HTTP to HTTPS Migration Guide | Do SSL Certificates Affect SEO?

Not long ago, Google has released version 68 of the Chrome Web Browser. In this version, websites that don’t run on HTTPS will be marked as Not Secure. This might lead to the following question: does Google value websites with SSL certificates more? Will they rank better? Is it worth to make the switch?


In this article (Updated 2019) you’ll find out whether SSL certificates matter for SEO or not. You’ll also learn exactly how to migrate your website from HTTP to HTTPS without suffering any ranking drops. Yes, you heard that right. If you’re not careful, you can mess up your search engine rankings!




Warning: Switching a website from HTTP to HTTPS the wrong way can heavily mess up your search rankings! There are many things that must be taken into consideration. A simple backup of the website will not help! That’s because you’re playing with the URLs which Google has already indexed. Changing those without a proper 301 redirect from HTTP to HTTPS on the entire website will cause Google to think the old, indexed URLs have vanished. The HTTP to HTTPS migration guide at the end of the article will help, but if you’re not sure what you’re doing, please contact an SEO professional who can assist you with the migration. We can not be held responsible if things go wrong!


  1. SSL Certificates, HTTPS & Their Importance
    1. What is HTTPS
    2. What are SSL Certificates
    3. Why HTTPS is Important
  2. How Does HTTPS Affect SEO?
    1. HTTPS as a ranking factor
    2. User’s trust
    3. GDPR issues
    4. Does HTTPS Affect Performance?
  3. How to Switch from HTTP to HTTPS
    1. Acquire & Install an SSL Certificate
    2. Add HTTPS Version to Search Console
    3. Set up 301 redirects
    4. Change All Internal Links
    5. Fix Mixed Content Issues
    6. Make Sure Everything Works Properly
    7. Resubmit Disavow File & Change Your Backlinks

SSL Certificates, HTTPS & Their Importance


I’ll try to keep it short. Cryptography isn’t something easy to digest, but without having a general idea of how it works and what problems it solves, we can’t really understand its importance. If you have any specific questions, ask them in the comments section and I’ll do my best to reply.


What is HTTPS?


HTTP stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (it’s actually Hypertext Transfer Protocol, but that should be only HTP, right?). What you need to know is that it’s a protocol that web servers, data centers and browsers use to transfer information across the web.

The S at the ending of HTTPS just stands for Secure.

The security comes through the use of SSL (Secure Sockets Layer). Sometimes, it might also be referred to as TLS (Transport Layer Security). It’s a method of securing the data which need to be transported.


The method through which the data are secured is called Cryptography. By encrypting a message, only the ones that know the decryption key will be able to read it. For example, if we both decided upfront that A = 1, B = 2, C =3 and so on, I could send you the message 8 5 12 12 15 and you would read it as Hello. This is called symmetric cryptography.


The issue with symmetric cryptography is the fact that both parties must know the encryption / decryption key upfront in order to properly communicate, so at least one secret meeting must be arranged prior to messaging. Pretty difficult to do when you want to chat with someone across the Globe.


how cryptography ssl https work


So, to overcome this issue, we can use asymmetric cryptography. This type of cryptography uses 2 keys. A private one and a public one. They can both decipher each other. This means that any message encrypted with the public key can be read using the private key and vice versa.


If I want to make sure nobody publishes information under my name, I can use asymmetric cryptography. I generate both a private key and a public key. The public key I send out for everyone to know. If I publish something online and encrypt it with my private key, you could only decipher it with my public key. This way people will know the work is original. If you want to send me a private message, then you would just have to encrypt it using the public key. Only I will be able to read it.


This comes in handy in these modern days when communication happens over very big distances. People can now share information securely without both parties needing to know each other’s keys.


What is SSL & What are SSL Certificates?


SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. Let’s say it’s related to the S in HTTPS. However, we usually hear about SSL in relation to Certificates. So what are SSL Certificates?


Well, SSL certificates are only used to confirm the identity of a website. These certificates are emitted and signed by certificate authorities with their private keys. Before getting a certificate from them, you must somehow confirm your identity and prove you are the organization and website owner.


I could emit a public key out there saying that I’m Adrian, but how would you actually know it’s me? That’s why we have Secure Sockets Layer Certificates.


There are different types of SSL Certificates, but the most common ones are Domain Verified Certificates. These certificates can even be obtained for free these days (keep reading and I’ll tell you how). The verification process is pretty simple and very similar to the Google Search Console one. You upload an HTML file to your server, proving you’re the entity.


Of course, when you want to prove you’re a person or an entire company, you need to provide some sort of proof. For this, there are other types of SSL certificates, such as Organization Validated (OV) or Extended Validation (EV) certificates. They are more expensive and require further verification, such as company documents or IDs. The verification process might take a while.


Before the new Chrome updates (in which they stopped displaying HTTP and HTTPS as well as the WWW prefix), certificates with Extended Validation used to look like this:


Imagini pentru ev certificate

source: DigiCert


However, today you’ll have to click the lock icon to see if a website has a regular SSL Certificate or an entity validated one.


ev certificates ssl seo


Considering the above mentioned, there isn’t much of a difference between free, regular SSL certificates and premium ones, at least not anymore. Very few users will check the certificate, if any (as long as the lock is green). However, if your business relies on security and trust, then you should consider purchasing a premium SSL Certificate. This will ensure no errors will happen.


Web Browsers come packed up with a bunch of public keys from certificate authorities. They check if the certificates have been signed with the proper private keys, therefore confirming that their identity has been verified by a trusted authority and not by some random certificate generator. If the certificate is expired or not valid, a red warning will show up. 


connection not private expired ssl certificate red warning


This will definitely turn the user down, so make sure that if you run through HTTPS, your certificate is valid and working properly!


It’s better to run through HTTP than to run through HTTPS with an expired SSL certificate!


After the identity of the website has been confirmed by the browser, the web server and the client then establish a secure communication channel. Asymmetric cryptography is used to send a symmetric key which only the server and the client know. Then, the communication channel is secure and any attempt to read the information which is passed between the server and client will require the decryption key.


So why is this so important? Why are people so crazy about HTTPS?


Well, when your users browse your website, they often send information, through contact forms for example. Without encryption, that information can be intercepted by what people call “Man in the middle.” Although contact forms only contain names and e-mails, things get worse when we’re talking credit card information or bank accounts and passwords.


By using an SSL Certificate, webmasters can improve the security of their websites and better protect their users’ information.


How Does HTTPS Affect SEO?


Now that we better understand what HTTP is, we can take a glimpse at its importance. There are multiple ways in which SSL Certificates and HTTPS can impact search engine optimization and Google rankings. Some of them are strictly algorithmic, while others can be less direct, but very meaningful as well. Let’s start with what we know for sure:


HTTPS as a ranking factor


First, you have to know that, theoretically, SSL Certificates do affect SEO. This is actually an official Google statement from 2014. They are considered a ranking factor, out wide in the open.


Why? Well, there are many reasons, but the main one is definitely security. If Google provides its users with better security, it provides better value and the users will be pleased. The fact that internet credit card fraud is on the rise definitely pushed Google into this direction.


https as ranking signal important for seo


Google has tested its search results with HTTPS as a ranking signal and has seen positive feedback. This could also mean that webmasters that take security seriously might generally present better websites. They care about the users.


Although this impact is fairly small, affecting less than 1% of websites, many webmasters have adopted HTTPS. Not long ago, less than 10% of websites were secured with an SSL certificate. Now, more than half of all websites are probably secure.


https affects seo


Why didn’t Google do this earlier? Well, to be honest, I think it’s because it would’ve been a little bit unfair. Back in the day, SSL Certificates were not so easy to obtain and some of them were quite expensive. Today, however, almost anyone can secure their website with a free one. This means that money won’t really have a say in this.


Quick Tip: Basic SSL Certificates can be obtained for free. If you’re just starting out, don’t spend unnecessary money. Keep reading to find out how to get one!


This HTTPS SSL Certificates update is one of the weaker ranking signals in Google’s algorithm. Let’s say that… adding HTTPS won’t get you an SEO ranking boost, but not adding it might affect your Google rankings over time.




Well, it’s because internet users will trust it less and they will leave it quicker. Your conversions will drop. These are all ranking signals that the site isn’t doing well, which Google translates into “I should rank this unsecure site lower and reward a website with a secure connection instead.”


The truth is that a modern, dynamic website can’t work well without HTTPS.


User’s trust


Another way in which SSL Certificates could affect SEO is related to the user experience. Some internet users might have no clue what’s happening, but others prefer to browse websites that are secure. This is where an Extended Validation SSL might come in handy. Here’s the difference between a regular, Domain Validated SSL Certificate and a more expensive Extended Validation SSL Certificate.


Regular Domain Validated SSL Certificate (easily obtained for free)

Extended Validation SSL Certificate (more expensive)


Starting with Chrome Version 68 (24th July 2018), the browser now shows the warning Not Secure when you access a website through HTTP. Users will now definitely ask themselves more questions when seeing that message instead of just the Information icon.


http shows not secure warning since Chrome 68

Screenshot from the Chromium Blog


Who knows, in the future you’ll probably going to see a red warning, just like the one with invalid SSL certificates. That day has not come yet, but it’s probably not far!


GDPR issues


It’s obvious that people are more and more interested in the safety and privacy of their personal information, especially when it comes to websites. Just imagine a breach into Facebook’s servers! You would know EVERYTHING about EVERYONE. Now I know, Facebook is already selling that data to whoever pays good, and you’ve accepted all the terms at signup. But when it comes to security, websites like Facebook are pretty solid.


Still, maybe a picture of what you’ve eaten this morning isn’t so concerning if it gets hijacked and stolen, but your credit card information when you’re making payments on ecommerce websites is!


As of May 25th 2018, GDPR has had a huge impact on websites. GDPR specifies that any personal data should be handled securely. This forces webmasters that have even the smallest contact form to switch their website from HTTP to HTTPS to ensure the security of their users’ personal data.


So, not only can it benefit your SEO rankings if you switch to HTTPS, but it might also get you a fat fine if you don’t. Although usually you will see some ranking boosts, if you mess up your redirects and don’t implement HTTPS correctly, your entire site can drop from the search engine results. Make sure you know what you’re doing before you start.


Does HTTPS Affect Website Performance?


Ok, now we know how HTTPS affects websites from a search results perspective. But how does it affect a website technically? Will it affect its performance? Will the site be slower?


Well… theoretically… yes. You can expect a delay of about 0.1 seconds compared to regular, unsecured HTTP requests. However, it really depends on your server’s performance. Most servers today are fast enough to handle SSL Certificates and HTTPS. You won’t notice the difference.


SSL HTTPS Affect Performance


Using services such as CloudFlare (3rd Party SSL implementation) will probably result in a slower PageSpeed Insights score, but it can be fixed with plugins such as WP Rocket.


However, the small hit in loading time and virtual points generated by some tool is far from outweighing the benefits of having a secure site connection.


How to Switch from HTTP to HTTPS


Switching from HTTP to HTTPS can be a hassle, especially if you’re not running on a popular CMS, like WordPress. However, you can take a look at the following guide to make sure you don’t make some of the biggest mistakes.


Acquire & Install an SSL Certificate


The first step is to acquire an SSL Certificate and install it. You might already have one, even if your website isn’t already running on it. Some hosting providers also offer free SSL Certificates. To find out, just go to instead of the regular HTTP. If you see a red warning, you probably don’t have one (or it has expired). Then, just click the Information icon:


Not fully secure https connection


If the popup says Certificate: Valid then you have an SSL Certificate. Click it to see more details about it, such as for how long it is valid. If you don’t see the word Certificate there, then you probably don’t have one.


You can get an SSL Certificate anywhere. Just search Google for SSL Certificate and you’ll find plenty of providers. Search for the best deal and also look at user reviews. You should also be able to purchase certificates directly via the cPanel on your server, if you’re looking for an EV Certificate, for instance.


However, for most people, a Free SSL Certificate is most likely the best way to go. A really easy way to do that is by using CloudFlare. Instead of using your server, CloudFlare uses its own servers to secure your connection.


To activate CloudFlare, you’ll have to create an account and register a website. Setup is usually automatic, but they have step by step instructions as well. After that you’ll have to login to your Domain Registrar and add CloudFlare’s nameservers instead of your server’s.


This way, the traffic will first pass through CloudFlare’s firewalls, which will secure the connection and will ensure hackers stay out.


One downside (at least for the free version) is that when their servers are under heavy load, your site might load slower. You can fix this with WP Rocket, though. You have a special section for CloudFlare settings there. I’ve been using it on websites for years, and I can say the free version is awesome and the websites are fast.


If CloudFlare isn’t the thing for you, you can also try Comodo or Let’s Encrypt via Zero SSL. We’ll go with the Zero SSL example.


First you’ll need a signing request from your server’s cPanel. If you don’t know how to get one, ask your hosting provider. You’ll find that under the SSL section. Just add the details for your website and a request will be generated. You can download it as a file.



Then you have to upload it to Zero SSL. The website provides step by step instructions.



You’ll have to provide some sort of verification, most of the time by uploading a file on your web servers (just like with Google Analytics or Google Search Console). They usually provide step by step guides on how to verify your identity. There’s more than one method, so pick the one that’s easiest for you.


Once you get the certificates, you’ll have to install them in your cPanel in the SSL Certificates section (Generate, view, upload, or delete SSL certificates). The process is pretty simple. Just scroll down and add the certificate.


After installing the certificate, you should be able to access your website via HTTPS.




Add HTTPS Version to Search Console


The next step is to go to your Google Search Console and add the HTTPS version of your website. You can also set the preferred version, but I highly recommend that you let Google choose for now and only do this after you’ve successfully implemented the HTTPS.


You should also make sure that the Google Analytics or any other web analytics software you’re using are also able to track HTTPS from now on.


Set up 301 redirects


Warning: This is the crucial step. If you don’t redirect properly, your SEO rankings will drop! Why? Because Google will have to deindex the old HTTP site and index the HTTPS one, without having any idea that they’re actually connected. Also, users that land on HTTP versions (from old backlinks for example) will never get to see the HTTPS version.


To redirect from HTTP to HTTPS, you can either use a plugin or do it via the server. If you’re running on Apache Web Server, you can set the redirects via the .htaccess file. However, it’s a little technical and, depending on other functionalities, conflicts may occur.


If you’re running on WordPress, you’re lucky! You can use the Really Simple SSL plugin and it will do everything for you (set up 301s, change main domain to HTTPS and change all the links from the database to HTTPS).


Image result for really simple ssl

Really Simple SSL WP Plugin


So make sure that all HTTP versions will properly redirect to their HTTPS counterparts. Take into account www, non-www, slashed vs non-slashed and parameters.


Here you should also change the main URL of your website to HTTPS. This is usually done in some sort of configuration file. In WordPress, it can be changed in the General Settings area. The Really Simple SSL plugin will do this for you, anyway.


Note that some platforms might not fix all the URLs. It is mandatory that each URL properly 301 redirects to its new HTTPS counterpart. So becomes and becomes


You should make sure that all other variants of your website redirect to a single one, with HTTPS, be it WWW or non-WWW. This is called a Preferred Domain Version. It’s best if the redirects don’t happen in chain. So instead of having > > it should be > and >


You can check that quickly with the CognitiveSEO Site Audit. Go do Indexability, then Preferred Domain.


Preferred Domain HTTPS


Change All Internal Links


Even if you change your main URL to HTTPS, some static content might stay unsecured. You have to make sure you fix this, otherwise some issues may occur.



Canonical Tags: Canonical tags are often forgotten. If you’re running through HTTPS and your canonical tag points to the HTTP version, Google will think that it has to index HTTP. The problem is that if HTTP 301 redirects to HTTPS then Google will get into a loop and it won’t be very pleased.


To find out if your canonical tags are properly set up to HTTPS, press CTRL + U while on your website in Google Chrome to view the site’s source, then search for canonical with CTRL + F.


Hreflang: Same thing as with canonical tags, the hreflang tags should point to the correct HTTPS counterpart, even though 301 redirects are in place. Make sure you check that in the source of the site.


Internal links: If don’t change the links from HTTP to HTTPS, you’ll get a mixed content warning (we’ll discuss this in more detail below).


Most of the times, this won’t happen when you’re using a popular Content Management System, but it can often happen on custom platforms and the effects can be devastating. Make sure everything is in order.


Other things that should be taken into account are XML sitemaps, external tools and e-mail systems (that might’ve run through unsecured channels).


Fix Mixed Content Issues



Many times, after implementing SSL on your website, you will get an exclamation mark instead of a green lock, or might even get the red lock. This error is caused by Mixed Content.


Mixed content actually means that some resources on your website load through HTTPS, but others load through HTTP. When you click the lock icon in the browsers, you should see a message as follow:


Your connection to is encrypted with 256-bit encryption. However, this page includes other resources which are not secure. These resources can be viewed by others while in transit, and can be modified by an attacker to change the behavior of the page.


If you have mixed content, the green lock and secure message won’t appear, even if you have a valid SSL certificate installed.


Update: Starting from December 2019, Google will block mixed content pages, meaning they will show up as unsecure!


To fix this issue, you must identify the resources on your website that are loaded through HTTP and force them to load through HTTPS.


seo mixed content tool

Evil SEO Cactus Mixing Some Content


There are multiple causes that can generate mixed content warnings:


Static links in pages:


Maybe you’ve written an article an linked to a page of yours through an absolute URL. Absolute URLs look like this while relative ones are just /pricing.php. Relative URLs change automatically, but absolute ones don’t.


You might have also linked to an external site’s image. Since the resource loads through HTTP, it isn’t secured.


Unfortunately, these links won’t change unless you update them manually, as they might not be linked to the platform’s URL generation. In WordPress’ case for example, they don’t change.


You can always try a plugin that fixes mixed content such as SSL Insecure Content Fixer. However, they do not always work.


Another good way of trying to fix everything quick is to download your Database and edit it with a tool such as Notepad++. Then you can find and replace every HTTP instance with HTTPS (start with your own domain first and then expand to external ones).


Warning: Make sure to have a backup of your original database, before any replacing is done.


Mixed content from CSS files:


Sometimes, web design elements such as CSS files can also contain static resources (images) that load through HTTP. Those are a little harder to identify because they can’t be found within the source code of the page (unless the CSS is generated in-line).


Old themes often create this mixed content issue, due to the fact that once upon a time, using HTTP was fine.


A good way of identifying hidden mixed content is to use Google Chrome’s Inspect Tool. Hit CTRL + Shift + I on your keyboard (or hit right Click > Inspect) while browsing a page with mixed content issues. Then you have to go to the Network section. If you press F5, you’ll see all the resources loading.


There you can identify which resource is loaded through HTTP and causes an error. Under the Initiator column you can find the file that is responsible, such as the CSS file. Proceed to edit the CSS file from your server and replace HTTP with HTTPS. Note that if this fix isn’t patched into the Theme itself, updating your theme will overwrite the modified CSS file with the one with problems.


However, this method is time consuming and you won’t be able to analyze every page! You can use the CognitiveSEO Site Audit to speed up the process.


If you’re looking to quickly identify all the mixed content issues on your website you can always check out the CognitiveSEO Site Audit‘s Mixed Content section.


mixed content cognitiveseo


Once you fix things, make sure to recrawl the pages in the tool to see if you’ve missed anything.


Make Sure Everything Works Properly


Switching to HTTPS can often cause issues with plugins, APIs and other functions within the website. Make sure you browse your website properly for a couple of hours and test every segment of it. Access every page to see if it loads and test if the contact forms, online orders and filtering/search features are working properly.


You can also now set HTTP as your preferred version in Google Search Console. WWW vs. non-WWW is irrelevant, but non-WWW tends to be shorter, so there will be more space for the URL when it shows up in Google. However, if you’ve been running on WWW so far, it’s a good idea to keep the WWW even with HTTPS.


Resubmit Disavow File & Change Your Backlinks


Many forget that they have to resubmit the disavow files. If you have ever suffered from a negative SEO attack you must download the disavow file from the HTTP version in Google Search Console and upload it into the HTTPS version. Although the 301 redirects are in place, it’s really important not to forget this step!


A final step would be to change as many of your old backlinks as possible from HTTP to HTTPS. Even with the 301 redirects in place, a small percentage of the link equity might be lost. Start with your social media profiles and backlinks you know you can change for sure in very little time.


It’s not worth it to spend countless hours and e-mail everyone to switch your URL from HTTP to HTTPS, but if you have some way of managing it faster, it’s worth a shot. Gather a list of your contacts on social media and blast them a message asking them to replace the HTTP backlinks with the new HTTPS ones.




Merging from HTTP to HTTPS can help you improve your search rankings. We can’t really go as far as to say it boosts rankings, but even if it doesn’t have any effect on your website right away, you’ll definitely see an improvement over time thanks to a better user experience.


To be honest, the only downside of implementing HTTPS on your website is the fact that it’s a little bit of a tricky process. However, once you get over it and implement it correctly, nothing bad can happen. Your site is safer, your information is safer and your user’s information is safer and that peace of mind is priceless.


What’s your experience with HTTPS and SSL Certificates? Have you encountered problems when merging your domain from one version to another? Have your rankings increased/decreased? Which SSL Certificate provider are you using? I’m curious. Let’s talk about it in the comments section!

The post HTTP to HTTPS Migration Guide | Do SSL Certificates Affect SEO? appeared first on SEO Blog | cognitiveSEO Blog on SEO Tactics & Strategies.

from Marketing

Measuring content performance in GA: analysis and dashboards

When it comes to measuring engagement with your content, improving your analytics implementation will only take you so far. For this newly acquired data to be of use, you need to have a plan beyond gathering the information. So far in this series, you’ve discovered how to make sense of content data and gathered metrics […]

The post Measuring content performance in GA: analysis and dashboards appeared first on Builtvisible.

from Marketing

What Google Wants You to Know about Its Algorithm Updates

Google continues to make algorithm updates and change the search results to please the user. Similar to the saying “the client is always right”, here the saying becomes “the user is always pleased”. Or most of the times, that’s what Google is trying to achieve.  


To fulfill that need and deliver good quality content that meets all the requirements and improve the search, Google officials let us know about major Google Algorithm Updates they make from time to time. This way, webmasters, content writers, SEO analysts and SEO professionals take action and update their websites accordingly.




Most of the time, it is hard to understand what has changed, what we should do or how our site should comply with the requirements. With BERT – Google’s latest algorithm update, things get even more confused sometimes.


We thought of making things easier for you to understand the evolution of Google’s algorithm updates, what Google focuses on, the important role the user is playing in a search, what a quality page should have to rank, what type of pages Google disapproves and more interesting discoveries found in the quality rater guidelines.


The Search Quality Guideline is the tool all websites should comply with. After a thorough analysis, here’s what you should know about Google’s Algorithm Updates to deliver proper content:


  1. Google’s Algorithm Updates Purpose – Improve the Search
  2. Google’s Main Focus – Quality Content
  3. Google’s Most Important Ranking Factor – The User
  4. Google Search Quality Rating Guidelines Utility – Improve Google’s Search Algorithm

1. Google’s Algorithm Updates Purpose – Improve the Search


The times change, the users’ needs change, so it is only natural that the search should improve accordingly. And Google’s Algorithm Updates do just that. What was top priority a few years ago, might have other value now. Google wants to keep results relevant as content on the web changes.


Google did mention they make thousands of updates yearly, and only a few major updates per year that are officially announced. See below an example of an official announcement from Google Search Liason’ Danny Sullivan about their last confirmed broad core update.


First things first. Google started a new era of SEO back in 2003, when it was Google’s Florida Update turn to get rid of overly optimized content (including keyword stuffing, invisible text, hidden text and so on). Things continued on the same topic: get rid of manipulative link building and black hat techniques that didn’t serve the user’s best interest, but was rather a gimmick to fool Google and rank higher. 


Then, Google looked at the main content on a website and targeted those that had lots of ads above the fold and were blocking the actual content. The focus spread to the user the Google algorithm updates were meant to deliver more localized results and detect whether a query or webpage had local intent or relevance.


Lots of other Google Panda updates followed, plus the Google Payday Loans update which targeted spammy queries mostly associated with shady industries (payday loans, porn, casinos, debt consolidation, pharma) and included better protection against negative SEO. 


The following updates targeted conversational search, such as voice search and the improvements were made to offer more relevant results for those types of complex queries. After voice search, another big change was the Mobile-Friendly Update, that rewarded websites that had a user-friendly mobile version to deliver quality content on mobile devices, too. Plus Google started to predominantly use the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking through Mobile-first indexing.




The next big thing that followed was RankBrain, which Google acknowledged at that time to be one of the three main ranking factors, besides content and links. RankBrain is a machine-learning algorithm that filters search results to offer users the best answer to their query.


Next, Google releases real-time Google Penguin. They said Penguin is devaluing links, rather than downgrading the rankings of pages. What followed next were lots of algorithms that targeted low-quality content, deceptive advertising, UX issues, making the search a better place for the user. Their constant advice was to “continue building great content.”


In the last year, Google algorithms targeted content relevance, to reward those websites that comply with their request to offer the best content on the topic. Lots of broad core algorithms have been made and will continue to be made according to Google. All the pages that might perform less than they used to or experienced a slight rank fluctuation aren’t penalized or subject to a quality update by violating guidelines, but rather other pages were found to deliver better content and were rewarded with a better place. This is also the case for Google latest update named BERT, which is characterized as a massive and the biggest step forward for search in the past 5 years, as well as one of the biggest steps forward in the history of search altogether.



2. Google’s Main Focus – Quality Content


The way Google search looked a few years ago has changed tremendously, including its appearance, the analyzed intent behind the searches, the way results are pulled out. 


To follow Google’s explanation, imagine that in 2015, you made a list of top 100 movies to see. If you were to look at it now, that list might suffer some changes. There’s are lots of reasons: new movies have appeared, other ones might have changed their position since your preferences changed. So, the list you knew in 2015 looks slightly different than the one you’d make today. 


Similar to Google’s algorithm updates, it started to evaluate other factors. Just think of the battle between content and links. Backlinks had been the king and queen of the ranking factors until Google started to move the ship towards content, and more specific, quality content. 

“Sometimes, the web just evolved. Sometimes, what users expect evolves and similarly, sometimes our algorithms are, the way that we try to determine relevance, they evolve as well.”
Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google 


Google started to focus more on content. Google’s officials always say to build quality content, referencing a blog post written by Amit Singhal. John Mueller continues to recommend to those who participate in the Webmaster Hangouts and ask questions on Twitter to follow the Quality Guidelines and create quality content


John Mueller talks about quality content


Garry Illyes, on the other side, tweeted multiple times saying how important it is to have quality content.


Gary Illyes quality comments


3. Google’s Most Important Ranking Factor – The User


Yes, site quality is important and all Google wants is to deliver it to serve a user’s needs. So, isn’t really the user who dictates the way pages are valued in search? 


Let’s say the user searches for a how-to tutorial to remove wine stains. The way he decides which pages to read is influenced by what Google pulled out in search through algorithms that calculate context created by previous searches. Then the user enters the pages he wants by looking only at the title and meta description. The user is the one to eventually reward specific pages. 


Moreover, the results pulled out in SERP are influenced by location, interests, previous searches, language. So isn’t really the users that generate a set of results based on history? 


Have you ever been curious to find out specific results on a particular country and your results were displayed based on your current location? Well, that’s because now Google automatically knows your location and offer localized results in the current language. It is frustrating especially if you’re on vacation and want to search for something in your native country. If you think the incognito mode is the answer, you’re wrong. It doesn’t always work, even if you change the language and country manually. 


This topic was fleshed out on the SEO Growth Hacks Facebook Group by one of our colleagues. 


Localization in Google


The searches are influenced also by the device you’re using and the websites you’ve previously visited. Check the example below, for example. I asked somebody from Germany to search for “moving furniture services” and then I performed the same search in Romania. Even though the query is in the same language, the results are different. 


Searching for moving furniture services in Germany

Searching for moving furniture services in Germany

Searching for moving furniture services in Romania

Searching for moving furniture services in Romania


It’s only understandable that Google wants to offer more relevant results and location is an important trigger. Google works on delivering information that is findable, accessible, relevant and usable correctly.


Understanding Google and serving the user is a winning recipe. 


A good user experience helps sites gain traffic, popularity and ultimately begin ranking. John Mueller confirmed it on one of his Google Webmaster Hangouts. UX is an indirect factor that marks a high-quality website. 


This year, at BrightonSEO 2019, where John Mueller and Hannah Smith’s held a Q&A Keynote, John mentioned that their job is to “measure how happy people are with regards to Google in the whole kind of content ecosystem.” 


Michelle Wilding, Head of SEO & Content at The Telegraph, present at BrightonSEO 2019 talked more about the connection between SEO and UX:

SEO’s change in direction has meant that the user is now first and foremost. Google cares deeply about providing quality experiences for searchers. Therefore UX is more important than ever – and so is collaborating with your UX/CRO department.
Michelle Wilding Baker Michelle Wilding Baker
Head of SEO & Content at The Telegraph


To design great user experience we need to follow quality guidelines, understand how to please Google and make users happy. There’s one question that Google makes you wonder when creating content that puts the user in the center.


Does the content seem to be serving the genuine interests of visitors to the site or does it seem to exist solely by someone attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?



4. Google Search Quality Rating Guidelines Utility – Improve Google’s Search Algorithm


There are some Page Quality Rating FAQs that point out some important characteristics of high-quality content, such as:

  • deliver original information;
  • describe the topic thoroughly;
  • offer insights and additional interesting discoveries based on studies or personal research;
  • write a descriptive title to represent the content well;
  • avoid exaggerating titles and fake news;
  • provide trust and show your content is a reliable source of information, using expert opinions;
  • check for facts to see if your content doesn’t share misleading information;
  • verify spelling and correct language style;
  • ads don’t interfere with the main content or interstitials block the user see the main content;
  • it isn’t mass-produced content;
  • it is mobile friendly; 


Checking all of these elements will provide a poof vest against Google’s algorithm updates. 


A more comprehensive source of information about quality content is the Quality Rating Guidelines, where you can find the questions and descriptive explanations. Based on these guidelines, Google assesses your content, analyzing E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness). Google created the EAT to translate algorithm concepts and make them more user-friendly. There’s not EAT algorithm or an EAT score, but rather documentation for those eager to understand better what Google looks for when deciding what pages to reward and rank.


Depending on the industry, a high E-A-T means that the content is written by an expert, or organization that is trusted and has authority in that niche. Some topics require less expertise, and to have a high E-A-T it is required to have extremely detailed, helpful reviews of products and information on that particular topic. There are lots of content writers that offer valuable information based on their life experience and can be considered experts on that matter. High page quality means you have a positive author reputation and positive brand reputation (recognized through user reviews)a high standard for accuracy and that it is focused on helping users. Below you can see some example of pages with high page quality rating: 


Page quality rating and explanation


Don’t bury the real meat of the content. Make it understandable, add visuals, make reference to studies and researches, add personal opinions based on previous life experience, add lists for an easier understanding of the topic, look at it through all the possible sides, make it the best possible side of what’s already available in published form. Something worth remembering every time before starting writing a new piece of content:


Don’t write something that’s been written before, and doesn’t bring any additional value or new information. 


In this case, you’re not thinking of the user’s best interest but yours, and it’s selfish, irrelevant and useless. 


Since we’re talking about things you shouldn’t do, let’s elaborate on the topic more to find out what Google disapproves and what type of pages are banned from the search. Low-quality content, as Google describes it, has the following characteristics:

  • it is created without adequate time, effort, expertise, or talent/skill;
  • the content doesn’t correspond to the title and does not achieve the purpose;
  • the title has no call to action, nor does it represent the main content;
  • it has irrelevant exaggerated or shocking titles;
  • a small amount of content with no additional value, such as writing just a few paragraphs on a broad topic;
  • pages with interstitials and ads that are blocking the user to see the content they came for;
  • it contains disturbing images, such as sexually suggestive images on non-porn related pages;
  • pages with mixed content that are not safe for the user;
  • malicious or financially fraudulent pages that shatter the trust of users and are harmful;
  • the company doesn’t have contact information, email address o social media accounts, or shares anything to make it a trusted company;
  • pages that potentially spread hate;
  • pages that misinform users;
  • content that is inaccessible on hacked websites and spammy pages;
  • auto-generated or scraped content and other forms of content generated through black hat techniques.


Below you can see some example of low-quality content:


Low quality page examples


If you avoid and check out all the latest characteristics and focus on the things that matter to create the best content there is on the web, you’ll be able to make both Google and the users happy. And even if, hypothetically, your page might be devalued by other pages after a google search ranking algorithm update, that doesn’t necessarily mean you got penalized, but rather other pages offer more value. Which brings us again to those elements mentioned above. You should always stick to those. 


Don’t forget that search engines do not understand content the way humans do. It is a more complex process where Google looks for signals and correlates it to the meaning of relevance humans are aware of. Delivering perfect content is hard, even for Google. That’s why they perform these broad core updates from time to time. To curate content and keep improving their ranking signals & systems.


Think of it this way, in order to get results for a searched query, Google analyzes and organizes all the information on the internet to give you the most useful and relevant search results in a fraction of a second. Sometimes, it even gives you the correct form for misspelled or mistyped queries. 


The post What Google Wants You to Know about Its Algorithm Updates appeared first on SEO Blog | cognitiveSEO Blog on SEO Tactics & Strategies.

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Google BERT Update. How the Natural Language Algorithm Affects You

Just last week Google made waves with its announcement of quantum supremacy – the claim that they have developed a quantum computer that has been demonstrated to solve, in a matter of days, a problem that a “classic” supercomputer would most likely take thousands of years to solve. Elsewhere, stories about robots taking our jobs abound, while machine learning seems to be on everyone’s mind.


The Google BERT Update What you Need to know


But change is not always flashy or even visible. Last week, Google introduced a new update named BERT, which is characterized as a massive and the biggest step forward for search in the past 5 years, as well as one of the biggest steps forward in the history of search altogether. Yet, look and ask around in the SEO community and you’ll see very little that announces as much. Also, it is not yet very clear what Google’s BERT is targeting and how will the SEO landscape be influenced by this big update. So, let’s figure it all out!


  1. What Is Google BERT Update?
  2. What Is Google BERT Targeting?
  3. Does Google BERT Affect SEO?
  4. Does Google BERT Affect Content Marketing?


Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It’s the title of a novel by visionary sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick. If it doesn’t sound familiar, you might better recognize it under its movie adaptation title, Blade Runner. Both book and movie concern themselves with questions on what it means to be human in an ever more technological world and how to (still) distinguish between humans and androids. 2014 indie sci-fi Ex-Machina, by director Alex Garland, asks a similar question by referencing the concept of the Turing test: if a robot were to pass as human to every other human in the universe, would it still be a robot? These are fascinating questions and luckily we can still ponder about them in sci-fi literature and film. We’re not there yet in real life, although one has to wonder how long will it take until the more trivial “I Am Not a Robot” captcha will get checked by a robot (it has).


Even though we are still far away from sheep-dreaming androids, we’re seeing constant progress in the way of more human-like computer interactions.


What Is the Google BERT Update?


Putting it simply, Google BERT is supposed to help a machine understand what the words in a sentence mean, but with all the nuances of context.


Yet, to respond to the question what does BERT mean? we need to talk in a more explanatory note.


BERT, which is what the latest and the biggest Google algorithm update is called, stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, and is a deep learning algorithm related to natural language processing.


So, is BERT a language model? (geeky alert ahead)


Yes, we can say that it is a language model. Yet, you need to know that even if BERT is a new concept, is not hot new. The BERT concept was made public in 2018, in a paper published by researchers at Google Artificial Intelligence Language. 


According to Google researchers, “unlike recent language representation models, BERT is designed to pre-train deep bidirectional representations from unlabeled text by jointly conditioning on both left and right context in all layers. As a result, the pre-trained BERT model can be fine-tuned with just one additional output layer to create state-of-the-art models for a wide
range of tasks, such as question answering and language inference, without substantial task-specific architecture modifications.”


Language model pre-training has been shown to be effective for improving many natural language processing tasks. These include sentence-level tasks such as natural language inference and paraphrasing, which aim to predict the relationships between sentences by analyzing them holistically, as well as token-level tasks such as named entity recognition and question answering, where models are required to produce fine-grained output at the token level.


BERT Google concept


If we were to ask Google what the BERT name means, we’ll get to see a range of interesting results. In all fairness, my search query was for “bert name”, nothing related to the update. Yet, if we’re looking at the “people also ask section”, we get three different pieces of information. Not contradictory, not opposite, but different which might translate in confusion for the user. Will the BERT algorithm update solve this matter? Let’s pursue our investigation to find out.


BERT name


Fun Fact: The Google BERT Update was launched on October 25, the same day Kanye West launched its latest album, Jesus Is King


What Is Google BERT Targeting?


By Google’s own estimates, BERT update will affect 10% of all queries. That’s a tremendous percentage, but it might not have caused a visible splash by SEO community standards. That’s most likely because the update focuses on “longer, more conversational queries”, whereas these longer tail queries are queries that (probably) SEOs don’t target as much in a heavy way.


If that last part sounds familiar, it might be because it’s not too far off from our recent discussions about search intent. The basic question is, then, what does the user really want to find out? There are quite a few examples out there illustrating the difference that BERT made.


Search Engine Journal provides an example of BERT understanding, using the phrase “how to catch a cow fishing,” which has nothing to do with the image that may be conjured in your head right now (or in the picture below) and everything to do with a very particular sense of the word “cow” in relation to fishing, referring to a large striped bass.


cow fishing


Google itself offers some examples of queries which would have been pretty clear in intent to a human conversation partner (e.g.: “2019 brazil traveler to usa needed a visa,” and “do estheticians stand a lot at work”), but were previous to the update entirely lost on Google, based on the results it displayed.




By applying the BERT models to both rankings and featured snippets in Search, Google pretends to be able to do a much better job, helping users find useful information. In fact, when it comes to ranking results, BERT will help Search better understand one in 10 searches in the U.S. in English, and we’ll bring this to more languages and locales over time.


Particularly for longer, more conversational queries, or searches where prepositions like “for” and “to” matter a lot to the meaning, Search will be able to understand the context of the words in the query. And users can search in a way that feels natural for them.




In an article from 2018, Rani Horev predicted BERT’s importance. As he stated, BERT will improve search and is undoubtedly a breakthrough in the use of Machine Learning for Natural Language Processing. The fact that it’s approachable and allows fast fine-tuning will likely allow a wide range of practical applications in the future.


Does Google BERT Affect SEO?


Yes, the BERT update affects SEO and allow me to explain why. 


SEO – Search engine optimization is the process of making your site better for search engines. Therefore, any update that the search engines are making to their algorithm influences the search engine optimization process. 


Now, the question that remains is what can you do to optimize for the BERT update?


If we listen to Danny Sullivan, Google’s public Search Liaison, who helps people better understand search and helps Google better hear public feedback, the answer is pretty straightforward: nothing new. What Danny actually highlights is that there is nothing that you should do from today on that you shouldn’t have done before BERT. And that is: write content for users.  


danny sulivan tweet


We hope that there is no doubt for anyone that Google has been focusing on content for a couple of years (here’s a case study on Panda 4 update, which targeted content big time and affected lots of important websites). And we don’t want to re-iterate the “content is king” nor to over-highlight the importance of writing both SEO and user-friendly content. Yet, let’s try to understand where SEO is standing now in the context of BERT.


We believe that two main aspects need to be taken into consideration when we ask ourselves how the latest Google Update influence SEO. 


Identify and Optimize for the Right User’ Search Intent


In the BERT training process, the model receives pairs of sentences as input and learns to predict if the second sentence in the pair is the subsequent sentence in the original document. So, the algorithm is trying to better understand the user’s needs, even to predict them if and when possible. 


Google BERT update tries to (even) better understand the users’ search intent. 


Search intent or keyword intent is the reason why people conduct a specific search. Why are they searching? What are they trying to achieve through their search? Are they trying to figure out the answer to a question or do they want to reach a specific website? 


With the increasing use of mobile and voice search, where people need fast and contextual answers to their questions,  Google tries to become more and more able to determine the search intent of people. So, the whole Google SERP is now trying to best fit the search intent and not the exact searched keyword. Now, more than ever, there will be situations when the exact searched term will not even be included in the Google search results page. And this happens because Google has become better and better at determining the search intent of people.


Google has to figure out what exactly do people want, so it can offer them the search engine page results they need. And, from an SEO point of view, your job is to create content that is relevant to the Google users and matches their search intent. 


Not to linger on this anymore, remember that search intent is more important than ever and here’s how to optimize for each type of search intent. 


Optimize for Featured Snippets


Google stated that BERT is about users’ natural language and understanding longer queries. What Google tries to highlight with the focus on featured snippets is that searcher intent is to find content that responds exactly to the this question really quick. 


Featured Snippets (also known as answer boxes, knowledge graphs or Google direct answers).  If you’re searching for something like “how many calories does an apple have”, you’ll get a direct answer, highlighted within a box, just like in the examples below. We did a really cool research on answer boxes a while ago; you should check it out.



Also, with the BERT update, Google focused on showing even more relevant featured snippets. To better understand what this improvement is all about, we are given the example the featured snippet for the query parking on a hill with no curb. Before, Google used to place too much importance on the word “curb” and ignored the word “no”, not understanding how critical that word was to appropriately respond to this query. So they would return results for parking on a hill with a curb. This latest update seems to fix this matter, as the search engine better understands the query and the context. 


parking on a hill with no curb bert update


But how should you optimize for the featured snippets or answer boxes? Well, here is where content steps in, so keep on reading. 


Does Google BERT Affect Content Marketing?


Yes, Google stated that content is even more important, and therefore, one should focus their full attention on writing content relevant for the user.


By definition, content marketing implies creating valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience. And Google’s featured snippet seems to endorse that. And since Google announced that it had leveraged its pre-trained language model BERT to dramatically improve the understanding of search queries, it’s clear that content marketing needs to comply with this biggest leap forward in the history of search. 


As Google better understands natural language, focusing on longer tail keywords and on featured snippets, it’s clear that there are big opportunities for content writers to serve their readers with content written more “humanly”, that answers a searcher’s question as quick as possible and provides much value. 



what is content marketing


Leaving the theory aside, here are the steps you should take to write content that is relevant for your users but also content that will rank high so that your users will find it. 


Step 1. Perform a Google SERP analysis


Every keyword research or content optimization process should start with a SERP analysis together with a competitor analysis. The Ranking Analysis from the Content Optimizer Tool gives you tons of insights related to the analyzed keyword. Quick and easy, you get to know the search volumes, what type of content ranks on that keyword, how difficult it is to rank on that query (by following keyword difficulty), as well as how popular that keyword is among searchers. Also, the tool lets you know the exact keywords and links that boosted that page in the top Google results to easily optimize your content. 


how to clean polarized sunglasses


Step 2. Create relevant & optimized content 


Content Optimizer does most of the job for you. I know I’m biased and I don’t want to praise the tool too much, but the reality is that it does most of the job for you. Once you performed the ranking analysis, what you need to do is start writing a new piece of content or optimize the existing one and the Content Assistant will let you know the exact keywords you need to use so your content will be relevant for the user’s search intent. 


Remember, you need to write for humans. BERT seems to make Google understand even better the searcher’s queries, so you have no excuses. 
And if you’re asking why do you need a tool to “write for humans” I’d tell you that a tool can give you lots of insights of what you’re users are actually interested in and you can write content that will answer their needs; and secondly, your users need to find your content first on the first Google page result to access it. 


how to clean your sunglasses - informational search intent


Step 3. Discover new keywords & rankings opportunities


You don’t have to limit yourself to one targeted keyword;  you need to discover other queries that your users might be interested in. Searchers have more than one question when it comes to products from your business. Take the opportunity and offer them relevant content for most of their questions. You can use the same Content Optimizer for this task. The tool has two sections that will automatically let you know what other questions are related to your search query:


The Keyword Explorer  – this section is great for keyword analysis and for discovering new keyword opportunities. It also gives you the possibility of seeing only the question suggestions. Get inspired by the list of questions, check out the relevancy of the question, its volume, CPC (cost per click), and choose the one that is the most suitable and profitable.  


The People Also Ask section – the Content Assistant will let you know the exact keywords you should use in your content, what people are searching for, but it will also offer you a set of questions that relate to your original search query. You should consider answering these questions in your content or create new content starting from these questions. 


keyword explorer questions


Although BERT integration in Google Search is currently only available for English queries in the US, Google says it is planning to apply BERT to additional languages and locations. So the rest of the world won’t have to wait too long until BERT will be responsible for the searches in dozens of languages. 


When applied to ranking and featured snippets in search, BERT models can process words in relation to all other words in a sentence rather than considering them one-by-one and in order. This enables a better “understanding” of context, which is particularly helpful when it comes to longer, more conversational queries, or searches where prepositions strongly affect meaning. This brings huge opportunities to the search world and big challenges to SEOs and digital marketers. 


And while the performance improvements are impressive, Google acknowledges that natural language understanding remains an ongoing challenge. This doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t adapt their marketing strategy or should re-think their marketing automation and SEO strategies to comply to today’s search marketing requirements. Yet, with search engines becoming more and more complex, there are no “complete guides” or “tips and tricks” lists to optimize for BERT or any other future updates (most likely). You need to keep yourself updated and have the user in mind no matter what you do.  

The post Google BERT Update. How the Natural Language Algorithm Affects You appeared first on SEO Blog | cognitiveSEO Blog on SEO Tactics & Strategies.

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Beyond link quantity: four ways content contributes to your brand

“How many links will this campaign receive?” “Can you guarantee X number of links?” These are questions that frequent the inboxes and client catchups of content marketers and digital PR professionals everywhere. The measurable KPI of links generated usually steals top spot at every stage of the campaign process from a client’s perspective, with content […]

The post Beyond link quantity: four ways content contributes to your brand appeared first on Builtvisible.

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