Jun 28, 2012
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What SEOs get wrong about Google updates
by Barry Schwartz, SearchEngineLand
July 28, 2020

Your ranking decline is likely not due to an update and good luck trying to figure out the ranking factors impacting your site.

In covering Google algorithm updates for almost twenty-years now, one trend you notice over and over again is how SEOs tend to do two things. Many SEOs blame a Google algorithm update for their ranking declines and many SEOs often try to figure out which ranking factors they need to work on for a specific site. The thing is, often this is the wrong way to go about Google algorithm updates.

In my keynote during our virtual SMX Next last month, I covered the past 20 years of Google algorithm updates and what SEOs need to focus on in the future. I later hosted a panel with a few veteran SEOs to discuss Google algorithms, I asked these experts, what do SEOs often get wrong about these Google updates.

It wasn’t the update
Your ranking decline (or increase) was probably not due to that recent Google algorithm update. Yes, it is possible, but you first need “to have a [web site code] change log, you have to know what changes you made and when and be able to very definitely correlate” any changes you made that may have impacted your rankings. If you made zero changes and you lost 40% of your traffic on the same day as an algorithm update, “yeah that’s probably the update,” Carolyn Shelby, manager of SEO at ESPN said. But if you “made 80 changes the week before the update, we lost the traffic two days before the update, probably not the update,” she added.

One example Shelby gave at ESPN was around the time Google announced the launch of RankBrain. Truth is, when Google announced it, it actually went live months and months prior to its official announcement. In any event, the people at ESPN felt a ranking issue the company was experiencing was directly related to RankBrain. But Shelby said, “You need to calm down, I’m sure, this has nothing to do with this, we broke something else.” And when they fixed the issue they had with an AMP implementation, traffic returned. It was not related to any algorithm update Google released, but rather a change made to the site.

I brought up the nofollow attribute change where Google would treat the nofollow link attribute differently. The truth is, Google never fully launched the change — not yet at least and when it does, it won’t impact rankings. But SEOs were citing this as a reason for ranking changes, when it was not.

Correlating ranking factors
Another thing SEOs have been trying to do for ages is trying to figure out which ranking signals or factors are most important for a specific update. Back in the old days, yes, we know Penguin was about links, Panda was about content. In the earlier days, SEOs would be able to track Google Dances and PageRank values directly towards rankings the next day. But now, we really cannot do that.

Eric Wu, VP of product growth at Honey Science said, “SEOs are spending too much time trying to figure out like what correlation matches the algorithm update.” The more “you understand machine learning” the more you know that you cannot figure this out. “Weighted values of these things the behavior doesn’t happen on all the sites similarly or the same way right,” Eric said.

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