Tuesday 21 February 2017

Google's List Carousel is so Interesting!

Google constantly keeps modifying it's search layout to provide more and more useful features to the searchers. In a recent advancement, Google has started testing list carousels at the top. I have tried to list down some variations here found on Google.co.in:-

Query - Top Actors

Query - Top Cricketers

John Mueller from Google had earlier explained that they rank such lists using an algorithm which is different from the main algorithm. (Twitter discussion).

Couple of interesting observations that I would love to share here:-

In a recent Tweet, we found similar featured snippet but with a breadcrumb at the top. 

In the first image you would see list of SEO blogs but with a breadcrumb at the top. If you click on 'Blogs', you would find a listing as shown below:

One can see a longer breadcrumb as seen in the following example:-

And this one is my favourite!

For the query "Popular Places in India", you would see a huge listing of popular destinations in India. Interestingly, you would also see a drop-down to categorize the destinations:

Now if you select an item of your choice from the drop-down, it will suggest you related destinations. I select 'Wildlife':-

Isn't that beautiful?

Now why would someone leave Google and visit a site from their search results? You are getting most of your queries answered on Google's search results page through knowledge graphs, featured snippets, answer boxes and what not! 

Another CTR concerns for the top three ranking sites in organic listings for such queries? I should say, unfortunately Yes!

- Tejas Thakkar

Saturday 18 February 2017

What happens when your Robots.txt file returns a Server Error?

What is robots.txt?

Robots.txt file is a standard used by websites to specify web crawlers which areas of the site should not be crawled. Here are basic examples of a robots.txt setups:-

If you want to allow full access to your site:

User-agent: *

If you want to block access to your whole site:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /

If you want to block a folder:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /folder/
You have to add robots.txt file to the root folder of your domain:

Since this is a file that contains important instructions for the web crawlers, it is a must for the crawlers to first visit this page and then rest of the site.

Do make a note of this - If Google bots can't crawl your robots.txt file, it would not crawl your site. If your robots.txt file doesn't return a 200 or 404 response code, Google bots won't be able to crawl your robots.txt file and hence they won't crawl your site.

This is what Google's Eric Kuan once said on Google Webmaster Help forum:

If Google is having trouble crawling your robots.txt file, it will stop crawling the rest of your site to prevent it from crawling pages that have been blocked by the robots.txt file. If this isn't happening frequently, then it's probably a one off issue you won't need to worry about. If it's happening frequently or if you're worried, you should consider contacting your hosting or service provider to see if they encountered any issues on the date that you saw the crawl error.

Even Gary Illyes from Google recently confirmed the same on Twitter:
And here are few interesting questions on Twitter and helpful replies from Gary:   

Gary Illyes on robots.txt
- Tejas Thakkar

Tuesday 7 February 2017

Mobile Pages replaced by Desktop Pages on Mobile Search - Something unusual this time!

Since the start of February 2017, we have observed something unusual. Some of the sites that have separate mobile version are seeing their mobile pages being replaced by desktop pages on Google Mobile search.

This used to be a case earlier but not with such a big volume. I have faced few instances in the past where dedicated mobile version is perfectly set up with every thing in place, still we see desktop pages rank in mobile search instead of the mobile pages.
The most probable reason for that was something already clarified by Google in 2015.

Google does not rank mobile content based on what is on the page served for mobile users, as the page is still ranked according to the content on the desktop page.

The scenario will be the other way round when Mobile First Index is rolled out.

Currently they actually run comparison checks on sites, comparing desktop versus mobile, to ensure that the content “matches up” when the site is using rel=canonical.

There is a possibility that many a times, Google finds the desktop page more valuable than the mobile version and hence ranks desktop page on mobile search.

But the scenario this month is a bit unusual.

Here are few examples from Google.co.in mobile search:-

Mobile Search Results for 'Mobile Price'
Mobile Search Results for 'Dominos Pizza Offers

Mobile Search Results for 'Online Shopping'
The above three screenshots were taken on 6th Feb 2017. 

In the first screenshot, MySmartPrice and CompareRaja have separate mobile sites. Usually they rank in mobile search results. But for some weird reasons, we can see the desktop versions ranking on mobile search.

Similarly sites like GrabOn, Couponraja, Jabong and Shopclues also rank for their desktop versions instead of mobile pages as shown in the other two screenshots above.

This issue was raised by certain experts on Twitter. Here is one of the Twitter conversations:

And here is another conversation on Twitter:

Here are the links for related Twitter conversations:

Neither Gary Illyes nor John Mueller has confirmed anything on this. Let's wait for their response.

I also checked Google Search Console account for one of the sites that came across this issue.

The impressions and clicks have gone up for the desktop version from 1st Feb 2017 and almost an equivalent drop is observed for the mobile version.

Increase in Impressions and Clicks for Desktop version
Decrease in Impressions and Clicks for Mobile version
Interesting. Let's see if this is an algorithmic experiment or merely a glitch. Please share your thoughts if you have seen a similar trend for your sites.

- Tejas Thakkar