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Mailbag: Google Updates, COVID-19 SEO, LinkedIn Delisted – Jordan Koene // Searchmetrics

Episode Overview: Google’s latest update upset SEOs in the industry as social media and media sites saw sharp declines in visibility after it went live. Despite the update’s negative effects, it provided a large boost to small businesses struggling to survive through the COVID-19 pandemic. Join host Ben as he speaks with Searchmetrics’ Strategic Advisor Jordan Koene about the aftermath of Google’s latest update, how it helped small businesses and what happened to LinkedIn after it accidentally de-indexed its website from Google.

Summary 

  • Google’s latest algorithm update changed how information is retrieved, prioritizing improving the user experience with long-tail keywords.
  • The update negatively affected Twitter and Facebook as it elevated sites with specific product pages like Amazon and Target. Informational sites like Wikipedia also experienced gains.
  • Although SEOs expressed frustration with the update, Google is taking significant steps in improving the Google My Business experience for local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The update to Google My Business allows small and local businesses to showcase pickup services and make changes to categories for restaurants and hotels.

GUESTS & RESOURCES

Ben:                  Welcome to the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro. And today we’ll be talking about a few different topics related to Google’s update and how they’re adjusting to the current environment. Joining us today is Jordan Koene, who is an SEO strategist and 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 the Voices of Search podcast.

Jordan:           Hey Ben, how are you doing?

Ben:                  I’m good. I’m good. This is the second time we’re recording this intro, because you just stubbed your toe.

Jordan:           That is right.

Ben:                  Is that a metaphor for how you’re doing related to the coronavirus or are you hanging in there?

Jordan:           I don’t know if it’s coronavirus or Google update related, but sometimes both of them feel like a brick has been dropped on my toe. So yeah.

Ben:                  Well a lot’s been going on. Coronavirus, Google making other changes, their big update that was announced. So we’re going to bounce around a little bit. Let’s start with our Google update update. In our last episode, last time we got together, we talked about what the update was. We didn’t have a ton of data. It’s a core update. What do we know after waiting a couple of weeks?

Jordan:           Yeah. So we’ve gotten a lot more information from Google regarding this. We’ve been able to see some trends and some updates to different sites and categories. So naturally as time progresses, we get a lot more information, and I think one of the important things to start off with is the fact that as of the time that we’re recording this, it’s been announced that the update is complete. So now you can kind of really see where the dust is settling.

Ben:                  I saw a tweet yesterday saying the update was complete. And then somebody said, “Go read the comments.” And every single SEO was saying that this update is bad for SEOs, and Michelle Robbins, a guest of the Voices of Search podcast was saying, “Do SEOs really think that Google is optimizing their algorithm for them, or for their business?” It’s time for a reality check that Google is updating for their purposes, and SEOs are inherently going to be upset because their traffic is impacted, or most of them are. How do you feel about what’s happened with this update and who has been positively and negatively affected?

Jordan:          Well, so to one of your points there Ben, we try to keep the noise out, right? In particular, I try keeping the noise out. And usually the people who are online and are the loudest are the ones who were negatively impacted, with good reason. They got an axe to grind, but to dive into kind of what we’re seeing and what we’re hearing is that this update is really on what we call information retrieval. So it’s really focused on the idea of how is Google obtaining different information and signals, and then showcasing that in the search engine. That’s kind of the most layman terms way of describing it. But as you break that down and peel back the onion of that, this is really about how Google understands the relationship between the query that the user is searching and the content that’s reflected on those pages.

Ben:                 So when you think about some of the ways that Google has communicated their changes, it seems like Google was making positive strides, that people were feeling better about how Google is communicating. But then again, we see there’s always a negative backlash when Google goes through an update. Do you feel like Google is getting better at communicating the changes?

Jordan:          I do. I genuinely do. I’ve seen a lot more Twitter activity, I’ve seen a pre-announcement style of informing the community. And I genuinely believe that the communication has improved. As communication evolves for Google around updates, so do the expectations. And I think that when Google makes these broader sweeping larger updates, like a core update, people expect more and demand more. And I think that that’s kind of what we’re really realizing here is people want examples, concrete examples, or concrete sites, and Google has provided that in the past, but they haven’t really done so much of that in this particular update.

Ben:                 Who do you think was impacted the most with this update? Are there specific verticals or industries that you think really were hammered or helped?

Jordan:          Yeah, so I think that some of the bigger brands that were really hurt by this include the social media profiles sites like Twitter and Facebook. We also saw a good collective of media sites get hurt by this update. And it’s no surprise, because when you’ve got these larger conglomerate media sites who have aggregated content or syndicated content, and you have social media sites that have user generated content, what you end up seeing is a deterioration of the relevancy of that content to users expectations.

Jordan:          And so I’m not really surprised by those decreases. And on the flip side, the winners have generally been in categories that are much more concrete with their content. Websites like Amazon and other retailers. Target was a huge winner in this, where you have a very specific product page that has very clear intention. And also, one of the winners that we haven’t talked about in a long time is Wikipedia. We saw a lot of Wikipedia improvement. And lastly, Google was one of the biggest winners throughout this update, which is no surprise. Again, when there’s ambiguity, Google goes to their own properties. So sites like YouTube saw a big win.

Ben:                 So what’s the takeaway from this update? Now that we’ve seen some data and we’ve seen the social media sites be negatively impacted, we’re seeing some ecommerce sites that are gaining some market share. What’s your takeaway for what Google is trying to accomplish here?

Jordan:          Yeah. So what Google is trying to accomplish here is the ability to improve users’ experience in long-tail queries. That’s really the concrete thing that Google’s really trying to solve for in these kinds of information retrieval, language, relevance type updates. And so ultimately where Google’s going with this is how do we ensure that the diversity and selection in our search results have the most affinity with users’ expectations? And so you do see bigger brands typically hit by these kinds of changes than smaller brands. I have seen a couple of articles and hosts about what’s going on with local sites or what’s going on with smaller business type websites. And quite frankly, typically you don’t see a ton of impact there when you have these broader sweeping core updates.

Ben:                So you mentioned local search and kind of leads us into what Google is doing to address the coronavirus and some of the things that they’ve changed, and maybe it’s not specifically coronavirus related, but they’re making some changes to the SERP outside of just the core update. What have you seen in terms of Google updating their overall user experience recently?

Jordan:          Yeah. So one of the things they did earlier in May, when it came to news, is they kind of dropped the AMP requirement for COVID-19 related news. So a really specific, very targeted type of an update so that Google could free up real estate for very relevant coronavirus related news. We’ve also seen quite a bit of changes in terms of how Google manages their paid ads and their PLA listings. And so we’ve seen a tremendous amount of control and changes around PLA, and in particular we’ve seen a reduction in certain PLA participants, such as Amazon, who historically used to participate quite a bit and had been growing over the last couple of months to a year. That’s not necessarily so much a Google change as much as it is just a landscape change for Google SERP.

Jordan:           I think most notably, the biggest set of changes has been around how Google is adapting the My Business capabilities during this corona update. Everything from changing the ability to showcase if you have pickup services, conveniently making changes for certain categories like restaurants and hotels. And so Google, I think, recognizes that there’s a huge downturn for local small businesses in particular. And what I appreciate is that they’ve gone really hard and heavy to the features and functionalities that help those companies and invested in trying to adapt the way that business owners are able to showcase information and content about their businesses.

Ben:                Well, I guess the last topic that I have for you today is, there was a big announcement that LinkedIn was essentially delisted from Google, which just seems like it’s a mistake. Talk to me about how something like that can happen. LinkedIn obviously is incredibly important to a lot of people and the search results are relevant for a lot of businesses. What happened with LinkedIn? Is this a struggle between LinkedIn and Google? Did their SEOs make a mistake? Just talk me through what happened there.

Jordan:         Yeah. So what happened here is that LinkedIn, according to what we know, LinkedIn accidentally de-indexed their site from Google. And this has happened before. This is not an uncommon event in our space, and they’ve since corrected that and they’re back in Google and all their site is properly indexed in Google. But this can happen from time to time based on how your engineers deploy code and send a Google bot to crawl or not crawl and not index pages. And ultimately that’s what took place here and really prevented Google from ensuring that LinkedIn’s content was being shown in the search results. Now they were quick to fix it. And I think that it’s … Interestingly enough, these guys are neighbors. So literally these two companies are next door to each other. And I’m not surprised if someone just like walked down to LinkedIn and just knocked on the door and said, “Hey guys, what happened?” But I think that it’s a common mistake when you’re not really being mindful about Google and Google search. And it’s another indication as to why it’s so important to have a strong search team who’s monitoring and maintaining the integrity of your search results.

Ben:               I got to ask, from a SEO perspective, and I know that I do the Winners and Losers with Tyson at the end of every month, but LinkedIn, you’re the loser this month. How does that happen? How do you unlist yourself from Google when you’re a site of that scale?

Jordan:         Well, to put it easily Ben, someone makes a mistake. And these are the kinds of mistakes that are avoidable, versus the ones that you learn from. And I think that that’s the key thing here for LinkedIn or any site that the indexed themselves is you can avoid this.

Ben:                All right. So let’s tie it all together. We’ve seen Google make their announcement, they’re making some changes and obviously they’re delisting their neighbors. Maybe that was by accident. When you think about where Google is just at a high level, how they’ve dealt with the changing landscape, they’re obviously getting into some competition with Amazon and changing their PLAs. What have you taken away from the last month of how Google is doing?

Jordan:        Well one of the things that I don’t think a lot of our listeners think about is the macroeconomics of what’s happening to Google and Google’s business. And as I look at the landscape, I’ve actually seen the way Google’s transitioned through this COVID-19 scenario and the impact of marketing dollars, and recognize that they are not taking an approach of let’s say, greed or growth. They’ve actually taken an approach that’s focused on user and user benefit. And so I’m glad that they did an update in May. They often do updates in May, and I’m glad that it didn’t postpone it because of COVID. Because it, in essence, does make the user experience better. I’m glad that they’re making Google My Business updates. I’m really encouraging of them continuing to invest in ways to make it easier for consumers to access news and information about businesses in this pandemic. And so I’m really, I guess, positive on the way that Google is handling this transition. And I believe that they’re doing it from a place of user benefit and user focused than one of profiteering.

Ben:              Okay. You heard it from the horse’s mouth. Google, not so evil. 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 the 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, it’s J-T-K-O-E-N-E, or you can contact him through his personal website, which is Jordankoene.com. J-O-R-D-A-N K-O-E-N-E.

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 voicesofsearch.com, where we have summaries of all of our episodes, contact information for our guests. You could send us your topic, suggestions, your SEO questions, or you could apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast.

Ben:             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 an episode every day during the workweek. So hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feed soon. All right, that’s it for today. But until next time, remember the answers are always in the data.