Why Search Matters More Than Ever

Don't call it a comeback, but the importance of search is slowly making its way back up the marketing ranks in 2018. It started when Facebook announced its sweeping algorithm update earlier this year, which is aimed to de-prioritize publishers in favor of updates from family and friends.


At RebelMouse we've been tracking the Facebook algorithm extensively. It's already having an impact on your strategy, your website, and your bottom line. But a lot of media experts in the industry also predict that the latest algorithm shift will result in a revitalization of traditional search. In 2017, The Pew Research Center found that two-thirds of Americans use Facebook, with more than half reporting that they receive their news from the site as well. Those users are still going to find a way to consume the news they care about if they can't easily get it in the News Feed, and Google has already stepped up to the plate to reclaim referral traffic they lost last year to the social giant.

Given the recent resurgence of search, it's vital that you're up to date on what's new in Google's world. Google has made some significant updates to its algorithm, starting in December 2017 and continuing into the new year. The traffic junkies here at RebelMouse have been keeping track of these changes, and updating our product and content strategies for our clients accordingly. Here are some of the biggest changes we've noticed, and what we're doing in response to win the game of search.

Major Google Updates

Dec. 1, 2017: Meta Descriptions Get Longer

At the end of 2017, users started noticing longer meta descriptions appearing in their Google results. Not long after, the company confirmed that they extended the length of search result snippets. Previously 150–160 characters in length, now marketers have over 300 characters to work with. This has begged the question: Should we go back and rewrite all of our meta descriptions?

The short answer is: If you want to, but it's not 100% necessary.

To fill up the void the new character limit left to improve user experience, Google began automatically generating their own snippets for many websites. If Google finds that the content directly on a page is better and more relevant than the meta description that was written before the new character limit, it overrides it with pieces of the page's content instead.

Some larger sites like Wikipedia don't use meta descriptions at all, but you'll notice that there's still relevant text showing up under those search result entries. We don't have to tout the history of success Wikipedia has had in Google's search results, so it's a prime example of how little meta descriptions now mean to your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts.

That being said, meta descriptions do still offer you a valuable outlet for creativity and control. For critical pages on your site, having a solid meta description with incentivizing copy and a clear call to action is key to getting users to actually click through. Meta description best practices have now become about click-through rate (CTR) in place of being an SEO must.

RebelMouse offers a number of SEO optimization tools inside our CMS's Entry Editor, including a character counter for the SEO headline and description of every article.

Since there's no guarantee that Google will use your meta description copy, we'll still encourage any effort that results in quality, well-thought-out content. If you have the time to rewrite your meta descriptions, we suggest doing so. We're always updating our technology to reflect the latest in digital media, so we recently added support for up to 350 characters in meta descriptions to match Google's increase.

To read more about meta descriptions and Google's Featured Snippets in 2018, check out this article from Moz.

Dec. 5, 2017: Enhanced Featured Snippets

Google announced a new form of Featured Snippets. The function now features more details, images, and related search queries, all powered by an algorithm. You see them all the time when searching using Google, and they're another reason to make sure your meta descriptions are detailed and well written.

An example of the new Featured Snippets from Google.

Dec. 12, 2017: Core Algorithm Changes

Google confirmed that several minor changes to the core algorithm — informally dubbed the Maccabees Update — took place in mid December. The update was aimed, per usual, at improving relevance in search results. While SEO analysts couldn't nail down what kind of sites were impacted specifically, it was an adjustment to how Google ranks sites — which usually means changing how a page's content, and links to that content, is scored for quality in the eyes of Google.

Jan. 17, 2018: Mobile's Need for Speed

The changes haven't stopped with the turn of the year. In mid January, Google announced that a page speed update designed to downgrade slow mobile pages will go into effect by July 2018. However, Google said that page speed would not be a factor in all mobile searches. This is all the more reason to adopt Google AMP now so you're ready before the update is pushed live.

What This All Means

While these are just some of the important changes we've decided to chronicle, there have also been more than five updates that focus on top listings on the first results page, spam links, and unnatural backlinks. It's estimated that about 15% of the internet was impacted in some way by these changes. That's a huge number of sites that most likely use SEO as a key source of revenue.

With each update comes more prioritization of fast sites, non-intrusive ads, and a mobile experience that's easy to consume — hopefully building a foundation for repeat visits. This focus on a more user-friendly internet emulates the same spirit found in the latest Facebook algorithm change that we mentioned at the beginning.

Strategy and Our Strategy Package

It's hard for developers and marketers to formulate a clear path to success when some of these updates aren't even — and probably never will be — confirmed by Google. But one thing remains true: User experience is more important than ever. So at the very least, you need to fine tune your strategy around it if you're not already doing so. This means each and every page on your site that is indexed by Google must be:

Super fast. Facebook and Google care a ton about page speed, and your traffic depends on it. A mediocre server response time results in poor visibility. To rank well in both the social feeds and search engine results, make sure your site loads lightning fast.

Mobile friendly. You must make sure your site is configured for mobile experience formats like Facebook Instant Articles, Google AMP, and Apple News.

Rife with stellar content. You can't sit idly creating sub-par content and expect to survive the algorithm fluctuations. Your audience craves the type of content that generates deep and meaningful connections. Content that sparks organic conversation and engagement is what will be rewarded by the major platforms.

Strategies that used to be relevant can now hurt you rather than help you in today's digital world. Born in the age of social, we've quickly acclimated to every change in the media landscape, and we continuously update our tech to adapt to what's next. Our SEO strategies just work.

We use our own SEO tools and methods to win phrases organically. Our proven strategies coupled with our quality content has helped us to reach the top of Google's result pages on a number of occasions. A recent example highlighted above — "best CMS 2018" — is currently ranked number one on Google.

RebelMouse offers customized services separate from our CMS platform and website redesign services. We understand what goes into publishers' success, and SEO is a key component. If you're interested in our technical SEO services package, please contact us today to see how we can help you succeed.

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Our Core Web Vitals drastically outpace every competitor, and we have the receipts

In an effort to build user retention and increase conversions, publishers are making a common mistake. They're adding more features to their websites, including ad placements, but losing sight of the main revenue driver: user experience.

The key to unlocking user retention lies completely in site performance. Currently, publishers are trying to build optimized websites that translate easily across devices and platforms, but fail to deliver an experience that checks all their boxes and prioritizes their readers. It takes less than a second of delayed load time to turn away a user. This is why Google has made page speed a top ranking factor on search, and shepherded the entire open web's newfound prioritization on site performance.

Game Changer: Google's Core Web Vitals Announcement

Google cemented its seriousness about page experience with the announcement of its Core Web Vitals measurements in Google Search Console. Core Web Vitals are three specific metrics that Google uses to determine a site's overall usability. While these data points will evolve over time, the 2020 version of vitals consists of three specific metrics:

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): A website's LCP is the time it takes to load the main content on a page. Google wants LCP to happen within 2.5 seconds of when a page first starts loading.

First Input Delay (FID): This metric quantifies a user's experience when trying to interact with unresponsive pages. This usually occurs between First Meaningful Paint (FMP) and Time to Interactive (TTI) (more on what these two mean below). You want your FID score to be low to prove the usability of your site. According to Google, pages should haven an FID of less than 100 milliseconds.

Cumulative Layout Shift Score (CLS): CLS determines how often your users experience unexpected layout shifts or changes on a page. To ensure visual stability, you want your CLS score to be low. Google wants pages to maintain a CLS score of less than 0.1.

From Google.

Google says Core Web Vitals scores will be considered across every page, and will be a ranking factor in its Top Stories feature. While relevant quality content will always be the most important, the page experience ranking is now a make-or-break metric for your site's survival.

"A good page experience doesn't override having great, relevant content. However, in cases where there are multiple pages that have similar content, page experience becomes much more important for visibility in Search." —From Google's page experience announcement, May 2020

Core Web Vitals will determine every site's performance score. You can see your site's Core Web Vitals specifically via Google Search Console, but your website's overall page performance is measured using Google's PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse tools.

At RebelMouse, we guarantee a performance score of 90 or higher via PageSpeed Insights. To do this, we've built out a platform infrastructure that exceeds industry standards on Google's key metrics, particularly its Core Web Vitals, outperforming most industry leaders.

You can read more about how we've mastered Google's KPIs here. But the truth is in the data. Below is table that provides a snapshot into how RebelMouse-powered sites score:

And here's what the scores look like for some of the biggest sites on the open web:

As you can see, there's a lot of data Google takes into account even outside of Core Web Vitals. Here's a quick summary of the other important metrics that Google trusts to measure page performance:

First Contentful Paint (FCP): This metric measures the time from click to the time when a user's browser renders the first bit of content from the Document Object Model (DOM), which is your site's HTML structure. According to Google, this is an important milestone for your readers because it provides signals that your page is loading.

First Meaningful Paint (FMP): This is the amount of time it takes the most important content, what Google calls "hero elements," to load on site. Hero elements are different for every site, but should be intuitive based on your content. This metric helps determine your site's usability.

Time to Interactive (TTI): This is the most important metric to keep an eye on. This is when the site is fully rendered and ready for user action. This is a critical point when slow load time can occur, usually because JavaScript or other complex content hasn't fully rendered. So, in short, think of TTI as how long it takes for your site to load in its entirety.

Total Blocking Time (TBT): TBT measures a page's load responsiveness to quantify how long a page is non-interactive prior to becoming interactive. You want your site to have a low TBT to maintain its usability.

Speed Index (SI): SI is the measurement of how quickly the contents of a page are populated. You want your speed index score to be as low as possible.

Creating quality content is only half the battle in 2020, and publishers are already burdened with the around-the-clock task of creating content that resonates. This is why quality content must be supported by modern technology that can keep up with the speed of the web. RebelMouse provides publishers with a CMS that supports the new content lifecycle with an editorial suite designed for reach on site, search, and social.

Click here to read more about our modern approach to web performance. If you want to make performance a priority, request a proposal today. We can easily transform your site into one of the fastest on the web, giving you increased user retention and better conversion rates than ever before.

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