December 2019 was mostly a quiet month in the SEO world with Google and the other search giants largely holding back on any major updates. Most changes were isolated to minor tweaks to current services, including Google News, Search Console, and GoogleBot.
Google News Just Got Easier to Use
Google’s BERT update from back in October has paved the way for Google News to start automatically including articles that meet their content guidelines. Previously, sites had to submit their articles for inclusion via a sitemap specifically for articles or with the index API. Now, as long as you meet Google’s content guidelines for Google News, your article will be considered for inclusion without having to submit it to Google News. Keep in mind, inclusion does not mean it will rank for a given search.
This was made possible thanks to the BERT update which has helped Google understand more nuanced searches – searches often associated with topical events. While this likely won’t have a direct impact on how most sites rank, it does make some new opportunities available as well as makes the lives of Digital Marketers everywhere a bit easier.
Search Console Talks Back with an Updated Messages Window
Google Search Console updated the Messages window to be more helpful in general, providing more information as well as more ways to filter that information. Users can now filter their messages by category and also see a backlog of messages they received in the past (well, at least as far back as May 2019). Many of these messages are simply notifications, not just errors.
New to the Messages window though, is a monthly performance report that sums up how your site performed on Google Search within a given month. While this information provides a decent snapshot of your site, I have found it to be lacking when it comes to providing context for the data, namely leaving out month-over-month details.
GoogleBot Gets a New Name – But Most People Won’t Notice
Google rolled out a new user agent name for GoogleBot, the actual software that crawls your site for Google Search indexing. Fortunately, this was a change the SEO community has known about for months. In fact, Google has actually been using the new version without changing the name for a while now.
However, most people won’t notice the change unless they’re currently referencing the user agent name to do various things on their site. And to clarify – this won’t affect your references to “GoogleBot” in htaccess files. This would be similar to UPS updating the vehicles they use to make deliveries. It’s still the same services, but the new vehicle might surprise you if you were expecting the old ones.
Impact of Christmas and Some Algorithm Rumors
Finally, there were some rumors in the SEO Community of an unconfirmed Google Search update. The date of the supposed change was December 4th to the 6th. However, reports coming in have been mixed with most people saying they haven’t seen a change. It’s most likely that the reported changes are isolated updates focused on specific searches or regions.
Our network hasn’t seen a noticeable change around this time, but it’s worth mentioning that Christmas and New Year’s falling on Wednesdays has likely had a significant impact on traffic last year. Generally speaking, sites see the most traffic between Tuesday to Thursday and see massive drops in traffic on holidays. With the holidays falling on a Wednesday, it’s a significant drop to what would otherwise be a high-traffic day.
Imagine that your site sees 1000 people on a given Wednesday and 200 on a given Saturday. If Christmas fell on a Saturday, you might see a 50% drop, or 100 people less visiting your site. That is a significant drop, but not nearly as much as the 500 people that won’t be visiting your site if Christmas Day is on that Wednesday. Rest assured though that this drop in traffic is expected and isn’t cause for alarm for most websites. However, if you are seeing a drop and are concerned it’s affecting your business, reach out to us for any SEO and digital marketing needs and questions you may have.