Roundup of Google updates from December 2019

Our monthly review of Google updates

Published by 

Alexis Pratsides


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December brought to an end a hectic year of change for Google which ultimately culminated in the bombshell that was the resignation of Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Over the Christmas period, it was time for SEOs across the world to take a deep breath and recharge ahead of what should be an intense 2020.

We have created this article in order to amalgamate all the relevant updates from Google during the month of December 2019 in one convenient place. Without further ado, let’s get on with the roundup!

2nd Dec – Google Local Search algorithm update

The start of December saw the completion of Google’s rollout of neural matching in relation to search results. This basically means that Google is able to better understand the meaning behind certain local search queries, regardless of the inclusion of specific keywords in the business name or description.

This process was started in November but has now been rolled out across all countries and languages. This should hopefully result in increased organic exposure for local businesses – showing up for queries they previously wouldn’t have.

3rd Dec – Larry Page and Sergey Brin resign

As mentioned above, on December 3rd 2019 Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin announced their resignation from their positions as CEO and President of Alphabet respectively. Alphabet is the umbrella company that Google is a part of.

The current CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, will also now act as CEO of Alphabet, while Page and Brin remain on the board. It will certainly be interesting to see how this pans out and it is safe to say from the quote below that the co-founders believe the company to be in safe hands.

“Sundar brings humility and a deep passion for technology to our users, partners and our employees every day. He’s worked closely with us for 15 years, through the formation of Alphabet, as CEO of Google, and a member of the Alphabet Board of Directors. He shares our confidence in the value of the Alphabet structure, and the ability it provides us to tackle big challenges through technology. There is no one that we have relied on more since Alphabet was founded, and no better person to lead Google and Alphabet into the future.”

4th Dec – Google Search Console introduces messaging feature

The latest improvement introduced to Google Search Console is a messaging panel that allows users to easily view any communication from Google regarding the domain(s) they manage. The main difference with the new set up is that messages can now be viewed as an overlay, within the reporting dashboard itself by clicking the bell notification icon on the top right corner of the screen (as shown below).

6th Dec – Google currently developing package tracking

During December, Google announced that it is currently working on a package tracking service available on the SERPs. This would allow users to view the status of their delivery without visiting the specific carrier’s website, as shown in the screenshot below.

It also must be highlighted that this is an optional opt-in for shipping companies and they do not have to utilise this service if they feel it will divert visitors to their own website. This feature will be available worldwide, although it will be interesting to see how popular this is with shipping companies themselves in the coming months.

9th Dec – Google BERT, welcome to the world

Google’s BERT update, which initially rolled out during October, was applied to 72 languages on December 9, which was announced on Twitter.

Google had previously announced that the BERT update affected approximately 10% of English language search queries and it is estimated that the numbers will be similar in global sense. Ultimately this means that there should be an improvement in the quality of international search traffic.

10th Dec – Google introduces new features to App + Web properties in Google Analytics

The App + Web property in Google Analytics, which allows users to assess data across their app and website, recently benefitted from additional features, as outlined on December 10 by Google.

Firstly, there are now multiple web streams available in a single property. App + Web properties now support up to 50 data streams in one property. Furthermore, users will be able to see metrics across all data streams or alternatively utilise filters to view a single set of data on its own.

Additionally, automated and custom insights are now available for App + Web properties. This used to be solely for web properties. Automated insights utilise machine learning to identify trends and anomalies within data, whereas custom insights mean that the user can inform Google Analytics which metrics they wish to be notified about.

Finally, the Google Analytics search bar can now be used to acquire data in a more efficient fashion – by simply asking a question (see screenshot below). This is another feature that used to be only available to web properties.

11th Dec – Google now uses BERT in Top Stories carousel

Google is now using innovative new machine learning techniques, including the BERT algorithm, to group related news articles into carousels. These new carousels appear in the Top Stories section of the SERP, which should make it much easier for users to find the best articles related to a certain story.

As well as grouping the most relevant articles together, the carousels will also surface additional content that will help to provide more context and perspective to the user, regarding that particular story.

This is explained clearly by Duncan Osborn, product manager of Search at Google:

“When you’re searching for information on a timely topic–a recent sports upset or the latest scientific breakthrough–you see a carousel of articles at the top of your Search results highlighting relevant news. Now, when there are multiple stories related to your search, we’ll also organize the results by story so it’s easier to understand what’s most relevant and you can make a more informed decision on which specific articles to explore.”

Furthermore, the comparative screenshots below provide further clarification on the difference between how the Top Stories section used to look…

And how it looks now, since the Google BERT application to this aspect of the SERPs:

Unfortunately this change currently only applies to US English mobile searches, although it is expected to roll out across more languages and locations in the coming weeks.

14th Dec – Google launches top trending product search hub – Google Shopping 100

In the lead up to Christmas, Google announced the introduction of Google Shopping 100. This allows marketers to view what products are currently trending in various categories – i.e. what products are seeing an increase in popularity, rather than the most searched for products. This could be incredibly useful for any creators of content within e-commerce.

It has been applied to the following categories:

  • Tech
  • Kitchen gear
  • Toys & games
  • Accessories & apparel
  • Gaming
  • Sports & fitness
  • Home goods
  • Personal care

16th Dec – Beware of the Google Search Console bug!

As subtly as possible, Google slipped in an announcement on their Support subdomain that they had discovered a Search Console bug which may impact some reporting during December.

As seen below, the data specifically affected is the reporting of Google Discover between December 8th – December 13th. Although this data cannot be recovered, any data reported post-December 13 will be accurate.

17th Dec – Google Search Console now benefitting from fresher data

Similar to the update in September 2019, which provided Search data in less than 24 hours, the same timeframe has now been applied to Google Discover data. Prior to this update it would take several days for accurate data to become available.

31st Dec – John Mueller advises on how to SEO a progressive web app

During a Reddit Q and A, John Mueller provided some useful insight into how to optimise a website with very little text content, such as an audio-based site that hosts podcasts or audiobooks. Such websites are known as PWAs, or Progressive Web Apps – websites that behave like an app.

Mueller announced that ultimately, Google requires content (notably in text form) in order to understand what a page is about and how to rank it. Furthermore, this text should address how the content is used by the user with regard to what they would be trying to accomplish on that page. The quote below summarises the Reddit exchange in a nutshell:

“You always need textual content on-page, regardless of what other kinds of content you might have. If you’re a video-hosting site, you still need things like titles, headings, text, links, etc. The same goes for audio-hosting sites.  Make it easy for search engines to understand your content & how it’s relevant to users, and they’ll be able to send you relevant traffic.

If you make it hard for search engines to figure out what your pages are about, it would be normal for them to struggle to figure out how your site is relevant for users.”

Looking back on what was a whirlwind decade for SEO, it is impossible to predict the changes that lie ahead in the upcoming one and where we will all stand in 10 years time. While the possibilities are endless, you can be sure that MintTwist will strive to keep you posted each month with a convenient one-stop-shop for Google’s most crucial updates!

Missed our last roundup? Click here to read the Google updates from November 2019!

Created by

Alexis Pratsides

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