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This week’s #searchdrop looks at Bing’s Site Explorer tool, the recent changes to Google’s BERT algorithm, and the key ways to improve Google’s organic click-through rate.

SEO - explore your website with Bing Site Explorer tool

It was just a couple of months ago when Bing announced the release of the new, improved Webmaster Tools. This tool not only gained a fresh and more user-friendly look but also brand new features that will help SEO specialists to improve website performance in the future. At the start of September, Bing built in a new robots.txt tester which allows us to double-check whether the robots.txt file will affect how the crawlers are seeing your website, and now just 1.5 months later another feature, Site Explorer, has been relaunched. Site Explorer is a very interesting and unique feature that cannot be found in the Google Search Console but allows you to understand better how Bing as a search engine sees the website.

So what is the new Bing Site Explorer and how does it differ from the old version?

Bing states in its announcement that ‘Site explorer provides a unique SEO view of how Microsoft Bing sees your site. It reflects most URLs we have seen on the web, including redirects, broken links, or those blocked by robots.txt’.

All data mentioned above has been organised neatly in files and sorted in alphabetical order, by the number of clicks or impressions, depending on the needs. This tool will allow SEO specialists to look at the very specific range of crawled data, which will make the review process of indexed/ not indexed pages and critical errors faster than ever.

The same feature will also allow SEO specialists and webmasters to inspect URLs via the URL inspection tool and similarly to Google Search Console, we will be able to request manually indexing of new pages.

How will it affect our customers?

The Bing Site Explorer tool will not only help us to quickly detect the issues which might occur on our customer’s websites but also allow us to keep improving the site based on the data gathered by Bing. We have to remember that even though this tool has been created by Bing, some of the future improvements will have a positive impact on the rankings in Google too and we are excited to see the full potential of this tool in the future.

Google announces changes to BERT algorithm update

What is BERT?

Released in October 2019, BERT was the largest change to the algorithm since Google rolled out RankBrain. The update massively changed the landscape of the search engine results page with it affecting one in ten queries. BERT was created in order to help Google better understand complex long-tail search queries and deliver the most relevant results.

An abbreviation of Bidirectional Encoder Representations, the algorithm is a technique of natural language processing that helps the search engine to understand the intent of each individual search query and it’s context.

What’s changing?

A year on from it’s release, Google has announced that the BERT update will now affect 100% of searches as opposed to the original 10%. It will also be complimented by a new spelling algorithm which is set to help the search engine to learn and understand misspelled words within search queries.

Passage indexing

Another large change to the BERT update is that Google will now be able to pick out particular passages from a website and crawl them rather than crawling the whole page. This will impact 7% of search queries. It is not entirely clear whether the passages will be included within the index of the website, however the passages found will be ranked. Google will highlight the passage of text for the user that best answers their search query so that they can identify ‘the needle in a haystack of information’ quicker.

Identifying subtopics of a broad search

As well as this, towards the end of 2020 Google will be rolling out a new feature that shows a wider range of content for broad search queries. For example if someone searches for ‘squash’, Google will be able to identify that this could mean the ball game or a vegetable and will therefore display results that cater to both of these queries.

This could mean that businesses trying to rank for specific subtopics that never had a chance before may now be able to rank higher, but it also means that it will become harder to rank for broad keyword terms overall.

Video sectioning

Affecting 10% of searches, Google will also now be able to understand videos section-by-section using AI technology. The search engine will assign topic tags to each part of a video to identify what it is about and then push different sections out to different users to answer their query with relevant information.

What can you do?

Not only does passage indexing mean that your focus should move over to the quality of your content now more than ever, it also means that the competition for ranking is going to be even higher as more pages will be eligible.

It’s important that your page content is distinctly sectioned into different topics and that the information within each paragraph is clear and concise. This is the same when it comes to preparing for the video update in order to increase the chances of your content being selected.

In terms of preparing for the new subtopic feature, when trying to rank for a broad term you should make sure that your subtopic pages are well optimised. It also might be worth considering turning your focus to keywords more specific to your business to fall back on if you feel this is more appropriate.

Key ways to improve organic click-through rate

Organic click-through rate is interesting and often the under-optimised aspect of any SEO campaign. Whether it’s a lack of consideration for the different click-through percentages for each position of page one (position one usually gets around 30-35% of clicks) or the impact of things like paid ads, featured snippets or news rich snippets on the organic results, organic CTR optimisation is often the place where you can really make your rankings work for you.

Knowing where to start with Organic CTR optimisation is key and the below list should hopefully support you in understanding the key areas of optimisation ad what to do with them.

How to optimise for Organic CTR?

  • Identification: Not understanding where you need to improve can often lead to misplaced effort and wasted time. Start with Google search console and in the search performance report, look for queries with lower than average CTR. This will help you highlight the terms that are underperforming. It’s also worth noting the average position of the terms as lower-ranking keywords will likely need more work to perform.
  • Cannibalisation: Next you need to ensure that your selected keywords aren’t currently being cannibalised (where two pages are being ranked organically for the same term). If you see this then try to fix this issue by ensuring you’re optimising for unique topics across these pages, passing page authority using keyword-rich anchor text to the page you wish to rank and/or you’re using the correct canonicalization and redirecting strategies to tell Google exactly which page you’d like to perform.
  • Content: Being creative, emotive and leveraging sentiment can have a big impact on CTR. By ensuring your content is interesting and eye-catching (for example, using brackets and title case can improve clicks) will do a lot of the heavy lifting in attracting the user to click. For these pages, you should also make sure you’re fully utilising all on-page ranking factors such as descriptive URLs to improve the information the user is receiving in the search results.
  • Testing: It’s important to test the performance of your metadata. This can be done through your PPC campaigns. By using the metadata you’re considering for your organic listing, you’ll be able to get insightful data and CTR and use this to tweak and improve your copy ahead of it being added to your page.
  • Structured markup & featured snippets: As featured snippets (and the supporting structured data that usually backs them up) are so heavily featured in organic listings nowadays, you should always check whether the search results for your keyword contain a featured snippet. If they do, you should work to re-structure your content to mirror and improve on the currently performing page. There are some pre-requisites to featured snippets that are broadly accepted. You need to already rank well (top three), your content should be detailed and cover the intent of the searchers and your site should perform well and load quickly.

Organic CTR can also be impacted by your own activity in PPC where you maybe bidding (purposefully or otherwise) on a term that you might already rank for. This process of identifying underperforming terms will help you also find these areas and action can be taken accordingly.

For more on this subject try this article on Search Engine Journal.