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Marlene Dietrich Google doodle honors the legendary actress's career

Marlene Dietrich, the iconic German-born actress, is being honored today on the Google home page on her 116th birthday. She was one of the most well-paid actresses of her time, starting in many well-known Hollywood films such as “Morocco” (1930), “Shanghai Express” (1932), and “Desire” (1936). Google said, “Marlene Dietrich lit up the silver screen during Hollywood’s Golden Age.”

On December 27, 1901, 116 years ago today, she was born in Schöneberg, Germany. She spent a lot of her career in the 1930s in Hollywood. She also held dual citizenship in Germany and the United States. She performed for many years, from 1919 to 1984. She passed on May 6, 1992, in Paris, France at the age of 90.

Google said the Doodle for Marlene Dietrich “was illustrated by artist Sasha Steinberg who captured her mid-performance, suited up in her gender-bending tux and top hat. Steinberg, who is also a drag performer under the name Sasha Velour and winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race (Season 9), counts Dietrich as a major influence in creating their drag alter ego.”

For more on her life and contributions, see her Wikipedia page.

Google image search results tests new related searches box

Google is testing a new “related searches” box in the mobile version of the Google Image search results page. Robin Rozhon spotted the change and posted a screen shot on Twitter of this new box. I cannot replicate the new user interface, but it does look like others are also seeing this test.

Here is what it looks like:

Google frequently tests new user interfaces, so we are not sure if this new one will stick or fade away over the next couple of weeks.

From algo to aggro: How SEOs really feel about Google algorithm updates

As SEOs working in the weeds with our clients each day, it can sometimes be hard to truly see how major Google algorithm updates affect our industry as a whole. Sure, we can perform test after test to see how our clients are affected, but what about the poor account manager or technical SEO director who has to put in the extra work and placate potentially panicked and frustrated clients? How are they personally affected?

BrightLocal (my employer) anonymously polled 650 SEO professionals recently on this very subject, asking them a host of questions about how algorithm updates impact their workload, their client relationships and their job satisfaction. Below, I’ll go over some of the startling results from our survey, “The Human Impact of Google Algorithm Updates.”

Google update? What Google update?

First, and almost most alarmingly, 36 percent of respondents couldn’t say whether their business or their clients’ businesses have ever been impacted by a Google algorithm update. This should come as a shock — although this isn’t necessarily Day 1 SEO Stuff, it’s certainly Week 1 SEO Stuff.

The high percentage shown here suggests that either Google needs to better communicate the potential effects of an algorithm change (we can dream, right?) and/or SEOs and in-house marketers need to do more to stay on top of updates and investigate whether their clients have been affected by them.

‘And how does that make you feel?’

Of the significant 44 percent who said their business or their clients’ had been affected by algorithm changes, 26 percent say they struggle to know how to react, and 25 percent get stressed when updates happen. (Note: For this question, respondents were able to select multiple answers.) However, on the flip side, an encouraging 58 percent either don’t get worried about updates or are actually excited by the challenge.

It’s perfectly natural for different types of people at different levels of experience to have differing reactions to potentially stressful situations, but 26 percent of respondents say they don’t even know how to react. This means that all the content you put out immediately after a Google update — whether to cash in on suddenly popular “what just happened to the Google algorithm” keywords or to genuinely help SEOs serve their clients better (we’re hoping it’s the latter) — isn’t reaching everyone.

At this point in the Google updates timeline, we should all, as content creators and content readers, be better versed in learning how to react after a Google update.

The penultimate straw

For many, it seems, the camel’s back can very nearly be broken by a surprise Google update. Just over a quarter of respondents said they’d considered leaving the SEO industry because of algorithm updates but ultimately decided to stick around.

It’s worth taking a step back next time an update hits. Take a look around your agency — are your SEO staff or colleagues ready to break? It takes strong leadership and a solid bedrock of skills for an SEO agency to bounce back from a big update, so make sure your best SEOs are made of the right stuff to prepare them for the worst — and, as we’ll see now, it gets bad.

How to lose clients and alienate Google

Nearly a third of respondents who said that Google updates had had an effect on business actually lost clients as a result.

But it’s not all bad news. Twenty-six percent won clients, 23 percent saw the opportunity to grow their work with existing clients, and 29 percent of respondents noticed no change after the update. So there’s quite a lot of positivity to be found here, especially considering respondents were able to choose multiple answers (which could mean that respondents both won and lost clients because of Google updates).

What this ultimately means is that what happens after a Google update is up to you. You can’t point at the above chart and say, “Well, everyone loses clients after a Google update,” because they don’t. The range of responses shows just how much is at stake when an update hits, but it also shows the huge opportunities available to those agencies that communicate with their existing clients quickly and knowledgeably, carefully managing expectations along the way, while also keeping their eye out for businesses who have taken a beating in rankings/traffic and are looking for help.

The client-agency relationship

One final point the survey touched on was the client-agency relationship and how it can be affected by Google updates. A majority agreed that updates make clients more dependent on agencies. (Who knew it? It turns out that every time Google released an algorithm update, they were doing SEOs a favor all along!)

However, with that extra dependency comes extra scrutiny, as seen by the 31 percent of respondents who feel that Google updates lead to clients distrusting agencies. The wisest SEOs in this particular situation are the ones going into client update meetings with clear, transparent overviews of what the client’s money or their time is being spent on, and simplified (but not necessarily simple) explanations of the ramifications of the Google update.

And for the 28 percent who said that Google updates make clients consider changing agency? Well, I hope you do better next time!

What is the first thing you do when an algorithm update happens?

Before I leave you to stew on all that data and start pre-packing your next Google Update Emergency Go-Bag, here are some of the qualitative responses we received to one particular question in the survey, “What is the first thing you do when an algorithm update happens?” May these serve to remind you that whatever happens, no SEO is alone:

The data-divers

“Run ranking reports on all clients.”“Review all the sites that are affected and determine what they have in common. That gives me a starting point as to what has changed.”“Determine which high-volume pages are most impacted, then review existing SEO to try to uncover anything that might be the cause of the traffic from an on-page or technical SEO perspective.”

The researchers

“Read the posts on it to find out what happened and how to react.”“Figure out how I need to change my strategy.”“The first thing I do is research to find out what has been impacted. Next, I inform my team of what to expect from incoming client calls. Following that, I write an article for our blog to include our clients in on the updates.”“Read, read, read everything I can get my hands on.”“Read and study. Then work to fix it.”“Check forums/respected sites to find out as much information as possible.”“Get educated.”“Read as much as I can on what happened/what was affected, then find what it did to my websites/keyword rankings, then rebuild and re-conquer.”“Start reading news releases and blogs from highly respected SEO professionals to try to figure out the changes.”

The vice users

“Grab an adult beverage (or two).”“Drink coffee.”“Smoke a cigarette.”“Go for a few beers.”“Take a Xanax.”

The waiters

“Wait a few weeks while watching the SERPs.”“Nothing, I wait for the algorithm to normalize. I take a look at websites that drop, and websites that increase in rankings. I then compare and contrast my clients’ sites to those. Once I have better understanding of how the algorithm affects sites, I will adjust the strategy.”“Just ignore it for a couple weeks then make adjustments.”

The communicators

“Check for confirmation of update. Assess impact. Communicate with affected clients.”“Share the news with my team and engage them in coming up with a plan.”

 The extremes

“Prepare for the s***-storm ahead.”“Freak out.”“Cry.”

The one person who was actually positive about it

“Celebrate the new consulting opportunities that will result.”

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

PPC insights: Our top SEM columns of 2017

Though paid search has long since cemented its place as a pillar of digital marketing, changes in technology and consumer behavior have continued to reshape the PPC landscape and keep search marketers on their toes. In 2017, we saw the last of “standard” text ads in AdWords as expanded text ads, introduced in 2016, became the new norm. We also said goodbye to the literal definition of “exact” as Google expanded exact match targeting to include close variants.

Yet, on the whole, search marketers spent more of 2017 looking forward than dwelling on the past. Two of our most widely-read columns, penned by former Googler Frederick Vallaeys, were forward-thinking pieces that focused on how artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are driving innovation and automation in paid search.

This past year also saw a host of new feature releases, and with new capabilities comes the need to try new things — which is why so many of our top columns this year focused on testing. From ad copy testing to landing page testing, search marketers sought out resources to help ensure that their ads are reaching their full potential.

For these topics and more, check out Search Engine Land’s top paid search columns of 2017!

    The best-kept AdWords secret: AMP your landing pages by Frederick Vallaeys, published on 5/10/2017.Seriously, Google, can you just make exact match exact? by Daniel Gilbert, published on 3/21/2017.Attention search marketers: ALL keywords are branded keywords! by Larry Kim, published on 1/23/2017.10 AdWords ad copy testing ideas you can use right now by Jason Puckett, published on 3/14/2017.The AdWords 2017 roadmap is loaded with artificial intelligence by Frederick Vallaeys, published on 6/7/2017.3 free AdWords testing tools to adopt today by Todd Saunders, published on 3/7/2017.Three foolproof steps to excellent AdWords ads by Matt Lawson, published on 3/17/2017.This script creates Google Slides with AdWords data to automate your presentation-making by Frederick Vallaeys, published on 8/2/2017.The great big list of landing page tests to try by Amy Bishop, published on 5/2/2017.How artificial intelligence drives PPC automation by Frederick Vallaeys, published on 1/18/2017.

What to watch for in 2018: Mobile SEO predictions

As we wrap up 2017 and look forward to 2018, many SEOs will speculate about what to expect in the year to come. Since my focus is mobile, I wanted to share my unique expectations for 2018 by outlining what we know and what we suspect on the mobile SEO front.

This past year brought a lot of changes to the mobile ecosystem, though we are still waiting expectantly for the launch of Google’s mobile-first index. We have been assured that it will launch sometime in 2018, and we hope this is true.

For this article, I plan to focus on a few of my key predictions for 2018: the blurring of the lines between app and web, cross-device convergence and the increased reliance on schema markup in HTML, JSON and databases. I will then tie all the trends together with unique speculation about what mobile-first indexing will actually be and what strategies you can start incorporating now to create an immediate SEO benefit.

This background information about mobile trends and the long-term expectations about mobile-first indexing should help you prioritize and plan for a more successful 2018.

Blurring of the app/web lines

The biggest trend in 2017 that will continue to grow in 2018 is a movement toward Progressive Web Apps, or PWAs. You can expect them to be an even bigger focus in 2018.

Just as a refresher, Progressive Web Apps are websites that enable an app shell and configuration file to be downloaded to a phone, which allows it to take on all the best characteristics of a native app while living on the web. Remember, “web apps” are basically just JavaScript-heavy websites that look like native apps, so making them function as a PWA just entails adding a couple of extra files and a little more functionality.

The great thing about PWAs is that they allow for an app icon, full-screen display without an address bar, speedy on- and offline functionality and push notifications. They are a good way to help companies build a bridge between the discoverability of the web and the engagement and satisfaction that users experience with apps, all while minimizing overhead. They can be used directly on the web or installed like a native app on Android devices (and iOS devices soon, too). That means there is a lot less to maintain, optimize and promote, so they are incredibly attractive to savvy companies of all sizes.

The app development trends will start to shift away from native apps and toward PWAs as more companies begin to understand the value that PWAs can provide. The Android OS now treats PWAs almost exactly like native apps, showing their resource consumption and specs in the exact same places, displaying them in the app tray, and soon, adding them to the Google Play Store. Google has also begun to transition many of their specific-interest web resources into PWAs, including Traffic, Sports, Restaurants, Weather, Google Contribute, Maps-Go and Weather PWA.

You can see this trend in action below. The first screen shows a web search result for the local weather. The next screen shows the same search result with a different presentation and the option to add it to the home screen. The third screen shows the dialogue where you accept addition of the PWA icon to your home screen. The final image shows Google’s native weather app and its weather PWA app icons side by side. The two apps do the exact same thing and have the exact same interface.

[Click to enlarge.]

PWAs are also important because they remove the need for companies to set up deep links from their websites into their apps and vice versa — a process that has proven complicated and sometimes impossible for large companies that don’t have exact parity between their app and website content. Google always prefers to recommend and reward the least error-prone options, and in our experience, deep linking the old fashioned way is very error-prone. Every time something changes in the app or content moves on the website (individual 301 redirects or a full migration), app indexing and deep linking is at risk of failing or completely breaking down.

And even when your deep links are working correctly, referral touch points and attribution can be nearly impossible to track without the assistance of third-party services. This is a stark contrast to the simplicity of linking on the web. PWAs are self-contained apps that are already indexed on the web, eliminating all that complexity.

If everything that happens in your company’s app can be achieved in a PWA, it makes sense to focus efforts on the PWA — especially if the company is struggling with deep linking. As long as your PWA is well indexed and delivering a great user experience, Android deep links will be irrelevant.

Since PWAs will be in Google Play with native apps, Android users likely won’t be able to tell the difference between a native app and a PWA. On Android, it is important to note that Google may eventually change how they treat deep links when a PWA is available. Google may begin to prefer PWA content over deep links (especially if the app is not installed), just as they have done for AMP content.

This is less of a concern for iOS, especially if deep linking is happening through iOS Universal links rather than any Firebase implementation. Since Universal Links are executed with the iOS operating system rather than the browser, it seems likely that iOS will continue to honor Universal Links into apps, even if a PWA is available.

Just remember that, in both cases, if the PWA is replacing the website, the app deep links will need to match up with the URLs used in the PWA. If the PWA is in addition to the main website, only the web URLs that are associated with app URIs will trigger the deep links.

As Google begins adding PWAs to Google Play and indexing them on the web, this could make it easier for it to add app logos to SERPs for both Android and iOS, improving the appearance, CTR and engagement of the PWA links. Regardless, there may still be a push for all app deep links to be moved into its Firebase system, to help Google improve its cross-device, cross-OS reporting and attribution. Depending on how quickly Google is able to finish launching mobile-first indexing, this is something that may be a big push for the company in the second half of 2018.

We are seeing similar changes on the app store optimization (ASO) front as well. The Google Play algorithm is historically much less sophisticated than the Google search algorithm, but recent changes to the Google Play app algorithm show a much larger focus on app performance, efficiency, engagement and reviews, and a relative decrease in the importance of app metadata. This could be considered a signal of a potential impending merge between Google Play and regular SERPs, since we know performance is an important ranking factor there. When PWAs are added to the Google Play Store, native Android apps will be competing against PWA websites in terms of performance. Conversely, this will likely mean that PWAs may also be subject to ranking fluctuations based on user reviews and star ratings.

Though it is less prominent for SEO, the same may be true in the Apple world of technology. Historically, Apple was resistant to allowing their Safari browser to support PWAs, but recent announcements make it seem as though the company’s perspective has flipped. In 2017, Apple finally made it clear that Safari would soon support the Service Worker files that make PWAs so useful, and just this month (Dec. 12, 2017), in its quest to eliminate the use of app templating services, Apple seemingly endorsed PWAs as a better option for companies with limited budgets than templated native apps!

Apple’s sudden and emphatic endorsement of PWAs is a strong indication that PWAs will be supported in the next Safari update. It may also indicate that Apple has developed a scheme to monetize PWAs. Apple could also plan on adding them to its App Store (where they can exercise more editorial control over them). This is all yet to be seen, of course, but it will be interesting.

Cross-device convergence

The next major theme to expect in 2018 is cross-device convergence. As the number and purpose of connected devices continues to expand, mindsets will also need to expand to take on a wider view of what it means to be “cross-device.” Historically, cross-device might have meant having apps and a website, or having a responsive design website that worked on all devices. But in 2018, people will start to realize that this is not enough. As the line between app and web merges on mobile, it will also merge on desktop and the Internet of Things (IoT).

As more information moves to the cloud, it will be easier to seamlessly move from one device to another, maintaining the state, history and status of the interaction on all devices simultaneously. The presentation layer will simply include hooks into a larger API. Developers will be more focused on testing data integrations of one app across many different devices, rather than testing multiple, device-specific apps on multiple devices (somewhat similar to the transition to responsive design on the web).

There is a store for Google Home and a store for Google Actions, Google’s Voice-First and Voice-Only channels, but these will probably merge into the same store — possibly when the mobile-first index fully launches, but more likely soon after. You can expect an eventual convergence of mobile and desktop app stores, operating systems and search utilities, though this won’t all be completed or even initiated in 2018. It is just the direction things are going.

We have already seen this happening in some places. The convergence between mobile and desktop is most obvious when you look at the changes that happened in Windows 10. The desktop OS incorporates an app store and looks much more like an Android phone, even including customizable widgets in the “Start” screens. Microsoft announced just this month that Service Workers, push notifications and local cache will all also be enabled by default in Microsoft’s new Edge browser, which is intended for both desktop and mobile.

PWAs and Android apps are already available in the Windows app store, which means that PWAs are already available and partially usable on desktop. In that same vein, Microsoft has now made a point of making some of the top software, like Outlook, Excel and Word, available on Android devices, without a license.

There are also indications that Google may begin to test sponsored App Pack rankings. Since App Pack rankings happen in the regular SERP rather than an app store, this could be important for desktop, too. As companies begin to realize how useful PWAs are, they will have a visual advantage over other sponsored results on both mobile and desktop.

Google and Microsoft/Windows have always been more willing to coexist without walled gardens, while Apple has always leaned toward proprietary products and access. If Safari mobile will support PWAs and Service Workers, then it may also be true for the desktop version of Safari, meaning that the line between mobile and desktop will be merging in the larger Apple universe, too. The MacOS has had its own app store for a long time, but the Apple teams, like the Android and Windows teams, have also reported that they will be merging the MacOS and iOS stores into one in 2018.

This cross-device, voice- and cloud-oriented model is already being pursued with Cortana’s integration in Windows 10, where the mobile and desktop app stores have already merged. Similarly, Siri, Safari and Spotlight work cross-device to surface apps and websites, and Google has added voice search to desktop — but they have both yet to really push the assistant to the front and center as a means of surfacing that app and web content on all devices.

There were rumors that iOS apps would also be available in the Windows app store, but that looks like it has fallen through, at least in terms of 2018 planning. Instead, Apple may have decided to extend or merge its own iOS App Store with the desktop version of the store and could also have decided to include PWAs for the desktop experience.

The last thing to watch out for in this trend is changes with Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). AMP was designed to make webpages fast and mobile-friendly, and even though these enhanced pages can work on desktop and probably could integrate easily with voice, Google has reportedly struggled to integrate them into the mobile-first index. While it does provide a lot of advantages, AMP will probably have to make major changes or face a reckoning in 2018. There are still significant problems that need to be resolved in terms of UX and measurement.

Increased reliance on structured data markup in more places

The final thing to watch for in 2018 is Google’s push for webmasters to mark up everything with structured data, including social profiles, corporate contact information, books, events, courses and facts. Structured data, and specifically markup that is formatted in JSON-LD to provide semantic understanding, is what allows Google to understand “entities.” (The “LD” in JSON-LD stands for Linked Data.)

We know that structured data will be a big deal because it helps Google figure out what is going on without having to rely so heavily on crawling and parsing all the content on the web — which has become quite a monumental job with no end in sight. This is why Google has switched to requesting most data-rich assets in the JSON-LD format, including Google Action markup, Web-app manifests, and the files saved by Service Workers.

Last year, before Google I/O, Google made a big point of creating a structured data testing tool that gave specific implementation instructions for a variety of different kinds of markup. The kinds of schema included there, not surprisingly, are specifically good for interactions with Google Home, Google Assistant and Chromecast — things like restaurants, reservations, travel plans, music, TV, movies and recipes.

Content that is well marked up with structured data can be easily parsed and presented on non-traditional devices through voice search and interaction (like with Google Assistant, Google Home, Android Auto). This is also a big deal for non-Google products like Amazon Alexa, Siri, Fitbit (which launched its own OS-specific partner apps) and voice-enabled TV remotes.

The one thing in Google’s structured data documentation that has not gotten due attention is the database or data set markup (i.e., instructions for how to add structured data markup to your database). Databases don’t necessarily have URLs or need websites, and this is core to the theory that the mobile-first index will not require URLs for indexing and that it will rely on schemas and entity understanding.

Let’s look at an example of how markup is creating “entity” understanding. Below, you can see a search result for a specific boot. Rather than showing all the web locations where you might find that boot, Google has aggregated it into a utility that can give users a lot more information directly from the SERP.

The result shows the full name of the boot, as well as what stores have it in stock and at what prices. It also shows the star ratings for the boot and lets me toggle to different sizes and colors. If I click the tabs, I can see more details about the boot and read reviews that have been aggregated from all the places that sell it. Since this information is an aggregation of information from all over the web, it actually does not have a static URL, so Google includes a triangle “share” link so that the aggregation itself can be shared.

This sharing functionality is something that you can expect to see much more of in mobile-first indexing. It is an indication that Google views a topic as an entity and thus has stored, aggregated or assimilated information on the topic as a whole (the entity). Dynamic links are links that Google generates on the fly, for content that it understands, but that does not naturally have a URL.

It is important to remember that Google’s very first (unsuccessful) attempt to encourage app deep-linking used Dynamic Links, as part of Google Now On-Tap. Then, they were used as a unified link that united the same piece of content on the web, in an iOS app and in an Android app. They allowed one link to trigger the right experience on any device, and if the appropriate app was not installed, the link would fall back to the web version of the content. Now, Dynamic Links are still included as an important part of Google’s app indexing platform, Firebase.

In the next example below, you can see how the linked data helps support entity understanding in a search result. The query is for a popular author, so the result shows pictures and a brief biography at the very top. There are only minor differences between the Google Now result and the Google Web result — one has a dynamic share link, and the other offers the ability to “follow” the entity or concept.

In both, the result aggregates information such as quotes and movies attributed to the author, lists influences and links to a Wikipedia page. Below that, Google displays a carousel of his most popular books, with pictures of the cover and the date they came out. Below that, it shows a “People Also Searched For” carousel, which is full of authors who write in the same genre.

We believe Google is using clicks on these bottom two carousels to verify and vet the linked data that it has assimilated about this author. The more clicks a carousel item gets, the more likely it is linked to the topic of the query.

A new way to think of mobile-first indexing

Knowing these trends should help you understand how mobile-first indexing fits into the larger SEO picture. Inclusion of the word “indexing” in Google’s official title for the update is telling. It indicates that this is not just an algorithm update, but an update to the fundamental architecture and organization of the system. Remember, an “index” is just a repository of ordered information that is easy to query or search. Indexes can be created for all different kinds of information and ordered in a variety of ways: alphabetically, numerically, or in Google’s case, historically based on URLs.

Since native apps and progressive web apps don’t require different URLs to show different content, we believe the method of indexing and organizing content has to change. Forcing URLs into those new technologies has proved untenable, so Google needs a new index — and it will be one that prefers “portable” content that lives in the cloud and is well marked up with structured data. It will probably be an “entity index” based on unique “entity concepts” that include domains (with URLs), native app entities and their content, PWA entities and database entities that need no design elements at all.

Use of the phrase “mobile-first” in the name is also interesting. With both the mobile-friendly update and mobile-first indexing, Google repurposes phrases that were previously used to describe design elements — but in both, Google mainly focused on the technological back end that made the design changes possible. For the mobile-friendly update, Google did provide guidelines on how content should look on the page, but based on their testing tool, their main focus was really on the crawlability of dependent files on the site (specifically, the CSS and JavaScript).

The mobile-friendly update was an important precursor to mobile-first indexing because it gave Google what it needed to feed and train its machine learning programs about how they should ingest and interpret JavaScript. As SEOs, we all endured the mobile-friendly update, which preferred sites that qualified as such and awarded them with a mobile-friendly icon when they appeared in search results.

Similarly, the phrase “mobile-first” was originally used to describe a design principle in which responsive design website frameworks were established with the most essential elements of functionality first, and these were meant for mobile devices with the smallest screens. Only later were designers able to add in other, less necessary elements of the design and UX for larger-screened devices that had more room.

It now appears that Google has also co-opted the term “mobile-first” to mean something slightly different, with implications that are much larger than just design. Rather than focusing on mobile devices and screen sizes, Google will put the focus on content accessibility and the cloud and focus much less on the presentation.

This is an important trend because “the cloud” is where Google has been focusing most of their time and innovative energy. Content that is hosted in the cloud, without being formatted specifically for any one device, is exactly what they are after; it is the easiest for them to process with AI and the easiest for them to redisplay on any screen (or read out loud, in voice-only contexts). That is where Google Now and Google Assistant come in.

Google Now was Google’s first attempt at a predictive search engine that anticipated queries before a user even submitted them. It used all the information it knew or could detect about your habits to anticipate information you would want and displayed it in an interface to the left of the home screen on Android phones. It was also available as the Google App on iOS, but it was never as good since they weren’t able to aggregate as many personal habits and preferences from iOS users. Google Now included a voice search capability, but it just translated voice queries into text.

There are minimal differences in most search rankings when you compare regular search in Google.com and a search in Google Now. The primary differences happen when there is a PWA available (like the Weather PWA). There are also some minor variations in the “share” and “follow” functionality, which probably also hint at what to expect in mobile-first indexing. You can see the differences below.

Google Assistant is a bit more sophisticated in that it can sometimes answer simple questions directly rather than just returning a search result. It also uses passive and active signals about a user to ensure that it is giving the most accurate and useful information possible. Google Assistant is the critical element of a Google Home device, which operates primarily with voice but can cast results to connected TVs or phones if visual review is required.

Google Now and Google Assistant are obvious precursors for mobile-first indexing and give us a great deal of insight into what to expect. The two utilities are very similar and may simply be combined for mobile-first indexing. One of the strongest endorsements of this idea is that Google has recently gotten much more aggressive at pushing Android users into the Google Now/Google Assistant world. They moved the query bar from the Google Now interface (one swipe left of the main phone screen) to the standard layout (accessible on all versions of the home screen).

The new search bar just says “Google,” so most users won’t realize that they are accessing a different experience there than in the web-oriented version of Google (google.com).

Google’s most recent blog post about the mobile-first index didn’t really add anything new to the equation, so our best guess is still that the new index will probably also lean heavily on Google’s existing semantic understanding of the web (which is based on Knowledge Graph and its historical incorporation and build-up of Freebase). It will also use cards and AI, like we are used to seeing in Google Now. This concept is backed up by Google’s retirement of the term “rich snippets” and the launch of the new Rich Results Testing Tool on December 19.

The image below shows the different methods Google is using to inform the Google Assistant about an individual user’s preferences, which will help further personalize individual search results. But this data could also be aggregated — in a “Big Data” way — to determine larger patterns, needs and search trends so that it can adapt more quickly.

On the left, you can see a Google Cloud Search, which draws together information about assets on all of my devices that are logged into a Google Account. This includes emails, calendar entries, Drive documents, photos, SMS and apps. Though this has not been the focus of any Google marketing, it is part of Google’s Business GSuite package, which is turned on by default for all GSuite users.

On the right, you can see the Google My Activity tracker. This is another feature that is turned on by default. It is similar to the Cloud Search function, but instead of just being a searchable database, it organizes the information in chronological order. It breaks out my daily activity on a timeline and a map. The data includes the amount of time I spent walking and driving. It also shows the businesses that I visited and the times I was there. It also places pictures that I took on the timeline and associates them with the locations where the pictures were taken.

Elements like this are meant to help Google Assistant have a greater understanding of personal context so that it can respond when surfacing search results, either to an explicit search or to an anticipated want or need (e.g., Google Now).

In the long run, Google Assistant may be the new entry to Google search on all devices, forcing people to log in so that their state and history can be maintained across different devices, and so that a personal history and index can be developed and built out for each user. The beginning of this personal history index is already in Google Now for Android users. It uses active and passive machine learning to track and compile all of a user’s cross-device activity in Google Cloud, then translates that information into predicted needs in Google Now.

Google has already begun promoting a “one-click register and form “complete” and “one-click sign-in” that works and transfers credentials across different devices. This functionality is all currently made possible by Google’s Credential Management API, which means that it relies on a cloud-hosted shared “state” managed by coordination of local Service Workers that pass state changes to the cloud-hosted Google Account. If and when this takes off, it will be a huge boon to engagement and e-commerce conversion because it eliminates the main friction.

Conclusion

From a search prospective, data that lives in one state, regardless of the device, is great — but assimilating all the different types of potential search results into an index is hard. The new mobile-first index will mix together websites with apps, PWAs and other data sets that don’t all have URLs, so this is where structured data markup will come in.

Just as advertising systems profile individual users with device fingerprints, Google will have to organize the new index with similar unique identifiers, which will include web URLs and app URIs. But, for content that does not have an existing unique identifier, like a page deep within a PWA experience or an asset in a database, Google will allow “Dynamic Links” to stand in as their unique identifier so that they can be indexed.

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

SearchCap: Google images, algorithm updates & top in 2018

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

From Search Engine Land:

What to watch for in 2018: Mobile SEO predictions
Dec 27, 2017 by Cindy Krum

Mobile SEO expert Cindy Krum shares her predictions for where mobile is headed in 2018 and dives deep into how current trends fit into the impending mobile-first index.

PPC insights: Our top SEM columns of 2017
Dec 27, 2017 by Jessica Thompson

2017 marked yet another eventful year for the SEM industry, and there was no shortage of great content to guide readers through it. See which topics were most popular with Search Engine Land’s PPC community in our top 10 paid search columns of the year.

From algo to aggro: How SEOs really feel about Google algorithm updates
Dec 27, 2017 by Jamie Pitman

Algorithm updates got you down? You’re not alone. Columnist Jamie Pitman shares highlights from a BrightLocal survey seeking to understand the ways that algorithm updates impact SEO practitioners’ jobs.

Google image search results tests new related searches box
Dec 27, 2017 by Barry Schwartz

Google is at it again, now testing a new way for searchers to expand their queries in image search on mobile.

Marlene Dietrich Google doodle honors the legendary actress’s career
Dec 27, 2017 by Barry Schwartz

Actress, humanitarian, star and icon gets a Google logo on what would have been her 116th birthday.

Search News From Around The Web:

It’s In The Stars – A Google Algorithm Update On 12/15/17 Is Impacting Some Celebrity Websites, GSQI20 Years of Yandex: Yandex Advertising in 2017, Russian Search MarketingA Novice’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization, theupperranks.comBroad Match Modifier: What It Is and How to Use It, Ignite VisibilityGoogle Recommends Against Using Google Tag Manager For SEO Tests, Search Engine Roundtable

Unique international trends require a unique marketing approach

It’s that time of the year! That time of year when we all agonizingly optimize for holiday shopping behavior, do our best to navigate complicated family dynamics and read countless end-of-year lists.

SEL reporter Amy Gesenhues recently summarized the annual release of Google’s “Year in Search” for 2017, and there were some interesting takeaways. (Not the least of which was that the “Malika Haqq and Ronnie Magro” query didn’t make the Top 10 Searches Overall list — admittedly, I have no idea who those people are, but their names sure are fun to say!)

Lists of this nature are intended to be simple, fun, and (to be candid) easy press hits. But there’s actually an important and applicable lesson to be distilled here, too. These “Year in Search” lists are representative of the searching populace; the lists communicate the interests of the collective audience. There certainly was no shortage of compelling stories in 2017, but the subjects included in Gesenhues’s piece are what drove the most engagement in this country.

Of course, as digital marketers, we’re obsessed with targeting and often dismiss any characteristics of the “collective audience” as irrelevant to our sophisticated efforts. But in fact, the clear message that this peek-into-the-collective communicates is the value of targeting.

Yandex, Russia’s leading search engine (and my employer), recently released its own version of the “Year in Search” — and there is very little overlap with Google’s. This may not be shocking to you, but if it’s common knowledge that the trends in one market may be vastly different than those in another, then why do so many advertisers apply the same approach across markets?

More and more American companies are expanding their target audiences to incorporate the international consumer. Of course, there are more potential customers outside of the US than within, so the allure is understandable. But each international market is unique, and your marketing strategies need to reflect the differences.

Below is Yandex’s 2017 Year in Search. Don’t forget to compare with Google’s list here!

Events

    St. Petersburg metro terrorist attackBlue Whale Game and social network death groups“Matilda” film scandalIntroduction of fines for vehicles lacking a studded-tire signAnti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) activitiesCoxsackievirus in TurkeySevere storm in MoscowRelics of St. Nicholas in MoscowRohingya persecution in MyanmarOpening of Zaryadye Park in Moscow

Men

    Dima BilanAndrey MalakhovArmen DzhigarkhanyanКirill SerebrennikovFace (Ivan Dryomin)Anatoliy PashininEmmanuel MacronYuri DudVladimir KuzminDmitry Borisov

Women

    Maria MaksakovaYuliya SamoylovaDiana ShuryginaDana BorisovaAnastasia VolochkovaAnastasia ShubskayaRavshana KurkovaNatalia ShkulevaTatiana TarasovaBrigitte Macron

Things and Phenomena

    CryptocurrencyFidget SpinneriPhone XSamsung Galaxy S8iPhone 8Yandex’s AI assistant AliceRap battlesUpdated Nokia 3310BlockchainNew 200 and 2,000 rouble notes

Sports

    Ice hockey World ChampionshipConfederations CupRussian Football ChampionshipMayweather vs. McGregor fightKontinental Hockey League ChampionshipChampions LeagueEmelianenko vs. Mitrione fightWorld Cup 2018Russia-Spain matchRussia-Portugal match

Films

    ItDespicable Me 3Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2VikingPirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesThe Last WarriorThe Fate of the FuriousTransformers: The Last KnightAttractionSpider-Man: Homecoming

Foreign TV Series

    Game of ThronesGrechankaSherlockRiverdaleThe Walking DeadSupernaturalSkamTabooThe FlashTwin Peaks

Memes

    Eshkere (“Esketit”)Zhdun (“The one who waits”)Eto fiasko, bratan (“This is a fiasco, bro”)Cevapcici Na donyshke (“Just a little”) Easy-easy, real talk, think about itTak, blyat (“What the!!!”)HypeVinishko-tyan (term used for a hipster-like youth subculture)Ave Maria! Deus Vult!

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

Mind your business: Our top local search columns of 2017

Local SEO practitioners have an increasingly important role to play in the digital marketing mix as searches with local intent continue to grow at a fast pace — particularly on mobile devices. Google has responded to this shift in consumer behavior accordingly, releasing several updates in 2017 that have allowed business owners to enhance their local listings.

This year, our readers seemed especially interested in learning more about new Google My Business features, particularly Google Posts, Questions and Answers and the new website builder. This interest may reflect increased competition for a limited number of spots in the local pack: When all of your local competitors have the basics down, utilizing new and advanced features is a great way to make your business listing stand out.

Although articles about Google dominated the top local search columns this year, there was one notable exception, by Local Search Association’s Wesley Young, that focused on how Facebook is solidifying its place in the local search ecosystem. Young’s column provided a compelling case for expanding your local marketing efforts beyond Google’s local pack.

Top honors this year go to Joy Hawkins’s excellent and thorough coverage of Google’s “Hawk” algorithm update, which impacted how local listings are filtered based on their proximity to similar businesses.

Wondering what else local search marketers were excited about this year? Check out our top 10 most popular Local Search columns for 2017:

    August 22, 2017: The day the “Hawk” Google local algorithm update swooped in by Joy Hawkins, published on 9/8/2017.Local SEO in 2017: 5 simple ways to dominate local search by Sherry Bonelli, published on 2/9/2017.5 ways you can improve your new business’s visibility on Google Maps by Wesley Young, published on 2/27/2017.7 unannounced updates to Google My Business we’ve seen in 2017 by Joy Hawkins, published on 5/18/2017.Hyperlocal marketing will soar in 2017: 5 tips to stay on top by Jim Yu, published on 2/21/2017.Google My Business website builder SEO review by Tony Edward, published on 6/27/2017.3 local SEO tips that deliver business results by Ryan Shelley, published on 2/7/2017.Do Google Posts impact ranking? A case study by Joy Hawkins, published on 11/2/2017.7 changes by Facebook that make it a real local search player by Wesley Young, published on 6/19/2017.6 business types that reap the most reward from local SEO by Pratik Dholakiya, published on 2/20/2017.

Using AdWords API to export to third-party ad networks will remain OK as Google keeps terms it adopted in FTC settlement

Though the part of Google’s antitrust settlement with the Federal Trade Commission that had them allow exports of AdWords data through its API expires tomorrow, Matthew Sucherman, Google’s VP and deputy general counsel, announced today that Google will keep the AdWords API terms and conditions as they are currently.

That means Google will continue to allow software that interfaces with its API to export AdWords campaign and ad data, so users will be able to continue mixing that data with other information and integrating it into other ad networks, such as Bing Ads.

“We believe that these policies provide continued flexibility for developers and websites, and we will be continuing our current practices regarding the AdWords API Terms and Conditions and the domain-by-domain opt-out following the expiration of the voluntary commitments,” Sucherman said.

Google explained that this requirement expires tomorrow, December 27, 2017, but they have decided internally to keep the terms and conditions as is.

Additionally, Google will continue to allow websites to keep their crawled content from appearing on Google.com-linked pages for Google Flights, Google Hotels, Google Shopping and in results returned for certain local queries. The provision enables a competing site to allow its pages to be included in web search results while keeping them from appearing on more directly competitive Google offerings — though opting out from the local results would apply globally.

Google wrote:

In 2012, Google made voluntary commitments to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that are set to expire on December 27th, 2017. At that time, we agreed to remove certain clauses from our AdWords API Terms and Conditions. We also agreed to provide a mechanism for websites to opt out of the display of their crawled content on certain Google web pages linked to google.com in the United States on a domain-by-domain basis.

We believe that these policies provide continued flexibility for developers and websites, and we will be continuing our current practices regarding the AdWords API Terms and Conditions and the domain-by-domain opt-out following the expiration of the voluntary commitments.