Notes from the Google Webmaster Hangout on the 23rd of February 2018.

Google Sometimes Wrongly Identify Soft 404s

Examples of a soft 404 can include redirects to a shared page, or a page with a 200 response code that has no indexable content. However, Google sometimes wrongly identifies soft 404s, like on development sites talking about 404 pages, which can be mistaken for the page not being found.

Sitemaps Are More Critical for Larger Sites with High Churn of Content

Sitemaps are more useful for larger websites that have a lot of new and changing content. It is still best practice to have sitemaps for smaller sites that largely have the same content, but they are less critical for search engines to find new pages.

Non-English Characters Fine to Use in URLs

Non-English letters and special characters are fine to include in URLs as they serve as an identifier on a website. For domain names, you need to be aware that characters are encoded by Punycode. For characters in the path or query part of the URL, they need to be in UTF-8.

URLs Are a Minor Ranking Signal

Google does use some content from URLs for ranking, but it’s a very minimal signal.

Use URLs That Make Sense From User Perspective

Choose URLs based on what works best for your users. Sometimes people include English words in the URL because they, wrongly, think that search engines will understand it better. However, this may be confusing for users to see English words in the URL but not in the content, so it might be better to use the local language and characters.

Fine to Use Different Navigational Elements Dependent on Viewport

From Google’s perspective it is fine to use different navigational elements on a website dependent on the viewport.

Google Doesn't Sandbox New Sites

Google doesn’t have a sandbox acting as a filter on new sites. There are a number of algorithms that might look similar to a sandbox, but these understand how the website fits in with others trying to rank for those queries. In some cases this might result in pages ranking higher or lower for a time, while Google figures out where it should rank.

The presence of a Google My Business listing doesn’t influence the ranking of that site in organic search. However, the local one box is populated by businesses with a Google My Business listing.

Significant Onpage Changes Can Impact Google's Ability to Crawl Page

Rankings in search can change after a migration even if the URLs haven’t changed. This can happen if the layout of a page changes significantly meaning that Google’s ability to crawl a site can get better or worse. Pay particular attention to changes in internal linking and anchor text which can impact Google’s ability to crawl a site.

Google Identifies Adult Content on Site, Section & Page Level Basis

Google can identify adult-type content on a site, section and page level. It is possible to check how Google is classifying a site by searching for it with safe search switched on and off.