Links from the show:
- WordPress 4.9
- Mozilla drops Yahoo for Google as default search provider in Firefox
- Google Maps gets a new look
- You often don’t need to use Google’s disavow tool
- Beginning on Feb 1, 2018, AMP and canonical pages need to match
- Google to penalize AMP pages showing partial teaser content
- Google is working to bring more transparency to news content with help from the Trust Project
- Smart speaker owners are increasingly using them instead of typing
- Google is working to make apps for Google Assistance more functional and discoverable
- Apple’s HomePod is delayed until early 2018
- Pulse SMS
WordPress 4.9 has finally been released. Lots of great new features are included, and we’ll talk about those shortly. But before we get into that, I’m Mickey Mellen, this is A Brighter Web, episode number 26, brought to you by all of us at GreenMellen. Our goal with this podcast is to give you quick weekly insights for news, products, and ideas, so we can all make the web a brighter place to be. These might be actual web tips, talking about strategy, search engines, WordPress plugins, and UX, or it might be productivity ideas to help you get more done and free up your time to do great things. We also want to thank our sponsor, ClickHOST.com. ClickHOST provides top-rate web hosting at prices as low as $5 a month. Visit clickhost.com/abw for an exclusive 20%-off discount for listeners of A Brighter Web. Today, we’ll talk more about WordPress 4.9, Mozilla dropping Yahoo, a new look for Google Maps, more smart speaker news, and other tidbits from Google. Let’s dig in.
WordPress 4.9 was released last week and is available now for you. It has lots of big improvements to the Customizer, where you can now draft and schedule updates, kind of like you can with posts. It has some coding enhancements, including syntax highlighting, error checking, a sandbox for safety, and most importantly, a warning not to use the built-in code editor if you can help it. It has more widgets, including a new gallery widget that’ll help with future versions of WordPress, it has better tools when switching themes, lots of good stuff in there. Also of note, though, this does not have any security fixes in it, so take your time. We encourage people to upgrade WordPress as soon as possible if there’s a security fix. That’s not the case for here, so take your time, do some testing, but it’s got some great stuff in it, and it’s been very solid as far as we can tell, so give it a shot.
For a number of years now, Mozilla Firefox has defaulted to Yahoo as their search, but that’s just been changed with version 57 of Firefox, which is very fast and awesome, where they’ve now switched back to Google as their default provider. We’ve warned in the past that Google could quickly lose market share as some big players, particularly Apple, move away from them, but for now, they’re continuing to grow.
Google Maps has a new look that’s rolling out across all platforms. It has updates to the driving, navigation, transit, and explore maps that better highlight relevant information, such as gas stations when you’re driving. It has a new color scheme with icons to quickly help identify points of interest. It’s largely a visual update; it has some good stuff in there. It’s rolling out in the coming weeks across all platforms, and you can learn more about that at the link in our show notes.
Google has a tool called the Disavow Tool, where you can disavow any link that’s pointing to your site. A lot of sites have a lot of spam links pointed to them that can potentially harm them in the rankings. You can say, “Hey, that link that’s pointing to my site, Google, please disavow it, don’t count it against me.” People aren’t quite sure when to use the Disavow Tool, though, so Google’s released a few things. Gary Illyes mentioned recently, quote, “If you do not have a manual action, then you do not need to submit a disavow,” meaning if Google hasn’t manually penalized you, you don’t need to worry about it at all.
And then someone else, the username Gulshan, asked, “Should I disavow nofollow links?” So for the nofollow link pointed to you, where Google’s not really looking at the link anyhow, should you disavow it? John Mueller from Google said, quote, “They don’t pass any Pagerank anyhow, so there’s nothing to disavow. It doesn’t harm, though.” In short, if you have a nofollow link pointing to your site, it’s not worth disavowing. Really can’t hurt anything, though. But really, I think people tend to overuse the Disavow Tool. Only use it if you have a manual action, you have a legitimate reason you think you need it. Otherwise, just don’t worry about it, and try to do the right thing.
Google’s making some more big changes to their AMP system, where starting on February 1st of 2018, AMP and canonical pages will need to match. So AMP is Google’s system for accelerated mobile pages, to make mobile pages load faster using kind of a different version of your mobile page. Each of those AMP pages has what’s called a canonical on it, which says, “Hey, this is the AMP sped-up version of it, but the real version of the page is over here,” so Google doesn’t index them both and have duplicate content and stuff. And while AMP isn’t a ranking signal, AMP pages do get some special placements in Top Stories, and if your AMP and canonical pages don’t match, that could bump you out of these locations.
Now, the reason for this is because some websites, their AMP version isn’t the full version of their story. They have the quick AMP version saying, “Hey, come check out this story here,” and you get partway through it, and they say, “Okay, now to finish reading, go to the full version on our site.” And that’s not Google’s intent with AMP. Google wants things to be fast, but kind of teasing people with a fast teaser and then directing to a slower-loading full article is not what they had in mind. So Google’s going to say, starting in February, the version of your AMP page needs to match the version of the full page, that if you just have a teaser or something, it’s not going to count as AMP, and could get you bumped from some of those locations. So, again, this is another instance of people kind of skirting the rules, and Google just kind of clamping down to have people do things the right way.
As we mentioned last week, Google’s struggling, like many of us, to separate fake news from real news, where they had some issues with the Texas shooting and who was really responsible for it. Google’s announced now they’re teaming up with the Trust Project to help sort out truthfulness in real time, with various trust indicators such as how stories were researched, info about the author, and other factors. So this should help over time, as Google continues to work to make the search results a source of truth, rather than leaning to any particular side.
A report from analytics company Invoca, which surveyed a thousand people in the US who own a smart speaker of some kind, shows that 89% of them use them daily. In addition, 33% use them more than five times a day, and 58% said they use them to, quote, “accomplish tasks they used to do through typing or swiping.” This makes for a lot of smart speaker users, and after the upcoming holiday season’s over, it’s estimated there’ll be 50 to 60 smart million speakers installed across the US, so make sure you understand how they work and how your content may or may not surface in those, which we’ve touched on a bit, and you can certainly find lots of resources there on the internet.
Further, Google’s working to make apps for Google Assistant much more functional and discoverable. Two real pieces of interest here. The first is implicit invocation, where Google will suggest apps for you when you’re performing acts that could use them. So if you do something on a smart speaker where Google thinks an app might be helpful, they’ll suggest that to you. The second is multi-surface conversations, where you start on Google Home, and then finish on your phone. A good example could be ordering food with your voice, then finishing on your phone to complete the transaction. Both of these are things Google’s working at now, and they’ll be released as they have them available.
The last smart speaker-related news is Google’s HomePod, which was due to come out this December and has been pushed back into early next year. The HomePod is Apple’s Siri-powered smart speaker, similar to the Google Home and Alexa, which they were hoping to have out in time for the holiday season. It’s now been pushed back for unspecified reasons to early next year, but by next year, we should have three big competitors in the space, and again, competition like that is good for all of us, as it makes those products better, regardless of which one you have.
Our tip of the week this week is a messaging solution. I’m a big fan of Android, but one area where Apple is dominating, and Google just can’t seem to find their way, is with messaging. iMessage is great, particularly for being able to manage your text messages from a laptop, and Google doesn’t have a decent solution. Hangouts was beginning to become a good answer, but now Google seems to be moving away from that. I’ve tried different third-party solutions over the years, and keep coming back to an app called Pulse. They have a web version, including a Chrome app, and then an app for your phone. The phone app keeps up with your text messages and syncs them to the web, so you can read and respond from any location. I typically use a total of four different computers during the week — a desktop at home, a desktop at work, a Windows laptop, and a Chromebook — and this works great on all of them. If you’re an Android user, check it out. The link’s in our show notes. Again, the app is called Pulse SMS. If you’re an Apple user, just be happy you have iMessage and don’t need to worry about things like this.
And that’s all we have for this week. You can find me on Twitter at @mickmel, M-I-C-K-M-E-L, or learn lots more at GreenMellenMedia.com. You can find out more about the podcast, including show notes and links, as well as video tutorials and many other resources, over at ABrighterWeb.com. If you’re in the Atlanta area, come check out our meetup, held three times each month. If you’re not in the Atlanta area, we post recaps on the site soon after each meetup. Either way, you can learn more about that at abrighterweb.com/meetup. Thanks for listening.