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  • Updating Our Search Quality Rating Guidelines

    Developing algorithmic changes to search involves a process of experimentation. Part of that experimentation is having evaluators—people who assess the quality of Google’s search results—give us feedback on our experiments. Ratings from evaluators do not determine individual site rankings, but are used help us understand our experiments. The evaluators base their ratings on guidelines we give them; the guidelines reflect what Google thinks search users want.

    In 2013, we published our human rating guidelines to provide transparency on how Google works and to help webmasters understand what Google looks for in web pages. Since that time, a lot has changed: notably, more people have smartphones than ever before and more searches are done on mobile devices today than on computers.

    We often make changes to the guidelines as our understanding of what users wants evolves, but we haven’t shared an update publicly since then. However, we recently completed a major revision of our rater guidelines to adapt to this mobile world, recognizing that people use search differently when they carry internet-connected devices with them all the time. You can find that update here (PDF).

    This is not the final version of our rater guidelines. The guidelines will continue to evolve as search, and how people use it, changes. We won’t be updating the public document with every change, but we will try to publish big changes to the guidelines periodically.

    We expect our phones and other devices to do a lot, and we want Google to continue giving users the answers they're looking for—fast!

    Posted by Mimi Underwood, Sr. Program Manager, Search Growth & Analysis

  • TC Summit 2015: Celebrating our Webmaster Top Contributors!

    Two weeks ago, we were extremely lucky to host the 2015 edition of the Top Contributor Summit (#TCsummit), in San Francisco and on Google’s campus in Mountain View, California.

    Google Top Contributors are an exceptional group of passionate Google product enthusiasts who share their expertise across our international help forums to support millions of Google users every year. Google’s Top Contributor Summit is an event organised every two years, to celebrate these amazing users. This year we had the pleasure to welcome 526 Top Contributors, from all around the world.

    Under the motto “Learn, Connect, Celebrate”, Top Contributors had the chance to learn more about our products, get insights on the future of Google, connect with Googlers and Top Contributors from various products and, finally, to celebrate their positive impact on our products and users.

    Footage of the 2015 Top Contributor Summit

    We also had the chance to hold Webmaster-specific sessions, which gave Googlers the unique opportunity to meet 56 of our Webmaster Top Contributors, representing 20 countries and speaking 14 different languages.

    Group photo of the Webmaster Top Contributor community and the Google Webmaster Relations team

    Throughout the day, we had in-depth sessions about Google Webmaster guidelines, Search Console and Google Search. We discussed the most common issues that users are bringing up in our international webmaster forums, and listened to the Top Contributors’ feedback regarding our Search tools. We also talked about the Top Contributor program itself and additional opportunities for our users to benefit from both Google and the TCs’ support. Product managers, engineers and search quality Googlers attended the sessions to listen and bring the feedback given by Top Contributors and users on the forum back to their teams.

    Webmaster Top Contributors during the in-depth sessions about Google Webmaster guidelines, Search Console and Google Search

    At Google, we are grateful to have the incredible opportunity to meet and connect with some of the most insightful members of the webmaster community and get their feedback on such important topics. It helps us be sure that Google keeps focusing on what really matters to webmasters, content creators, and users.

    To learn more about our Top Contributor Program, or to give us your own feedback, visit our Top Contributor homepage or join our Webmaster help forum.

    Diogo Botelho and Roberta Remigi, Webmaster Relations team

  • Detect and get rid of unwanted sneaky mobile redirects

    In many cases, it is OK to show slightly different content on different devices. For example, optimizing the smaller space of a smartphone screen can mean that some content, like images, will have to be modified. Or you might want to store your website’s menu in a navigation drawer (find documentation here) to make mobile browsing easier and more effective. When implemented properly, these user-centric modifications can be understood very well by Google.

    The situation is similar when it comes to mobile-only redirect. Redirecting mobile users to improve their mobile experience (like redirecting mobile users from to is often beneficial to them. But redirecting mobile users sneakily to a different content is bad for user experience and is against Google’s webmaster guidelines.

    A frustrating experience: The same URL shows up in search results pages on desktop and on mobile. When a user clicks on this result on their desktop computer, the URL opens normally. However, when clicking on the same result on a smartphone, a redirect happens and an unrelated URL loads.

    Who implements these mobile-only sneaky redirects?

    There are cases where webmasters knowingly decide to put into place redirection rules for their mobile users. This is typically a webmaster guidelines violation, and we do take manual action against it when it harms Google users’ experience (see last section of this article).   

    But we’ve also observed situations where mobile-only sneaky redirects happen without site owners being aware of it:

    • Advertising schemes that redirect mobile users specifically
      A script/element installed to display ads and monetize content might be redirecting mobile users to a completely different site without the webmaster being aware of it.
    • Mobile redirect as a result of the site being a target of hacking
      In other cases, if your website has been hacked, a potential result can be redirects to spammy domains for mobile users only.

    How do I detect if my site is doing sneaky mobile redirects?

    1. Check if you are redirected when you navigate to your site on your smartphone
      We recommend you to check the mobile user experience of your site by visiting your pages from Google search results with a smartphone. When debugging, mobile emulation in desktop browsers is handy, mostly because you can test for many different devices. You can, for example, do it straight from your browser in Chrome, Firefox or Safari (for the latter, make sure you have enabled the “Show Develop menu in menu bar” feature).
    1. Listen to your users
      Your users could see your site in a different way than you do. It’s always important to pay attention to user complaints, so you can hear of any issue related to mobile UX.
    2. Monitor your users in your site’s analytics data
      Unusual mobile user activity could be detected by looking at some of the data held in your website's analytics data. For example, looking at the average time spent on your site by your mobile users could be a good signal to watch: if all of a sudden, your mobile users (and only them) start spending much less time on your site than they used to, there might be an issue related to mobile redirections.

      To be aware of wide changes in mobile user activity as soon as they happen, you can for example set up Google Analytics alerts. For example, you can set an alert to be warned in case of a sharp drop in average time spent on your site by mobile users, or a drop in mobile users (always take into account that big changes in those metrics are not a clear, direct signal that your site is doing mobile sneaky redirects).

    I’ve detected sneaky redirects for my mobile users, and I did not set it up: what do I do?

    1. Make sure that your site is not hacked.
      Check the Security Issues tool in the Search Console, if we have noticed any hack, you should get some information there.
      Review our additional resources on typical symptoms of hacked sites, and our case studies on hacked sites.
    2. Audit third-party scripts/elements on your site
      If your site is not hacked, then we recommend you take the time to investigate if third-party scripts/elements are causing the redirects. You can follow these steps:
      A. Remove one by one the third-party scripts/elements you do not control from the redirecting page(s).
      B. Check your site on a mobile device or through emulation between each script/element removal, and see when the redirect stops.
      C. If you think a particular script/element is responsible for the sneaky redirect, consider removing it from your site, and debugging the issue with the script/element provider.

    Last Thoughts on Sneaky Mobile Redirects

    It's a violation of the Google Webmaster Guidelines to redirect a user to a page with the intent of displaying content other than what was made available to the search engine crawler (more information on sneaky redirects). To ensure quality search results for our users, the Google Search Quality team can take action on such sites, including removal of URLs from our index.  When we take manual action, we send a message to the site owner via Search Console. Therefore, make sure you’ve set up a Search Console account.

    Be sure to choose advertisers who are transparent on how they handle user traffic, to avoid unknowingly redirecting your own users. If you are interested in trust-building in the online advertising space, you may check out industry-wide best practices when participating in ad networks. For example, the Trustworthy Accountability Group’s (Interactive Advertising Bureau) Inventory Quality Guidelines are a good place to start. There are many ways to monetize your content with mobile solutions that provide a high quality user experience, be sure to use them.

    If you have questions or comments about mobile-only redirects, join us in our Google Webmaster Support forum.

    Written by Vincent Courson & Badr Salmi El Idrissi, Search Quality team

  • Deprecating our AJAX crawling scheme

    tl;dr: We are no longer recommending the AJAX crawling proposal we made back in 2009.

    In 2009, we made a proposal to make AJAX pages crawlable. Back then, our systems were not able to render and understand pages that use JavaScript to present content to users. Because "crawlers … [were] not able to see any content … created dynamically," we proposed a set of practices that webmasters can follow in order to ensure that their AJAX-based applications are indexed by search engines.

    Times have changed. Today, as long as you're not blocking Googlebot from crawling your JavaScript or CSS files, we are generally able to render and understand your web pages like modern browsers. To reflect this improvement, we recently updated our technical Webmaster Guidelines to recommend against disallowing Googlebot from crawling your site's CSS or JS files.

    Since the assumptions for our 2009 proposal are no longer valid, we recommend following the principles of progressive enhancement. For example, you can use the History API pushState() to ensure accessibility for a wider range of browsers (and our systems).

    Questions and answers

    Q: My site currently follows your recommendation and supports _escaped_fragment_. Would my site stop getting indexed now that you've deprecated your recommendation?
    A: No, the site would still be indexed. In general, however, we recommend you implement industry best practices when you're making the next update for your site. Instead of the _escaped_fragment_ URLs, we'll generally crawl, render, and index the #! URLs.

    Q: Is moving away from the AJAX crawling proposal to industry best practices considered a site move? Do I need to implement redirects?
    A: If your current setup is working fine, you should not have to immediately change anything. If you're building a new site or restructuring an already existing site, simply avoid introducing _escaped_fragment_ urls. .

    Q: I use a JavaScript framework and my webserver serves a pre-rendered page. Is that still ok?
    A: In general, websites shouldn't pre-render pages only for Google -- we expect that you might pre-render pages for performance benefits for users and that you would follow progressive enhancement guidelines. If you pre-render pages, make sure that the content served to Googlebot matches the user's experience, both how it looks and how it interacts. Serving Googlebot different content than a normal user would see is considered cloaking, and would be against our Webmaster Guidelines.

    If you have any questions, feel free to post them here, or in the webmaster help forum.

    Posted by , Search Quality Analyst

  • An update on how we tackle hacked spam

    Recently we have started rolling out a series of algorithmic changes that aim to tackle hacked spam in our search results. A huge amount of legitimate sites are hacked by spammers and used to engage in abusive behavior, such as malware download, promotion of traffic to low quality sites, porn, and marketing of counterfeit goods or illegal pharmaceutical drugs, etc.

    Website owners that don’t implement standard best practices for security can leave their websites vulnerable to being easily hacked. This can include government sites, universities, small business, company websites, restaurants, hobby organizations, conferences, etc. Spammers and cyber-criminals purposely seek out those sites and inject pages with malicious content in an attempt to gain rank and traffic in search engines.

    We are aggressively targeting hacked spam in order to protect users and webmasters.

    The algorithmic changes will eventually impact roughly 5% of queries, depending on the language. As we roll out the new algorithms, users might notice that for certain queries, only the most relevant results are shown, reducing the number of results shown:

    This is due to the large amount of hacked spam being removed, and should improve in the near future. We are continuing tuning our systems to weed out the bad content while retaining the organic, legitimate results. If you have any questions about these changes, or want to give us feedback on these algorithms, feel free to drop by our Webmaster Help Forums.

    Posted by Ning Song, Software Engineer

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