18 April 2015

Chrome 42 Brings Better Integration With iOS 8

Chrome 42 for iOS brought a lot of new features. Some of them use the APIs introduced in iOS 8, while others make it easy to use Apple's bigger phones.

You can now reload a page, open a new tab or close a tab with one swipe. Go to the top of a page, pull down and you'll see three buttons: a reload button (pull straight down), a plus button for opening a new tab (pull down and left) and a button that closes the current tab (pull down and right).

Chrome for iOS 8 now has support for the Today View. You can open a new tab, use voice search or open copied links. For example, you can copy a link from Safari, open the Notification Center and tap "open copied link" to open the page in Chrome.

Chrome has its own app extension for the Today View, but it also supports third-party app extensions. For example, you can now use password managers like LastPass and 1Password right inside Chrome. Here are the instructions for LastPass. Basically, you need to tap the share button from Chrome's menu, enable LastPass in the extensions menu and then you can quickly log in using LastPass.

Another new feature allows you find answers more quickly. When you're searching from the address bar, Chrome now shows answers related to weather, stocks, unit conversions and more. Chrome also shows the latest URL copied to the clipboard.

17 April 2015

Breadcrumbs in Google Mobile Search

Google's mobile search site replaced URLs for search results with breadcrumbs that reflect the structure of the URL. "To help mobile searchers understand your website better when we show it in the mobile search results, today we're updating the algorithms that display URLs in the search results to better reflect the names of websites, using the real-world name of the site instead of the domain name, and the URL structure of the sites in a breadcrumbs-like format," informs Google.

For example, instead of URLs like http://ift.tt/1CNrSe5, you'll see something like this: Google > about > company > history.

Google added support for schema.org structured data for websites, so webmasters can include the site's name and the URL structure as breadcrumbs. You can include multiple site names, but they have to be unique and closely related to the domain name.

Breadcrumbs are already used in desktop SERPs. When they were released, you could click each link to navigate the site's hierarchy, but this feature is no longer available. Google also shows the site's name next to the URL and you can click it to find more information about the site.

Mobile SERPs will add a similar feature and the most important change is that Google will replace the domain name with the site's name. Regular users don't understand web addresses and that's why they use search engines to navigate to sites they visit often like Facebook or Amazon.

Mobile breadcrumbs will gradually roll out worldwide, but site names will only be displayed in the US. I assume that Google will use domain names outside the US, at least for now.

In my opinion, the war against URLs is a bad idea. More and more browser partially hide URLs, Google replaces search results URLs with breadcrumbs and even tests removing them. URLs may be meaningless for many people, but they're unique and they give some information about the site's identity. It's hard to come up with unique site names, especially when you consider that there are many companies, products and sites that have the same name.

Export Classic Custom Maps

The old My Maps is no longer available, even if you use the classic Google Maps interface. Your custom maps were upgraded to the new My Maps, which has more advanced features.

You can still download the original KML files for your custom maps until June 1st, just in case they weren't properly converted. To export a map, go to My Maps, click "open a map", pick the map you want to export and click "Download classic My Maps data" in the settings menu. If this feature is not available, the the map was created using the new My Maps. There's also an option to "export to KML", which downloads the current map.

"If you aren't happy with the way that your maps upgraded, you can download the original, pre-upgrade version of your maps as KML files from within the new My Maps. These files will be available only until June 1st, 2015. After June 1st, the pre-upgrade version of the KML files will be removed," informs Google.

Google Removes Search Filters for Visited Pages

One by one, Google's advanced search features disappear. Google's search tools menu used to include a lot of filters and now there are only 2 filters.

Google has quietly removed the features that allowed you to restrict results to visited pages and pages you haven't visited yet. "Visited pages" and "not yet visited" are no longer included in the search tools menu.

Here's a screenshot from 2013: 9 search tools.

A screenshot from 2014: 4 search tools.

And here's the same menu today: only 2 search tools left, at least for now.

I'm sure that Google will soon remove "reading level" and "verbatim", since they're probably used by a small percentage of Google users.

16 April 2015

Find Your Android Phone Using Google Search

Android Device Manager is now available in Google Search for desktop. If you search for [find my phone] or [find my tablet] and you're logged in to your Google account, you can see a map that shows the most recent location of your Android phone or tablet. If you have more than one Android device, there's a dropdown that lets you select other phones and tablets connected to your account. Click the map to open Android Device Manager.

The location is not displayed instantly, so you may see the message: "locating your phone" for a few seconds. Obviously, your phone or tablet needs to have a working Internet connection, location needs to be enabled and the setting: "remotely locate this device" has to be enabled in Google Settings / Security.

If your Android device is nearby, you can also click "ring" to quickly find it. "Your phone will ring at full volume for 5 minutes. Press its power button to stop the ringing."

{ via +Google }

Google Handwriting App for Android

Google has a new Android app that lets you input text using handwriting. "Google Handwriting Input allows you to handwrite text on your phone or tablet in 82 languages. It supports printed and cursive writing, with or without a stylus. Google Handwriting Input also supports hundreds of emojis, so you can express yourself in any Android app."

After you select your favorite languages from the settings, Google downloads the language packs. The English files are preloaded, so there's nothing to download.

Google Handwriting Input works like a regular Android keyboard, so you can use it any Android app that lets you input text. Google automatically converts your handwriting to a text and shows some other suggestions. If you try to write a word that's too long, you can type the first part of the word and then continue entering the rest of the word, as Google's app is smart enough to merge them.

Google's app claims to support even terrible handwriting, but that's not always the case. Sometimes a poorly written letter can make the app return incorrect results, especially for less common words.

Google Handwriting Input requires Android 4.0.3 or later and works for both phones and tablets.

15 April 2015

Always Block Google from your Search Results Pages

If you are using Google Custom Search or another site search service on your website, make sure that the search results pages – like the one available here – are not accessible to Googlebot. This is necessary else spam domains can create serious problems for your website for no fault of yours.

Few days ago, I got an automatically generated email from Google Webmaster Tools saying that Googlebot is having trouble indexing my website labnol.org as it found a large number of new URLs. The message said:

Googlebot encountered extremely large numbers of links on your site. This may indicate a problem with your site’s URL structure… As a result Googlebot may consume much more bandwidth than necessary, or may be unable to completely index all of the content on your site.

This was a worrying signal because it meant that tons of new pages have been added to the website without my knowledge. I logged into Webmaster Tools and, as expected, there were thousands of pages that were in the crawling queue of Google.

Here’s what happened.

Some spam domains had suddenly started linking to the search page of my website using search queries in Chinese language that obviously returned no search results. Each search link is technically considered a separate web page – as they they have unique addresses – and hence the Googlebot was trying to crawl them all thinking they are different pages.

External Domains blocked with robots.txt

Because thousands of such fake links were generated in a short span of time, Googlebot assumed that these many pages have been suddenly added to the site and hence a warning message was flagged.

There are two solutions to the problem.

I can either get Google to not crawl links found on spam domains, something which is obviously not possible, or I can prevent the Googlebot from indexing these non-existent search pages on my website. The latter is possible so I fired up my VIM editor, opened the robots.txt file and added this line at the top. You’ll find this file in the root folder of your website.

User-agent: *
Disallow: /?s=*

Block Search pages from Google with robots.txt

The directive essentially prevents Googlebot, and any other search engine bot, from indexing links that have the “s” parameter the URL query string. If your site uses “q” or “search” or something else for the search variable, you may have to replace “s” with that variable.

The other option is to add the NOINDEX meta tag but that won’t have been an effective solution as Google would still have to crawl the page before deciding not to index it. Also, this is a WordPress specific issue because the Blogger robots.txt already blocks search engines from crawling the results pages.

Related: CSS for Google Custom Search

Soft 404 Errors - Google Webmaster Tools

The story, Always Block Google from your Search Results Pages , was originally published at Digital Inspiration by Amit Agarwal on 15/04/2015 under SEO, WordPress, Internet.

12 April 2015

YouTube Tests New Video Player for Desktop

YouTube tests a new video player with a transparent control bar that hides when you're not using it, just like mobile video players.

The experimental player has new icons and redesigned menus. Toggles for autoplay and annotations look better, while dropdowns for speed and quality look like mobile menus. Both seem to be inspired by iOS.

{ Thanks, Angelo Giuffrida and Sterling Alvarez. }