Google takes action over bloggers' product reviews - the Search Report tackles this month's headlines

Stephen Kenwright, director of search at Branded3, rounds up the big developments in SEO, PPC and display to help you plan your search strategy.

In the first instalment of the Search Report Stephen Kenwright, director of search at Branded3 dissects the biggest headlines from the world of search.

  • Google warned bloggers about product reviews last month; now it’s taken action
  • Paid ads were shifted from the right to the top of search results; now they might become even less obvious
  • Branded terms (of other brands) took a hit in January and have now taken another

There’s nothing new under the sun, as they say…

Penalties for bloggers giving product reviews

Last weekend Google gave manual actions to a substantial number of bloggers who have published product reviews containing links without the 'nofollow' attribute and it may now manually penalise brands using bloggers for product reviews as a link acquisition strategy as it did frequently throughout 2013-14.

In the short term brands using this strategy can expect to see a negative impact on rankings and visibility. Effectively the search engine no longer trusts links coming from these blogs and will not allow the links to pass PageRank. Google has confirmed that the manual actions also apply to bloggers linking to brands’ social media accounts and mobile apps in product reviews.

A drop in organic traffic in the last week may be due to this so search marketers should quickly audit their link profiles. Bloggers linking without using the nofollow attribute but publishing a disclosure, anything from 'a PR collaboration' to an explicit declaration of receiving goods in exchange for a review, regardless whether words or thoughts are the blogger’s, should be contacted and asked to add the attribute (educating bloggers around search engine guidelines can be positive in a relationship if done tactfully) or added to a disavow file through Google Search Console (if brands or agencies don’t wish to risk the negative response that comes with telling a blogger that their blog might be damaging).

Marketers should also check disclosure policies and previous posts containing product reviews for future blogger campaigns – if it appears that bloggers are still linking from product reviews they should be explicitly asked for a link with the nofollow attribute.

Google tests green ad labels

After shutting down Google Compare and adding another paid listing to the top of its search results, Google is now testing a new colour for its ad labels, switching from yellow to green.

The German AdWords account deleted a tweet claiming that the test affects around five per cent of global traffic.

In the tests only the ad label has changed colour and not the URL (which was always green). Naturally this makes the presence of the ad label less immediately obvious and probably increase the number of clicks on some of the paid listings: particularly since searchers have only been given a couple of months to adjust to the presence of a fourth listing. It’s possible that advertisers will have seen a slightly higher click through rate than normal over the past week, particularly if their ads are showing consistently in the top four positions.

There’s no guarantee that this will become a permanent feature but it does beg the question what Google is hoping will come back from this test. On another subject: improved click through rates for the top four positions could probably increase competition and CPCs. Google should probably test that too.

More media sites no longer appearing organically with old content

Back in January Google rolled out what it termed a “core algorithm update” (i.e. not connected to the efforts of the Webspam team) which seemed to affect content appearing for other brands’ terms in organic results. Many of the aggregators were affected (financial comparison sites ranking for band names such as 'HSBC' or product names such as 'Barclaycard') as were publishing sites ranking for celebrities’ names.

It appears as though the algorithm has been updated on mobile devices, with Searchmetrics reporting a 79 per cent drop in visibility for The Atlantic and 65 per cent for Wired.com on mobile devices.

Apple was also badly affected as iTunes previously appeared for band/musician names; now replaced by social sites and Wikipedia.

The big losers are consistent in the UK and US too. When diagnosing any substantial losses in visibility this week branded terms are the first place I would look.

As Searchmetrics’ Jordan Koene notes, most of the content (particularly in the case of The Atlantic) was older – users searching for a topic in 2016 are rarely going to be satisfied by an article published in 2012.

The best strategies for regaining lost visibility are likely to be either updating the content in question (give it an overhaul; changing the date stamp is probably not going to cut it) or to publish a newer piece and add a link to the new page in the older content.

Whether you’ve been affected this week or not, now is probably a good time to take a look through your blog archives for opportunities to bring old content up to date.

Stephen Kenwright is director of search at Branded3, you can follow him on Twitter at @stekenwright.

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