This week: you should only add URLs that you want to index to your sitemap file, Google mobile image search results now show schema markup, and a new study shows that a certain ranking signal isn’t as important as it used to be.
SearchMetrics: Backlink Signals Not As Important As They Used to Be
SearchMetrics has released its annual study of Google’s top ranking factors. One of the study’s conclusions will surprise many SEOs.
Backlink signals are on the way out as a primary driving force behind search rankings.
According to the study, backlinks are just a contributing signal. They’re not as important as other signals such as user intent and content relevance.
The report also says that it’s possible for websites in some niches to receive a high rank without many quality backlinks.
There were several other important observations drawn from the study as well. Among them:
- Word count is still important. Top rankings exceed 1,000 words on average.
- Google places relevance above keyword usage. Only 53% of the top 20 queries used keywords in the title tag.
- User signals such as bounce rate, click-through rate, and time on site are among the top ranking factors.
- Websites can gain a competitive advantage by making use of H2 tags.
- More than 45% of the pages in the top 20 results were encrypted using HTTPS.
- Almost all (86%) of pages in the top 10 use a .com TLD.
- Pages in the top 10 positions have an average load time of 7-8 seconds.
- There’s an extremely high correlation between social signals and rank.
Google Mobile Image Search Results Now Show Product Schema Markup
If you do a Google image search on your smartphone and click on a result that’s product-related, you might see rich snippets.
For example, if you search for surfboards and click on an image that’s from an e-commerce site selling surfboards, you might see the price, rating, and description in addition to the image.
The reason that you might not see rich snippets for some image search results is either because the image isn’t product-related or the e-commerce site that’s displaying the image doesn’t use schema markup.
Also, Google updated the product schema developer documents to reflect the fact that the schema now supports search results. Here’s an excerpt:
Add markup to your product pages so Google can provide detailed product information in rich Search results — including Image Search. Users can see price, availability, and review ratings right on Search results.
Using markup to enable rich product results lets you attract potential buyers while they are searching for items to buy on Google or images that include products you sell. Maintain the accuracy and freshness of your product information, so your customers find the relevant, current items they’re looking for.
Google: Nofollow Attribute Might Help With Crawl Budget
If you have a site with more than 100,000 pages, then using the “nofollow” attribute might help with crawl budget issues.
This past week on Twitter, Idan Ben Or asked Google’s Gary Illyes if the “nofollow” attribute would save “crawling budget.”
Illyes didn’t answer directly and instead asked how many pages are on Ben Or’s site.
Ben Or replied that his site was only a few thousand pages.
Illyes told him that it wasn’t necessary to worry about a crawl budget for a site that size. He said that it will matter more when the site has about 10 times that many pages.
However, Illyes also qualified that by saying that crawl budget really can’t be explained on a microblogging platform like Twitter. He said that Google will try to put up a blog post on the topic in the future.
Google: Only Webmasters Can See If Their Websites Have Been Penalized
This past week, in a Google Webmaster Help thread, John Mueller said that third-party tools that check your site for a penalty aren’t valid.
In fact, Mueller said that the only people outside of Google who can check to see if your site is penalized are those who have access to your Google Search Console account.
There is a tool that does check for both manual and automatic penalties, but it’s a Google internal tool and nobody else has access to it.
Bottom line: just use Search Console to check if your site has been penalized.
Google: Yes, We Do Take Action on Rich Snippet Spam
This past week, in a Google+ hangout, John Mueller confirmed that Google does review all rich snippet spam reports. He also said that if there’s a clear violation, the company will take action.
Specifically, here’s what he said:
I’ve seen a lot of [rich snippet] spam reports and in my experience, like we differently, whenever it’s clearly a violation of our guidelines we definitely take action. So it’s not like they get lost or it’s not like nobody looks at them. They actually getting you at a very regularly.
And essentially are also for our team and are extremely important, like, a source of finding out about of ways how people are either intentionally or maybe accidentally doing stuff that might be a bit a beyond our guidelines. And definitely, let’s say if if you find certain spam reports and you still are really strongly believing that there’s something wrong and you see nothing is happening that would also be an interesting case, maybe to flag on the webmaster forum. You just bring it to our attention again so we can have another see what was happening.
Google: Only Include URLs You Want Indexed in Your Sitemap File
This past week, in a Google Webmaster Help thread, Google’s John Mueller said that you should only include URLs that you want Google to index in your sitemap file.
In other words, don’t use both the www and non-www version of your URLs. Also, don’t include HTTP versions of your URLs if you’re using HTTPS.
“[W]e recommend just submitting a sitemap for the URLs that you want to have indexed, not for all variations,” Mueller wrote.