Search Off the record

On the 16th June, John Mueller and the team gifted SEO’s the world over with access to a brand new podcast: Search Off the Record.

There is no set time-frame or an agreed number of podcasts for this series. We can only hope that it continues for a long, long time.

Best quote of the podcast: ‘OK, just, jeez.’

What is Search Off the Record?

Search Off the Record is something Google are ‘trying out’. You may have noticed that they are more transparent now than ever when it comes to the goings-on behind the scenes. This podcast, which is hosted by John Mueller, Gary Illyes and Martin Splitt, is another milestone to aid that transparency. 

While we don’t know how many, or how long we will be gifted with these episodes, having additional insight into how Google operates is always welcome.

Here is a rundown of the first episode. Be sure to check back for future summaries of Search Off the Record podcasts.

Nofollow attribution

Two crucial questions have been asked regarding nofollow attribution, and these were discussed within the podcast:

1) Did Google use the nofollow attribute as a ranking factor?
2) Were nofollow links used as part of crawling and indexing?

The answer to these questions was, of course, sketchy – The official line being

‘We don’t really have anything to announce’.

However, they did confirm that they are trialling and testing things that could be helpful to both users and webmasters; but they are keeping these close to their chest for the time being. 

They sweetened the answer slightly by affirming that if any of the things they are trialling work well, we will be informed before they are rolled out. So, unfortunately, it’s a ‘wait and see’ response.

John did reiterate that any updates will aim to catch errors and better understand problematic parts of the internet, rather than something that webmasters will have to respond to.

What really stood out when listening to the team discuss nofollow links was the references to using rel links ‘if you want to’. They talked about how implementing rel attributes, for example, could be helpful to them, but that is an optional path to take. It is interesting to think of Google relying on us almost as much as we depend on them. 

Comically, it turns out that Google was actually behind the times in regards to the nofollow update. Other search engines have been ahead of the game up to this point.

Structured data and javascript

A test was carried out recently to discover how structured data generated by JavaScript was being parsed. The experiment proved that JavaScript does work with structured data, although it doesn’t appear to when you test it using Google’s structured data testing tool. If you check it using Search Console or the rich results test, it does.

However, this information was about Search only. The rendering process differs for Google Shopping as the merchant centre does not render a page unless it can’t gather sufficient information from the HTML code.

Speed metrics launched and core web vitals

The team gave a quick rundown of the latest speed metrics. Google has used a variety of metrics to measure page speed from a user’s point of view. From server response times to page painting, to first input delay, to cumulative layout shifting, just listening to the journey they have been on to reach their current opinion is reason enough to listen to the full podcast.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this part of the episode is how investigating speed metrics led to core web vitals.

Core web vitals is the accumulation of what the team understands to be the best metrics to measure website speed and user experience. They were eager to reiterate that the web is continuously evolving and, therefore, performance measurements will also change as time goes by. However, as of right now, Core Web Vitals showcase Google’s current understanding of what a measurably fast website looks like.

Google will update their Core Web Vitals annually (roughly), but at the moment, webmasters should focus on optimising:

  • Input delay
  • Largest contentful paint
  • Cumulative layout shifting 

While they admit that this isn’t a perfect picture, it is the route they have chosen to take. Again, if they plan to make any amendments to these three points of focus, they will let us know. 

While this won’t be rolled out until next year, it is definitely something we should all be working towards.


Of course, every podcast in 2020 has to mention the pandemic at least once. This subject was more targeted to the team’s individual experience of working through an epidemic, rather than discussing the impact the virus has had on the world of Search. 

One vital comment highlighted the ups and downs of working through a pandemic. Some days will be extremely tough, while others will feel easier. Finding a way to take care of yourself is crucial now more than ever.

An exciting teaser highlighted in Search Off the Record involves a different approach to virtual events that are being planned – so keep your eyes peeled.

Come back soon for your next instalment

The team at Sweet Digital hopes that the series will be around for a long time and will help further bridge the gap between the mighty Google and the humble SEO.

Come back soon for our next summary of Search Off the Record.

Listen to the full podcast here.

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