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7 min read

February 2024 Google algorithm and search industry updates

This month we bring you some exciting developments and updates from the world of search including new features, deal announcements and a potential algorithm update. 

Google stated that it will be rolling out some new features across the world including some dedicated to those in Europe. This is in anticipation of the new EU regulations that will affect those in the digital market within Europe. 

Ranking volatility was also the topic of discussion, similar to what we previously reported in February. This has led many to believe that there may be a new algorithm update, however, this has yet to be confirmed by Google.  

In addition to these updates, a new financial deal between Google and Reddit has sparked concern within the SEO community. We’ll explore this below and take a closer look at the effect of this announcement. 

Allow our traffic light system to guide you to the articles that need your attention, so watch out for Red light updates as they’re major changes that will need you to take action, whereas amber updates may make you think and are definitely worth knowing but aren’t urgent. And finally, green light updates which are great for your SEO and site knowledge but are less significant than others

Keen to know more about any of these changes and what they mean for your SEO? Get in touch or visit our SEO agency page to find out how we can help.

 In this post, we’ll explore: 

Since the beginning of February, users have been able to provide Google with a description of what they are looking for and return a series of recommendations. This feature is currently undergoing testing and is only available in the US but through using the information provided by ‘Local Guides’ (individuals actively contributing to the Maps community), users can ask Maps for recommendations.

Using large-language models (LLMS), information from Google Maps is analysed and personalised recommendations are made. As part of this, users can ask Maps for recommendations based on their specific needs, and they are presented with results organised by different categories such as shops, restaurants or things to do. Each recommendation is accompanied by photos and reviews to support the decision-making process.

For instance, if someone wishes to ‘explore vintage places in San Francisco’, Google’s LLMs will offer recommendations across various categories. Users engage in a conversation, asking follow-up questions like ‘What about clothing shops’ or ‘What about activities for a rainy day’, and Maps will continue to provide recommendations. This also enables users to save the suggested places to prevent them from forgetting the conversation.

In terms of local search and customer discovery, this feature has the potential to drive more qualified traffic to smaller businesses, attractions and events. This underscores the importance of optimising search results for relevant long-tail queries.

Google is rolling out new search features in Europe

Google is introducing new search features in the European Economic Area (EEA) to comply with the Digital Markets Act (DMA). The DMA is set to take effect in March, however, those affected will have 6 months to transition before the regulations are fully imposed. 

To comply, Google has explained that it aims to introduce these features to “present users with rich and relevant information for their searches” and “improve the visibility of ecosystem participants.”

What is the Digital Markets Act (DMA)?

The DMA is an EU regulation which focuses on the largest digital platforms operating within the European Union. It aims to encourage competition within the European digital markets by preventing large companies from abusing their market power. These regulations allow new and smaller companies to compete, helping to level the playing field.  

Who does the DMA affect?

The DMA regulations will apply to companies that have a digital business within the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA) and United Kingdom (UK).

What new features are Google introducing? 

The new features include a carousel-style rich result for local, shopping and travel-related queries, aggregator links, refinement chips for precise filtering, and enhanced visibility for flight-related searches. 

How do these new features help? 

The DMA imposes requirements on large tech companies like Google, focusing on user choice, alternative app stores, interoperability, and advertising transparency. These new features aim to provide users with richer and more relevant information while adhering to DMA regulations. 

Through these changes, Google aims to create a more user-focused and competitive digital market in line with DMA goals while providing businesses with new opportunities in search results.

Google to display more product options with new markup

Google has introduced expanded structured data support for product variants, allowing organisations to showcase different product variations. 

Previously, Google only supported structured data for individual products, shipping and returns. But with this new markup, websites can showcase the parent-child relationships between product variations. To do so, sites need to use the ProductGroup type along with three associated properties:

  • hasVariant: This property is used to nest product variants under the corresponding “parent” ProductGroup.
  • variesBy: This property lists the characteristics that differentiate the variants.
  • productGroupID: Serving as the unique identifier, this property marks the “parent SKU” of the ProductGroup.

Through implementing this new product variant schema, the parent-child relationships between product variations and the main product group can be established. This, in turn, supports search engines to understand the inventory and identify and differentiate between various product variants.

Google announces deal to show more Reddit content

Google has announced a deal with Reddit, granting real-time access to all Reddit content to enhance its visibility in Google products and for training AI models. 

The agreement explicitly states that this collaboration will lead to increased prominence for Reddit discussions across various Google platforms and search surfaces. 

Google’s access to a broader range of Reddit content in a structured format aims to improve language models’ understanding of human conversations and writing styles, potentially influencing how content is ranked in Google searches. 

Reddit’s treasure trove of discussions spans virtually every conceivable topic, making it a go-to forum for insights, advice, and community engagement.

With this new deal, Google aims to leverage real-time access to this content, enhancing the richness of search results with more content from Reddit discussions.

Google has stated: 

“Over the years, we’ve seen that people increasingly use Google to search for helpful content on Reddit to find product recommendations, travel advice and much more. We know people find this information useful, so we’re developing ways to make it even easier to access across Google products. This partnership will facilitate more content-forward displays of Reddit information that will make our products more helpful for our users and make it easier to participate in Reddit communities and conversations.”

In return, Reddit will gain access to Google’s Vertex AI platform for search improvement and other capabilities, with the deal reported to be worth $60 million per year for Reddit. 

The partnership aims to make Reddit content more accessible and participatory across Google products and Reddit communities. The structured data obtained by Google in real-time will enable more efficient processing and display of information in ways described as “content-forward displays.”

Following this deal, there has also been speculation that Google will be striking a similar deal with Quora. This is following an observation made by Genn Gabe who noticed that the number of ranked pages from Quora has jumped significantly.

Screenshot taken from @glenngabe on X

Last month, a study found that Reddit had been shown excessively in Google product review search results. This has sparked concern due to the significant spam problem on the site. Analysis by author Glen Allsopp, suggested that “Google’s promotion of them feels excessive,” adding that “current search results are the worst I can recall seeing”. Both of these announcements have sparked debate in the SEO community with many raising concerns about the competition levels in the SERPs.

Massive volatility reported – A Google search ranking algorithm update?

Towards the end of the month, SERoundtable highlighted a significant amount of volatility reported on both February 24th and 29th. While Google has not officially reported any updates during this period, the causes behind these fluctuations remain uncertain. Despite the lack of confirmed reports from Google, the SEO community and website owners saw a significant surge in SEO-related discussions, and many tracking tools continue to display high volatility, surpassing previous levels.

Google Search Volatility Tracking from Semrush (Image from SERoundtable)

Keep up-to-date with our dedicated algorithm and search industry round-ups. For any further information about these posts – or to learn how we can support your SEO – get in touch today.