Next up, Google is testing the mobile first index in the wild! This means that if your websites are part of the test you could find your desktop website being ranked depending on the content on your mobile website and not vice versa as it’s traditionally been. This is perhaps bad news for companies that haven’t got their mobile website up to the same quality as their desktop website, but for the vast majority, it will be business as usual. What Google has repeatedly said about the mobile first index is they are not happy with launching it until they can confirm that it won’t negatively affect websites. But… realistically, I can’t see how this kind of change will leave websites unscathed.
Googler Gary Illyes hinted in a recent search conference that Google uses off-site sentiment analysis in their rankings. Essentially this means that Google may well be looking at social media conversation and mentions of your brand across the web to better understand how highly it is regarded by other people. We’ve known for a long time that Google uses links from other websites to yours as a sort of voting system; that another website linking to yours indicates that it is in favour of the content yours provides. This is different, however. This suggests that if people are talking about your website in a negative way then that could impact how highly it is ranked in Google. This wouldn’t be the first time that a Google representative has been misunderstood, therefore until further testing and confirmation occurs I wouldn’t hold this as a definite ranking factor. However, it makes sense for many other reasons that you would want people talking about your brand in a positive light. We know that reviews from trusted online sources pay a large part in ranking and recommendations from friends go a long way in winning you new customers. Even if online sentiment isn’t a ranking factor, you can bet it’s a factor in conversion.
Finally, Google has recently done away with their decade old “first click free” model for paywalled content. What this essentially means is that any website that requires users to pay for the content, like certain news publications or needs a user to sign up to their service before accessing content will need to change the way they present content to be indexed by Google. It used to be, under the first click free model, that online publications would have to let users read the full article if they found it via search results and any subsequent articles could be hidden behind the paywall. This wasn’t working well for publishers so Google finally relented and changed the program. Now, publishers can assign either a number of free articles per user, per month, before the paywall kicks in, or they can choose to allow users to read a portion of the article before demanding they sign up or pay to read the remainder. So, if your website has content that is only accessible after sign-up and you want it indexed and ranked by Google, you need to consider the new flexible sampling format.