Your SEO Snack: The Latest Updates in Organic Search

If you feel like an outsider to the SEO world, keeping up with Google’s seemingly daily changes surely feels like a challenge. But we’re here to break it down for you into more manageable bites—an SEO snack! Let’s dig in:

Google Skinnies Down the Real Estate in the SERPs

The standard title length for Google used to be 55 characters, and as SEO-ers, we got comfortable with that number. We optimized every page title, from blogs to service pages to the home page, with that number in mind. And since we aim to take advantage of every opportunity Google gives, we packed as much as we could into that 55 character spot. But lately, the industry has begun to notice that Google, on average, is not giving that much space for meta titles anymore. These days, they’re only giving about 50 characters worth of space.

Since optimizing metadata, including titles and descriptions, is a huge piece of the overall optimization puzzle, this change by Google not only affects our work going forward—it also retroactively affects our past efforts. Titles that perfectly fit Google’s space even just a few months ago are appearing with ellipses now, meaning it’s no longer ideal for the space. That’s just part of the SEO game.
One important note to make, though, is that Google’s ways are mysterious. The search giant resists clearly defined methods and motives. And in this case, that means that when we say meta titles are now roughly 50 characters, “roughly” is the keyword. Depending on a host of factors, some titles may display 50 characters and others may display nearly 60.
And as you consider how this affects your business specifically, we’d like to point out that meta titles and meta descriptions do not directly affect your ranking in the search results. What they do affect, however, is your click through rate, which is closely tied to your user experience—and Google’s understanding of your site’s user experience does affect your ranking in the search results. So if you have made the effort to appear in those top spots but haven’t reevaluated the length of your metadata, you could be missing out on quality conversions. Adapting to this change is all about creating a clean user experience and appearing more professional and authoritative next to your competitors.

Reducing Rich Review Snippets in Search

Around mid September of this year, Google announced its plans to make “review rich results more helpful” for users. (You can find the full, technical explanation on Google’s blog). This change affects businesses with services that are heavily driven by reviews, scores, or stars. When Google detects that your business falls into this category, they may choose to show review schema, or a snippet of review information, right under the page URL.

Until recently, Google has displayed first-party review snippets in the search results. But if your company has a review tool that lives directly on your website where customers leave comments, stars, and the like, Google is not likely to display these results any longer.
Why? The search engine fears that these reviews are more likely to be self-serving, even misleading. So Google is going to start depending more on third-party review sites that are more widely used, like reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor, and those left directly on your Google My Business knowledge graph.
If you want to hear it in Google’s words, they put it like this on September 18, 2019:
“To explain more, in the past, an entity like a business or an organization could add review markup about themselves to their home page or another page and often cause a review snippet to show for that page. That markup could have been added directly by the entity or embedded through the use of a third-party widget.
We consider this “self-serving” because the entity itself has chosen to add the markup to its own pages, about its own business or organization.
Self-serving reviews are no longer displayed for businesses and organizations (the LocalBusiness and Organization schema types). For example, we will no longer display rich review snippets for how people have reviewed a business, if those reviews are considered self-serving.”
This change affects your local business the same way the decreased real estate in the metadata does: rather than directly affecting your ranking, it should only affect your click through rate. Google doesn’t penalize you for lacking those gold stars, but it could build a potential customer’s confidence in clicking your link if you do have them. So if those stars are important to you, you’ll want to make sure you adjust to these changes.

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This is a world of flux and flexibility, and if you want someone to lean on as you keep up, let’s talk. Contact us here, or give us a call at (205) 271-8446.