Google Core Algorithm Update – A Seismic Shift Toward User Expectations


Episode overview:

Industry heavyweights Amazon and Walmart are already experiencing success after Google’s September 2019 core algorithm update went live less than a month ago, despite the lack of data available. Initial impressions suggest the update is placing a greater focus on user expectations and a need to fulfill EAT and YMYL principles. Ben Shapiro spoke with Jordan Koene on a special edition episode of Voices of Search to discuss immediate update takeaways, what companies are already benefitting or falling behind after the update and how their own practices and organizational structures are impacting their progress.

Topics covered include:

  • Google’s update provides new ways to classify news, alters the way ratings are displayed and grants the ability to tag links as sponsored content.
  • Google’s September update increased Amazon and Walmart’s competitive edge due to their excellent organizational structure, eCommerce incentives and user-friendly shopping experiences.
  • As Google’s update manifests, monitoring week after week reporting and revisiting analytics to make necessary changes during this volatile time become critical to maintain SEO visibility.

Ben:                 Welcome to an emergency Google core 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 the Google search, post the September core update. Joining us today is Jordan Koene, who is the lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics, Inc.

Ben:                 Today, Jordan and I are going to pull back the curtain on Google’s latest algorithm update, 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.

Ben:                 To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a free trial. That’s right. A new way for you to test Searchmetrics’ services is now available. You can go to our website to optimize your SEO and content strategies for free. To try these Searchmetrics products, go to searchmetrics.com/trial.

Ben:                 Okay. On with the show. Here’s my conversation with Jordan Koene, lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics, Inc.

Ben:                 Jordan, welcome back to another Google update edition of the Voices of Search podcast.

Jordan:             Hey Ben. It’s that time of year again.

Ben:                 I feel like we just did this. I guess the last Google update was really the foreshock, and this is the big one.

Jordan:             Yeah. I think that we’re just starting to see how things are unfolding, but this is a pretty common time of year. This is a common time of year for Google to release these kinds of updates, and to focus on the core of their product. This is something that’s cross-category, but it’s the right time of year to do it. And I’m not surprised that we’re seeing this.

Ben:                 You say it’s the right time of the year. We’ve seen Google do relatively September, early October updates the last couple of years. Can we start calling this update season?

Jordan:             Yeah, I think, just like it becomes football season, or any other sport, this becomes update season. Early fall is the right time of year.

Ben:                 We need a song. Football season. Dum dum dum duh. Dum dum dum dum duh. I don’t know what it’s going to be for SEO, probably-

Jordan:             We’ll have to license something.

Ben:                 Yeah. We’ll figure it out. Anyway, let’s talk about what actually happened. For starters, when did the announcement happen? What do we know? Give me the lay of the land of what Google actually announced, in terms of their update.

Jordan:             September has just been a busy month for the search team over at Google, and I’m really impressed with what Danny Sullivan and John are doing over there, in the way that they’re communicating to the community. They’re sharing insights that are, in some cases, very specific in category and nature. Everything from changes in markup to changes in news. Many updates in September from this group.

Jordan:             We talked about this in a previous episode, but they publicly announced, or officially announced, as they say, the update on September 24th. That’s just about a week ago. That was the point where we hit record, and started seeing what was going on in the data. Because that was the day that it started being released, and it was going to take a few days for that to propagate throughout their data centers.

Ben:                 The last time that we talked about a Google update, we mentioned that Google is refactoring how they’re going to evaluate news, to give priority to, essentially, the original content creators and people with authority.

Ben:                 There were some changes to the no follow links, user-generated content links, and also how people can tag links as sponsored content. And then, also, how Google was going to evaluate and deprioritize some of the star rankings that brands were using.

Ben:                 What was the new update that was announced? What has actually changed with this more recent update?

Jordan:             Yeah. When we think about those three matters, or those three announcements, from various Google constituents, is that those are very tactical in nature. They’re giving direction or guidance. We call them the Google guidelines to how to do things. How do you better perform, or how do you better distinguish yourself in the news category? Or when you’re using a rich result, like star ratings? These are very specific tactical requirements that Google is now imposing within the industry, and webmasters and SEOs alike need to learn how to adhere or adapt to those guidelines.

Jordan:             In this particular instance, what we’re talking about is a core algorithm update, so this is really not necessarily a new set of practices we need to use, but it’s really monitoring how is Google re-evaluating all of our content, all of our decisions, to reprioritize the rankings and results. We use this data to then better inform our long-term strategy that we use within the deploying our sites, within our content strategy, and directing our companies, because these become the ingrained ways by which Google’s going to prioritize who’s number one versus number ten.

Ben:                 Google told us how to do things in the last update, and this is they’re changing the way that they’re going to evaluate content. They’re not necessarily announcing what the changes in the evaluation is. What do we know?

Jordan:             Yeah. What we know so far is that this is a core update. Our data has shown that this has impacted across categories. We’ve seen ups and downs and finance, retail or eCommerce, news and media, even sub-niches like recipe sites and medical sites. This is not something that’s targeted to certain industries, or certain practices. It’s horizontal.

Jordan:             We also know that this is focused on how Google evaluates the primary mission that they want websites to adhere to, which include the practices around E-A-T, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness, as well as YMYL, your money, your life. Those factors, largely the backbone of what they’re trying to provide their consumers and users, which is everybody who searches on Google.

Ben:                 Google has essentially reshuffled the deck in terms of how they’re evaluating content. We’re seeing a broad change. It’s a core update. It’s affecting all sorts of different industries. This is related to the E-A-T concepts, or how Google is thinking about who should be prioritized.

Ben:                 What do we know about what has actually changed, based on some of the data that we’re seeing?

Jordan:             Yeah. This is part of the reason why we’re releasing this podcast now. You and I, Ben, we could have jumped on this the moment that Google announced it, but there is no data. Honestly, the only thing that you could have acquired as an SEO is a lot of great memes on the Twitter feed where Google announced this. Outside of those memes, I think that the value is in analyzing, how’s the dust settling, where are the changes taking place?

Jordan:             We’ve noticed a couple. I think that one of them, that’s near and dear to my heart, is the eCommerce space. What we see is a heating up of some serious competition between Walmart and Amazon. Both of them have seen positive lifts post this change. I think that they’re largely predicated on the YMYL factors, especially as Walmart continues to push the envelope of a great shipping experience and delivery experience, that Amazon had had the fortitude of being a leader in for many years now.

Jordan:             The reality is that those two have seen some positive lifts. On the unfortunate side of things, we’ve seen some downturn to the old eBay brand, one that is obviously near and dear to you and me, Ben. But I think that that’s largely due to the fact that, in many cases, these three brands are competing for a very similar overlap in keywords.

Ben:                 The interesting thing to me is that the eCommerce players that generally have the broadest footprint, maybe you throw Target in there as well, but you’re looking at Amazon, Walmart, and eBay.

Ben:                 Amazon and Walmart took a step forward. The mothership eBay, where we both used to work, and where we met, it took a step backwards. Any thoughts on why this happened? Is there something specific about the content, the structure of the sites, the offering, that is driving search visibility away from eBay and towards Amazon and Walmart?

Jordan:             I think that a lot of it has to do with structured organization that allows users to meet the transactional expectations that are on these sites. When you look at both of Walmart and Amazon, they’re far more structured and organized than many other brands, even brands that are very, very connected to them. They’re even more organized than others, allowing users to refine their product selection, hone in on specific deal sections, hone in on items and products that can be delivered same day or next day. These are really critical competitive components, that have made both Walmart and Amazon separate from the pack. Those user experience capabilities, or metrics, are allowing them to see positive results during this change. That really is a key driver to your money, your life.

Ben:                 That’s the interesting thing to me, is that this isn’t necessarily a technical, or a content change, it’s a usability change, based on what you’re describing.

Jordan:             It absolutely is. 100%.

Ben:                 What else are we seeing, outside of the eCommerce space? Who else was affected? Give me some winners and losers.

Jordan:             Yeah, let’s go into another winner. One of the interesting ones here, for me, is Spotify. Again, this goes back to user behavior, but Spotify has a unique set of content and assets. They’ve got a lot of artists’ information. They’ve got a lot of genre and music content information, as well as, interestingly enough, shockingly, as we’re on a podcast, they have a lot of podcast content.

Ben:                 It’s a big deal.

Jordan:             It is a big deal. And this is the crazy thing. They are slowly releasing that into the Google ecosystem and gaining market share. I personally believe, and again, I don’t have any specific data on this, but I personally that this is a low click engagement area, and Google knows that it’s a low click engagement area. People searching for an artist name, or podcast title, or an episode. But the good thing is that Spotify has great content that can be digested, used as a ranking result, and they saw some really significant improvements in their visibility over the past couple of weeks, and I would expect to see that continue, as Google looks for other partners who can provide diverse set content within this music, podcasting, and artists categories.

Ben:                 It’s interesting to me that this is essentially a position zero update, where your thought is that Spotify is taking a step forward, because they have content in music that are related to relatively large terms, low engagement. What’s this artist, title? Who sings this song? Tell me about the genre of X, Y and Z. These are all position zero rich keywords.

Jordan:             Yeah, it absolutely is. It’s position zero rich. It’s often knowledge graph enabled experiences. But again, one of the important things for Google is to have diversity, is to have options for users to look at various ways to consume this content information. And as Spotify continues to expand their footprint, I’m sure that Google is seeing really positive results from users who are clicking through to that artist page on Spotify, and then either listening to that song, or consuming the content on Spotify.

Jordan:             So I think that that’s an interesting play here for them, and probably a great way for them to grow market share in future.

Ben:                 What’s surprising to me is that we’ve seen such crazy gains from YouTube, which we mentioned in our last winners and losers segment with Tyson Stockton, that YouTube has been taking off lately. They’re at an all time high. I think they had a 12% visibility increase last week, or something double digits, a really big number.

Ben:                 If Spotify is taking a step forward, does that mean that it’s impacting YouTube negatively?

Jordan:             Not necessarily. What’s really become apparent to most of us is that the SERP landscape is dramatically changing, and that the diversity of results is as much about ranking in certain positions as it is being an active contributor to the SERP features that exist.

Jordan:             Whether it be answer box, video carousel in this case, for YouTube, but the reality is that that’s where YouTube is securing their positioning, through the SERP integrations in various featured snippets.

Ben:                 Essentially the YouTube gains, and let’s lump Spotify in that group as well, they’re seeing gains because they’re integrated. They have lots of great content, it’s very broad. It’s not necessarily click driving content, but they’re also using a lot of rich featured snippets, and that’s allowing them to gain market share.

Jordan:             Yeah, Spotify is using the same tactics, obviously, with slightly different assets than YouTube. But again, it’s a race to the top, or position zero, for all of these brands.

Jordan:             But regardless of position zero environment, the key thing for Google here is to have a diverse set of content, and that, I think, is what’s really unique for Spotify today, is to be included in that first step.

Ben:                  Any other winners or losers that you’re seeing, based on the preliminary data from this core update?

Jordan:             Yeah, I think one of them that’s really unique, and it’s slightly different or maybe even slightly unexpected, is the Food Network. I think many of us would consider the Food Network to be an authority, to be an expert in many cases, when it comes to recipe-related content, or food category related content. But what we noticed is that, especially in recipes, we see a dramatic decrease for the Food Network in their positioning.

Jordan:             I think that that’s interesting, because maybe part of this refactoring of E-A-T isn’t just about finding more and more and more authoritative websites, but I get the feeling that, to a certain degree, it’s also about tweaking the dials in certain categories. Because if you really think about recipes, what is the dial that you need for expertise in authoritativeness in that category? And was that dial maybe a little too high, and we were showcasing websites like the Food Network, versus a mom-and-pop recipe, that might be on a blog, or even better, yet, some no-name website that has really great, rich content.

Jordan:             That’s something that I think Google has been playing with here, and I think it’s also something that many SEOs don’t take note of, which is, it’s possible for Google to, as much as they dial up the authoritativeness talk, it could be that sometimes they dial it back, depending on the category.

Ben:                 It’s interesting that someone like the Food Network, who you think would have a lot of authority, but that authority doesn’t necessarily matter when you’re talking about how to bake chocolate chip cookies. There might be a recipe that drives more engagement, that is someone’s home recipe. Dare I say, their website’s been Bobby Flayed?

Jordan:             Wow. What a pun.

Ben:                 Oh, that’s awful. I’m sorry everyone. I’m sorry. I was looking for a Food Network tie-in, that’s the best I could do.

Jordan:             I love it.

Ben:                 Are there any other industries where you’re seeing this concept of authority being challenged? One of the things that we’ve seen was that the five star rankings are less important, potentially, based on the previously announced update. Now we’re seeing the opposite, where someone that you’d think would have inferred credibility is losing a lot of market share. How should SEOs digest how much they should invest in authority, and proving that they have credibility?

Jordan:             I think there’s a couple of key plays here. First, we need to continue to monitor and see where the dust settles. For everybody who’s listening, at this point in the podcast, what’s absolutely critical is to go into any of your competitive reporting, and monitor what’s happening week-over-week.

Jordan:             These things are not static in nature. I don’t think that Google just makes a big change and then it just sits there forevermore, until they’re willing to make another big change. Google oftentimes makes corrections, and I would be encouraging you to monitor and see what’s happening in your core competitive set. Because everybody’s competing in their own specific ecosystem, and it’s more important to understand the volatilities that are happening in that ecosystem than it is to just take some over-generalized advice, and apply that to your next content optimization, or technical priority, or project that you and your team are going to complete.

Jordan:             Because post this update, that’s the stuff you need to start course correcting. You need to start changing your projects. Better content optimization, prioritizing technical needs, and that should now be determined based on where’s Google going with this algorithm.

Ben:                 Let’s summarize a little bit. What I’m hearing is that there was a foreshock of an update, that Google announced two weeks ago, related to how they’re evaluating star ratings, and how that impacts your credibility. How you should be tagging your content, and how you should be tagging your links, and what they’re going to do with news.

Ben:                 Then there was the big, actual earthquake, which is this core update, and we’re expecting some aftershocks. There’s going to be some course corrections.

Ben:                 Jordan, let’s talk turkey. There’s a bunch of tactics. There’s been a bunch of change. There’s a lot of uncertainty. What are some of the tactics that you recommend SEOs apply, to make sure that they’re either retaining or gaining market share in this time of uncertainty?

Jordan:             All right. One of the things I love to do, right off the bat, is take some of your best-performing content, some of the pages that have been the best on your website, and make some major tweaks to them. Not major changes, major tweaks. Refresh the content a little bit. Maybe revisit the <h1>. Look if there’s anything that may make the page more performant, like reducing image size, or stripping down the video, if the video isn’t as relevant anymore. Taking some key, performance-based tactics, as well as content-based tactics, and just tweak that high performing page, and see if that freshness might start to reinvigorate that page. That’s number one.

Jordan:             Number two, I really like when SEOs don’t freak out and start to really analyze too many aspects of their site. Go back and revisit your crawl logs, go back and revisit, has there been a major shift in the last three weeks, now that Google’s released this update? Really understanding where Google’s going on your site, what pages they’re digesting. Something that a lot of people start to overlook, they start to really try to get deep into the content optimizations, or the speed optimizations, and that’s great. But many times after these major core updates, Google’s started to make a decision on where they want to go on your site, what degree of depth they want to crawl, especially for the big sites out there. And I think that’s one of the fundamentals to go back and visit. A lot of this data and information can be found in search counts. Going back into search counts, if you haven’t done that in a while, that’s probably also a good idea.

Jordan:             Lastly, one of the most important things that webmasters, content owners, and really just the SEOs that are out there can prioritize right now is revisiting how they’re looking at their analytics. Right now, in these big updates, there can be major shifts, and sometimes you’ll want to start charting a new path in terms of how you’re measuring your performance. Whether that’s looking at how you measure your performance on a category level, on a full domain level.

Jordan:             But often times, when you’ve had a big, big shift in your performance, it’s also a good time to understand and reevaluate, am I looking at the right KPIs and metrics? Especially on a lagging perspective, which is often what you find in your analytics data.

Ben:                 What I’m hearing is, first and foremost, you should go into webmaster tools and see if anything has changed. Are you being crawled more? Are you being crawled less? What pages are being crawled? Understand just how you’re being evaluated by Google, and that should give you a guide to understand what might be changing in terms of your performance.

Ben:                 Start thinking about your analytics. Start reevaluating how you look at your site, to make sure that you’re looking at the right numbers. And lastly, during this time of change, it’s a time where you can start tweaking some of your best performing content, to understand if you can make an impact, to start gaining market share during a time of transition.

Ben:                 Jordan, as we reflect on this update, and we’re obviously going to keep an eye on what’s happening in our winners and losers segment at the end of the month, when you walk away, thinking about this update, what’s your biggest takeaway?

Jordan:             My biggest takeaway here is that Google’s main drivers are really shifting heavily towards user expectations. What I’ve seen, in this recipe example that we just talked about, when it comes to the Food Network, or what’s happening with Walmart and Amazon, they’re largely predicated based on user expectations and demands.

Jordan:             One of my favorite examples right now is looking up homemade mac and cheese, which is something I make for the kids all the time. This used to be a result that was dominated by the Food Network, and now they’re buried halfway down the page. This isn’t to criticize the Food Network, but if you look at a lot of the ranking results today, now, for homemade mac and cheese, they’re much more connected with a consumer who’s looking to make something at home, make it from scratch. They’re websites that are focused on moms and families, they’re websites that are focused on quality and uniqueness, and they’re not the big conglomerate, Food Network.

Jordan:             It’s not to criticize the Food Network, it’s really to exemplify how Google’s trying to meet consumers demands and expectations.

Ben:                 Jordan, I think my biggest takeaway is that we probably should’ve just titled this update, “Google’s Cheesiest Update.”

Ben:                 That wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, lead SEO strategist and 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 LinkedIn profile in our show notes. Or you can contact him on Twitter, where his handle is @jtkoene, that’s J-T-K-O-E-N-E.

Ben:                 If you have general marketing questions, if you’d like to talk to me about this podcast, or if you’d like to be a guest on our show, you can find my contact information in our show notes, or you can shoot me a tweet at @benjshap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P.

Ben:                 If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility, or to gain competitive insights, head over to searchmetrics.com/trial for our new free trial product, and the Searchmetrics tools.

Ben:                 If you like 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 soon.

Ben:                 All right. That’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.

 



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