Google Penalties Coming in May

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Google is promising to double down on its policy of penalizing poorly designed websites with lower rankings in search engine returns with its next update, slated for May. Essentially, trucking sites that exhibit poor performance on mobile devices, use annoying pop-up ads, are tough to interact with or are plagued by similar shortcomings are going to be punished by the Google search engine.

“These signals measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a webpage and contribute to our ongoing work to ensure people get the most helpful and enjoyable experiences from the web,” said Jeffrey Jose, a product manager for Google.

Dubbed Google Page Experience, the ranking system is expected to hit trucking websites competing for the same keywords and key phrases the hardest. For example: Two trucking companies using the same keywords and key phrases that feature comparable content will find that a poorly designed website will get a lower ranking on Google, while the excellently designed site will come out on top.

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Not surprisingly, more than a few trucking companies are already gearing up for the coming crackdown — either by getting their websites in shape in time for the May deadline, or verifying that everything they’re doing is already top-notch.

“We do indeed see [complying with Google] as a competitive edge,” said Wade Anderson, chief information officer at Bay & Bay Transportation. “Now that our content, user navigation and keywords are in great shape, we are going through a full optimization process to ensure top performance. We take organic search seriously — as our website has been a great source of leads for truck driving candidates, and even shippers and other carriers.”

Justin Walters, a director at West Side Transport, agreed: “I plan on making sure our sites are performing up to Google standards. It’s very important that we do everything we can to stay competitive — without having to pay for increased search results.”

While some truckers may bristle at the news that Google is once again requiring them to tweak their websites in accordance with Google standards — or face the consequences — Troy Austin of Talk CDL, a trucking podcast, is more philosophical about the new standards. After all, the upgrades that Google plans to reward are all designed to make cruising easier for web users and more profitable to the companies that are marketing to them, he said.

Jeron Rennie, social media specialist at Anderson Trucking Service, views the coming crackdown from a similar perspective. He operates with the understanding that when you’re competing in the digital space, you’re never quite done.

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“Our website and our digital presence as a whole are never a ‘set it and forget it’ endeavor,” Rennie said. “We try to keep our ear to the pulse constantly and do our best to stay ahead of the curve. This update to Google’s ranking standards was no surprise to us — which is why we’ve been working toward fitting their requirements for several months already.”

Jane Jazrawy, CEO of CarriersEdge, added: “Mostly, it’s a way to push everyone to improve site performance across the industry. Anyone selling an online service should already be doing the things that Google is recommending here.”

Of course, Google’s announcement that a crackdown is coming has sent reverberations across the web, given that Google dominates search worldwide. According to Statista, 87% of all web searches are made using the Google search engine.

And while Google has been penalizing poorly designed websites with lower search engine rankings for a number of years, this latest policing initiative will focus solely on how websites are performing on mobile devices. That makes sense, given that nearly three-quarters of all internet users will solely use smartphones to access the web by 2025, according to a report by the World Advertising Research Center.

With this crackdown, Google is also trial-ballooning the idea of using a graphic icon in the web address bar to indicate if a website is poorly designed and poorly performing. So far, the advent of an icon indicating poor page experience is still talk, but it’s definitely worth monitoring closely.

“This latest update just reinforces the importance of having a technically sound website,” said Tyler Cameron, senior SEO manager at Seer, a digital marketing firm. “We often focus so heavily on content. But remember, the foundation has to be there as well.”

Indeed, even slight shortcomings in page speed alone can generate a disastrous falloff in website visits, according to Sergio Arboledas, SEO manager at digital marketing company MintTwist.

While getting the technical tweaks to your trucking site takes time, CarriersEdge’s Jazrawy says savvy truckers who do the upgrade could reap some unforeseen rewards, such as more visits to their recruiting page from truckers looking to jump to a new company.

Even so, some fleets believe optimizing your website for Google will only get you so far.

“The truth of the market is that no matter how strong a company’s search-engine optimization is, paid advertising with Google will always appear above the top organic results,” said Todd Sanning, director of marketing and recruiting at TransWood. “We’ve found that it can be more cost-effective for driver and mechanic recruitment to invest in results-driven advertising on search results than invest heavily in SEO optimization.”

Others in the trucking industry — tired of Google’s ongoing attempts to dictate how the web should work — are considering a “thanks, but no thanks” response to Google’s advisory.

JT Peters, CEO of app developer Truck Driver Power, for example, said truckers may find that advertising with a Google competitor — such as Reddit, a social networking site where truckers hang out online, or Waze, an online driving directions and mapping service — will be more cost-effective than engaging in a complete technical makeover of their websites.

“Instead of fighting in the red ocean of Google, exploring other avenues for reach will likely yield better results,” Peters said.

Fortunately, for those who still want to stay in the game with the search giant, Google is offering detailed guidance on the metrics it will use to monitor mobile website design and performance.

Here’s a breakdown on those signals, as well as key tools you can use to get an extremely granular look at how your trucking website is performing and how you can improve its design:

  • Poor performance on mobile devices: Given that excellent performance on mobile devices has been the Holy Grail for Google for a number of years, it’s no wonder the search engine is doubling down on its requirements for this performance indicator. In a phrase, trucking sites that are not designed for visitors using smartphones and similar small-screened devices will be penalized in a Google Page Experience evaluation.
  • Annoying pop-ups and other interstitials: Those who grit their teeth when websites overload their screens with pop-ups, slide-into-view offers and similar annoyances should welcome Google’s renewed determination to impose a penalty on these behaviors. Yes, pop-ups and similar ads do sometimes work. But they may no longer be worth the risk if Google drops your website to a lower ranking in its search engine returns as a result.
  • Malicious software: While malware and similar software is often embedded on a website without the knowledge of the website owner, Google still plans to penalize website owners when it finds such software there. Make sure you continually monitor possible sabotage of your website.
  • No HTTPS: Most site owners got the memo a few years back that Google would penalize websites that do not use the HTTPS standard. It’s a communications format used between a website and a web browser that ensures all data transmitted is encrypted. Such encryption is critical for safer exchange on websites that accept credit cards and similar sensitive information. So if you’re still using the older HTTP standard, now is definitely the time to switch.
  • Slow loading: Google’s equation for speed is simple. The faster your website downloads in a browser, the higher potential ranking it will win in Google search returns.
  • Poor interactivity: No one appreciates poor interactivity, or when a “buy now” button or a “subscribe now” button or a similar button on a website responds slowly, or not at all. If your site is guilty of this time wasting, Google will take a dim view of what’s going on.
  • Poor visual stability: Once in awhile, you’ll click to a site with images, text and other content jumping about randomly until the site renders fully. Such chaos is a product of poor design and will also be penalized by Google.

Fortunately, Google offers a number of tools you can use to see how your website adheres to Google’s Page Experience rating and correct any shortcomings. Google’s free Google Search Console, for example, will give you an overall analysis of all the signals Google is watching for when making a Page Experience rating.

One final note: Amid all the technical upgrades, it’s still paramount to remember that one of the primary website features Google looks for when deciding where you rank in search engine returns is fresh, regularly generated quality content. You can have the most fastidiously tweaked trucking site on the web, but if your content is subpar, all your technical work is for naught.

Joe Dysart is an internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan. Voice: (631) 438-1142. Email: [email protected] Web: www.dysartnewsfeatures.com

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