Google Update Week No. 3: Is site speed more important than content?
In the third of five episodes, focused on the latest round of Google Search Algorithm updates, Jordan and Ben discuss how the changes will impact site migrations, the impact on indexing, the importance of schema and using crawls to stay ahead of problems.
Ben: Welcome back 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 everyday 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’re a team of SEOs, content marketers, and data scientists that help enterprise scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data driven decisions using a mix of software and expertise.
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Ben: Okay, today, joining us for Google Update Week is Jordan Koene, who is the lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. Today we’re going to continue our conversation about the latest Google update and we’re going to talk specifically about preparing for site migration. So, here’s the third installment of Google Update Week with Jordan Koene, CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. Jordan, welcome back to Google Update Week on the Voices of Search Podcast.
Jordan: Thanks, Ben. We’re in for a sweet surprise today. I think people are going to be a little bit shocked as to some of the interesting data about your website, migrations and just how Google accesses and crawls your data.
Ben: Interesting. So, I think the first thing to talk about when it comes to site migrations, indexing and crawling is how this conversation started. How did we decide that this was an important topic, and specifically I’m talking about the big Google Hangout that happened? Tell me the details about why we’re discussing site migrations this week.
Jordan: Yeah so, Google hosts, quite regularly what we call a Google Hangout. They do these Google Hangouts with their webmaster trends analyst John Mueller. A great guy, he’s based out of Zurich, Switzerland, actually I think he does these in multiple languages and then he does a German thing, which maybe … Well, I’m not sure.
Jordan: But, the November 30th Hangout had some really interesting questions that were brought up, one of them in particular was around site migrations, and a few others around indexation of your website, and we wanted to dive into these, because they’re really meaty and important topics. And for those of you who are right now coming to maybe an end-of-year-cycle and your teams are looking at planning for next year, and your tech teams may be even thinking about migrating to new tech stacks, or migrating portions of a website, or migrating the whole thing in its entirety, this is a great topic for you.
Ben: So, Jordan, why does this matter? What’s the risk, what’s the opportunity, who’s actually being affected by the change in site migrations?
Ben: So walk me through what those ways are.
Jordan: So ultimately, the first thing is understanding that this takes time, there is a reevaluation process that’s required by Google. And so that was really the great learning here that came John in this Hangouts is that your rankings may change and so he’s confirming that rankings do change and this has been one of those mythical topics that a lot of SEOs talk about with their teams and they say, “You’re going to take this massive beating and you’re going to lose all this traffic because you made this migration happen.” And he’s coming out and confirming, “Hey, your rankings will change, but hey, Google will reevaluate and make these adjustments if you follow the right processes.” So this includes, say, redirecting your content, doing the proper setups within the Google Search Console to identify and provide clarity in terms of where the content is moving to or if the domain is moving to a new place.
Jordan: And he also talked about this notion of splitting, which is saying maybe taking a part of your website and taking that component. Say you have a bunch of research content or you have a bunch of editorial content and you want to move that to a new section and separate it away from, say, your shopping and consumer section or your short form to an A content. This happens often, websites are trying to identify ways to better structure their content and when you do those things, what John created clarity around is that even in those scenarios, even if it’s a portion, it even takes longer, it may took more time for Google to understand or evaluate that. And we’ve seen it time and time again with many of our clients when they go through these processes and my advice is this: do it. In many cases do them if they’re the right thing to do for your consumers, if they’re the right thing to do for your business and then properly plan and put a process in place to monitor and measure the impact to SEO.
Ben: So is what you’re saying is that you should split your domain when you’re doing a migration and start to build some domain authority and a reputation for your new home and then eventually migrate the whole site, or that you should rip the band-aid off and just do it all at once?
Jordan: That’s a great question and I think that that’s one that goes back to internal evaluation that requires you to understand your own technical capabilities and ability to execute along with your risk columns because ripping a whole band-aid off might have a much bigger risk associated to it in terms of SEO traffic, but if you can tolerate that then you should do it. In other cases you have to go piece-by-piece and maybe migrate in a more slow strategic approach that doesn’t create as much risk to traffic and ultimately these are hard business decisions, but again if you do the proper planning you can really go through all the different scenarios.
Jordan: And I’ll give you a quick example, we did this recently for a big client of ours and it’s really a fascinating case study because what we were working on was the migration of a help center and the core denominator, the monetary denominator, was the cost savings that this help center generates from preventing phone calls to their customer support section and it’s roughly $200 per call. So, if this migration goes well and they continue to keep the traffic that they currently have, they are mitigating $200 per phone call that needs to be made by their customers. And it’s a crazy number because they also had calculations in terms of how much traffic would then equate to the number of calls or call volume. So they really had the analytics behind this and what we were able to show them was that this migration was the business decision that they were going to do, that they had to do, but there was about a roughly 18% impact to their business in terms of dropped traffic that was obviously equated back down to the number of phone calls in the total number and we also predicted the amount of time that was necessary to regain that back.
Jordan: Having that dataset helped them make a good decision. When should we do this? How should we do this? In what chunks should we do this? All those decisions became very transparent because the facts were now in front of them and they could use that data justifiably to choose when to make these migrations and to what degree they should make these migrations.
Ben: So basically, what you’re saying is that you have to make a strategic decision and the best SEOs are going to understand what the impact of a migration is, and if you’re going to move piece-by-piece, you have to understand that it can have a negative impact on your overall ranking. Even if it’s the right thing to do for the overall customer experience, you’re still going to have to bite the bullet at some point and essentially it sounds like Google is saying there’s no way around Google digesting when you migrate your site without there being some impact to your performance.
Jordan: Correct, yeah. Yes, everyone should recognize Google is a machine, they’re not perfect, it takes time for them to do these migrations and to properly associate the value that your website has acquired and transition that to the new home.
Ben: So Jordan, help me understand. Now that we have a better sense of migrations take time and they will have an impact on your overall rankings and performance, talk to me about indexation and crawling. How does that all factor in to your site migration?
Jordan: That’s a phenomenal question and these elements go hand-in-hand. In the Google Hangout, John also addressed a few questions around indexing and the process of indexing, but let’s just go backwards a little bit and just talk about the general concept of what indexing is. So indexing is the process by which Google crawls your website, determines that this is a page on your website that should be indexed and then puts it in to Google’s index. Google has trillions, some folks say it’s probably north of 500 trillion pages are in the index.
Ben: So just a couple?
Jordan: Just a few, right? And now the index has good, bad and ugly, right? What Google hasn’t decided yet is the value of those. Just by them indexing the page doesn’t necessarily mean that Google already has the value of the page and where the page should rank or when the page should rank. That’s another part of the factoring process that comes after the fact the Google’s crawled, chosen an index and then ranked the page. So the realities that we’re talking about here when it comes to site migrations is how do we ensure that Google’s doing that crawling and indexing process so that then you can actually be competitive and rank with these pages? And that is really at its core a really interesting experience and journey to managing your website and there’s a couple of reasons why. First of all, it’s about prioritization, what’s important on your website? And then secondly, how do you ensure that this happens as quickly as possible and at the most maximum capacity? Because you want to get Google on your site as much and as often as possible.
Ben: So this all seems logical, it feeds it together. The more often you can get Google to come check your site out, the more content that you’re feeding them, the more structured it is, the faster they’re going to be able to digest and understand how they should evaluate it and if you’re going through a site migration, the more you can get Google to digest the faster they can interpret how your new site should be positioned.
Jordan: And one of the topics that John mentioned here and he alluded to in his Hangout is that, first of all, crawl rate can take time to build up for new websites, no shocker, but also that trust and authority play a role here in how often Google is going to crawl and then index new content. So for those of the folks who are listening who have newer websites or are migrating into a new platform, again, this is something that takes time. Also another element that John mentioned in here was around the ability to update certain elements on your page. So one of the topics was around schema and if you add schema or made changes to schema how long will it take for Google to identify those?
Jordan: Now remember the way Google identifies these things is they crawl these trillions of pages, they see that it’s on there and then they refactor and reconsider and so schema can take up to weeks for Google to update. And this is something that’s been frustrating a lot of SEOs that are in the community who make these great investments to change the schema, and for those of you who don’t know what schema is, it’s basically a setup structured data that’s on your page in the code telling Google something important about the page. So you want Google to crawl this and understand, “Oh, there’s a four star rating,” or, “This is the price of the product,” or, “This is a news article about X, Y and Z.” You want Google to know these elements and to suck that data out of the schema that’s placed on the page, but it can take a while for Google understand that that now exists. And John talks about a couple of ways for you to get Google to fetch that and use the tools in Google’s search console to fetch and inspect those URLs to get google to process them faster.
Ben: So what advice do you have for SEOs to make sure that they are integrating schema the right way to making sure that Google is crawling and indexing as fast as they can so when it’s site migration time, they have the best chance to minimize their risk and maximize Google digesting their content?
Jordan: One of the things I wish John would have went into more detail around these topics is it really comes down to planning and so back to my example of the website we were working with that had the help center. Planning was a key component to understanding the business impact and the opportunity that was required in this migration and so planning really is at the center of how you can handle and manage a migration, how you can improve and scale your crawling indexation rate especially on large, big enterprise websites and having a plan behind that and validating that plan. Validating that plan will save third parties, validating that plan will save your own teams and that becomes a really important and critical component to success in these areas.
Ben: Sounds like site migration there’s no getting around it. It’s going to be a little bit of a time consuming, painful process and the more that you can plan out your strategy for when you’re going to have the inevitable downturn and the more that you can put the infrastructure in place to make sure that Google is quickly digesting the changes that you’ve made, the better off you’re going to be.
Jordan: Correct, yes.
Ben: Okay, great. Well, that wraps up this episode of The Voices of Search Podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, the CEO of Searchmetrics, Inc. We’d love to continue this 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 reach out to 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 @benjshap. If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, your online visibility, or how to gain competitive insights head over to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic for your complimentary advisory session with our digital strategies team. If you liked this podcast and you want to 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 tomorrow morning to discuss how the most recent update impacted integrated search and voice search. Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast and you’re feeling generous, we’d love for you to leave us a review in the Apple iTunes store. Okay, that’s it for today, but until next time remember the answers are always in the data.