A summary of the most interesting questions and answers from the Google SEO Office Hours with John Mueller on December 11th, 2020.
Archiving valuable content
3:58 “How to archive legacy pages that acquired a large number of links and retain the SEO signals that they give to boost the whole website?”
John said the following: “If you have an archive section (…) then moving [the older content] there and redirecting the URLs there, that essentially tells us to forward the links there.”
He also discouraged blocking the robots from crawling the archive section. This would prevent Google from knowing the content of those pages. He said, “Probably we would automatically crawl less if we recognize they’re less relevant to your site.”
Google picking different canonical page
16:22 “Why does Google pick a different canonical page than the user-selected one and then refuse to index the user-selected page?”
John said that the reason might be that “a website is set up in a way that it’s hard for [Google] to tell which parts of a URL are actually relevant.”
He went on to give an example of several websites with the same backend system and the same content. This would result in the same content being available on several domains and under similar URLs. Google would then just pick one of the domains as the domain seems irrelevant in that case.
Ranking changes over time
19:59 “A question was asked about the ranking fluctuations for newly added pages. We all know that when new content is added to a website, it takes a while before its rankings stabilize, but… why?”
John said that it’s “very common that it takes some time for the signals to settle down.” Google needs time to understand what is on a specific page and how it’s relevant for the web. That’s because Google’s ranking systems need time to collect the signals associated with that page. This applies to both websites and specific pages.
21:42 “Why does Google rank websites that show a high amount of ads and create a poor search experience?”
John said that Google does use a number of different factors to penalize sites with a poor page experience. That being said, relevance is paramount, and Google may still show results that have a high amount of ads if they’re the most relevant to the query.
What to do if the wrong pages are ranking
37:14 “If Google ranks your accidentally created tag pages higher than your category page, will using the canonical tag solve the problem?”
John said the following: “Cleaning up the site structure makes it a lot easier for us to pick out which pages you really want to have shown in the search results.”
That involves removing the internal links to the pages you don’t want ranking and using the canonical tags or redirects.
The effects of cleaning up the site structure may not be visible right away, as Google has to recognize the changes on a per-URL basis.
Google rewriting meta titles
46:38 A question sparked an interesting discussion about Google’s reasons for rewriting meta titles shown in the search results.
The whole segment of the hangout dedicated to this topic is quite long, so to summarize what I thought was the most interesting:
- Google doesn’t ignore the user-created meta title even if it rewrites it for search results – it is still being used, but Google concluded that it isn’t useful for users.
- Meta titles are rewritten depending on the query. So if the user-created title is “Home” for a homepage, that title might be rewritten to something more useful like the name of the company or something based on the content of the page depending on what the user is looking for.
- This also means that a page title may be rewritten only for some queries, and Google may still show the user-selected one for other queries.
- Particularly for small businesses, having a title and description that entice the user to go to your page is more important than stuffing it with keywords for ranking purposes.
- As the machine learning stack improves, it’s increasingly less useful to use alternative keywords, like “hotels” and “accommodation,” in the title and description. Google’s ability to understand these synonyms is constantly improving.