The Google Assistant SDK adds support for additional languages & more

Google announced it has expanded the Google Assistant software development kit to support additional languages. That means developers can now bring Google Assistant applications to more people. Google Assistant now supports these additional languages and regions English Australia, English Canada, English UK, English US, French Canadian, French France, German and Japanese.

Lack of support for languages can impede development on the platform. For example, my company has been trying to find ways around language barriers to build Jewish apps, but Hebrew is not yet supported. The difficulty is having the Google Assistant APIs understand the language or regional language dialects and respond with a proper answer. So in this example, if someone asks what time is mincha, which is afternoon services in the Jewish world, Google cannot understand the word “mincha” because it is a Hebrew word. Bringing more support for additional languages and regions helps Google expand the ecosystem of the Google Assistant platform.

Other improvements to the Google Assistant SDK include more customized settings, including changing the device’s language, location and nickname and enabling personalized results. The API now also supports text-based queries and responses. Developers can also utilize the new Device Action functionality to build Actions directly into your Assistant-enabled SDK devices. Also, new APIs allow developers to register, unregister and see all devices that you have registered for better device management support.

'SEO Snippets' — new Google video series to help webmasters & SEOs

Google has announced a video help series aimed at helping webmasters and SEOs with short answers to their webmaster and SEO questions. Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller introduced the series, saying they hope to cover topics including “404 errors, how and when crawling works, a site’s URL structure [and] duplicate content.”

The series available on YouTube and has already six videos. Here are those videos:

The videos will address questions commonly seen at the Webmaster Central Help Forum – get your questions in over there to have them possibly addressed in the series.

Winter solstice 2017 Google doodle marks the shortest day of the year & official start of winter

Today’s winter solstice 2017 Google doodle brings back the animated mouse that has made an appearance on Google’s home page for each of the equinoxes and now both solstice dates.

Previously, the mouse did some spring cleaning all the way back in March for the spring Equinox, enjoyed the sunlight on a summer day during the June 21 summer solstice and prepared for the arrival of fall on September 22.

Leading to a search for “winter solstice 2017,” today’s doodle shows the mouse doing a little ice skating and playing in the snow.

“Though most refer to the solstice as an entire day, in reality, the solstice is defined as a single moment: when the sun is directly above the Tropic of Capricorn,” writes Google on its Google Doodle Blog, “This year, that moment will occur at 16:28 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). After this point in time, periods of daylight will once again begin to grow longer.”

Here are all four of this year’s seasonal doodles in the order they appeared:

Spring equinox

Summer solstice

Autumn equinox

Winter solstice

The winter solstice not only marks the official start of winter for 2017, it’s also the shortest day — and longest night — of the calendar year.

Take our Holiday Retail Survey & let us know how your search marketing strategy changed this year

Did you switch up your holiday digital marketing strategies in 2017? Maybe extend your search ad campaigns? Or sell on more marketplaces? If so, we want to know about it.

Please take five minutes to complete the SMX survey exploring what digital marketing strategies were put in place by search marketers this holiday retail season — the 2017 Holiday Retail Survey.

Responses are kept anonymous, and the data gathered from the survey results will be shared during the Holiday Retail Search Strategies webcast on January 18, featuring panelists Brad Geddes, the co-founder of Adalysis, Marketing Land associate editor Ginny Marvin, Elite SEM’s Aaron Levy and CommerceHub’s Elizabeth Marsten.

Completing the survey will help add to the conversation around this season’s best search marketing strategies and whether strategy shifts were advantageous. Also, survey participants are entered for a chance to win a copy of Brad Geddes’ “Advanced Google Adwords” search marketing guide.

Everyone is invited to register for the January 18 webcast and listen in as the panel digs into the survey results and discusses the search marketing strategies that paid off this year, and what marketers may look to change during next year’s holiday season.

Take the 2017 Holiday Retail Survey.

Register for the Holiday Retail Search Strategies webcast on January 18.

[This article first appeared on Marketing Land.]

Google tests 'more results' mobile search interface and new search refinement buttons

Google has confirmed it is testing a new mobile search interface and a new search refinement button. The new search interface shows fewer search results on the mobile search results page, with the option to click on a button labeled “more results.” In addition, Google is testing showing buttons to refine your search directly in the search results snippets.

A Google spokesperson told us “We constantly experiment with new search formats and experiences to deliver the best experience for our users.”

Dan Brackett shared screen shots with us on Twitter, but many others are noticing these new tests.

‘More results’ feature on Google mobile search

Here is a screen shot showing the “more results” link, often Google is showing as few as two or three organic search results on this page. To see more organic results, you will have to click on the “more results” link, and Google will then dynamically load more search results below.

You can also see the refinements at the top of the screen shot above. Here is another screen shot of these refinements directly in what is called a featured snippet.

Google has been testing both of these at least for the past few weeks, and more and more searchers are beginning to notice it.

This is just a test, and we do not know if or when Google will release this to a wider set of test users or to everyone.

SearchCap: Google webmaster videos, new mobile search experiments & Assistant SDK updates

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web.

From Search Engine Land:

Google tests ‘more results’ mobile search interface and new search refinement buttons
Dec 21, 2017 by Barry Schwartz

Google told us, “We constantly experiment with new search formats and experiences to deliver the best experience for our users.”

Take our Holiday Retail Survey & let us know how your search marketing strategy changed this year
Dec 21, 2017 by Amy Gesenhues

Survey results will be shared during the “Holiday Retail Search Strategies” webcast on January 18.

Winter solstice 2017 Google doodle marks the shortest day of the year & official start of winter
Dec 21, 2017 by Amy Gesenhues

Google has brought back its animated mouse to finish out the 2017 solstice and equinox doodle series.

‘SEO Snippets’ — new Google video series to help webmasters & SEOs
Dec 21, 2017 by Barry Schwartz

The new series will address frequently raised issues in the webmaster forums.

The Google Assistant SDK adds support for additional languages & more
Dec 21, 2017 by Barry Schwartz

In addition to new language support, Google has added customized settings, text-based queries & responses, device action functionality and more.

4 things SEO professionals should do consistently
Dec 21, 2017 by Jeremy Knauff

Columnist Jeremy Knauff shares his vision for how to improve the SEO industry through transparency, knowledge-sharing and stronger relationships with clients.

Search News From Around The Web:

11 Hot Google Ranking Factors for 2018, Receptional5 New Year’s Resolutions for AdWords Success, Inside AdWords6 Bottom Line Boosting Tips for Paid Search, PPC HeroAmazon Leads UK Retail Paid Search This Holiday Season, AdGoorooGoogle Says IPv6 & HTTP/2 Works But You Should Also Support IPv4 & HTTP/1.x, Search Engine RoundtableGoogle’s Mobile First Index: Tracking When Google Moves Your Site and Preparing for the Switch, Keylime ToolboxHow Did the SEO Landscape Influence Your Rankings in 2017, Cognitive SEOHow to analyze a sudden drop in traffic, YoastInvalid inserted products no longer result in immediate errors, Google Ads Developer BlogWhy Apple Maps still has a ways to go before dethroning Google Maps, BGR

Eric Schmidt stepping down as Executive Chairman of Google parent company, Alphabet

Alphabet announced today that Eric Schmidt, the top executive at the company since 2001, is moving out of his role as the Executive Chairman of the Board and will instead remain on the board as a technical advisor.

From the press release:

“Since 2001, Eric has provided us with business and engineering expertise and a clear vision about the future of technology,” said Larry Page, CEO of Alphabet. “Continuing his 17 years of service to the company, he’ll now be helping us as a technical advisor on science and technology issues. I’m incredibly excited about the progress our companies are making, and about the strong leaders who are driving that innovation.”

“Larry, Sergey, Sundar and I all believe that the time is right in Alphabet’s evolution for this transition. The Alphabet structure is working well, and Google and the Other Bets are thriving,” said Eric Schmidt. “In recent years, I’ve been spending a lot of my time on science and technology issues, and philanthropy, and I plan to expand that work.”

No indication of who will replace Schmidt, but the release notes that the Board will appoint a non-executive chairman.

The upcoming mobile app Monday: Be prepared

The season is upon us: mobile download season. Christmas falls on Monday, and if history holds true, Christmas and the day after will be the top mobile app download days of the year. With less than a week left, your app store optimization (ASO) activities should be in full swing.

Becky Peterson heads up our app store optimization at Walgreens. Becky was looking to be on the nice list, so she put together some optimization tips for new and existing apps to help you maximize the download season.

Optimization essentials

Title: Choose a title for your app that is creative but concise. If appropriate, take advantage of the character limit to include relevant keywords that describe your app’s core functionality. (Just don’t overdo it — you don’t want to appear spammy!)Icon: Create an eye-catching icon that is clean and easily recognizable. A recognizable icon can make the difference when customers are searching specifically for your app.Keywords & description: Conduct keyword research to determine the most valuable and relevant terms for your app. Utilize the keyword field in iTunes Connect, and use your keywords throughout your description and in your creative assets.Video: Create a preview video (or three for iOS!) that walks through your core features and provides visitors an overview of how to use your app. On iOS 11, your previews will autoplay in search results and on your store page; in Google Play, they will underlay the Feature Graphic. Create videos that are engaging. Test, test, test to determine which video version generates optimal downloads prior to the top download days.Screen shots: Create clean and visually appealing screen shots that capture the essence of your app and encourage visitors to continue scrolling through the gallery.

Additional tips

Take full advantage of free app store intelligence platforms, such as App Annie or Sensor Tower, or invest in an app store analytics platform that will provide you with keyword ranking, competitors, Top Chart and download data.If applicable, seasonalize or incentivize your store listing! Use your description to highlight how your app is seasonally relevant and provide offers (i.e., shopping deals, products and more), and update your creative assets to showcase a holiday theme.Respond to your app reviews. Demonstrate to your users that you appreciate their feedback and are constantly working to improve your app. Some reviewers may even choose to update their original review simply because you responded in a considerate manner. Prospective users are more inclined to download an app when it is clear the app owners take feedback seriously.

Capitalizing on the top download days of the year can be the difference between an average app and a top download. Keep your content fresh, do not over-optimize, and remember that the goal is to assist customers in finding the right app for the right purpose. Put in the effort, set download goals, and allocate plenty of time to respond to the flurry of reviews that occur soon after installation and use.

Remember to document your lessons learned once the season is over. Download season will be back before you know it, and those valuable lessons can be the difference-maker next year.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

How independent reviews influence Google’s trust in your brand

Search Engine Land columnist Kevin Lee recently wrote a post about the prevalence of fake reviews, how they are damaging consumer trust and why it’s a bad move with permanent repercussions to attempt to use them yourself.

The reason for this growing problem is that online reviews have tremendous influence over the purchasing decisions of consumers, as well as the performance of brands in the search engines. Luckily, many major review sites — including Google, Amazon and Yelp — are taking steps to combat the issue.

With all of this in mind, now is a good time to address how to approach online reviews in an ethical way that will produce long-lasting, positive results for brand perception and search engine traffic.

Google associates trust with ratings and reviews

It’s important to establish the relationship between user reviews and SEO performance before moving forward. Understanding that relationship will inform how to best approach and build a strategy for earning reviews.

A recent study affirmed the strong correlation between ratings and search engine performance for local businesses. The study was conducted by LocalSEO Guide and worked in cooperation with the University Of California, Irvine as well as PlacesScout. It analyzed the correlation between over 200 potential search engine factors and rankings for over 100,000 local businesses.

Specifically, the study found that if a keyword is found in reviews of your business, or if your location is mentioned in a review, those enhance your rankings in the search results.

Do reviews enhance your performance in general search results, outside of local search?

That is a bit more contentious. Google itself has stated that star ratings in AdWords enhance click-through by up to 17 percent, and a study by BrightLocal has found that organic listings with 4- and 5-star ratings (in the form of rich snippets) enjoy a slightly higher click-through rate than listings with no stars. While there’s never been a formal confirmation, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that higher click-through rates (CTR) may indirectly enhance your rankings in the search results.

Even if reviews don’t directly impact search rankings, the fact that they enhance click-through rates may potentially affect your rankings in an indirect fashion. And increased CTR is a benefit in itself!

User-generated content and reviews also heavily influence consumer decisions. A study by TurnTo found that user-generated content influenced buyers’ decisions more than any other factor looked at in the study, including search engines themselves.

The fastest way to success

Google has made it easy for you to get your customers to review you, and this is the very first thing you should start with.

Find your PlaceID using the lookup tool that Google has provided here. Put your business name in the “Enter a location” search bar. Click on your business name when it appears, then your PlaceID will pop up underneath your business name.

Copy the PlaceID and paste it to the end of this URL: https://search.google.com/local/writereview?placeid=

For example, the Macy’s location listed above would have the following review URL:

https://search.google.com/local/writereview?placeid=ChIJ3xjWra5ZwokRrwJ0KZ4yKNs

Now, try that URL in your browser with your business’s PlaceID to test whether it works or not. It should take you to a search result for your business with a “Rate and review” pop-up window.

Share this URL with your customers after transactions to pick up reviews on your Google My Business account.

While the Google My Business reviews are likely to have the largest impact on search engine rankings, they are not the only reviews Google takes into consideration, and it is in your best interest to pick up reviews from third-party sites as well. Third-party review sites can help you pick up more reviews more quickly, and they add diversity to your review profile, which enhances your legitimacy. This, in turn, imbues the reviews with greater authority.

In addition to boosting the authority and diversity of your reviews, third-party review sites help in a few other ways. Many are designed to make it simple to request reviews from your customers in an organized way. (Though be advised that some, like Yelp, discourage review solicitation.)

6 more tactics for picking up reviews

If you want to take things further, listed below are a few more tactics for you to consider working into your review strategy:

    Identify any industry-specific review sites: Reviews from industry-specific sites (think Avvo for lawyers or ZocDoc for doctors) can be huge, especially if you know that your potential customers are using these sites. It’s important to identify which vertical review sites may be relevant to you and to devise a strategy for earning positive reviews on these sites.Seek reviews from product bloggers: While blogger reviews are an entirely different ballgame from user reviews, they are equally important. Links from trusted bloggers are a strong signal that can positively affect your search engine rankings, and if the bloggers have audiences who trust the reviewer’s opinion, their reviews can earn you referral traffic with conversion rates not achievable from most sources. Just be sure that the blogger discloses any financial arrangement you might have with them.Respond to your reviewers: So long as you handle it tactfully, responding to reviewers (including and perhaps especially negative ones) can have a tremendously positive impact on brand perception, as it shows that you care about your customers. The important thing to remember about responding to reviews is that your response is not only for the customer but also for anybody else who sees the interaction. How you treat that review is how they will expect to be treated.Contact your happiest customers: It goes without saying that the happiest customers are the ones most likely to leave a positive review. Tactfully encouraging these customers to leave reviews is an important move if you want people to perceive you in a positive light. (Just be sure that you understand each site’s review solicitation guidelines.)Use social media for customer support: While social media shouldn’t replace a customer support team, many consumers see social media as a place to solve any problem they are having with their product. Many also use social media as a place to complain, often without even trying to contact your business. Be prepared for this, and respond to any mentions of your brand on social media with an offer to help. Don’t make the mistake of asking them to talk to you and take the conversation offline. Keep it online and portray yourself in the best way possible.Ask the right questions: Whatever media you are using to encourage your customers to leave a review, it’s important to make sure you are asking the right questions. Asking them simply to let people know if they liked the product typically isn’t the way to go, since it leads to very generic reviews. Ask more specific, pointed questions about how the product helped them solve a particular problem. These are the kind of stories that encourage people to purchase a product.

Conclusion

Online reviews play an incredibly important part in a buyer’s journey, from interest to purchase. They have a heavy influence on rankings in local search results and play an important part in more traditional search engine performance as well.

Brick-and-mortar businesses should use thank-you emails and other customer communications to point consumers to their Google My Business pages. Take advantage of third-party review sites to easily encourage reviews. Reach out to your customers and online influencers to improve coverage of your products.

Do not neglect these efforts. User reviews influence modern purchasers heavily. If your product is strong, your efforts will pay dividends.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Google confirms mid-December search ranking algorithm updates

Google has confirmed what many in the search industry have seen over the past week, updates to their algorithm that are significantly shifting rankings in the SERPs. A google spokesperson told Search Engine Land “We released several minor improvements during this timeframe, part of our regular and routine efforts to improve relevancy.”

Our own Barry Schwartz analyzed his Search Engine Roundtable survey of 100 webmasters and concluded that the updates are related to keyword permutations and sites utilizing doorway pages. You can read his full analysis here.

Early signs point to mobile & schema

I reached out to a few of the SEO tool vendors that do large scale tracking of ranking fluctuations to get their sense of where the updates may be targeted.

Ilya Onskul, the Product Owner of SEMrush Sensor gave this analysis:

“SEMrush Sensor follows all the changes that occur on Google SERPs in 6 countries for both mobile and desktop separately. On top of the general volatility score per country, Sensor tracks scores for various industries and indicates the change in 15 SERP features and % of HTTPS and AMP.

Some industries experience more change than the others on daily basis (for example, due to higher competitiveness). Thus, Sensor introduced the Deviation score that analyses which industries had biggest the volatility spikes in relation to their usual score.”

SEMrush Sensor data for all keyword categories (US) – December 20

Based on this data, Onskul concludes “Normally, December is one of the calmest months when it comes to SERP volatility as Google tries to minimize potential impact before big holidays. But something happened around December 14, something that Barry Schwartz called the Maccabees Update, or the pre-holiday update. Sensor spotted the highest SERP volatility on mobile (slightly less on desktop) across most categories, most affected on mobile being Autos & Vehicles, Law & Government, Reference.

In fact, right now, on December 19, Sensor is reporting another extreme spike in volatility. Now, Hobbies & Leisure, Science, Jobs & Education, Home & Garden, Internet & Telecom, have been affected the most. And the biggest fluctuations again take place on mobile.

Of course, it’s too early to come to conclusions on what’s going on and how to adjust to the changes (as we can’t really predict what exactly has changed), but what we know for now is that some new tweaks or updates were rolled out on December 19 for the US, and with a domino effect, the dramatic rise in volatility caught up in the UK, Germany, France, Australia and Spain the next day, which means that the update that was tested on the Google US on December 19 is now spreading across the world.”

We also reached out to Searchmetrics for their analysis and Founder and CTO Marcus Tober noted that they prefer to conduct a deep analysis of algorithmic fluctuations after a sustained change has taken place, saying “At first we saw some changes that at first look looked like typical Panda and Phantom symptoms, but not on a large systematic scale. Many sites have lost visibility that have no Schema.org integration, but we can’t determine based on such a short time what are the overall systematic changes.”

The MozCast continues to likewise show rankings turbulence as the updates roll out:

MozCast for Tuesday, December 19

With the holidays upon us and what would otherwise have been a slow week ahead, now is a good time to check your rankings and start auditing if, where, and why you might see changes.