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Update your robots meta tag or become (nearly) invisible in Google Search results

 SEO is a constantly moving field but most often changes are "backward-compatible": if your site is properly set up and you have good content, you'll keep doing well even as technical SEO evolves and becomes more sophisticated. Additional techniques such as structured data, OGP, redirects and canonical and of course AMP can be  added step by step to improve results, especially in competitive fields.

You must opt-in to have full results in Google search

This is why the change happening to Google policies on Search results display is quite unusual  and more importantly, it potentially has much larger consequences for many websites owners. Negative consequences that is!

Up until now, when showing one or your site's page in their results, Google would use that page title, a short extract of the page content and possibly some images or video. And so your pages were getting full visibility. 

When the changes come into effect, news websites must opt-in to have extract, images and video be shown. If not, only your page title and URL will be displayed.

The update comes from recent legal changes in the European Union. France is the first country to put those changes into their law and , and as a consequence, Google updated their policies about how news websites content will be displayed in search results:

  • Websites will need to opt-in to be as visible as before in Google search results
  • Unless you specifically allow Google to display a snippet of your site, images or videos, your website listing in search results will be limited to a title and a link.
  • As such, you can immediately expect a sharp drop in traffic to your site coming from Google.

Where? when?

It is expected that all other countries in the EU will follow suit soon and so any website from a EU country should be concerned. The change should go live "at the end of October 2019"

How do we opt-in?

Google has introduced several new options for the robots meta tag allowing webmasters to opt-in and keep their normal display in search results: max-snippet,  max-image-preview and max-video-preview.

The robots meta tag is an (invisible)  line of code inserted by Joomla or an extension into your web page. It has existed for many, many years and is normally used to prevent search engines from displaying a page in their search results. For instance, it is common to prevent search engines from including your own search page from being displayed. Or your contact page.

Until now, you only needed to add a robots meta tag when you wanted to prevent Google from showing a page. Without it, your pages were displayed normally in search results. After the change, you must include the tag to have full visibility, using suitable values for those parameters.

How can I insert the correct robots meta tag

We have just updated sh404SEF and wbAMP to do that for you. Update to the latest version of each and the inclusion of the robots meta tag is automatic. Just be sure to clear your Joomla and browser cache.

sh404SEF and wbAMP will insert the following robots meta tag:

max-snippet:-1, max-image-preview:large, max-video-preview:-1

Note that wbAMP will only insert the robots tag on AMP pages, not on regular pages.

If you are not using sh404SEF, you will need to create a template override to insert the proper tag but exactly how to do that most likely depends on the template you are using.