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Google Search Updates – January ‘22 Changes

In January 2022, a few interesting stories about upcoming changes to the search landscape captured headlines. As search marketers at search agencies across the country were given glances at the evolving state of Google, such as its recommendations for operating a business across multiple locations, one story has continued to capture our interest. Web-privacy is a subject that will no doubt feel familiar, but Google has not been shy about how it plans to operate respectfully within user consent and still serve advertisers with privacy-safe data.

Find out more about these stories below.   

Are “Cookies” Finally Dead? Google Has a New Answer – Topics API

In the absence of third-party cookie tracking, what would be the fate of user privacy? The controversial retirement of cookies has caused the search giant to change their proposal to improve user privacy online.

Topics API

The answer looked different a few months back when its replacement was announced by Google in the shape of FloC, or Federated Learning of Cohorts.

In short, FLoC was originally developed to track user behaviour and group them into “cohorts” based on mutual interests. As one of 2021’s key SEO buzzwords, we had this to say about why you should care:

“This affects anyone doing digital marketing; all will have to account for a new way of tracking and move away from third party cookies.”

After learning from “community feedback”, Google referenced in a recent blog how it would be levelling up its response to user privacy in a new project, under its Privacy Sandbox. In their blog, “Get to know the new Topics API for Privacy Sandbox”, which is the first announcement regarding Google’s new “Topics” replacement for cancelling third-party cookies, the search giant wrote about its next step for web privacy starting with a topics system.

“Topics” happens in your browser, and it works by understanding the type of content topics you’re engaging with, such as Fitness, Sports, or Travel. These broader topics represent your interests based on browser history and activity. Importantly, these topics are reset after three weeks.

Google addresses how this translates into tracking data, a statement that many digital advertisers will want to know:

“When you visit a participating site, Topics picks just three topics, one topic from each of the past three weeks, to share with the site and its advertising partners.”

If you’re trying to make sense of this change as to how Google will approach third-party data, then think of ‘topics’ like a way of user behaviour and interest being interpreted into clusters of content, like categories. But it’s done in a way to “reduce the risk of fingerprinting”, meaning that users maintain anonymity, whilst advertisers can take advantage of these topics to still provide relevant ads.

Navigating the tightrope of privacy issues is no small feat; privacy advocates remain sceptical about change, maybe that’s because, in Google’s words, it’s still only a “proposal”. There have been a limited number of “topics” that have been discussed, which has left many advertises feeling doubtful about whether their advertising will be targeted enough, limiting its efficacy. That means, for now at least, it’s a waiting game.

Google Drops URL Inspection Tool API

Announced on January 31st, Google released a new API under their Search Console APIs for the URL Inspection Tool, which enables users to, in their own words, gain “programmatic access to URL-level data for properties you manage in Search Console.”

Search Console APIs are helpful because they allow you to gain data beyond Search Console, creating learnings through external applications and other products.

The new API will help developers to “debug and optimise” their key webpages, pulling data through Search Console on the indexed URL.

But if you’re thinking about running requests against your whole site, you’ll need to think more strategically and queue up what you deem as the most valuable URLs first. This is because the API has its limits; it can only run 2,000 queries daily, and 600 queries a minute.

If you’re wondering how to unlock this feature, all you have to do is setup and execute a new request within the respective GSC account and export your data into either Excel or Sheets. From here, you can start to query your data with the API output being in your spreadsheet – you can take advantage of functions like sorting and filtering.

There is more than one reason to get excited about this update. Not only can agencies like MRS create better solutions with data, thereby better monitoring sites for debugging options, but third-party products are likely to start using it in how they present your site’s data.

Sites Will Reclaim Greater Indexing Control with New Robots Tag

It was announced in January that Google will be rolling out a new robots tag that will offer site owners greater indexing control over their website’s content.

Site owners can expect to take advantage of this new robots tag – called ‘indexifembedded’ – and use it to offer instructions to Google over which content items to index in the search results.

The new tag, Google claims, was created mostly to help resolve an issue that has historically affected media publishers.

In Google’s own words, this is how the robots tag helps a media publisher:

“…while they may want their content indexed when it’s embedded on third-party pages, they don’t necessarily want their media pages indexed on their own.” 

How Does it Work?

Appearing on its developer blog, Google offers clarity over how the ‘indexifembedded’ tag actually works.

This is what was said:

“With the indexifembedded tag, you can tell Google you’d still like your content indexed when it’s embedded through iframes and similar HTML tags in other pages, even when the content page has the noindex tag.”

Here’s Google’s confirmation of the new tag via Twitter:

The robots tag will help publishers who have content with a separate URL for embedding purposes. But the difference is now publishers will have greater control over what gets indexed.

Privacy-Safe Data & The Next Generation of GA

The ongoing debate around web privacy has been an interesting catalyst for changes to the way Google deploys tracking. In its latest announcement, Google promises a way for advertisers to optimise performance in a “privacy-safe” way; the search giant is increasingly balancing its products between a respect for user consent and the interests of digital marketers.

Importantly, Google is making changes so that measurements will still be available even after a user rejects cookies. That means you’ll be able to generate reports when there’s a lack of observed behavioural data, using modelled data to offer a fuller picture of what’s happening with your content.

In this sweeping change, Google Analytics has an “Advertising Workspace” that’s designed to intuitively connect the dots between data points and unlock deeper insights on the performance and wellbeing of a campaign.  

Privacy-Safe Data & The Next Generation of GA

These changes are all about strengthening a “measurement foundation” ahead of upcoming web-privacy changes. This’ll impact how you track and report data and assess the value of your marketing activities – so, be prepared to evolve with Google, or you run the risk of getting left behind. Unlock this next step by setting up a new property in Google Analytics 4, or by using the GA4 setup assistant.

Make sure you’re getting the most from Google Analytics 4 and, if you’re uncertain about unlocking insights from data, get in touch or explore how we help businesses with analytics.  

What Will 2022 Look Like? 

If there’s anything you take from the headlines in January 2022, it should be that times are changing and the future of web-privacy will impact the landscape. What this looks like may feel unknown for now, but Google has been keen to offer fleeting glimpses into what it proposes is next as it evolves to keep up with privacy demands.

Things seem to change in search all the time. But that doesn’t mean your marketing has to get left behind. When you work with an award-winning SEO agency and PPC management company like MRS Digital, we can help you understand where there’s opportunity to grow and succeed, even in crowded markets.

If you’d like a quick, no-obligation chat, then reach out to us and tell us how we can help.

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