As 2022 proved once again, SEO is never boring.
Was 2022 the year of AI – or perhaps the official dawning of the age of AI? For the last month, it’s been hard not to read about or avoid the temptation to spend hours playing with ChatGPT.
We also had our usual share of algorithm updates, new tools and features, acquisitions, and plenty more changes.
One constant through it all? For 16 years, Search Engine Land has covered all the biggest stories, just as we did again in 2022.
Here’s our look back at the biggest SEO news of 2022 – from Google and other search engines, tool providers and the community.
Google Search Essentials and more documentation changes
Google did a major refresh of its 20-year-old Webmaster Guidelines and also renamed it to Google Search Essentials. The updated guidelines were streamlined, simplified, and updated “to ensure people have clear guidance for how to build sites that serve people well.”
While Search Essentials was the biggest of Google’s documentation updates in 2022, there were plenty more.
Google updated several Feature Guides help documents:
- Article (author markup best practices)
- Education Q&A (new content guidelines)
- Learning video
- Product (variants, as well as disallowing rich results for widely prohibited or regulated product)
- Recipe (specific times)
- Review snippet (use dots for decimal numbers)
- Dropped support for job training structure data.
- Added a new spam policy: Policy circumvention.
- Updated its review guidelines to say discouraging negative or selectively soliciting positive reviews is not allowed and prohibit incentivizing customers to remove or modify negative reviews. In a separate local search update, Google said it may require double verification for some business profiles.
Also, not long after a study by SEO tool company Ahrefs showed half of GSC clicks going to hidden terms, Google removed language in its Performance report (Search) help doc, calling hidden Search Console query data “very rare.”
In other documentation changes, Google:
- Added more example categories of sites that may be impacted by the product reviews update
- Shared examples of how to improve a meta description
- Stopped recommending using dynamic rendering
- Added a new valid page metadata help document
- Merged its SafeSearch help information into a single new document
E-E-A-T and the QRG
Lily Ray provided her usual excellent breakdowns of what changed in both updates to the QRG.
For the July update (Google search quality rater guidelines update: What has changed), Google reframed its definition of YMYL, revamped its definition of low-quality pages and more
And as Ray covered in the December update (E-E-A-T and major updates to Google’s quality rater guidelines):
“The addition of ‘experience’ indicates that content quality can also be evaluated through the lens of understanding the extent to which the content creator has first-hand experience in the topic.
With this reframing of E-E-A-T, Google also states that “trust” is at the center of this concept and is the “most important member of the E-E-A-T family.”
Before E-A-T became E-E-A-T – we learned from Google that E-A-T is synonymous with “good content quality.”
“E-A-T is a template for how we rate an individual site. We do it to every single query and every single result. It’s pervasive throughout every single thing we do,” according to Hyung-Jin Kim, VP of Search, Google, who spoke at SMX Next in November. Dig deeper: in 7 takeaways from the SMX Next keynote with Hyung-Jin Kim, VP Search at Google.
While this is decidedly not new, it is always good for SEO professionals to understand why Google does the things it does.
Continuous scroll, multisearch, featured snippets and more search feature changes
Google is constantly testing its SERPs, all in the name of making sure users have a great experience and find the information or answer they are looking for.
One of the biggest changes was Google bringing continuous scroll (don’t cal it infinite!) to desktop earlier this month. Yes, it’s officially time to retire the term “Page 2 of Google” – and focus on position when talking about rankings.
Another significant change was multisearch – searching by image and then adding text to that specific image search.
Google played around with featured snippets this year, testing ‘From the web’ and ‘Other sites say’ in featured snippets, as well as showing two or more featured snippets.
For feature snippets, Google now uses MUM to determine whether there is general consensus for information. Google also reported that MUM helped reduce false premise results by 40%
Also of note: a SERP analysis found that People Also Ask appears 10x more than featured snippets. PAA also was in the news because People also ask was showing up half as often in Google Search but it later returned to normal.
FAQ rich results also gained some significant Google SERP visibility.
Oh and if you ever have trouble keeping track of all the parts that make up Google’s user interface, Google launched a visual gallery documenting 22 elements.
Here’s a look back at even more features that were added or tested in Google’s search results in 2022:
- Search refinements: top bar filters with related topics
- Multisearch for food, Google Lens translation, AR beauty and shoes, Maps live view search and more
- Google Lens button to home page search box
- Coupons, side-by-side deals and price insights
- Site names and favicon logos
- Quick Read, 5 Min. Read labels
- Content advisories, About This Result expansion
- Fewer sitelinks
- Highly cited label
- More visual interface on mobile with grid format
- Refine this search and broaden this search
- New search features in ‘Russian invasion of Ukraine’ results
- People Search Next
- ‘Shops’ section in mobile search results
In 2022, there were 10 confirmed Google algorithm updates:
- Two core updates: In May and September.
- Two helpful content updates: the original release in August and a system update in December.
- Three product reviews updates: In March, July and September.
- A spam update: In October.
- A link spam update: In December.
- The page experience update for desktop: In February.
At SMX Next, we learned from Google’s Kim that Google’s Panda algorithm evolved into a new algorithm called Coati. Although this was new information about something fairly old in the Google algorithm world, it was still an interesting discovery.
Also, Google’s John Mueller confirmed that Google no longer used the 2010 and 2018 page speed signals. They were replaced by Core Web Vitals.
We also learned, via a document Google released to the U.S. Copyright Office, that Google’s Pirate Update can cause 89% drop in search traffic for offending sites.
In November, Google published a document on its notable ranking systems, which included algorithms that are no longer used for ranking or have been incorporated into new systems.
Google also introduced a new “algorithmic improvement” for how it selects titles for the search result snippets for multi-language or transliterated titles or where the title element is written in a different language or script from its content.
Read Barry Schwartz’s recap to dig deeper into the year in algorithm updates. And make sure to check out our history of Google algorithm updates page for all our latest news and guidance around the latest algorithm updates.
AI & machine learning
ChatGPT was all the talk in the SEO world in the final weeks of 2022. And you can bet we’ll be hearing more about the (and other) exciting AI technologies in 2023, especially with GTP-4 not far away.
Without a doubt, many sites will attempt to mass produce content using AI tools. Just be careful – earlier this year, Google warned that Google doesn’t want your AI-generated SEO spam content.
Which was a bit ironic, considering you could, theoretically, use Google Docs to write your meta descriptions. And surprisingly, they weren’t all that bad.
Google also detailed how it uses artificial intelligence In Google Search. One other way Google was considering using AI was to update business hours in local listings. Google also formally introduced SpamBrain, its AI-based spam prevention system, which launched in 2018.
And despite the many positive and exciting ways to use AI, there is always a dark side, as we reported in Beware of fake DMCA link requests by AI-generated lawyers.
Lots of local search news in 2022 – new attributes, review issues, Google Business Profile changes, and scams were among the main headlines:
- Google adds Asian-owned attribute to business profiles
- Google adds LGBTQ+ owned attribute to business profiles
- Google Business Profiles add new recycling attribute
- Google Business Profiles new emergency help attributes for Ukraine support
Google Business Profile, Maps and reviews:
- Report: Google Business Profiles bug causing reviews to disappear
- Google updates Business Profile posts spam policies
- Google adds automated messaging through Business Profiles frequently asked questions
- Google Maps adds new store location feature, Locator Plus, Reserve with Google integration, new analytics and more
- 1-star review attacks plague restaurants on Google
- Google now allows virtual food brands to have Google Business Profiles
- Business redressal complaint form adds option for ‘This business doesn’t exist’
- Google Business Profile review management tool expands support to those with many local listings
- Google Search adds booking and appointment availability for healthcare providers
- Google business profile reviews posting bugs should be resolved soon
- Google’s free hotel booking links arrive on Search and Maps
- Google ‘Confirmed by phone’ label in local panel may add trust to local listings
- Google Search local pack’s map is now interactive
- Google dropped follow and welcome offers in local listings
- Google launched Google Business Profiles calls API
- Google files lawsuit against company falsely promising Page 1 rankings
- Don’t fall for fake ownership requests for your Google Business Profile
- Google multisearch to gain near me support
- Google Maps blocked 100 million abusive business profile edits in 2021
More Google news
- Links may be less important to the Google Search ranking algorithm in the future
- 10 biggest announcements from Google Search On 22
- Google: Best to have a primary language one a page and not mix languages
- Google updates search result snippets for queries with quotes
- Google confirmed indexing issue affecting a large number of sites
- Googlebot will crawl and index the first 15MB of content per page
- Google cuts back on SEO office hours format, frequency
- Google’s digital marketing course offers bad SEO advice
- Google removed support for some video and image sitemap extension tags
- Google claims it reduced irrelevant search results by over 50% in seven years
- Google said Shopify sites were in a good crawling state after reports of stalled crawling
- ‘Untitled’ search results sent Google users to spam sites
- Google added a new robots tag: indexifembedded
- Google explained how it deduplicates Top Stories from main search results
- A Shopify chat bug lead to titles with (1) in Google’s search results
Microsoft Bing continued to push its IndexNow initiative, adding co-sharing of URLs with Yandex, announcing in August that more than 16 million websites were using it (publishing more than 1.2 billion URLs per day to the IndexNow API), as well as adding multiple new integrations:
More Microsoft Bing news
- Microsoft Bing drops anonymous sitemap submission due to spam issues
- Bingbot user-agent change coming in the Fall of 2022 (as of October, Bingbot was at 50% of all URLs downloaded)
Analytics, reporting and tools
In case you missed all the thousands of reminders to adopt Google Analytics 4 until now, now is the time to adopt GA4. Because Universal Analytics ceases to exist July 1, 2023. Hope you are ready.
In an odd bit of rebranding, Google Data Studio was renamed Looker Studio. Google said it was “unifying” the Google business intelligence products – including the popular Google Data Studio product – “under the Looker umbrella.”
Google Search Console
Google Search Console had plenty of new additions – tools, features and reporting improvements. Here are links to our coverage:
- Google Discover accuracy improvement
- New Shopping tab listings feature
- New HTTPS report
- New reports: Merchant Listing and Product snippets
- Performance and rich results report changes to click and impression changes
- URL-level data added to Core Web Vitals report
- New classifications added to validate fix feature
- Discover report reporting issue
- CNAME DNS verification added
- New video indexing report
- Compare feature in performance reports
- Item classifications updated to show valid or invalid
- Page experience report began tracking more desktop search features
- Translated results search appearance filter
- Video page indexing report
- Structured data error reporting gains more contextual information
- Event rich results errors for missing locations
- Snapshot in search results started showing domain properties
- URL inspection tool API released
- Error reporting for Breadcrumbs and HowTo structured data changed
- Desktop page experience report launched
GSC also had a fair share of reporting bugs and other issues in 2022:
- Reporting bug: Discover performance report
- Reporting issue: Mislabeled structured data errors as errors
- Data logging issue: Search performance report
- Bug: Pages not indexed were reported as indexed
- Bug: URL inspection tool
- Missing data: Crawl stats report
- Data issue: Performance reports
- Logging issue: Caused a drop in image search performance data
- A user and permission issue was fixed
And did you get one of those intrusive interstitials notices from GSC?
Acquisitions in the SEO space
Early in 2022, it looked like we were in for a busy year of acquisitions. Things slowed down around mid-year, but check out the major changes we saw this year with some of the largest SEO technology companies:
- Semrush acquired Backlinko (and it wasn’t long before mentions of Ahrefs were replaced on Backlinko) and Kompyte
- Conductor acquired ContentKing
- BrightEdge acquired OnCrawl
- NP Digital acquired AnswerThe Public
- SimilarWeb acquired Rank Ranger
- SEOClarity acquired RankSense
A DMCA request removed SEO tool Moz from Google search for just under 12 hours. To be removed from Google search for your branded term is the stuff of SEO nightmares, no matter how long it lasts.
Zero-Clicks: an alternative view
Semrush put out an interesting study on zero-click searches. It found that 25.6% of desktop searches and 17.3% of mobile searches were zero-click, much lower than prior – let’s call it “suspect” – zero-click research.
Other search engines
Ahrefs made big news when it revealed details about its own general-purpose search engine, Yep. While it’s no Google killer, more alternative search engines is a good thing.
Meanwhile, DuckDuckGo, the most well-known privacy search engine, seemed to be continuing its steady growth, finally passing 100 billion searches in January. Until April. That’s when DuckDuckGo fell below 100 million daily average searches per day. And in the months since, DuckDuckGo has been unable to get back to that level.
In 2022, we lost influential SEO pioneer and expert Bill Slawski on May 17. He was best known for helping the community make sense of search patents, mostly on SEO By The Sea. Thankfully, that treasure trove of information lives on, after it briefly went offline. In the wake of his passing, we also discovered some upsetting Google search results for [bill slawski obituary].
Another incredibly sad loss was that of Tatiana Perebeinis, the chief accountant of SE Ranking, who was one of four people killed in a Russian attack in Irpin, Ukraine.
SMX Advanced & Next
We ran two digital events this year – SMX Advanced in June and SMX Next in November. Both shows were packed full of actionable SEO tips and insights.
Below are links to our coverage of the SEO track from Advanced.
- Developing authoritative content that Google ranks and searchers need
- Leveraging semantic search knowledge to improve E-A-T
- Getting the most out of the Google Search Console API
- Quantifying the value of SEO
- Major Google algorithm updates in 2022: How to prepare, assess, and take action
- Technical SEO testing in 2022: Separating fact from fiction
- The declaration of SEO: 6 fundamental truths to live by
And you can expect to read lots of coverage of the SEO track from SMX Next over the coming weeks on Search Engine Land.
SEO in 2023
As we look ahead, here’s what we know:
Unless you plan to abandon Google Analytics, you need to accept and fully adopt GA4 – because the current GA goes away in July. And if you haven’t migrated yet? You’re going to have an extra hard time comparing year-on-year data. Also: make sure you save whatever historical GA data you need, because Google will delete it all. And once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Should be excited or terrified by ChatGPT? Yes. I mean, it depends. Just remember, ChatGPT it’s only useful for things up until 2021. But GPT-4 is coming soon.
With the rise of AI tools, it will be interesting to see how Google responds to what could potentially be a flood of duplicative AI-generated content. If that does happen, spoiler: it won’t go well for those sites. Because there are plenty of tools that are good at detecting AI content – and Google is well aware of what’s happening.
We also know there will be Google algorithm updates. Google has confirmed 10 major updates in 2021 and 2022. We know there will be core updates and probably more coming with the helpful content update. And when it happens, Search Engine Land will be first to report on it.
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