I sent out a survey recently and one of the top suggestions from just about everyone who took it was wanting some more insights into industry insights impacting the web.
These items might be of interest to you:
Google Page Experience impact coming Feb. 2022
Google has metrics called “Core Web Vitals”, and these measure things like page speed, load time, etc. for every page on a website. For about a year or so now, they’ve been changing algorithms for smartphone Google searches to favor sites with favorable web vitals. It was a way of encouraging websites to develop phone-friendly designs and touch-friendly buttons. Now they’ve announced page experience will impact desktop-based search in February 2022.
This means two web pages competing for a top spot in a Google search could come down to how fast the webpage behaves, and the page that loads faster could win.
Page Experience is one of a zillion ranking factors, however. Ultimately the page with the best information wins. I’ve been fanatical about page speed and focused on these web vitals for years. Almost every page I’ve touched gets measured against these, and most pass. However, many do not. And the leading reasons for a failed web vitals test usually comes down to one of three things:
- One more YouTube video embeds on a page;
- Some sort of “sign up for our email list” box;
- Any kind of social media widget to “Like” a page.
All three of those rely on external services (even though Google owns YouTube) and almost always throw errors because they plain take a while longer to load. Sometimes it’s just unavoidable or the tradeoffs aren’t worth it.
If you’ve ever been curious just what, exactly, goes into Google’s ranking factors for a website, they have a helpful 172-page document.
One thing worth pointing out in they have whole separate considerations for “Your Money, Your Life” results. Anything that has to do with people’s money or quality of life, including e-commerce, undergo a whole slew of higher standards.
Google deploys “diversity algorithms” for the holidays
In what is the most bizarre “why not just do that all the time?” moves I’ve seen in a while, it’s rumored Google quietly elevates the search placement of some e-commerce sites that aren’t the Amazons, Wal-Marts, and Bass Pro Shops of the world.
Supposedly this gives smaller businesses a chance to compete for the holidays, but one wonders why we’d ever want to switch it back.
Google bringing infinite scroll to phone users
Google announced they’ve been experimenting with “infinite scroll” on phones in their search results. Infinite scroll is what it sounds like: no “next page” links, and the results just keep coming. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are all examples of sites that use “infinite scrolling”.
Most experts who care to test this stuff more than me seem to think the same thing so far: it improves the visibility of results on what would have been Page 2 of a Google search result.
This is bittersweet news since Google has shoved a lot of different results in a search in the last few years. Things like “People also asked”, “smart snippets” (where it just gives you the answer to a basic question, like, “When was George Washington born?”), image previews, YouTube video previews, shopping results, and all sorts of other stuff now consume a lot of space in many search queries.
What used to be 10 webpage results is now 5 or 6 Google-injected snippets and 4-5 actual webpage links. So the hope is many of these Page 2 results might get into users’ peripheral vision.
However, it doesn’t seem to change the fact that most people still click the top 1-3 results for a query.
Google suggests you can fire me someday in favor of a robot
Machine-written blog posts are the Holy Grail of sleazy marketers everywhere. They can charge fat profits and do none of the work!
Some services exist today that promise to take a topic keyword, say, “best iPhone games”, and with the click of a button and about $29 you can get 1,000 words for a blog post. Get enough of these and you can get some serious search traffic.
The problem is Google has for about ten years now treated these as what they are: junk. They’re usually not well written and are hard to read or are repetitive. But, in a recent talk, one of their engineers said:
“From our guidelines it is the case that if it’s automatically generated content it should be blocked by robots for example. But my feeling is at some point that is going to shift a little bit in the sense that we’ll focus more on the quality rather than how it was generated.”
The use case, supposedly, is that news organizations might have machine-written material for things like earthquakes or severe weather. Where the data is variable but the story is generally the same.
So until another ten years or so, please don’t replace me with a robot.
Facebook wants to make business meetings even worse
As if sitting around on Zoom all day wasn’t exhausting enough, Facebook has changed its name to “Meta” and unveiled what they call “the metaverse.” “Facebook” is now the name the company intends to use for what we think of us as the blue app on your phone with all the posts from your crazy aunt’s conspiracy theories.
The “metaverse” is basically what we’ve all imagined in the past as virtual reality: you strap on some goggles and go interact virtually with people’s avatars and cartoon representations of themselves.
I have next to no opinion about this except to say: Facebook is probably not a company business will trust to host meetings—of any kind—online, Facebook has historically made terrible hardware, they have a horrifying privacy record, they make no effort and policing their platforms for hate speech, do only the bare minimum for illegal material like child pornography, and while I can imagine this has some interesting applications for gaming I have a hard time imagining this becoming a thing in the next few years.
Ultimately if it does come into existence—and it will, because Apple, Microsoft, and others are all working on AR/VR technology—it’ll be nice for a few days until it’s overrun by ads, algorithms, sexism, racism, and devolves into, well, the internet.
Game’s the same as it always was, just harder
I’m pretty old-fashioned about most of my work. I tend to approach websites and writing more as a craft than a game. Every industry has their “guru” types promising big changes or easy wins to double your sales or triple your income.
I used to buy into those things. But truly, in the last 15 or 20 years, there has been only two or three “game-changers” on the web:
- It got a lot faster with enhanced connectivity
- The iPhone
- Social media
And that’s kinda it.
As I get older, I think self-education is important, and so is picking up on ways to improve what humans have done in some form or another for centuries:
- Tell interesting stories.
- Be helpful.
- Answer people honestly.
- Be as smart as you can be while staying humble.