Google recently pre-announced their upcoming “June 2019 Core Update.” What’s behind the announcement and how are all the recent changes impacting SEO? Most importantly, how can companies prepare? Jordan Koene CEO of Searchmetrics and Ben Shapiro uncover the real story in the Searchmetrics Research Cloud data and visibility scores: How are recent Google updates impacting the SERP, Knowledge Graphs, news sites, major brands, and what can we expect in the future?
- What’s driving the recent volatility in the SERP layout and experience such as with the news and video carrousels?
- Is there a big shake-up in the ranking of sites like Newsweek, CNN, and CBS?
- How did the recent Fast Company article impact the Daily Mail and is it a cautionary tale?
- What’s happening to the content aggregators like Dictionary.com, Yellowpages.com, Yelp, and Rotten Tomatoes and what is their role in the shift?
- Can we consider the rollouts of Google’s algorithm updates part of their evolution and what is the overall significance in the changes?
- Is Google reducing the amount of low-quality ranking content or are they rewarding their own products?
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Ben: Welcome to an emergency Google algorithm update edition of the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro, and today we’re going to reevaluate the changing landscape of Google Search post the June core update. Joining us today is Jordan Koene who is the lead SEO strategist and the CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. And today, Jordan and I are going to pull back the curtain on what we are calling “Google’s Fake News Algorithm Update.”
Ben: But before we hear from Jordan, I 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 complimentary digital diagnostic where a member of our digital strategies group will provide you with a consultation that reviews how your website, content, and SEO strategies can all be optimized. To schedule your free digital diagnostic, got to Searchmetrics.com/diagnostic.
Ben: Okay, on with the show. Here’s my conversation with Jordan Koene, SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. Jordan, welcome to the emergency edition of the Voices of Search podcast.
Jordan: Hey, Ben. We should preannounce the pre announcement of this emergency podcast. Since that’s what Google did just now in this algorithm update.
Ben: Uh, we will do our best to get the word out here that we’re going to talk about the Google update, but now that you’re here, I just want to fill everyone up and paint a picture for you of what life has been like at the Searchmetrics office.
Ben: As soon as Google announced that there was going to be an update, Tyson wrapped a bandana around his head and was running around like John Rambo. Sebastian was under his desk crying, and I’ve never seen anybody sweat into a keyboard more than Jordan over the last week. It’s been a heck of a week. Jordan, talk to us about what’s happening with the Google update.
Jordan: Yeah, I mean, sometimes it’s maybe better that Google doesn’t preannounce these things. The anticipation is painful. But, no, in all seriousness, it is pretty unique. Andy Sullivan, who leads up their efforts at Google to be more proactive and share this information with the public, did so earlier this month, I believe it was June second. He informed the public that this rollout was coming. It wasn’t a super specific set of information, but basically, you know, he stated that this would be a broad core algorithm update which we talk a lot about on the podcast and what these mean and how these broad core updates impact sites. Then he also recommended people to look at the guidance and information that Google provides on best practices.
Jordan: That was about it. But, what we’ve been able to find, is that there’s been a significant amount of volatility and in both, in particular categories as you mentioned: news, and then also in the SERP and in the SERP layout and experience that Google is providing their users.
Ben: The interesting thing to me here, and I’ll use a religious metaphor, and apologies if I offend anyone. This is essentially the God of SEO saying, “Hey, by the way, there’s going to be a massive earthquake next week. Just be ready.” You don’t know what to get ready for, you don’t know what’s going to shake or where it’s going to be, but it’s going to happen.
Ben: Jordan, tell me a little bit about what you and the rest of the Searchmetrics team are doing, knowing that a core update is coming, to understand what has changed and who it’s affecting.
Jordan: Yeah. Knowing that this update is coming isn’t all that bad of a thing. It allows us to prepare, and one of the things that we’re able to do is look at our giant research database, which we call the Research Cloud, and understand how certain volatility in rankings is impacting certain domains. Leveraging the Research Cloud is one of the main things that we do here. We also, here at Searchmetrics, have done a lot of work in creating industry-specific projects and reports so that we can better look at certain categories and see how these algorithm updates impact those categories. May it be news, e-commerce, travel, and so forth.
Ben: Essentially, we already have some canned reports that are industry wide for all of the major industries that are impacted on search, and when there is an update, we’re looking at specific winners and losers within those industries to understand what has changed across the broader landscape.
Jordan: Correct. I think this is a great way for us to get a directional view into what Google is doing differently. Ultimately, the answer here isn’t to create, say, poster child of good or bad practices in SEO. It’s more to understand how is Google evolving. What are their expectations now moving forward when it comes to their best practices and guidelines?
Ben: Essentially, our visibility score turns out to be the KPI and we’re looking at the individual performance of brands across a wide set of industries to understand what Google is thinking, not specifically to say, “Hey, this brand is doing it right or wrong.” There are some winners and losers that pop out which help us make some assumptions and that’s one of the reasons why we’re calling this the “Fake News Update,” is all across a lot of the brands that have been impacted, it shows that Google is trying to correct for a specific type of content.
Ben: Jordan, let’s actually talk about the losers first because I think that’s really insightful into understanding what Google’s mindset is going into this change. Talk to me about who you’re seeing getting punished with this last Google core update.
Jordan: The biggest site overall that’s seeing the biggest volatility is Wikipedia. It’s not a surprise. Wikipedia’s often one of the sites that sees lots of volatility, upward or downward in these updates because they are the most visible site within Google. No big shocker there, but one of the insights that allows us to gather, especially when they’re the number one site impacted, is that typically this means that Google has made some major modifications to the SERP. They’ve either A, introduced new elements either that be a new way of showcasing the Knowledge Graph, carousels, embedded experiences such as a Twitter card. These changes move the SERP and the SERP layout around and oftentimes they have a very directional impact to Wikipedia because these are areas where Wikipedia is generally very present.
Ben: What was the change on the SERP? Do we know what that is?
Jordan: Yeah. One of the biggest changes that we see on the SERP is a big increase in video carousel, a big increase in news carousel, oftentimes stacked really closely to one another. We’ve seen, in some instances and some examples, the removal of the Knowledge Graph for a keyword and the introduction of those experiences in the SERP. Really, it’s kind of … Google playing a little bit of a maneuvering game of which element is a richer experience within our SERP. In local, we see a heavier dose of map integrations, and so these are some of the primary examples of Google introducing their experience. That doesn’t necessarily mean that brands are excluded from those experiences. It just means that Google is reshipping or prioritizing the importance of these elements within the SERP.
Ben: Hmm. Google is prioritizing Maps and YouTube. There’s a shocker. Google is promoting the Google products, and they’re able to filter and understand what content is there, probably better than the third-party sites. Not a shocker there.
Ben: Tell me about the other industries that were impacted by this update.
Jordan: Another big bucket here are news and media related sites. What we see is sites like, say, Mashable, CBS, and even other sites that kind of cover news-like related topics like, say, Instagram, had some downward pressure and what I like to describe that as, as we look at the data, is kind of casualties of war. What I mean by that is these are websites that rank for a lot of keywords, oftentimes these are newsy-like related keywords and when Google is trying to make an adjustment to, say, reduce the amount of spammy content or reduce the amount of low-quality content that’s ranking for these types of keywords, those bigger sites will just end up getting hit.
Jordan: We also see a big bucket of low-brow, useless kind of, not necessarily just purely useless, but low-quality like content. One of these is ThoughtCo.com. They basically have topics that may cover themes that might seem very newsy-like, but the article and the content substance is pretty low-value. In those types of scenarios, what we’re seeing is Google, has been eluded, trying to really monitor and maintain that kind of fake news quality bar and ensure that the best quality sites, or the best quality experience, in this particular case, is taking precedent especially in the first page of the SERP.
Ben: So, there is a format or a type of content or at least a quality bar that Google is trying to maintain. The people that are being impacted, or the brands, I should say, that are being impacted by this change are not only the ThoughtCos of the world. I think you mentioned another one in our pre-production meeting, Ventmere or something along those lines. Sites that you would not think of as an end consumer to visit as a destination. You’re finding them purely through search. They’re creating relatively low-quality content, but there are some other brands that were impacted by this as well that are traditional news and media brands. Jordan, talk to me about who some of those brands are and why they’re getting impacted.
Jordan: Yeah, some other big brands here are CBS and, in particular, there was an article written in Fast Company about Daily Mail, a UK-based news site, who lost 50% of their traffic through this update. Now the interesting thing about this particular website and the example here is, and I think this is just a more cautionary tale for all the SEOs who are listening here, is the head SEO at Daily Mail made it very public. He went on to a couple of Google forums, he was cited on a couple of industry websites including Search Engine Land, really quoting the fact that they had this big hit from Google and thus Fast Company and a few other mainstream media sites started to pick that up and talk about the hit to traffic that Daily Mail had.
Jordan: I think it’s a good cautionary tale of when these algorithm changes happen, sometimes it can affect your brand in a very negative way and how you address the public about that change can sometimes create a bigger media stir or attention than you want. I think that it’s smart to be well prepared to know how you want to address these topics and how you want to be public about winning or losing in any of these Google algorithm updates, because you can quickly become the poster child of the bad or the good. In either of those scenarios, it can be very damaging to your brand or the long-term viability of your SEO strategy.
Ben: Yes, you don’t want to brand yourself as the poster boy for getting crushed by a Google algorithm change. Probably not a good career move.
Ben: Feel bad for the people at Daily Mail. Apologies for highlighting you in a negative fashion in the podcast.
Ben: Let’s talk about some of the people that were winners. Wherever there are losers, you know somebody is picking up that market share. Who gained the most from this update?
Jordan: Yeah, so there’s kind of three buckets of winners here that we noticed through our data. The first bucket is the ultimate news websites that kind of trickled in. These are websites like Newsweek and CNN.com. It’s no surprise there, right? Whenever there’s some sort of volatility in a category, you’re going to see some that sort of bubble to the top and some that go down to the bottom based on how Google’s adjusting their algorithm. That’s probably the lesser of the group.
Jordan: I think the more interesting bucket here is one that we haven’t talked about which is these directory sites or this kind of content aggregator type sites. This includes websites like Dictionary.com, Yellowpages.com, Yelp, Rotten Tomatoes. Obviously there’s very differing content strategies between them, but they all have large amounts of content, in some cases local content, and in these scenarios, what we like to say is these guys became fillers because, as Google was taking out a lot of these low-quality, smaller websites, not near any mainstream websites, Google has to backfill those positions with a result. If they’re not able to put in their own experience like a carousel or a map, somebody has to surface. Many of these websites have lots and lots of content that has some value, maybe not the highest value, but some value. Those were the sites that kind of filled in to that eight, nine, ten spot within the SERP.
Ben: We’re seeing local directories. You mentioned the Yellow Pages of the world. We’re also seeing aggregators, Rotten Tomatoes for media, Foursquare for locations, and sites like Dig.com for content that are moving. Since we talked about the news and media and some of those industries being punished, are these local aggregators and directories being shown where news and media content was, or are there any news and media companies that are filling the gap? Was there anybody in news and media that won?
Jordan: Yeah, so there’s some interesting winners within news and media that I actually think, not only won, but won in a way that is generating traffic. HuffPost.com being one of them. They did some rebranding a few months back from HuffingtonPost.com, I believe, to HuffPost.com. This is probably a trickle effect of their migration as well as some changes. They’re definitely seeing some traffic and traction from this change.
Jordan: The reality is that many of these changes, in our opinion here at Searchmetrics, is that they’re not real traffic drivers these new positions that these websites are getting. They’re just kind of reclaiming a lost spot by a lower quality site. They’re not necessarily getting a lot of traffic from this algorithm update. The byproduct of that is that you typically see rankings that are pretty generic in nature. Lot of head terms, branded terms, and this is one of the indications that Google is trying to ensure that the SERP has highest possible quality in the results without introducing risk scenarios into the results that might be claimed as, say, fake news or disingenuous type content.
Ben: It seems like, at the end of the day, what Google is trying to do, excuse my language, they’re trying to bury the crap, right? The things that they’re putting in place of content that is not very interesting, is potentially inaccurate, and is just not a compelling experience, they’re putting things that’s filler. They’re leading you to an aggregator site, they’re allowing you to sort of search a directory and maybe, in some cases, you mentioned Huffington Post and MSN, there’s some content that’s back filling for that but it’s not the top of the page. They’re using their own experiences in YouTube, in Maps, to try to get you where you want to go.
Jordan: Correct. That’s that third bucket, which is YouTube who kind of just saw a massive spike, and that’s largely due to the introduction of more video carousel in a lot of these keywords.
Ben: Okay. Any other words now that the ground has potentially stopped shaking? Anything that we’re keeping our eye on? What should the rest of the SEO community know as the core update rolls out?
Jordan: The first thing is that don’t freak out. Cool heads through these transitions with Google are the top priority. These issues can be solved, and you can fix any downturn from an algorithm update. It requires clear thinking. I think that that’s some encouragement as I start to read more and more publications come out with the Daily Mail scenario and talk about the challenges that they’re having there. The other thing, folks, to recognize here is the fact that this was a pre announcement. We’ll see if that happens again and, if Google continues that trend, and this is pretty a unique time of year for a pretty broad core update. Typically we see one in the spring and the fall, but here we’re seeing one in the summer. It will be interesting to see if Google becomes a little more consistent in the volume of updates that they have throughout the year. Lot of interesting things for us to look forward to as we unpack more Google updates in the future.
Ben: We don’t really use this podcast as a sales tool, but I want to offer some help. For anybody that’s been impacted by this update that wants to understand what’s happening, whether their whole industry has been impacted or just this brand, take advantage of our Digital Diagnostic. We have the tools and the resources to be able to look into specific industries, your brand specifically, what’s happening. Doesn’t cost anything. Without going on too much of a sales pitch, let us help you if you’re impacted by the Google update. We’re here to help. Hopefully we can point you in the right direction.
Ben: That wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, the SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. We’d love to continue this conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Jordan, you can find the link to his LinkedIn profile on our show notes. You can contact him 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 on our show notes, or you can send me a Tweet at benjshap. If you’re interested in learning how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility, or to gain competitive insights, head over to Searchmetrics.com/diagnostic for your complimentary 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, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed next week. Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed this show and you’re feeling generous, we’d love for you to leave us a review in the Apple iTunes Store or wherever you listen to your podcasts.
Ben: Okay, that’s it for today, but until next time, remember: the answers are always in the data.