First Thing Monday 16 Mar ’15

This week: Dynamic snippets in AdWords; Critical flaw in WordPress SEO plugin; Is Google+ Dead?; Secure urls missing in action; GWT Blocked Resources Report…

  1. Google automatically adds dynamic snippets to AdWords ads
  2. Critical flaw in WordPress SEO plugin affects millions of sites
  3. Is Google+ Dead? Yes – and, well, No.
  4. 80% of secure urls aren’t in Google results
  5. Are you hurting your rankings by blocking Google? Find out.

The latest news about web marketing, SEO, PPC Advertising & Web Analytics. But only the stuff that matters from a New Zealand perspective. Less noise, more signal!

1.Google will automatically add new dynamic snippets to AdWords ads

Google has just announced yet another new AdWords extension, called Dynamic Structured Snippets. However, unlike other ad extensions, these are automated. Like it or not, Google will pull relevant information about your products and services from your landing pages, and show this information with your ads.


Initial roll-out is limited to retail advertisers and travel companies offering hotels and flights. Snippets for other verticals will be available later this year.

Dynamic Structured Snippets will be added to eligible ads, according to Google, whenever your landing page has a matching category for a search. These snippets can appear with other AdWords extensions, with Google favouring the extensions that generate the most clickthroughs.

There is no additional cost for inclusion of these snippets; advertisers are simply charged as usual when someone clicks on their ads.

If you don’t like what’s appearing on your ads, you can opt out by completing this form. Google does make the point, however, that extensions typically boost clickthrough rates, and that not having them is therefore likely to mean your ads are shown in lower positions.

Why should you care?
Google’s already done the same thing for organic search results, having released Structured Snippets in September last year. The addition of more relevant information (such as product specifications) makes sense in that context, where nothing else exists apart from a page title, URL, meta description and – perhaps – site links.

We’ll need convincing that Dynamic Structured Snippets is a positive addition to AdWords for advertisers who have taken time to craft their advertising message, and have already added Call Out and Review extensions.

We advise taking advantage of Call Out extensions if you haven’t already, since these allow you to control your message. And we suggest keeping a close eye on Dynamic Structured Snippets, should the automated text conflict with your ad (or other extensions). Performance should also be monitored – look under the Ad extensions tab for the automated extensions report. This report should not only allow you to see what’s being shown, but also allow you to see how well ads with DSS are performing compared to those without.

2. Critical flaw in WordPress SEO plugin affects millions of sites

If your website is a WordPress site, you should read this. One in 6 websites are built on WordPress, making it the world’s most popular blogging and Content Management System. A huge variety of plugins (over 30,000) are available to extend the functionality of WordPress & one of the most popular is the Yoast SEO plugin. Millions of sites use this to assist them with SEO.

It was revealed late last week that a security flaw had been discovered in the Yoast SEO plugin which could be exploited by hackers to modify a website database and allow the insertion of malware, adware, spam links, or other unwanted content into WordPress websites.

Because of the severity of the issue, WordPress put out a forced automatic update which means that most sites should have been automatically updated to a new version of the plugin (both free & premium) which closes the security hole.

Why should you care?
If you use the Yoast SEO plugin you’ll probably be thinking everything’s OK because of the automatic update. However we strongly recommend that you check to confirm that the plugin has in fact been updated because this may not have occurred for a variety of reasons. We’ve seen a number of sites that have not automatically updated & so remain vulnerable to this security flaw which is now widely know about by hackers.

Login to your WordPress account, go to the Plugins section and under Installed Plugins check to see if there is a notice that a new version of the WordPress SEO plugin available. If there is, immediately update and you should then be good.

3. Is Google+ Dead? Yes – and, well, No.

The tech press has been abuzz recently following the appointment of Bradley Horowitz, a long-time product VP at Google, to the newly created position of Vice President, Photos & Streams.

Horowitz was previously second in command to Vic Gundotra, the man behind the launch of Google+. Gundotra left in April 2014 after eight years at Google; VP of Engineering David Besbris has had a caretaker role with the Google+ team in the interim and remains at the company.

So far, so good, but Horowitz’s appointment has many speculating that this means Google+ is now dead and buried.

After all, Gundotra was SVP of Social – not of “Photos & Streams” – and his departure left the Google hierarchy absent of anyone with his commitment and passion for the product. Adding to the uncertainty, Sergey Brin publicly admitted that Google+ was “a mistake”, a month after Gundotra’s departure.

Google remains frustratingly silent on the future of Google+. But the absence of any referral to Google+ in Horowitz’s announcement suggests that Photos and Streams (the status updates that are now part of Google+) will be relaunched as products in their own right. That appears to have been confirmed in subsequent comments by Sundar Pichai, Google’s SVP of Products: “We’re at a point where things like photos and communications are very important, we’re reorganizing around that. Hangouts will still exist.”

Why should you care?
Google hasn’t had much success with social. Google+ has clearly failed to compete as intended with Facebook, and follows the failure of other Google social initiatives (Orkut, Google Buzz and Google Wave).

However, unlike other pundits, we don’t subscribe to the view that Google+ is going away – we think the name will remain, but that emphasis will shift to its component products.

We could be wrong. After all, Google is prone to kill off products that don’t meet expectations. However, we suspect that Google+ will simply remain in the background, the glue that connects user identities and allows login across the different products.

Regardless, any company that has made Google+ the sole focus of their social media outreach should be reconsidering their options. It’s better to ensure activity across a range of social platforms, and not stop investing in other promotional strategies.

4. 80% of secure urls aren’t in Google results

Back in August last year Google announced they would start giving secure websites a minor ranking boost over non-secure sites to encourage more websites to become secure. Secure websites use 2048-bit key SSL certificates for encrypted connections and can be identified because they feature HTTPS in their URL, rather than HTTP.

Many websites have switched to HTTPS but it looks like webmasters are struggling getting this right from Google’s perspective. Last week Google announced that more than 80% of HTTPS URLs eligible for indexing by Google aren’t indexed because website owners continue to use the HTTP variant in their sitemap files, rel-canonical, and rel-alternate-hreflang elements instead of using the HTTPS variant.

Why should you care?
If you’ve incurred to cost and effort of migrating your site to HTTPS you’ve probably done so for far more compelling reasons than a possible slight ranking boost.

Google’s ranking algorithm features over 200 variables and they acknowledge that HTTPS is only a very lightweight ranking signal which carries far less weight than other signals, such as high-quality content.

However Google have also stated that over time they may decide to make this a more important ranking signal “because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web”. So if your site is secure, you might as well ensure your developers have done this right from Google’s perspective to benefit from any ranking boost this will give your Google rankings now and maybe more significantly in the future.

Google have a list of tips to help webmasters avoid common mistakes switching their sites from HTTP to HTTPS which you can read here.

5. Are you hurting your rankings by blocking Google? Find out

Historically, Google indexed web pages the way old text-only browsers like Lynx used to. However Google’s abilities to process JavaScript and CSS have improved significantly and in October last year Google announced that its indexing system now renders web pages more like a typical modern browser, with CSS and JavaScript turned on. As a consequence of this they updated their technical Webmaster Guidelines.

For optimal rendering and indexing, Google’s updated guideline specify “you should allow Googlebot access to the JavaScript, CSS, and image files that your pages use. This provides optimal rendering and indexing for your site. Disallowing crawling of Javascript or CSS files in your site’s robots.txt directly harms how well our algorithms render and index your content and can result in suboptimal rankings.”

From the above it’s clear – blocking Google from files can hurt your rankings.

Clearly there is an ongoing problem for Google with many sites blocking Google from crawling linked images, CSS, and JavaScript files in web pages.

Most of this will be innocent because many webmasters simply aren’t aware of Google’s updated technical guidelines. However there will also be sites deliberately blocking Google because they’re engaging in “blackhat SEO” techniques using hidden CSS & JavaScript to manipulate search rankings.

Google announced last week that Google Webmaster Tools now includes a new Blocked Resources Report. This report draws website owners attention to files that are blocked from Google and gives recommendations on how to fix this. Google also updated the Fetch & Render tool in GWT to display how GoogleBot sees your page versus how a user sees it. Ideally these should be identical.

Why should you care?
Log into the Blocked Resources Report in your Google Webmaster Tools account to check your site isn’t inadvertently contravening Google’s technical guidelines by blocking Google. Fixing this may improve your site’s rankings and also removes the risk of Google thinking you’re deliberately hiding content from them for blackhat SEO reasons.

OK, that’s what we think. We’re keen to hear your thoughts on any of the above – please comment below. 

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About the Author Jeremy Templer & Mark Sceats

Jeremy and Mark are two of the partners behind SureFire Search. Despite their deceptively youthful appearances, both have worked in search marketing for many years. To put that in context, Google didn't even exist when Jeremy started.