Google Update No. 1: Debating Google’s Latest Updates
In the first of five episodes, focusing on the latest round of Google Updates, Jordan Koene, the CEO of Searchmetrics Inc and renowned former head of SEO at eBay and Ben Shapiro weigh in on the recently released updates to the Google Search Algorithm.
Ben: Welcome to Google Update Week on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro, and this week we’re going to publish an episode every day covering what you need to know about the latest changes to Google’s algorithm. But before we get started, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are a team of SEOs, content marketers and data scientists that help enterprises scale their business, monitor their online presence and make data-driven decisions, using a mix of software and expertise. To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a complimentary digital diagnostic consultation. A member of our Digital Services Group will advise you on how you can optimize your content, understand what topics you need to cover and ensure how your writers produce effective content. To schedule your free content diagnostic, go to Searchmetrics.com/diagnostic.
Ben: Okay. Joining us for Google update week is Jordan Koene, who is the lead SEO Strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics, Inc. And today we’re going to start off Google Update Week by talking about what happened in Googlesville that got the SEO community so up in arms. So here is the first installment of Google Update Week with Jordan Koene, CEO of Searchmetrics, Inc. Jordan, welcome to Google Update Week on the Voices of Search podcast.
Jordan: Thanks, Ben. Yeah. Everyone’s up in arms, the house is on fire. Maybe that was too soon to make that reference, considering we’ve had a lot of really bad fires here in California. Our hearts do go out to all of the families that have been affected by that, and even the families within our own community here at Searchmetrics.
Ben: Absolutely. Our thoughts go out to the folks up in Paradise who are getting through the fires, but, the big thing that happened in the SEO landscape was this Google update. And there was a lot of back and forth between the SEO community and some high-level people at Google. So why don’t we just start off by you giving us kind of your view of what happened.
Jordan: Yeah. So there’s a lot of talk right now in forums, and just within the SEO community, around a recent adjustment within Google rankings. And this adjustment happened towards the tail end of November, possibly starting just before Thanksgiving or just after Thanksgiving. It’s really kind of hard to tell, even in our data it’s hard to tell. I think this is one of the first points is that it’s difficult to really understand when and how Google makes certain changes, in particular ranking adjustments. So basically they’re taking their ranking factors and they’re tweaking them to change the ranked position of different URLs. And it’s hard to understand when those happen, because it’s a dynamic environment, right?
Jordan: So we have Thanksgiving that is squarely smack right in-between this time period, and for some websites, like retail, like E-commerce, that is a seasonally high-peaked period of time. And then for a lot of other industries it’s a low point. I mean for finance it’s predominantly weak. I’d say in the car marketplace space it’s not a very strong week. Even in some news and media it’s not a very strong period of time. And so, my point here is, is that because of a big seasonal shift it’s hard to really decipher what exactly is going on and what exactly happened. But what we do know is there were some big ranking changes in some particular categories that were hit back in August, when the medic or core update took place, which has really been the largest update in the back half of this year when it comes to ranking changes.
Ben: So, a couple things to react to: first off, in our pre-planning meeting you said that the change happened on November 30-ish, or Thanksgiving-ish.
Jordan: That’s right.
Ben: Meaning that we didn’t know exactly when it was, and there’s so much happening with the holiday season coming around that it’s hard to tell exactly when this update was. I think of this a little bit like earthquakes, not to bring up another natural disaster, but there is the big one and then there are some tremors. And you mentioned that there was the core update that happened in August, which is a sort of foundational shift in how Google organizes its algorithm. And then there are updates like this one which are more sort of let’s call them maintenance maybe?
Jordan: Yeah. Exactly. And I definitely think this is a maintenance one. So Google said hey look, in August we made all these changes. Let’s go back and revisit some of those adjustments, and let’s take a look and see what actually really worked or what didn’t work, and then let’s kind of adjust. Right? It’s a little bit like getting an alignment on your car, right? If you’re feeling that little shake in the steering wheel you have to bring it in. You have to get an alignment and the car goes back to driving straight. The interesting thing here is that it definitely impacts different websites at different times. And, because of the holiday being right in the middle of this, it’s kind of hard to really tease out what’s just seasonality and what’s really a ranking change.
Ben: So, you brought up the car alignment analogy. Tell me who needs to go to their mechanic and who’s at risk for driving off of the road.
Jordan: Yeah. So one of the big areas that we saw drops in were news and media sites. So, we saw big adjustments to sites like CNN, USA Today and the New York Times. And again, like I said right in the beginning, it’s also kind of a tricky time period because those sites also don’t necessarily do great during the Thanksgiving period. Our ranking data actually show that many of these news and media sites had a pretty significant adjustment during this update. And it runs the gamut of news and media sites all the way across the board, everything from a Yahoo to an industry category, a leader like People.com. So that’s really where we saw a lot of adjustment in fluctuation.
Ben: So was it just traditional news media, and throw the Yahoos and Peoples of the world in there. Or was it also other types of content site, less specific, less breaking-news content?
Jordan: Yeah. It was definitely … great question, by the way, Ben. It’s not about the breaking news. We all know that that is a place where Google has already changed the SERP experience. That the SERP layout, when it comes to breaking news, is dominated by news feeds and carousels and other elements that Google is trying to get the most relevant and timely content in your hands. In particular in Mobile, all right, you’re going to get the AMP carousel to show you what’s the most breaking piece of news. All we’re really talking about here are evergreen articles, right? Evergreen articles about Tiger Woods. Evergreen articles about big companies. And these keywords which these news and media sites use to rank for, that were kind of more mainstay supplies of traffic and rankings, adjusted. And these news and media sites became less relevant in this kind of adjustment early forecast.
Ben: Okay. So various types of content are being affected, specifically the news. But what else happened?
Jordan: So, the other one, that again because Thanksgiving is squarely smashed into this adjustment, was retail. So we do see some sites like Target.com and other retail players seeing very positive results from this. We also see non-traditional retailers starting to take some share again during this adjustment, like RetailMeNot. So again, they’re not necessarily a retailer or E-commerce, but they compete within the same domain space. The hard part here is that this is a very busy week for those folks. So, seasonally speaking, they’re always on the up and up, because everyone is buying stuff on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But I do believe that maybe Google made some minor tweaks there. I’d find it really hard to believe that Google wants to make a lot of adjustments in the retail category as we go into the busiest time of year for those companies. That usually makes those companies very very very angry, so I would assume that Google was … I don’t know if they do it conscientiously or not, but I would assume that they’re going to place safer bets in the retail and E-commerce space.
Ben: It seems to me that people were a little upset about not only the timing, but also there was the Google Hangout with some of Google Search leadership. Talk to me a little bit about what happened there and what the repercussions are between Google and the SEO community.
Jordan: Yeah. So there was a great Google Hangouts a couple weeks ago with John Mueller, and one of the topics that was brought up there was the idea that Google is constantly touting the idea that they made thousands or hundreds of updates. And I really liked a post that was done by Barry Schwartz, on SEO Round Table, regarding this and kind of trying to debunk the notion that Google is just this update factory and they’re pumping out thousands of updates every day. And he basically says, and I’m paraphrasing, is that Google does several core updates every year and not hundreds, not thousands of updates. The daily tweaks are more focused on say UI/UX, or general changes to the index or the experience, not necessarily to the rankings.
Jordan: And so there’s a lot of truth behind what Barry is saying, and I think our listeners should take note here, is that there are certain time periods when Google is going to make really big changes or minor shifts to the rankings, the way things stack up. But the rest of the time Google is working on what I believe is their core mission, which is how do we make the best experience for our customers for those structures? And so they’re making adjustments to maybe the layout, or where certain elements like universal search or their search integration might show up on the page. And those are the more common, more frequent-type adjustments than the say core algorithm updates that have these kind of monumental shifts in where certain websites rank.
Jordan: And I really support Barry’s agenda here, which is hey let’s be truthful and not put lipstick on the pig and say that we’re making all these hundreds of changes, when in reality there’s maybe a couple very, very important changes that take place throughout the year. And those are the ones that we should be very mindful of, and webmasters and SEO’s and technical teams and marketing teams should really put on their thinking caps as to how to solve and innovate and be progressive as those updates might come.
Ben: Yeah. My outsider’s perspective is that it sounds like people were a little miffed at the timing, and then Google’s response to making a change that affected people’s rankings right around the holidays. Was that this is ill timed and their response was well we make changes all of the time. And it seems like that may or may not be true, depending on what you consider a change. Any last words to just sort of summarize what happened this week, before we get into more detail about the specific things you need to know about this Google update for the rest of the week?
Jordan: Yeah. So for those of you who don’t recall what the medic or core update in August was all about, here are just a couple of quick snapshots or highlights as to what this is really focused on. But first and foremost, it’s focused on what we consider the E-A-T standard, this is actually one of Google’s guidelines. Its acronym is E-A-T, which is expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. And so it’s really kind of diving into what is the most useful piece of content or information that we could serve for this particular search query? And in particular this was connected to a lot of elements around Your Money, Your Life, which is another acronym that’s part of Google’s guidelines, which is really a highlighting, the kind of decision-making pieces of content that are out there. Right?
Jordan: So previously there was a lot of discussion around the medical category and the health category and what kind of content was being surfaced for say a disease. Ultimately these two concepts are the driving areas that Google’s evaluating. Beneath these areas are certain key ranking factors, including the experience on your site, the content that’s on the site and then the authority or how important is your site in the ecosystem. And basically Google made this tweak here, and so these news and media websites maybe their furtiveness just went down a little bit because the relevancy of those rankings wasn’t as useful. That’s a great example of how this change came to be.
Ben: Okay. So a quick recap of some of the changes that happened. It seems like this was a minor adjustment in the Google algorithm, but we’re going to get into more details about exactly what you need to know and how you can prepare your SEO strategy to make sure that you’re not only responsive to this Google update, but also so you’re ready for updates in the future. And that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thank you for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, CEO of Searchmetrics, Inc.
Ben: We’d love to continue the conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Jordan, you can find a link to his bio in our show notes. Or you can contact him on Twitter, where his handle is @Jtkoene. If you have general marketing questions, or if you’d like to talk to me about this podcast, you can find my contact information in our show notes or you can Tweet me at @benjshap. If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility, or to gain competitive insights, head over to Searchmetrics.com/diagnostic for your complimentary advisory session with our Digital Strategies Group.
Ben: If you like this podcast, and you want a weekly stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed tomorrow to discuss how this update impacts you, and what you should think about in terms of site speed. Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast and you’re feeling generous, we’d love for you to leave us a review in the iTunes store. Okay, that’s it for today, but until next time remember the answers are always in the data.