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On 7th December 2020 the EU published new ranking guidelines for online platforms, giving advice and guidance on how they can improve the transparency of their search ranking parameters.

SEO is what we do day in and day out at Opace and the ultimate goal is to improve search rankings and generate traffic for our clients. The recent move from the EU seems like a fairly major and relevant intervention so we thought it would be worthwhile assessing the potential impact of this. Here we’ll explore related topics such as the importance of ranking results, we will explain the guidelines and how they help, as well as discussing the importance of ranking transparency in search algorithms.

The importance of ranking guidelines in 2020

In 2020, the importance of search engine algorithms and how companies such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook choose to prioritise and rank their content to end-users has never been more important.

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the world and how we live our lives. It has driven ever-increasing numbers of customers online during national and regional lockdowns and has escalated the channel shift from high-street retail to online shopping.

Many online store owners feel powerless about how platforms such as Google and Bing decide to rank their websites and are baffled by the algorithms used to determine their search ranking.

SEO ranking guidelines from the EU

An example of Google’s ranking algorithm prioritising search results for online shopping.

 

Search results such as above are often beyond the control of online retailers, but at the same time are absolutely crucial to the success of their business. In particular, owners of small businesses feel marginalised and that ranking priority is given to larger businesses with established brand names and higher SEO spending power. This certainly seems to be true looking at the results above, which shows major online brands ranking for “online shopping”. Even more frustratingly, and this is certainly true of some of our own clients, businesses will often find poor quality sites outranking their own with no idea why.

The EU has seen the importance of ranking guidelines and has determined a need for increased transparency of how platforms choose to rank their results.

Commenting on the guidelines, European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton said:

“Since businesses increasingly depend on digital solutions to reach consumers, their position in online search results can mean make it or break it. These guidelines will increase ranking transparency and allow businesses to compete fairly online in the EU Single Market. The same principles will underpin the forthcoming Digital Markets Act, which will prevent illegal behaviour before it even takes place.

New ranking guidelines transparency are a part of the P2B regulation

The guidelines published form the ranking transparency requirements section of the EU Platform-to-Business Regulation (P2B), which came into effect from 12th July 2019.

The P2B provides a set of rules for the following:

“creating a fair, transparent and predictable business environment for smaller businesses and traders online platforms.”

The new ranking guidelines provide advice and guidance for search engines and online platforms (herein shortened to “online platforms”) as to how they should communicate the factors behind their key algorithmic parameters to all interested stakeholders.

P2B (Platform to Business Regulation)

The EU has introduced the P2B (Platform to Business Regulation)

It is important to understand that these guidelines are advisory and not legally binding.

What role with the EU have?

The EU can investigate any instances where the guidelines are not being followed but in particular will challenge unfair contracts and associated trading practices in platform-to-business relations.

Search engines and online platforms provide crucial access to businesses and consumers and in the modern-day economy are a crucial link to success. Online providers are in a privileged position of organising millions of users, searches, and data. They need to ensure they have practices, which protect themselves, business, and consumers in equal measure.

The EU will investigate cases where platforms seem to be acting in their own unilateral interest and at the expense of other parties, particularly where the action appears to be unlawful.

The need for transparent ranking criteria

The importance of ranking results is clear, it is a major factor in the success of any online business. For any online business, there needs to be clarity as to the actions they can take, which will improve their rankings when using platforms such as Google, Bing and Amazon. This is where understanding the ranking criteria comes in.

Under the EU’s new P2B platform, they are available to provide advice and guidance for any online provider as to how they can make their algorithmic rankings more transparent and open to all interested parties.

Transparency of Results Online

Under new EU guidelines, online providers will need to improve the transparency of ranking results

Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager commenting on the guidelines said:

These guidelines set the standard for algorithmic ranking transparency and will increase fairness in the online platform economy, which drives innovation and welfare for millions of Europeans. Transparency is the European way to go, and we are putting the final touch to rules for all digital services to cooperate with regulators and for the biggest platforms to provide more information the way their algorithms work.

How will these ranking guidelines help my business and SEO?

These guidelines are very good news for all online businesses, but particularly for SME’s as it is expected that the extra layer of transparency will “level up the playing field” compared to larger competitors than was the case previously.

The P2B regulation is much broader, but in areas of ranking criteria transparency, the following benefits will arise to users of online platforms. Main provisions, which platforms will need to do are:

  • Be able to explain why goods or services have been delisted/removed from the platform
  • Provide a full description in their terms and conditions of the main parameters which drive algorithmic results order and the prominence with which results are shown. These descriptions need to be written in “plain English” and be easy to interpret/understand
  • Disclose publicly whether a ranking has been influenced by any form of payment, whether this was direct or indirect
  • Provide users with anonymised information concerning their online reputation (e.g. ratings and reviews) and how they have been used as a part of determining rankings
  • Give at least 30 days’ notice where changes to their terms and conditions are likely to impact ranking results for users’ goods and services (in doing so, giving users sufficient time to act) and
  • Change unfair trading practices as set out in the ranking guidelines (or else face action against themselves)

The EU as well as providing scrutiny will also provide support to online platforms, wishing to improve the transparency of their algorithmic rankings. Although, this seems to be a last resort measure, the EU can sue platforms who fail to act when notified of a breach of the guidelines.

How can you improve your ranking?

Having a great business offering, excellent content and targeting potential customers through marketing and promotional campaigns will go a long way to improving your ranking. We haven’t gone into detail regarding specific algorithms here, but for those interest in which we feel are having the most impact on SEO, please read this article on algorithm updates.

Protect your business and speak to Opace about P2B and how we can help

The whole area is potentially a minefield of information. If you need clarity on this topic why not speak to Opace? As a leading Birmingham, UK Digital Media Agency we are experts in SEO and can provide support and guidance for your business in understanding the requirements and using them for the benefits of your business. Why not call us today on 0121 222 5757 or get in touch here?

References and further reading

  1. https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/news/guidelines-ranking-transparency-pursuant-regulation-eu-20191150
  2. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A52020XC1208%2801%29#ntr1-C_2020424EN.01000101-E0001 (Full text)
  3. https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/news/european-commission-publishes-ranking-guidelines-under-p2b-regulation-increase-transparency
  4. https://www.reuters.com/article/eu-tech-platforms-idUSKBN28H267
  5. https://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory/eu-tells-online-platforms-explain-search-rankings-74589191

 

Image Credits: European Parliament and 200 Degrees

 

 

 

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