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February Algorithm Update: Google Refactors Social and Verticalized Content Rankings

Episode Overview: Google stirred the SEO hornet’s nest once again releasing another algorithm update just a few weeks after they released their first one of the year in January. Join host Ben as he meets with Searchmetrics’ Strategic Advisor Jordan Koene to discuss what he calls an “Algorithm adjustment,” and the major content updates by Google to refactor social and verticalized content.


  • The update caused Twitter, Instagram and URLs to decrease in presence, as it narrowed the scope for what they’re ranking as. Twitter decreased the most as Google analyzes massive social platforms and corrects what they should, or shouldn’t, rank for.
  • Medical sites Mayo Clinic and WebMD experienced volatility in niche medical terms such as “Narcissist,” “Belly fat,” and “Vertigo.”
  • Amazon and Macy’s were affected as well with Macy’s seeing a 10% drop in visibility.
  • Jordan’s key piece of advice for brands regarding the update is “Don’t overreact, stay calm, focus on looking at your data. Once you understand your own position, then and only then start looking at your competitive set and seeing what’s happening in your market, especially with these verticalized updates or changes. It’s super helpful to be conscientious about yourself first and then the market second.”


Ben:                 Welcome to another emergency Google update version of the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro, and today we’ll be discussing how Google has shaken up the SEO landscape. Again, joining us today is Jordan Koene, who is a world renowned SEO strategist and an advisor for Searchmetrics. Okay. On with the show. Here’s my conversation with Jordan Koene, SEO strategist and advisor for Searchmetrics.

Ben:                 Jordan, welcome back to another emergency episode of the Voices Of Search podcast.

Jordan:             I think they’re going to start getting concerned. I mean, we’re the boy that cries wolf all the time, right?

Ben:                 I honestly think that it’s not an emergency. It’s like a Tuesday. It’s every week now there’s a some sort of an update. I feel like we just recorded this episode three weeks … Oh, wait. We did record an update episode three weeks ago.

Jordan:             We did.

Ben:                 And then two weeks before that. And then a month before that. And then a week before that. What the hell is going on?

Jordan:             Well, sooner or later we’re just going to have to dump the word emergency and just say Google update.

Ben:                 It’s great copywriting.

Jordan:             It is great copywriting.

Ben:                 We’re too lazy to write new copy.

Jordan:             Right. Good marketing, bad good marketing. But, no, on a serious note, I think part of this is just that, and we’ve talked about this in previous episodes, Google’s just getting more vocal about things. This is an interesting one because this was a release that happened on February 7th or 8th just after my birthday, so they must have known and then they released this update.

Ben:                 Happy birthday to … Did I even say happy birthday to you in real life?

Jordan:             You did. You did. Thank you, Ben.

Ben:                 Did I? Okay, good. Happy birthday.

Jordan:             Yup. You did. In real life you did. But no, on a serious note, they released this on the 7th and 8th. There’s a lot of chatter in the SEO community, blog posts, tweets about it, of all the different tools and indices were jibber jabbering, including us here at Searchmetrics who were heavily reviewing our data and looking at what was going on. And then on February 13th Danny came out and publicly stated that there was an algorithm adjustment. It was no core update. It was essentially an update to the algorithm and it was impacting rankings.

Ben:                 So talk to me about what the impact was. Have we been able to gather enough data to say how the winds have changed?

Jordan:             Well, in classic Google fashion, it was a little light on the details, which I will give them their criticism now, which is please give us more advice than just the normal links to your Twitter account and the general Google guidelines. It’d be kind of nice if you just said, directionally we tried to do X or Y and we want webmasters to follow this. Just saying, we have these guidelines, but it doesn’t help anything. It’s just too broad for us to really take grasp of what you want us to improve. That’s why these podcasts are so successful because people are grasping at straws and trying to figure out what actually happened. We see a few things here. We see some major content adjustments by Google to refactor in some cases social content, as well as in other cases very verticalized content. And that’s where we see Google making their biggest adjustments.

Ben:                 So talk to me about what you mean by social and by verticalized content. Let’s pick those apart. When you say Google is refactoring for social content, tweets now showing up in search results? What’s that actually mean?

Jordan:             Yeah, so technically just the opposite. So tweets, Instagram, URL saw a decreased level of presence. So Google’s factoring for what is happening in a specific tweet or happening in an Instagram post has become a little less broad. They’ve narrowed the scope of what those are ranking for. And that’s what we saw in our data is quite a significant adjustment in the way they look at those very specific social actions.

Ben:                 So they’re only showing political tweets and stuff from Kanye West? Just the ones that matter.

Jordan:             As long as it’s fake news, they’ll show it at the top of the SERP. So no, I’m just kidding. Not true. On a serious note, the biggest loser in the last week or so has been Twitter. I don’t think anyone at Twitter’s crying over this, but it’s an adjustment to how Google takes these really, really, really massive platforms and then course corrects for what they think they should be ranking for or not ranking for.

Ben:                 So if they have a couple of large data sets that they’re starting to comb through and figure out what’s relevant and what should be at the top of the search results. You also mentioned that there’s some more horizontal or industry specific adjustments. What are the other segments that you’re seeing volatility in?

Jordan:             Yeah. So one of the interesting ones that we saw some volatility in is in the medical space. So, Mayo Clinic, WebMD, and a few others saw an adjustment in their rankings. And this adjustment was really predicated not on the core areas where they do very well, like when you search for a disease or you search for some sort of pharmaceutical drug, these were very on the periphery, on the outside of the normal ranking that you would expect a Mayo Clinic to show up for in Google.

Ben:                 So tell me some of the things that the Mayo Clinic improved on and where did privacy start to kick in?

Jordan:             So Ben, it’s a great question. There’s a couple of different sets of keywords where we saw some volatility for, Mayo Clinic in particular. It’s kind of interesting. These keywords where in theory they seem like medical like related keywords, but they’re much broader than that. One of the examples is narcissist or vertigo. These are medical-type topics and things, but there’s a much deeper, broader set of reasons behind these topics. It’s not a very linear disease-like structure.

Ben:                 Jordan, you’ve got to give me a couple of more examples. I have a feeling that there’s going to be some good stuff in the Mayo Clinic list.

Jordan:             Yeah, there is some pretty interesting things in here. I think one of the more interesting ones is belly fat. What exactly are users searching when they search for that keyword? Not exactly sure.

Ben:                 I’m kind of tell you it starts with how to get rid of.

Jordan:             Probably, but then also Mayo Clinic, I don’t know if they’re necessarily the right site to rank for that. But in any case, it’s interesting that the topics that we’re seeing volatility from Mayo Clinic, they’re not topics that are just wildly off the mark, but they’re corrections by Google. It’s not that Mayo Clinic fell off the map, it’s just that they adjusted this. I’m not trying by any means to pick on Mayo Clinic. I just think it’s an interesting example where you have somewhat topical keywords, but as Google makes these changes on a vertical basis they might course correct for what they think is the best experience on the SERP as well as rankings.

Ben:                 So if you’re searching for how to cure hemorrhoids, you’re going to get hemorrhoid cream ads instead of listings from Mayo Clinic now?

Jordan:             Yeah, they doubled the ads on that page. No, I’m just teasing. I’m sure that they should now. That’s probably the best approach.

Ben:                 Okay, so we’re seeing some verticalized adjustments by Google. We’re seeing them in the healthcare space. They’re separating out what is the core set of keywords for medical providers and giving some other people some opportunity to ranks outside of the biggest brand names. Are we seeing this in other industries or is it just the health?

Jordan:             Health and social were the two most prominent categories where this took place. We also saw some major players just have some drops in visibility in our data. Some of those include an adjustment to YouTube who we’ve been talking about a lot lately. Nothing major, no reason for them to lose their number one position. But again, I think in the same vein as Twitter and Instagram had a correction, Google was also looking at YouTube in that similar light.

Jordan:             And then we also saw a little adjustment in the commercial space in the retail space with Macy’s and Amazon taking hits in their visibility. Macy’s taking a much larger hit, over 10% of their visibility corrected over this update. Still digging into those reasons. They very well may not be related to the algorithm update, just coincidence that it happened at the same time.

Ben:                 So as we take a step back and we think about all of the adjustments that Google has made, what are your conclusions or what are your takeaways from this ongoing series of updates? It’s like the never ending more over here.

Jordan:             Yeah, well I mean the first thing I think folks need to recognize is that part of this is just Google communicating more, right? In this example the industry mentioned at first and then Google followed up with confirmation. So back to some old trends of 2012 in the past when Matt Cutts was around. But the reality here is that the SEO community has always had a very heightened sensitivity around Google changes. I really believe how we continue to embark and communicating about this over the rest of the year is what’s going to really matter because it’s going to happen more. We’re going to see more changes from Google. Google is spending a lot of time looking at not just the rank position, but also the SERP experience and they’re communicating about these changes. We just need to figure out how better way to ensure we know what to do next, how to follow these guidelines and requirements of Google in a more specific way. And I really want to encourage Danny Sullivan and the rest of the Google folks to focus on specifics and not just send us back to your general guidelines.

Ben:                 So I guess there’s good news and bad news. The positive news is Google is listening. When they get caught making an algorithm change or when things are clearly shifting, they’re actually fessing up to it. On the flip side, we’re seeing more and more volatility. We’re seeing more frequent updates, which just means that there’s going to be ongoing optimization for you SEOs. Jordan, I guess the last question I have for you is knowing that we’re going to see more of these updates likely to be coming soon, how do you manage through this process and what do you do when one of these updates affect you?

Jordan:             Yeah, so the first thing is to really get heavy into the data, right? Look and see what’s happening to your traffic, what’s happening to your rank positions, especially on your money keywords, keywords that are driving the majority of your revenue. Ultimately, I think that the key here for our listeners is don’t overreact, stay calm, focus on looking at your data. Once you understand your own position, then and only then start looking at your competitive set and seeing what’s happening in your market, especially with these verticalized updates or changes. It’s super helpful to be conscientious about yourself first and then the market second. A lot of people get really dizzy starting to look at all the SEO news and trying to analyze the forecast for the entire US. Just focus on your city and you’ll probably end up with a much better result.

Ben:                 Okay. you got to keep your head down, keep fighting, and keep optimizing. And that wraps up this episode of the Voices Of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, SEO strategist and advisor to Searchmetrics. We’d love to continue this conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Jordan, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter, his handle is JTKoene, that’s J-T-K-O-E-N-E. Or you could visit his website which is

Ben:                 Just one more link in our show notes I’d like to tell you about. If you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast head over to where we have summaries of all of our episodes, contact information for our guests. You can send us your topic suggestions, your SEO questions. You can even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices Of Search podcast. Of course, you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is voicesofsearch on Twitter, and my personal handle is BenJShap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P. And if you haven’t subscribed yet and you want a daily stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish episodes every day during the work week. So hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feeds soon. All right. That’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.

Jordan Koene

Jordan Koene

Previously the CEO of Searchmetrics Inc, Jordan Koene is an Advisor to Searchmetrics, supporting the thought leadership and innovation. Prior to working at Searchmetrics he was the Head of SEO and Content Development at eBay where he led the development of content and technical improvements for the organization. He is an expert in SEO with over 20 year’ experience in the field.

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