Episode Overview: One reliable constant that keeps the SEO industry on its toes is SEO’s never ending variability. Keeping up with the endless changes is a huge task on its own on top of executing a successful marketing plan, but maintaining industry awareness is one of the best ways to stay ahead of the curve. Join Ben and Jordan as they launch Searchmetrics’ first breaking news episode where they aim to increase awareness of industry changes and updates as they discuss three breaking news stories impacting SEO.
- In the wake of the BERT update, OTA sites like Expedia and Orbitz continued to experience decreases over the course of the past month, while ecommerce sites that have experienced volatility are seeing an average 10% increase in visibility.
- Google released a series of tools and resources designed to help users improve site speeds in Chrome, including an audit-like experience that gives users a snapshot view of overall Lighthouse performance scores.
- YouTube’s restructuring of its website infrastructure to display more videos and categories has increased its visibility by 15% and is competitively fluctuating between the top two spots in visibility with Wikipedia.
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Ben: Welcome to the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro, and today we’re going to try something new and talk about three news topics in the world of SEO happening today. Joining us for our breaking news segment is Jordan Koene, who is the lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc, but before Jordan and I talk about what’s breaking in the SEO community, we want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data-driven decisions. To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a free trial of the Searchmetrics product. That includes the Searchmetrics suite to do all your keyword research and analysis, and Searchmetrics’ content experience tool which allows you to evaluate your content as it’s written. To start your free trial, go to Searchmetrics.com/freetrial. Okay, on with the news. Here’s my conversation with Jordan Koene, lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. Jordan, welcome to the Voices of Search podcast.
Jordan: Hey, Ben. This is going to be an interesting bumpy road here today.
Ben: Out of necessity comes creativity. We had a last minute cancellation, so we have a hole in our editorial schedule. You know what Jordan and I are going to do? We’re going to talk about some of the breaking topics in SEO community and maybe this is the best episode we ever did, or maybe we’re winging it and this ends up being a disaster. You guys and girls of the SEO community are going to have to let us know, but that said, we came up with three topics that we want to talk about. Jordan, what is the biggest breaking news in the SEO community this week?
Jordan: As of today, I think it was like one o’clock in the afternoon, actually Google announced that they’ve been making several updates, but this is a pretty generic tweet. This happens not that frequently actually. It doesn’t happen that frequently, but it’s an interesting signal because there’s been a lot of rumors of a Google update in the past two weeks, that there’s been a big shift in rankings. We’ve seen some volatility in certain categories within our visibility, but it’s been unconfirmed by Google. Now Google is coming out and just saying, “Hey guys, yeah, there’s been a few changes,” but they’re not being super specific about what they are.
Ben: Let me get this straight. Google may or may not have made a change that impacts SEO’s business, but they’re not being very specific about what change was?
Jordan: Yeah, shocking.
Ben: Get out of here.
Jordan: I know, right? That’s why we have this podcast.
Ben: Well, hey, it keeps us in business.
Ben: Look, is this a rollback of some of the stuff that we’re seeing from BERT? Are they launching stuff and testing it and then saying, “You know what? That’s having too big of an impact.” Sometimes there’s a little give and then there’s a little take when there are these updates. What are you seeing from Google?
Jordan: That’s a great question Ben, and candidly speaking, a lot of what I’m going to talk about is very anecdotal, but here’s what I can say. I don’t think anything that’s happened in the last two weeks has anything to do with BERT. BERT is really there to refine and clean up the relationship between the search query and the results that take place. I don’t really think there’s much of a rollback for BERT. What I do believe is going on is Google, subsequently off of the breaking news of BERT, is going back and doing some proper housekeeping and saying, “Hey, there’s a couple of sites that aren’t as performant as they should be. There’s a couple of sites that have technical debt. There’s a huge amount of websites out there that are flooding the index with garbage pages. Go clean up your garbage.”
Ben: Is this, in a potential update that’s happening, housekeeping after all of the change that’s happened, Google’s looking at the, hypothetically, looking at the performance and saying, “Look, there’s a pile of trash over here and that guy got screwed and this girl needs support and was unfairly impacted by the update so we’re just going to make a couple tweaks,” or is this actually something that is systematic and happening search-wide?
Jordan: Yeah, great question. It’s not happening agnostically across everything. We’re seeing very much verticalization or site-specific changes. The reality is that we’re very much focused on specific sites. We know of a couple of our clients who are in the news and media space and they’ve made some massive improvements going from a Lighthouse score of 20 to a Lighthouse score of 60 in the last 2 months. These folks are seeing massive increases in search traffic. That’s not happened after BERT. That did not happen after the core update. That’s really happening right now, as of the last week. I feel like this is not a system-wide situation, but as you alluded to Ben, it’s a couple of corrections on the dial here and there, maybe due to BERT, maybe due to other things. They’re just seeing some anomalies or they’re coming back and they’re saying, “Hey, our core values are our performance. Our core values are our clean code. Our core values are a well-structured website. We’re going to correct and make sure that that’s still being adhered to.”
Ben: You mentioned that you saw a couple of industries that have been impacted, potentially related to BERT, potentially the three other updates that happened in like the previous, I don’t know, month or however long it was, the series of updates that happened between September and November. Who have you noticed getting impacted? You mentioned news and media. Anybody else getting helped or hurt by the recent changes?
Jordan: Yeah, news and media being one of them. That’s been one that’s top of mind a lot. The other one is the travel category, which we look at as the OTAs, so the online travel agencies. These are websites like Expedia, Orbitz. We see like a system-wide like decrease across many of those sites over the last three or four weeks. It’s not just something that’s happened in the last week or two, but like we see a decline over the last month from many of these websites and it’s pretty much across the board. Almost everybody has seen some softness in that category. We’re also seeing some corrections here in the eCommerce space, so quite a bit of fluctuation taking place within the traditional eCommerce sites, eBay, Amazon, the Wayfairs all seeing a little bit of volatility over the last three to four weeks. The good news is that some of the more performant ones in the last week or two have seen a nice spike back up, 10% in visibility jump back up. That’s a promising sign if you have been investing in performance and you’re in eCommerce, that you can regain that traction.
Ben: Okay. We’re seeing a shakeup after the series of updates, some related to BERT, some previously not, a couple of industries that have really been impacted, and now we’re seeing Google go through and do some cleanup. That’s story number one, what’s happening during update season. Jordan, give me your second piece of SEO breaking news.
Jordan: Yeah, so another piece of news that came out earlier this week, it just so happens to be on this same topic of speed, is that Google released some really useful, in my opinion, tools and resources around speed. They basically provided a really clear way of looking at Chrome and Chrome experience and the speed at which sites operate in the environment. They have created like a really neat audit-like experience that gives you a snapshot view of your overall Lighthouse performance score, accessibility, best practices, SEO score, tallies these up and gives you kind of like a breakdown of the actual areas impacted and what you need to clean up.
Ben: We’ve talked a lot about site speed and how important it is. As much as we might harp on Google and give them a hard time about not being transparent with some of the changes that are happening, on the update side, they have made it very clear that site speed is a major priority and that it is a ranking factor, even though Google doesn’t necessarily say things are ranking factors, but they’re actually providing a tool here to help the community understand how Google is evaluating, not necessarily how it impacts their SEO performance, but to give them some sort of benchmark to understand what is impacting their site speed.
Ben: Jordan, tell me a little bit about how people can get access to the tool. Is it a plugin? Is it a website? Is it in webmaster tools? Webmaster tools … Is it in search console?
Jordan: We may want to keep that, right? Yeah, go old school with webmaster tools. No, it’s very easy to access. It’s under the web.dev, D-E-V, domain, so web.dev. You go from there and you can quickly test your website or test a specific URL. You can find the blog and learning material. It’s like I mentioned earlier, it’s very similar to that PageSpeed tool and it just kind of throws everything up there for you and makes it super easy to access.
Ben: Jordan, tell me about the third breaking news story. What else is happening in the SEO world?
Jordan: Yeah, so I think this is the interesting part of the episode here. These are great updates for everybody and I hope that you will go and take a look at some of the news out there on the recent Google fluctuations, but then also this speed tool, but one of the things that we’ve noticed here at Searchmetrics is this massive acceleration in YouTube. We actually wrote about it a few weeks ago, maybe like three or four weeks ago, when YouTube had almost a 15% jump in visibility and actually surpassed, may I say it, Wikipedia, in terms of overall visibility.
Ben: You can’t say Wikipedia, can you?
Ben: Give me three Wikipedias.
Jordan: It’s definitely a tongue twister, but here’s the real sad part about this is I’ve been, for nearly a decade, saying that Wikipedia is the biggest website in search and now I can’t say that and it just kind of kills me.
Ben: Because you literally can’t say it. It’s Wikipedia.
Ben: There we go.
Jordan: Wikipedia is number two. Number two is not as cool as number one. YouTube has been fluctuating with Wikipedia for the last couple of weeks. Actually they just took over number one again. They were fluctuating in between one and two for a while. The crazy thing about this is that the biggest driver to this is twofold. The first one is that-
Ben: Google owns YouTube.
Jordan: Well, there’s that.
Ben: Oh, sorry, are we not supposed to say that?
Jordan: No, I mean, it’s pretty clear as day, right? This is actually the real interesting part. Even though Google owns them, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re always the winner. I’m curious to see how long YouTube stays in this position and owns this much market share in search, but the reality is that this is predominantly driven by YouTube’s own changes. They made core infrastructure improvements to the site. They expanded the amount of available videos on their homepage. They expanded the amount of links that can connect to content throughout their site. In so doing, it’s improved the crawlability and prioritization of videos and thus impacted their search results. I mean, I hate to say this, but Google’s eating their own dog food.
Ben: I think the secret sauce here is step number one, build a platform in a medium where it hasn’t been dominated online. Video, audio, we’re kind of running out of those opportunities, right?
Ben: Step number two, get acquired by Google. Step number three, do a lot of really smart SEO stuff and refer to step number two.
Jordan: Well, the crazy thing is that step number three is often forgotten by many things that have been acquired by step number two, which is acquired by eBay, or by Google, excuse me.
Ben: You mentioned that Google made some changes to their homepage. The thing that I saw that they changed on their homepage, they actually made the videos sort of at the top of the page above the fold a little larger. They’re basically giving more space to the featured videos. A lot of that’s breaking news type stuff. What else do you see that has been changed on the site that’s impacting search?
Jordan: There are essentially three factors here. YouTube’s speed has always been top-notch, but they’ve continued to expand their capabilities here. Secondly, they’ve really exploited the amount of content that’s on their main home pages, category pages. You go to, say, like the gaming category cage, the amount of available options on there using their carousel experience has quadrupled. Before there may have been 40, 50 videos. Now we’re looking at nearly 100. This is a remarkable explosion in the volume of already prioritized videos for Google to consume. I think that’s the important piece there, already prioritize, because there’s so much stuff, there’s so much UGC that’s being pushed into YouTube. What YouTube’s main job is is to prioritize what should get into Google, because not everything should get into Google and not everything should be prioritized from a linking standpoint. That is what they’ve done very well.
Ben: I think the last thing I want to bring up is two very important numbers in the SEO community. One of them is 86 and the other one is 118. Jordan, can you tell everyone why numbers are relevant to the SEO community?
Jordan: It’s not Lighthouse scores, is it?
Ben: It is not Lighthouse scores, Jordan.
Jordan: Because that maxes out at 100. That maxes out at 100. Ben and I have this ongoing rivalry here. It’s called fantasy football. That would be this week’s score between Ben and myself, which is a massive disappointment because my team is superior to his in every aspect, in every which way.
Ben: Except for points scored and position on the scoreboard. First place, baby.
Jordan: If there’s any console to this problem is that my bench scored enough points to beat him, but that’s an unfortunate circumstance for the manager as he did not play those people.
Ben: Well, Jordan, if anything, we want everybody listening to this podcast to know that we are absolutely winging it today. We’re not going to hide the fact. This was not a planned episode, but we found a couple of topics we wanted to talk to you about. If you think that these breaking news episodes are interesting and you want more real time information on what’s happening in the SEO community, shoot us a tweet. I know we read this in our outro for every episode, but we would love to hear from you if this format of content is interesting. Send us a message. Jordan’s handle is JTKoene. Mine is BenJShap. We actually created a new Voices of Search podcast Twitter handle. It is Voices of Search, @VoicesOfSearch on Twitter. If you’re interested and you like this episode, shoot us a note, let us know you’re listening, let us know how you feel, and tell Jordan he sucks at fantasy football.
Jordan: I knew that was coming.
Ben: All right. On that note, that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with second place in the TenderNob fantasy football league, oh, and the lead strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc, Jordan Koene. We’d love to continue this conversation with you as I mentioned, so shoot us a tweet. Jordan’s handle is JTKoene, J-T-K-O-E-N-E. Mine is BenJShap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P. The show’s new Twitter handle is VoicesofSearch. If you’re interested in learning about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility or to gain competitive insights, head over to Searchmetrics.com/freetrial for a free trial of our SEO suite and content experience software. If you liked this podcast and you want a regular 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 next week. All right. That’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.