Google Update Week No. 5: Preparing for the next update
In the fifth and final episode focused on the latest round of Google Search Algorithm updates, Jordan provides a task list of measures you can take to be better prepared when the next update invariably comes.
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Ben: Welcome back to Google Update Week on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro and every day this week we’ve been covering what you need to know about the latest changes in 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 SEO’s, content marketers and data scientists that help enterprises scale businesses, monitor their online presence and make data-driven decisions, using a mix of software and our expertise.
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Ben: Okay, joining us again today for Google Update Week is Jordan Koene, who is the lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics, Inc. So far this week, we’ve covered a wide variety of changes related to Google’s most recent update and the big Google Hangout with John Mueller. Today, we’re going to focus our attention on how you can be prepared for the next Google update. Here’s the last installment of Google Update Week with Jordan Koene, CEO of Searchmetrics, Inc. Jordan, welcome to the last episode of Google Update Week on the Voices of Search podcast.
Jordan: Almost there, Ben, I can see the finish line.
Ben: This is basically our victory lap. We’ve talked a ton about what has happened with the Google update, who is going to be impacted. There were was site migrations and crawls and indexing, mobile and voice search, we’ve really covered a lot of ground and today our focus is really just about what you can do to prepare for the earthquake, the ground to shift from under you? What’s your advice to the SEO’s listening about what they need to do to get ready for Google to continue to iterate?
Jordan: Yeah, Ben, this is a really important topic because the first reality that everybody knows is that Google does make updates and what Google’s public statement around updates is, is that they make hundreds of updates every year and earlier in this week’s series we kind of not dispelled that notion but really, in my opinion, put it in its place, which is really Google makes a few handful or so of major updates during a year. Then everything else is really centered around more adjustments to the way, say the UI-UX experience works or they might even focus on this a certain category-specific elements or even how they justify ads or where they place ads. These are more minor adjustments then they are say, algorithm updates.
Jordan: The reality is that when these big algorithm updates take place, they have ripple effects across categories, across sectors and it’s really a time where a lot of the questions start to surface, not only in the search community but even above the search community. This nowadays gets up to the executive level and when Google makes these changes, there is a lot of fear and uncertainty over what’s going to happen.
Ben: What’s your advice to SEO’s for how to manage not only what happens when Google makes a change but also how to manage upwards to their executive team?
Jordan: The first thing, and it’s really vital, is that just because there’s been a public announcement by Google that and algorithm change is taking place or there’s a lot of murmurs, like the recent change that happened just after Thanksgiving, it’s important for you to take a step back and not overreact. It’s really critical for you to just take a look at your data and understand what is going on within your data set.
Jordan: The first thing I always love to do is start to do a heavy dose of analytics and analysis on what’s going on with your traffic, understanding your traffic, coming in from search at a page level, understanding the distribution, distribution chains between mobile and desktop, really get a good understanding if there has been or there’s been any recent bugs or issues or tracking errors within the site, sitting down with your Dev ops or your other development teams or your third party providers to ask if there’s been any issues with the website.
Jordan: There should be a checklist that you create, either a mental checklist or a written down checklist of these analytics and performance or maybe even a better word, an error or bug tracking elements that you should really go through first before sounding the Google alarm and putting a target on Google for the recent change they made.
Ben: It sounds like the first thing you need to do is just have your finger on the pulse of what is happening with your website and understand what the baseline is, so you can identify when there has been a shift in traffic. You mentioned a couple different things of looking at the various page types, understanding mobile versus desktop, also having cross functional relationships, understanding what’s happening from a technical perspective and rule out that any adjustment in your search performance wasn’t self-inflicted harm. That it is actually a Google update. When there is an announced Google update, is there any advice for how to not be reactive when Google publicly states, “Hey, we’re making changes to the algorithm.”
Jordan: Great question there and there’s two really critical things when that happen: The first one is check Google Search Console and that’s basically the de facto thing that you should always do when the announcement comes up, just see what’s going on in Search Console. Analyze the previous day’s crawl rates, take a look if there’s any notices in search console. That’s step one.
Jordan: Step two is you should be looking at your rankings. At this point, especially when there is an announcement, looking at ranking-based data helps a lot. It helps a lot more than just diving into the analytics data because it gives you a bit more of a picture of the landscape. What’s changed in ecosystem outside of yourself? That’s the beauty of ranking data. It gives you a view as to your competitors, it gives you a view into the market or the category or the topics for which your website ranks for, and it helps you predict how Google may have changed the ranking factors.
Jordan: What is it that they have done to their rankings and what are some of the key indicators because for ranking, there are certain metrics or KPI’s that drive those rankings that may have adjusted your position or your competitors’ positions? Are you seeing more authoritative websites show up higher in the rankings? Maybe there has to do with domain authority or websites that have a lot of links to certain pages or certain content started to perform better or is longer form or shorter form starting to work better?
Jordan: You can start to decode what is it that maybe Google is looking at and then that helps you correlate back to historical ways that Google has made changes, right? The two that are often talked about: Panda to Penguin-type changes, whether they’re linking related changes or content -related changes as basically the core of those two types of cool changes.
Ben: What sticks out in my head is you’re basically describing and starting small and looking internally at what is happening to your website and making sure that if you’re seeing an adjustment and performance, it’s not self-inflicted. Once you’ve validated that there hasn’t been anything significant that’s changed internally, look externally at the ranking. You’re looking at page level rankings and then, you’re looking at an industry-wide change, what was your entire industry impacted? Then there is the sort of the greater search landscape of our content sites or e-commerce sites affected? It sounds like the way to be ready to I guess this is still reactive, it sounds like the playbook here is to start small and go big in terms of assessing what is impacting your search performance.
Jordan: That’s correct and once you understand where Google’s coming from, which is really what you’re trying to do in this space, at first you’re trying to understand what’s happened to you, right? It’s kind of more like doing a self-reflection. You’re looking at your analytics. You’re talking to internal teams. Then you look outside of yourself and you say, “Hey, what is it that Google’s done here? How did Google adjust?” Only after you’ve gone through those two steps can you really start to say, “Oh, okay, now I know how to adjust, now I know how to react.”
Ben: All right, so once you figure out what has happened, whether it be something that was self-inflicted or an overall landscape changing update, like a Penguin or a Panda, what do you do?
Jordan: Yeah, so how do you figure out what to do? Obviously, if it’s something internal, that becomes more of a process of how to resolve your own internal challenge or issue. But if it is outside, if it is truly Google has made an adjustment and you’re not in Google’s favor, there are a couple of key steps to take. Google has this really nice educational document. I believe it’s called “How search works” and explain how algorithms work and what happens in an algorithm. One of the key elements that they talk about in this document is matching your search.
Jordan: The first thing you really want to do is when someone is performing a search, so you’re looking at your rankings and you went down and you’re wondering, “Why did I go down?” Well, ask yourself, “Am I matching the search? Am I matching the searcher’s intent, the searcher’s desires and what has changed that may have adjusted my position?” Is it that my content is stale? Is it that there’s bettered linking more authoritative linking taking place within this search landscape? The reality is you understanding and being able to adapt to how Google is matching that searcher’s desire and intent will then help you create a plan to improve and adjust according to that algo change.
Ben: Jordan, when there’s a change how do you try to recoup what you’ve lost? How do you try to make sure that you’re ranking for some of the terms that you’ve ranked for in the past?
Jordan: The first thing that I always love doing is asking myself, “Do I still have the most relevant information?” and that often means that your content needs to be updated. Constant updates are something that are so disregarded or forgotten that it becomes very clear when the rankings drop happenings and you’re obviously now in a very reactive position, but that is often one of the most important places to start.
Jordan: The other aspects that I always loved to point at is content deprecation or removal because often times what you’ve is a suffocating scenario where you may have lost rank position because Google has just said, “Hey, you’ve a lot of content that’s useless, get rid of it,” because where you did have rankings, you had useful content and useful rankings, but you have so much other dead weight it’s pulling everyone else down.
Jordan: The other thing to consider here, and I think this is the third component, is understanding how your link and link equity is being distributed and if that has had any impact on your rankings. Those are typically the three places I like to start and there are many, many more and that’s the one challenge about Google Algorithm Updates is that it is very hard to just pinpoint to one exact checklist to fix your problem. It requires more of a process, a discovery process that starts with that self-reflection like we talked about before in understanding your own analytics and performance and goals all the way through the checklist of various optimization tactics to improve rankings.
Ben: Yeah, and I think at the end of the day what I’m hearing you say is if you have a good understanding of what is performing well and what isn’t on your site, then when there is a landscape change, you will understand what’s effective. Generally, when you see something that’s effective, one of the biggest things you can do is go evaluate your content, either add more content that you think is going to be relevant or potentially strip out some content that is slowing you down.
Jordan: Precisely, precisely.
Ben: Any other last words on we’ve talked about how to sort of get ahead and be prepared and look at your analytics, talked a little bit about how to react. Any other advice on what you can do when there is a Google algorithm change?
Jordan: If you’ve been turning up all these stones and still not really able to find out what’s happened, one of the places I love to point SEO’s and website webmasters to is checking performance metrics. Obviously, earlier we had an episode that discussed site speed and that’s definitely the number one performance metrics to be looking at and evaluating, but there is also the page size and other KPI’s that drive performance and drive the success of your performance.
Jordan: The reality is that you’re not just looking at yourself and your own self-improvement, you need to be looking at the competitive landscape and that is one that once you’ve gone and have reviewed all these other possible ranking factors or ranking drivers, it’s very critical for you to go and look at performance and that’s often the one that’s overlooked just because you always think that you’re the best, but reality is performance and site performance is always changing, especially in a competitive market and that’s one that I often see people miss.
Ben: I’m going to break the third wall here a little bit and we’ve talked a lot on the show on what you can do to be ready for Google update changes and some of the different ways that you can become a better SEO and how you could better understand your site’s performance and I’m just going to expressly say it. With the Google algorithm change specifically, go find experts if you can’t figure it out yourself.
Ben: That’s one of the recent why Searchmetrics is here and we’re trying to provide value to our podcast listeners because we care about the community that we want to share our knowledge, but this is one of those examples where if you are seeing bad performance and you think there is a landscape change, go find somebody that has a broader view of the landscape to understand if that’s actually the case and that’s one of the things that the team here at Searchmetrics is excellent at. We offer the content diagnostic as a way for you to get in touch with us. Call Searchmetrics, have us do a little evaluation and we will help you solve these problems.
Ben: Without going too salesy and I hope you appreciate that we spent a lot of time on this podcast not trying to sell, I do think that it’s valid advice here when you are working to try to figure out if you’ve been impacted by a Google algorithm change. Sometimes those things are hard to figure out if you don’t have a view of the broader landscape, get in touch with somebody does and Jordan and the rest of the team have tons of experience with that.
Jordan: I could have said it better myself.
Ben: But you would say it, so now I have to.
Jordan: Thanks, Ben.
Ben: Okay, without getting too preachy, Jordan, a few last words, Google Update Week, anything else that you want to say to our SEO community?
Jordan: Well, thank you for hanging in there for a whole week. We really appreciate your loyalty and listening to five consecutive days’ worth of content, but both Ben and myself and a lot of the members over here at Searchmetrics just felt that coming into the end of November and leading into December here that this was a great opportunity to talk about what Google was doing and the Hangout, as well as the recent adjustment in Google’s rankings pushed us to say, “Hey, let’s go out into the community and share some of our thoughts here.”
Ben: We tried to hustle and get you this content as quickly as we could to make sure that it was still relevant. Mostly with Google update changes, we’re going to do our best to stay topical and hope you enjoyed Google Update Week. That wraps up this episode of the podcast and the week as a whole so thanks for listening to my conversations with Jordan Koene, CEO of Searchmetrics, Inc.
Ben: 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 contact him directly on Twitter where his handle is @Jtkoene. If you have general marketing questions or if you want to talk about this podcast, you can find my contact information or through the link in our show notes or you can tweet at me at @Benjshap.
Ben: If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility, gain competitive insights, I don’t know, if you’re trying to figure out how the last Google Hang out was affecting you, head over to Searchmetrics.com/request-free-consultation for a complementary advisory session with our digital strategies team.
Ben: If you like this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in our podcast app, hit the subscribe button and we’ll be back in your feed next week and lastly, if you’ve enjoyed this show and you’ve enjoyed Google Update Week and if you’re feeling generous, leave us a review in the Apple iTunes store. We’d really appreciate it. Okay, that’s it for today but until next time, remember the answers are always in the data.