We’re serving up the latest news in search. The first in an occasional series from a resident expert - Tony Kelly, Digital Marketing Specialist at Made to Engage.

For some time now it’s been said, the best place to hide something is on the second page of Google search results. Having rarely found anything there, we’re not able to confirm the truth in this!

What we do know, is that Google is frequently changing its criteria for search. It’s no surprise this requires constant attention to make sure your website is performing as it should.

Fear not! We’re here to bring you the latest news, tools and developments in the world of search.

Google Revamps Search Console - New Features & More Data

If you're a regular visitor to Google Search Console (GSC), you've no doubt been met with a barrage of emails confirming that you can now access the new and improved version.

GSC has always been a key reference point for SEO’s & webmasters to track search performance and keep an eye on occasional errors which can arise on your site.

However, a major pain point has always been the lack of data that was available. Before the latest release, Google only allowed you to review data from the past 90 days - meaning you had no visibility (within GSC at least) on ranking performance for important keywords for longer than 3 months.

Enter the new GSC and a whopping 16 months of data:

Google Search Console Screenshot

Year-on-year reporting and keeping an eye on trends over a longer period of time is all good news for those of us in Search.

What else is new?

While some changes are still to be rolled out (you can still access reports from the old Search Console platform), there are some useful reports in the Index Coverage section which provide details on things like:

  • Pages with errors
  • Pages that are valid but have warnings
  • Pages that have been indexed (and whether they are in your sitemaps)
  • Pages which have been excluded from Google's index and the reason why

This information is a welcome addition from Google and is a great starting point to uncover why some pages have not been indexed and how you can start fixing any problems.

It's worth taking a dig around and starting to understand what each report means for your website - even if you don't report on it, GSC provides insight into your overall site health and warning signals if things are starting to go wrong.

New PageSpeed Insights Tool

Page speed is arguably one of the most critical factors for your website (more on this later), for both users and search engines.

Having a consistent focus on making your website faster is important for many reasons, some of the most obvious and important ones being:

  • Improve user experience when people are browsing your site
  • Search engines will crawl your site more extensively if it loads faster
  • Search engines also know users prefer faster sites and will favour them in search results

There are many tools (paid and free) out there to help you measure the speed of your website and identify areas for improvement.

Google's PageSpeed Insight (PSI) tool is one of the most popular. The recent announcement that Google has re-engineered the PSI tool to use real-world data provides a more accurate picture of issues and optimisations for marketers and developers trying to improve load times.

The key takeaways from the announcement include:

  • New ratings for Speed (Fast, Average, Slow)
  • New ratings for Optimisation (Good, Medium, Low)
  • Reporting on First Contentful Paint and Dom Content Loaded - key metrics to get an idea of how quickly your pages become visible and usable to page visitors
  • Optimisation Suggestions - take them to your web developer today!

We’ve been busy testing the tool at Made To Engage HQ. One downside we have discovered is that approximately 1 in 5 searches return ‘Unavailable’ as a response for speed:

Google PageSpeed Insight Tool Screenshot

We took to Twitter to investigate and had some clarification from Googlers, mentioning that the tool has some limitations with how it sources live data from the Chrome User Experience Report (CrUX).

There are known limitations with the tool, although it's still a useful starting point if you want some quick feedback on your website performance. Thankfully there are lots of other tools out there (GT Metrix and Web Page Test for example) if you are affected by the lack of data from Google – get testing and get faster!

Google Officially Announces It Will Use Site Speed In Mobile Search Ranking

Keeping on the theme of speed, Google have announced that, as of July 2018, they will officially use page speed as a factor for mobile search ranking.

Previous announcements from Google regarding page speed being a ranking factor have focussed on desktop search, but with the ongoing rollout of mobile-first indexing it's no surprise that this announcement has come at this time.

In reality, it's highly likely that Google have already been using page speed in their mobile ranking algorithm; they've been pushing their AMP project pretty hard over the last few years. This official announcement may just be confirmation our suspicions were right all along.

So, what can we expect to change in July 2018?

Probably not a lot, especially if they have already been using page speed in their algorithm. (That's not to diminish the importance of page speed - you should absolutely focus on making your website faster!)

There are a few reasons why this algorithm update will likely only affect a small percentage of websites, the main one being that Google mention it specifically in their announcement:

"The “Speed Update,” as we’re calling it, will only affect pages that deliver the slowest experience to users and will only affect a small percentage of queries."

If you fall into the Slow bracket on tools like the Page Speed Insight tool, consider this a warning from Google. Ignore it and face the possible consequences somewhere down the line (if it isn't already affecting your search performance and user experience).

One area of clarification that may have been provided by this announcement and subsequent conversations that sprung up on Twitter, is with regards to AMP pages.

This suggests that, when ranking pages, Google will consider the speed of AMP pages as this will be the page that users will access through search. If your regular (canonical) pages are slow, AMP pages could be a possible workaround.

However, further conversations in the search industry seem to contradict that:

There are still some conflicting opinions out there it seems, often from within Google itself!

Whichever side of the story you believe, implementing AMP could be a considerably sized project and a decision which should not be taken lightly. Whether you decide to implement AMP pages or optimise load times on your canonical pages, it's important that you do consider development time for speed improvements.

Doing nothing is not a good strategy – there is always room for improvement.

It's also important to remember page speed is not the only area to consider when working to improve search rankings. The faster your webpages load, the better experience your users will have when browsing your site. Put simply, they will be more likely to hang around and convert on your site.

And just like that - you’re clued up on the latest tricks of the search trade (for now, at least!)

We’ll continue to keep you updated as things change to make sure your search skills are light-years ahead. If you need a helping hand with anything we’ve covered, make sure to get in touch. Believe it or not, we’re a bunch of keen beans when it comes to this sort of stuff!

We’d be keen to hear what you think about the latest changes. Join the conversation over at #MadetoEngage