Episode Overview: Pandemic or no pandemic, Google’s keeping the pace with its algorithm update rollouts, issuing a new update in May. Join host Ben as he speaks with Searchmetrics SEO strategist and advisor Jordan Koene about what the May algorithm update is changing and how it’s impacting search during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Although May Google algorithm updates are generally cyclical, the most recent update is affected and informed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The biggest changes from the update continued to modify the SERP experience to expand and expose content in a consolidated way. Updates include giving users more refinement capabilities in image searches and more selections with PAA.
- When users search for COVID-19 information, Google now provides a left-hand rail in results displaying an overview of symptoms, testing options and prevention methods.
GUESTS & RESOURCES
- Jordan Koene: Website // LinkedIn
- The Voices of Search Podcast: Email // LinkedIn // Twitter
- Benjamin Shapiro: Website // LinkedIn // Twitter
Ben: Welcome to the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro, and today we’ll be discussing the information we know about Google’s yet again, latest algorithm update. Joining us today is Jordan Koene, who is an 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. Jordan, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.
Jordan: Hey Ben, it’s going to be a fun episode today. We did have a lot of fun with Google today.
Ben: Yeah, well, you know Jordan, it’s been, I don’t know, a couple of weeks since we’ve got to talk about a Google update. They were firing them out pretty fast and heavy at the end of the year and even in the Q1. What do we know about this latest update?
Jordan: Yeah, so we don’t have a ton of information just yet and there hasn’t been a lot of chatter out in the industry. I don’t know if it’s because all the SEOs are no longer either A, working in the office and have a boss that’s yelling at them for data or B, they’ve unfortunately looking for a new job because of this whole coronavirus thing. But the reality is we have limited information from Google and there hasn’t been a ton of information from the community, but we know that there’s been big volatility and changes in the search results and it’s a common time of year. The May updates, it’s very cyclical behavior from Google and we know that this is a core update, it’s part of the core algorithm and how they evaluate key metrics around search.
Ben: So this is a big one, and also maybe not necessarily surprising, we’re kind of in the classic Q2 update and we’re looking at core, we’re seeing volatility in search results. What are the early signals that we’ve seen, or at least what have you heard about?
Jordan: Yeah, so there’s been a few early signals both on the uptake and on the downside. So similar to other May updates, we’re seeing strong focus on quality and quality metrics. So hyper competitive segments where performance, mobile usability play a key factor or seeing some shifts, right? So take your classic industries where that’s critical. Things like news and media, things like retail and ecommerce. These are categories that often require high degree of performance and performance KPIs and we’re seeing volatility, but also winners and losers within that space.
Ben: So pretty big industries that we’re seeing the shift in with news and media and ecommerce, what do you think is actually happening and why are we seeing changes in those industries first?
Jordan: Well, the heavy content players, it’s difficult to maintain your position in these performance KPIs. The investment required to maintain a performance website in news media or content publishing is very challenging, right? So we saw some volatility in some of the big news publishers like New York Times. We also saw some volatility in the health related content publishers, right? Like the webMDs and the Healthlines.
Jordan: And part of this is both Google looking at performance KPIs, but also Google likely shifting the landscape of the SERP at the same time. And that’s become a very common thing in these big core updates is that Google just doesn’t take the hammer on sites that aren’t as performant. They’re also taking a strong position on how they want to display rankings and content in the SERP.
Ben: So it seems like this is not just a refactoring of the algorithm kind of reshuffling the deck, but there’s also some front-end user experience changes and SERP changes. Do we have a sense of what’s actually changed on the SERP yet?
Ben: Yeah, so Ben, that’s a great question. The big changes in terms of SERP experience have been Google’s continued efforts around expanding and exposing content in a more consolidated way. So giving people refinement capabilities when it comes to image and image searches, giving users more selection with a PAA, people also ask capabilities and that’s becoming a more prominent element.
Ben: Also in a very news focused world that we’re living in right now surrounding COVID-19 for the first time we’ve seen Google become more aggressive about the SERP or they’ve done something that hasn’t been seen before, which is they added a left hand rail to the SERP, so if you search coronavirus or you search COVID-19 in Google, you’re going to get a whole left hand menu. That’s not a typical thing that you expect or see in Google. Google is essentially making some pretty aggressive changes to the way that the SERP is displaying content.
Ben: Yeah, it’s interesting. Mostly with the COVID-19 obviously that’s a special scenario. It seems like a pretty drastic change having these different navigational items that Google is experimenting with and obviously there’s other resources, but when we look specifically at COVID-19, maybe that’s a place where Google’s obviously trying to do some other things and present the right information at the right time, but they’re also testing a totally different user experience with multi points of navigation.
Ben: There’s the main nav from all to news to videos and images, and then they give this additional filtering for the coronavirus, which is overview symptoms, testing, prevention, treatment, news, statistics and share as well. Do you think that in some of the testing that Google has done with the coronavirus has influenced how they’re thinking about SERPs in other experiences or is this just purely A, there is a one special exception for the coronavirus and then there are some other changes that are happening in media, ecommerce and other industries that are affected by this update?
Jordan: There’s no question in my mind that they’re using data and experiences from the coronavirus, but also just from our recent primary elections here in the US, there’s been a tremendous amount of testing around how Google consumes the entire SERP. So even if you look at election results today or election USA, you won’t find a news site showing up for quite a while.
Jordan: Google’s pretty much made it explicit that they’re not going to propagate news sites when it comes to election related queries and you scroll and you get a giant election widget in your phone and it shows you all the different data on the primary results and then you go down, you find Wikipedia, you find other like historical references, and before you even get to a single news article, it’s pretty crazy how Google’s changed the way that the SERP is intended.
Ben: Yeah, I think it’s interesting as we had couple of updates at the end of last year, at the beginning of this year that were about Google’s ability to understand natural language processing, and my theory here is that it’s not just that Google understands the words that you’re asking, but they understand the context in which you’re asking about them.
Ben: And you mentioned the example of the election. It’s not really election season. They’re not necessarily getting into what’s the latest election gossip. They’re presenting different information because it’s just not top of mind right now. It’s not a news cycle. So they’re going to give other information about elections. The coronavirus obviously people want to know what the latest data is as opposed to just doing research on it. So it’s not only an understanding of what the topic is, but it’s also the context and the time which someone is asking about it as well.
Jordan: Yeah, no question. The timeliness of these things is part of where Google’s evolving with the SERP and I think that this broad core update is a unique opportunity for them to … and hopefully over the next couple of weeks we see more data, but it’s a unique opportunity for them to reemphasize key quality metrics, reemphasize what does it mean to be a strong performer in search, what does it mean to have a fast website. What does it mean to have a responsive website. What does it mean to have a clean navigation and structure. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we continue to see a deterioration on low quality sites that have a lot of poor internal linking structure, poor performance KPIs, and ultimately low quality content surfacing in Google see a diminishing set of results in Google’s rankings.
Ben: So Jordan, let’s go back to the playbook of how to manage your SEO when there is an update. This is one that could potentially have a big impact. We’re talking about a core update. Google is reshuffling the deck. How do you advise SEOs keep up to date with what is happening and understand how this core algorithm update is affecting their brand?
Jordan: So the first thing is go back to look at your data. So if you haven’t been active in analyzing your traffic data and seeing how traffic may have shifted on your site when it comes to SEO, that’s the first step. The second thing is going back into search console and other tools to monitor what’s going on in your industry, what’s going on within your category, your competitors, and then lastly, doing your own homework on what’s happening within Google and within the SERP, going on and doing kind of your anecdotal research. It’s a conversation that Ben and I just had around the SERP layout changing. Every industry category is seeing different shifts and different evolution there in terms of how Google wants to display content and it’s really imperative that you start collecting your own thoughts on how you can be competitive as Google changes the landscape.
Ben: I guess the last question I have for you is in this time of uncertainty, obviously personally, but professionally for SEOs, we’re all working from home, right? There’s a lot of uncertainty, probably not a lot of direct communication with your leadership. What are some of the ways that you can effectively communicate that a change is happening and position yourself well within your organization?
Jordan: That’s an excellent question, Ben, and I think the first thing that you absolutely need to do is do not sound the alarm, right? I mean, this is a two week rollout. We’re just a few days into this transition with Google’s new update and getting hit by one of these core updates isn’t the end of the world. What we’ve seen is that Google has been incredibly responsive to companies and websites that change their practices and abide by the guidelines that Google has and the expectations that they have for different industries and categories.
Jordan: So how you sound, the alarm is really critical, right? How you’re messaging what’s happened is really critical. Putting the blame on Google isn’t going to help anybody. Ensuring that you’re highlighting what Google’s guidelines are, how Google communicates those guidelines is incredibly important right now. And then lastly, being very encouraging, being very encouraging that there is a plan or a set of ideas or a set of steps to transition out of a downturn that you may be facing due to this Google update.
Jordan: A lot of us could sit here and say, “Why is Google making core updates during a global pandemic?” And my rebuttal to that is why wouldn’t we want Google to make the search results better pandemic or no pandemic? Like we want them to make a better search experience. And so if you have that philosophy in mind, you can quickly focus your efforts on the tactics and strategies that are out there and very publicly known to improve your performance.
Ben: I think it’s an interesting time for Google to make the changes. And I think one of the challenges that we’re going to face right now is, everybody is still kind of looking at their websites and trying to figure out what impact the coronavirus has had. When is traffic going to decrease? Is it going to pick back up? And now we’re dealing with this sort of dynamic shift on the search side and this is where it becomes an art, not a science where we’re dealing with multiple factors that are potentially significant in terms of their impact of direct and organic traffic. So keep your eye on your traffic, keep an eye on the search result pages, keep your ears on the podcast and we’ll try to bring you as much information about this latest update as we can. And that wraps up this episode of the voices of search podcast.
Ben: 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, that’s J-T-K-O-E-N-E. Or you can visit his personal website, which is jordankoene.com.
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 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 on the Voices of Search podcast. Of course, you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is Voices Of Search on Twitter or my personal handle has Ben J Shap, 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.