a Knowledge Panel.
The graph has become increasingly prominent on Google search as Knowledge Graph Panels are currently served in roughly 1/3 of Google’s 100 billion monthly searches.
Example of Google Knowledge Graph card on search
When a user search triggers a Knowledge Graph Panel, information is automatically presented to the user that supersedes organic and paid search results.
To see a good example of how this works, grab your phone and do a Google search for Hoover Dam and see what happens.
You’ll notice that on a phone, the Knowledge Graph panel is the only information that appears on your screen until you scroll down a substantial distance.
So what Google has done, in effect, is render up to 1/3 of organic searches almost worthless for SEM and SEO efforts.
If your business is trying to compete on search terms where a Knowledge Graph Panel is firing (do a Google search to find out), you might want to consider changing your strategy, or at least run a test so you know if you’re missing out on potential customers.
Intrusive Interstitial (pop-up) Penalty (January 2017)
To improve the experience for the majority of search traffic that’s done on a mobile device, Google is injecting a core ranking update into the algorithm called the “Intrusive Interstitial (pop-up) Penalty” that’s aimed at giving mobile searchers what they call, “a better user experience.”
The new penalty will go live on January 10, 2017 and will affect websites that break any or all the following rules:
- Show a popup that covers the main content, either immediately after the user navigates to a page from the search results, or while they are looking through the page.
- Display a standalone interstitial that the user has to dismiss before accessing the main content.
- Use a layout where the above-the-fold portion of the page appears similar to a standalone interstitial, but the original content has been inlined underneath the fold.
What does this mean? Here’s what Google had to say in their own words…
“Pages that show intrusive interstitials provide a poorer experience to users than other pages where content is immediately accessible. This can be problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller. To improve the mobile search experience, after January 10, 2017, pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly.”
Examples of interstitials that make content less accessible
In other words, if you use a pop-up on your website to collect leads, announce specials or promote sales, it may cause your organic rankings to nose-dive.
To make sure you don’t get clipped by this new penalty, crack open your website analytics program after January 10, 2017 and check to see if your organic sessions are tanking. If they are, you can be reasonably sure that removing the Interstitial from your website, or modifying it to follow the new rules, will restore your organic rankings.
Google Search & Adwords have changed more in the last 10 months than they did in the last 16 years, and the trend is accelerating as the digital landscape is finally starting to come into its own.
To keep your casino ahead of the competition and to remain relevant on Google, get in touch with the experts at Red Circle Agency and let us help you look like a hero to your boss — call Angel at (612) 875-7131.