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SEO Updates for April and May 2022

April started spectacularly with Brighton SEO bringing together SEO enthusiasts from across the globe. We witnessed a great range of talks at the biannual beachside conference, covering everything from the fundamentals of search right through to the future of SEO in the ‘metaverse’. The weeks to follow have continued to offer several other interesting developments which we’re unpacking below. 

Google Released Annual Search Spam Report

In response to a world searching for ‘how to heal’, Google highlighted how they kept 99% of searches spam-free with significant improvements in fighting link spam, scam results, and ranking manipulation in their annual search spam report. 

Google also focussed on reducing low-quality content through identifying behaviours that manipulated search rankings. These behaviours would narrowly avoid violation of the quality guidelines but negatively impact user experience. With the help of their AI-based system SpamBrain, Google stated they were able to keep 99% of searches spam-free in 2021.

As ever, websites should follow best practice guidance and steer clear of ‘black hat’ SEO techniques, such as keyword stuffing and product review manipulation, to avoid being penalised by Google’s spam algorithms. Producing high-quality, relevant content for your customers will always be the best way to help improve your search rankings. 

Google Search Parameter Tool Officially Offline

Back in March, Google announced it was going to retire the URL parameters tool, and this is the first month we can see it coming into effect. Google has now turned off support for the tool in Google Search Console. The decision was made by Google to turn off the tool due to the advancement in Google’s capabilities to decipher which parameters are useful on a site. With only a minute number of parameter configurations specified in the parameter tool deemed useful for crawling purposes, the tool was deemed unnecessary. 

Google has stated that ‘Google’s crawlers will learn how to deal with URL parameters automatically’ in the near future. We would suggest making a note of this update on your reports and keeping an eye on your analytics over the coming weeks just in case any issues arise from this change. 

 

Significant Changes to Featured Snippets being Tested

Google has started some testing that may provide a major shake-up of the featured snippets section on SERPs. Our SEO Team certainly has a lot to say about these two new features:

‘From the Web’: Traditionally, the featured snippet shown at the top is a table, a list, or a snippet of text with a link to the webpage the content comes from. For text snippets, Google is now testing short excerpts from two to three other websites in the same section, with links to the sites added after the sites’ favicons. 

 

‘Other Sites Say’: Google is planning to group at least three different sites under a new ‘Other Sites Say’ section, which shares some resemblance with the established ‘People also ask’ section. Again, this will provide more exposure for brands, but equally will create more competition in the top-ranking results. 

  

What could this mean for search?

Sites that currently hold the featured snippet position for certain keywords could face a substantial loss of traffic as more competition enters position zero in SERPs. On the flip side, if you’re not currently featuring in any snippets, this update could increase your chances and improve traffic volume to your site. 

It will be very interesting to see the impact of these tests on clickthrough rate (CTR) and visibility in the search results, and whether these updates are rolled out temporarily or permanently. One to keep an eye on!

Google PaLM: The Future of Next Generation Search

This month Google revealed a breakthrough in its efforts to create an AI architecture that can handle millions of different tasks by itself. Enter PaLM.

What is PaLM?

Google’s Pathways Language Model research (PaLM) is an AI architecture Google has been developing. PaLM can produce answers reflective of fluctuating contexts by learning how to efficiently solve millions of different tasks, including complex learning and reasoning. 

What makes PaLM special?

PaLM is a system worth recognising as it’s striving to combine the efforts of multiple existing AI systems, into a singular architecture. To achieve this, recent developments of the PaLM system have involved the scaling of the few-shot learning (FSL) process. This is a type of machine learning method that works with a limited training dataset, as opposed to deep machine learning, where an extensive amount of data needs to be manually input for the AI to learn each new ability. Essentially, FSL has the AI learning so it can make predictions based on a smaller dataset.

Recently completed was the BIG-bench benchmark, where several tasks were designed to see how large language models, such as PaLM, responded. Of the 150 strong BIG-bench tasks (relating to reasoning, translation, and question answering), PaLM outperformed many of the current state-of-the-art models. There were many notable achievements on hundreds of language understanding and generation benchmarks, including: 

 

  • Enhanced reasoning abilities 
  • Explanation generation 
  • Inference Chaining

 

This recent research shows PaLM delivers significant improvements compared to current AI systems and can even ‘outperform human benchmarks’ for certain elements of language processing and reasoning. However, humans still outperformed the new algorithm on 35% of tasks. So, whilst breakthroughs are being made, PaLM is not quite there yet. 

What could this mean for search?

Machine learning has a big impact on how search results are created, tailoring results more and more to the needs of the user. As PaLM seeks to consolidate all this machine learning into one AI system, the change to search may not be great. However, with capabilities in one place, it may mean Google can get an even greater understanding of the intent and needs of users when they use search engines. Either way, this is an update to keep an eye on.

Did we miss any SEO news?

Think we may have missed something worth exploring or if you have some thoughts you’d like to share on SEO developments? We’d love to hear from you! 

Join the conversation and tweet us @upriseUPSEM, email us at [email protected], or simply send us a message through our contact page.

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