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Thursday, January 26, 2012

More Options for Google+ Badges

Webmaster Level: All

Update on February 2, 2012: The new Google+ badge is now out of preview and available to all users on all sites.

When we launched Google+ pages in November, we also released Google+ badges to promote your Google+ presence right on your site. Starting today in developer preview (and soon available to all your users), we're adding more options for integrating the Google+ badge into your website. You can configure a badge with a width that fits your site design and choose a version that works better on darker sites. You'll also see that Google+ badges now include the unified +1 and circle count that we added to Pages last month.


If you’re still considering whether to add a Google+ badge on your website, consider this: We recently looked at top sites using the badge and found that, on average, the badge accounted for an additional 38% of followers. When you add the badge visitors to your website can discover your Google+ page and connect in a variety of ways: they can follow your Google+ page, +1 your site, share your site with their circles, see which of their friends have +1’d your site, and click through to visit your Google+ page.

The Google+ Badge makes it easy for your fans to find and follow you on Google+. With these additional options, we hope it's even easier to create a badge that fits your website.

Follow the conversation on Google+.

What’s new with Sitemaps

Webmaster level: All

Sitemaps are a way to tell Google about pages on your site. Webmaster Tools’ Sitemaps feature gives you feedback on your submitted Sitemaps, such as how many Sitemap URLs have been indexed, or whether your Sitemaps have any errors. Recently, we’ve added even more information! Let’s check it out:


The Sitemaps page displays details based on content-type. Now statistics from Web, Videos, Images and News are featured prominently. This lets you see how many items of each type were submitted (if any), and for some content types, we also show how many items have been indexed. With these enhancements, the new Sitemaps page replaces the Video Sitemaps Labs feature, which will be retired.

Another improvement is the ability to test a Sitemap. Unlike an actual submission, testing does not submit your Sitemap to Google as it only checks it for errors. Testing requires a live fetch by Googlebot and usually takes a few seconds to complete. Note that the initial testing is not exhaustive and may not detect all issues; for example, errors that can only be identified once the URLs are downloaded are not be caught by the test.

In addition to on-the-spot testing, we’ve got a new way of displaying errors which better exposes what types of issues a Sitemap contains. Instead of repeating the same kind of error many times for one Sitemap, errors and warnings are now grouped, and a few examples are given. Likewise, for Sitemap index files, we’ve aggregated errors and warnings from the child Sitemaps that the Sitemap index encloses. No longer will you need to click through each child Sitemap one by one.

Finally, we’ve changed the way the “Delete” button works. Now, it removes the Sitemap from Webmaster Tools, both from your account and the accounts of the other owners of the site. Be aware that a Sitemap may still be read or processed by Google even if you delete it from Webmaster Tools. For example if you reference a Sitemap in your robots.txt file search engines may still attempt to process the Sitemap. To truly prevent a Sitemap from being processed, remove the file from your server or block it via robots.txt.

For more information on Sitemaps in Webmaster Tools and how Sitemaps work, visit our Help Center. If you have any questions, go to Webmaster Help Forum.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Update to Top Search Queries data

Webmaster level: All

Starting today, we’re updating our Top Search Queries feature to make it better match expectations about search engine rankings. Previously we reported the average position of all URLs from your site for a given query. As of today, we’ll instead average only the top position that a URL from your site appeared in.

An example
Let’s say Nick searched for [bacon] and URLs from your site appeared in positions 3, 6, and 12. Jane also searched for [bacon] and URLs from your site appeared in positions 5 and 9. Previously, we would have averaged all these positions together and shown an Average Position of 7. Going forward, we’ll only average the highest position your site appeared in for each search (3 for Nick’s search and 5 for Jane’s search), for an Average Position of 4.

We anticipate that this new method of calculation will more accurately match your expectations about how a link's position in Google Search results should be reported.

How will this affect my Top Search Queries data?
This change will affect your Top Search Queries data going forward. Historical data will not change. Note that the change in calculation means that the Average Position metric will usually stay the same or decrease, as we will no longer be averaging in lower-ranking URLs.

Check out the updated Top Search Queries data in the Your site on the web section of Webmaster Tools. And remember, you can also download Top Search Queries data programmatically!

We look forward to providing you a more representative picture of your Google Search data. Let us know what you think in our Webmaster Forum.

Making form-filling faster, easier and smarter

Webmaster Level: Intermediate

One of the biggest bottlenecks on any conversion funnel is filling out an online form – shopping and registration flows all rely on forms as a crucial and demanding step in accomplishing the goals of your site. For many users, online forms mean repeatedly typing common information like our names and addresses on different sites across the web – a tedious task that causes many to give up and abandon the flow entirely.

Chrome’s Autofill and other form-filling providers help to break down this barrier by remembering common profile information and pre-populating the form with those values. Unfortunately, up to now it has been difficult for webmasters to ensure that Chrome and other form-filling providers can parse their form correctly. Some standards exist; but they put onerous burdens on the implementation of the website, so they’re not used much in practice.

Today we’re pleased to announce support in Chrome for an experimental new “autocomplete type” attribute for form fields that allows web developers to unambiguously label text and select fields with common data types such as ‘full-name’ or ‘street-address’. With this attribute, web developers can drive conversions on their sites by marking their forms for auto-completion without changing the user interface or the backend.


Just add an attribute to the input element, for example an email address field might look like:

<input type=”text” name=”field1” x-autocompletetype=”email” />

We’ve been working on this design in collaboration with several other autofill vendors. Like any early stage proposal we expect this will change and evolve as the web standards community provides feedback, but we believe this will serve as a good starting point for the discussion on how to best support autofillable forms in the HTML5 spec. For now, this new attribute is implemented in Chrome as x-autocompletetype to indicate that this is still experimental and not yet a standard, similar to the webkitspeech attribute we released last summer.

For more information, you can read the full text of the proposed specification, ask questions on the Webmaster help forum, or you can share your feedback in the standardization discussion!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Page layout algorithm improvement

Webmaster Level: All

In our ongoing effort to help you find more high-quality websites in search results, today we’re launching an algorithmic change that looks at the layout of a webpage and the amount of content you see on the page once you click on a result.

As we’ve mentioned previously, we’ve heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and it’s difficult to find the actual content, they aren’t happy with the experience. Rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away. So sites that don’t have much content “above-the-fold” can be affected by this change. If you click on a website and the part of the website you see first either doesn’t have a lot of visible content above-the-fold or dedicates a large fraction of the site’s initial screen real estate to ads, that’s not a very good user experience. Such sites may not rank as highly going forward.

We understand that placing ads above-the-fold is quite common for many websites; these ads often perform well and help publishers monetize online content. This algorithmic change does not affect sites who place ads above-the-fold to a normal degree, but affects sites that go much further to load the top of the page with ads to an excessive degree or that make it hard to find the actual original content on the page. This new algorithmic improvement tends to impact sites where there is only a small amount of visible content above-the-fold or relevant content is persistently pushed down by large blocks of ads.

This algorithmic change noticeably affects less than 1% of searches globally. That means that in less than one in 100 searches, a typical user might notice a reordering of results on the search page. If you believe that your website has been affected by the page layout algorithm change, consider how your web pages use the area above-the-fold and whether the content on the page is obscured or otherwise hard for users to discern quickly. You can use our Browser Size tool, among many others, to see how your website would look under different screen resolutions.

If you decide to update your page layout, the page layout algorithm will automatically reflect the changes as we re-crawl and process enough pages from your site to assess the changes. How long that takes will depend on several factors, including the number of pages on your site and how efficiently Googlebot can crawl the content. On a typical website, it can take several weeks for Googlebot to crawl and process enough pages to reflect layout changes on the site.

Overall, our advice for publishers continues to be to focus on delivering the best possible user experience on your websites and not to focus on specific algorithm tweaks. This change is just one of the over 500 improvements we expect to roll out to search this year. As always, please post your feedback and questions in our Webmaster Help forum.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Better page titles in search results

Page titles are an important part of our search results: they’re the first line of each result and they’re the actual links our searchers click to reach websites. Our advice to webmasters has always been to write unique, descriptive page titles (and meta descriptions for the snippets) to describe to searchers what the page is about.

We use many signals to decide which title to show to users, primarily the <title> tag if the webmaster specified one. But for some pages, a single title might not be the best one to show for all queries, and so we have algorithms that generate alternative titles to make it easier for our users to recognize relevant pages. Our testing has shown that these alternative titles are generally more relevant to the query and can substantially improve the clickthrough rate to the result, helping both our searchers and webmasters. About half of the time, this is the reason we show an alternative title.

Other times, alternative titles are displayed for pages that have no title or a non-descriptive title specified by the webmaster in the HTML. For example, a title using simply the word "Home" is not really indicative of what the page is about. Another common issue we see is when a webmaster uses the same title on almost all of a website’s pages, sometimes exactly duplicating it and sometimes using only minor variations. Lastly, we also try to replace unnecessarily long or hard-to-read titles with more concise and descriptive alternatives.

For more information about how you can write better titles and meta descriptions, and to learn more about the signals we use to generate alternative titles, we've recently updated the Help Center article on this topic. Also, we try to notify webmasters when we discover titles that can be improved on their websites through the HTML Suggestions feature in Webmaster Tools; you can find this feature in the Diagnostics section of the menu on the left hand side.

As always, if you have any questions or feedback, please tell us in the Webmaster Help Forum.