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Google's Seemingly "Snap Reactions" to Changes on a Website
JD_Toims

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 1:48 am on Jul 9, 2014 (gmt 0)

I've seen a number of posts lately about a change being made on a site or even only advertising [Adwords] one day and a site's visits dropping significantly the next.

The frequency of posts somehow related to the preceding makes me wonder if there's be some type of update we've missed? I know, yes, really, I do *know* correlation!=causation *but* the only "given" we have is Google's algo is in a constant state of change, so the question is:

Is it time for us to quit simply discounting any statement about a change made yesterday possibly having an effect on rankings today, or not?

I know sometimes when I read here it seems like we're "stuck in 2005", so I don't think it's a stretch to wonder if there's something we've missed/discounted based on "yesterday's knowledge", without even discussing to try and determine if a change in the immediacy of drops in rankings that are being reported has been made on Google's side.

 

netmeg

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 3:23 am on Jul 9, 2014 (gmt 0)

Is it time for us to quit simply discounting any statement about a change made yesterday possibly having an effect on rankings today, or not?


Not ready to go that far myself. If Google really makes more than 500 changes to the algorithm a year, that's more than one a day on average, and I'm still much more likely to think it's coincidence when something happens overnight. Specially since I never saw first hand where Google responded overnight to a change I made (unless it's a technical error, which has happened)

webcentric

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 4:18 am on Jul 9, 2014 (gmt 0)

I see at least two possible ways to look at this but I'm not sure either one gets anyone anywhere.

1. Algorithm is getting more responsive in general (less delay in action taken). So, make a change, see the results almost immediately (well, maybe only if the result is a penalty). Rewards could come at a slower pace and still fit perfectly with this scenario.
2. Constantly changing algorithm is grabbing someone by the short hairs every single day practically. Every change hits for a different reason.

netmeg mentions technical errors which can cause pretty quick effects. It's not a great leap from there to suggest that "bad behavior," once detected, could trigger an almost immediate result if the trigger is built into the algorithm already. There's almost certainly some coincidence involved in all of this but I'm inclined to believe there's also an increase in responsiveness. Updates to an algorithm can be simply to make it run faster and/or on a more frequent schedule. If certain processes are running more often now than in the past, more people are going to be noticing the effects more often and closer to the last time they changed something.

JD_Toims

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 4:18 am on Jul 9, 2014 (gmt 0)

Not ready to go that far myself.

I'm not sure I am either, but I posted about it because I think the idea/change is worth exploring... I haven't arrived at any conclusion yet, but there have been a number of posts lately about a change made yesterday seeming to affect results today, so to me, it seems like an idea worth looking into and making sure there hasn't been a change made by Google we haven't noticed.



webcentric is making some very good points, imo, which again, is why I think it's a topic for us to explore rather than discount and write-off as "well, you happened to change on the day Google changed something...", for every single occasion.

Once or twice is a coincidence, imo, but over and over and over? I think we need to question and explore a bit more than we have been to make a determination on whether it's coincidence or cause/effect...

superclown2

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 9:05 am on Jul 9, 2014 (gmt 0)

Google doesn't like webmasters making adjustments to their sites in order to improve ranking. There is some belief that they will often cause a site to initially drop in the SERPs after an alteration. If the webmaster panics and reverses the change a penalty can result. If not the site eventually reaches the position it should now be in but it can take anything up to 60 days with some seemingly random movement in between.

Like everything else connected with Google's algo this is just a theory or even just a hypothesis.

Itanium



 
Msg#: 4686223 posted 10:41 am on Jul 9, 2014 (gmt 0)

It's not a theory entirely. Google has a patent on this sort of behavior. Delayed response and sometimes adverse effects, when changing a websites content. I'm pretty sure it's in use for quite some time now.

aristotle

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 12:14 pm on Jul 9, 2014 (gmt 0)

I have the impression that googlebot has been crawling all of my sites more frequently over the past few months.

An obvious spam technique is to take an old page that gets traffic, then suddenly replace it a completely new page on a different subject, and profit from the traffic that it continues to get until Google detects the change and adjusts the algorithm accordingly.

netmeg

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 12:24 pm on Jul 9, 2014 (gmt 0)

Once or twice is a coincidence, imo, but over and over and over?


Yea, but our "over and over" doesn't even show up on Google's scale. Plus the ones talking about it are usually going to be the ones to whom some quick happened, so it's a little self fulfilling there.

On the other hand, I do believe Google can act very quickly when it wants to - probably in the area of penalties, and definitely in the area of technical issues. Prior to going responsive, I had a separate mobile site for one of my web properties, and I messed up some redirects and accidentally deindexed my entire site. It happened in about an hour, and once I discovered it and fixed it, it took about four hours for it to go back in. That was in 2009. I considered that a very quick response back then, and I'm sure it's much much faster now. If I go into GWT and ask Google to remove an URL or a site from the index, it's completely gone within an hour.

But to me an algorithm change might be different, because it's not just a specific action for a specific site or set of sites. When you're calculating rankings, you have to consider the other sites and look at the overall SERP picture. So while they're probably faster, I am still skeptical that you can make a change to your site (for good or ill) and see an immediate drastic change the next day. I can't rule it out (obviously) but I am skeptical.

webcentric

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 2:05 pm on Jul 9, 2014 (gmt 0)

One thing is fairly certain. The process of change is obfuscated enough to keep people with relative levels of intelligence from being able to pin down cause and effect in a great many cases.

I'm guessing that the vast majority of mom and pop webmasters don't play silly SEO games on a regular basis. Maybe they hired someone once to "work their magic" but there is a great deal of "build it and forget it" going on out there, even today. Point being that there is a huge percentage of the Internet population that probably has little or no knowledge about standings in the SERPS on a day to day basis which narrows the group of people who would even report this kind of stuff in the first place. People on this and other SEO boards are obviously more tuned in to the changes and most certainly represent just a tiny tip of a gargantuan iceberg.

I'm looking at the concept that the algo has something (or a number of somethings) built into it to monitor the degree of change in a website. Could be based on volume of change, type of changes, and/or frequency of change. Now, flagging something as "changed" and actually taking an action in response to that flag are two different things. One would think the flagging process is taking place all the time. Question is if there are things that trigger fairly immediate responses vs other types of change that may warrant a more scheduled response approach or no response at all. In this area, change doesn't have to be good or bad, it's just change, and G's response could be to temporarily sandbox the site until further review is carried out, demote it, do nothing, or improve its rank.

Google's ranking calculations for a given site don't necessarily need to be done in consideration of other websites. To simplify the idea to a state of ridiculousness but to demonstrate a point...

You get zero demerits for your great page. Make a change, pick up a demerit, even if only temporarily. Do something considered bad, pick up even more demerits.

Now its time to satisfy the query. Pages with the least number of current demerits get ranked higher. A sort of Page Rank in reverse mechanism.

Added: The slick and quick aspect of this type of scheme is that demerits can be applied to the resource at any time and the results can become apparent in the SERPS the instant they are applied.

Planet13

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 3:00 pm on Jul 9, 2014 (gmt 0)

While google does own an "anti-seo" patent, I think it is remember that google's main focus is NOT punishing webmasters, but giving users a better experience.

I think are perceptions that google is a war with webmasters because the head of the spam team seems to be the main spokesman for google in its relations with webmasters. And, as his title suggests, he is the head of the spam team.

But what if Maile Ohye (creator of google webmaster tools) or Amit Singhal (head of the Algo department) were the main spokesperson instead of Matt Cutts.

I think our perceptions would be different.

Imagine if your country sent the Secretary of Defence to meet with various heads of state instead of the Secretary of State. Probably would change the perception of your country, no?

rainborick

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 3:02 pm on Jul 9, 2014 (gmt 0)

I think there's an argument to be made that there's a simpler explanation. While Google has been known to evaluate changes for possible attempts at manipulation, it's also the case that parts of the algorithm are processed on a cyclical basis, rather than instantly at the time of indexing. So it's entirely possible that a recently-updated page may have one or more factors temporarily missing from the scoring process, which would result in a loss in ranking until those factors have been recalculated.

webcentric

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 3:23 pm on Jul 9, 2014 (gmt 0)

...google's main focus is NOT punishing webmasters, but giving users a better experience


If I want a good looking garden, not only do I need to care for the stuff I planted, I also need to remove the weeds. Weeding (whether the garden or the SERPS) is an essential process and I think it's the one we're most likely to notice.

engine

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 4:35 pm on Jul 9, 2014 (gmt 0)

This is exactly what Google wants. The apparent confusion and obfuscation means it's tougher to know what actually affected the movement in the SERPs.

Ranking should not be the sole aim; winning traffic, followed by good conversions should be the aim, and a good SEO will know that. If a site is nurtured well by a good SEO it should benefit in the long run, no matter what algo update.

brotherhood of LAN

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 4:46 pm on Jul 9, 2014 (gmt 0)

They have been obfuscating/randomising ranking changes for a good while (10 years?) that prevent easy measuring of cause and effect. Without that, you'd only have to worry about Google algo changes and/or the competition effects.

To rule out the latter two variables, you often see SEOs take a really obscure term or isolated domain/page and try to measure things that way. Any randomising obviously helps Google mask the cause and effect. I remember ciml a good few years back measuring the granularity of the Pagerank toolbar by doing an experiment this way, which produced a clear answer.

I think the SEO community does a fair job in making a distinction between subtle SERP/domain changes and a more generic algo change.

Random aside a bit, physicists and engineers do a good job of using quantum mechanics which has very little absolutes to work with, and I guess to an extent SEO's also work on the idea of probabilities. This only really applies to mastering the algorithm rather than nurturing a site though. This is probably where there's been an attitude change for many too, rather than getting incremental benefits for having <h1s> and a nice % of anchor text backlinks (which have always been subject to change of course)... genereally people are advocating that you focus on a positive user experience, which likely takes up a much larger amount of ranking influence nowadays.

I think that's where the confusion lies really. Many are still convinced that it's about mastering those 250 quanta of factors regarding on page and external references, but there seems to be a much larger fuzzy user/UI element to it now. Bit of a ramble but at least I have a fair idea of what I mean ;o)

fathom

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 5:29 pm on Jul 9, 2014 (gmt 0)

Also just because you did something recently or a while ago does not mean Google detected that immediately after.

I work with 301 redirects day in and day out and because they are code suggested "PERMANENT" when you undo one it can take Google 6 months or longer to detect the change.

JD_Toims

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 6:25 pm on Jul 9, 2014 (gmt 0)

Also just because you did something recently or a while ago does not mean Google detected that immediately after.

True, but it doesn't mean they didn't detect it either, so...

Does anyone who's had "snap reaction" in rankings after an onsite change track bot visits, and if so, did GBot visit the page(s) that were affected before the ranking change happened?

webcentric

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 6:41 pm on Jul 9, 2014 (gmt 0)

After my most recent sitemap submission, GBot traffic doubled (from about 100,000 pages a day to 200,000 a day - remaining constant). I can see a great many updated URL's with a site: search and some of those are among the impacted URL set (some that are pretty obviously impacted). Tells me G has visited them and either updated the URL's based on 301 redirects, canonical URLs or by picking them up from the sitemap. Some are being reported as dupes though as the old URLs have not been removed from the index yet. Feels like sandboxing.

Jenstar

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 9:13 pm on Jul 9, 2014 (gmt 0)

Netmeg mentioned the 500 changes a year - the problem is that you could have changed something yesterday and today you see a spike or dive in your Google referrals. But the thing that caused the spike or dive could have actually been that thing you changed six weeks ago - or something you didn't even change but suddenly it is affected by one of the many algo tweaks - and it wasn't actually yesterday's change at all but a coincidence.

JD_Toims

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 9:45 pm on Jul 9, 2014 (gmt 0)

Netmeg mentioned the 500 changes a year...

I understand, and think the reported number last year was 650+, so obviously there could be [is likely] some coincidence involved, but... I work on a site that recently had a template change, moved to https, and dropped the extensions from the URLs all at once.

About two days later there was a noticeable "uptick" in traffic and a distinct difference in user behavior. The traffic uptick lasted about 3 days then returned to prior levels -- I know that's not as "snappy" as some are reporting, but the only way that's "coincidence", imo, is if somehow the site update went live slightly before Google made an update, then Google subsequently reverted that update 3 days later.

It's possible, but, imo it's highly unlikely and more likely an algorithmic reaction to the onsite changes made.



As far as having the capability to react nearly immediately, they've certainly had the capacity since the introduction of Caffeine, and likely were close to being able to make changes to the live index that fast, even if they weren't quite there, since Big Daddy.



ADDED

I think there's an argument to be made that there's a simpler explanation. While Google has been known to evaluate changes for possible attempts at manipulation, it's also the case that parts of the algorithm are processed on a cyclical basis, rather than instantly at the time of indexing. So it's entirely possible that a recently-updated page may have one or more factors temporarily missing from the scoring process, which would result in a loss in ranking until those factors have been recalculated.

I think this is possible too, but with their "minty fresh indexing" and the fact some people can have a page indexed/ranking in the range of a couple of minutes to a couple of days on established, authority sites seems to indicate they *can* ignore the intermittent portions of the algo if they choose to -- Maybe the rules are different for changes to a page though?

netmeg

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 10:29 pm on Jul 9, 2014 (gmt 0)

Maybe the rules are different for changes to a page though?


And maybe THAT is dependent on other factors such as age of the site, perceived quality and authority, past history... the possibilities are endless.

JD_Toims

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 10:40 pm on Jul 9, 2014 (gmt 0)

... the possibilities are endless.

Definitely -- Great topic to explore isn't it?

One question I have [I'm sure I'll have more later] for those who have experienced what seem like "snap reactions" to changes, would be: What changed? Maybe we can narrow down a bit to the types of changes the algo seems to react to more often than others?

Example:
Maybe a page content change triggers [or doesn't trigger] a reaction?

Maybe a URL change where the URL isn't the same except for protocol/extension triggers a "reevaluation", but using "the same only different" URL doesn't?

Maybe a template/layout change triggers [or doesn't trigger] a reaction?



I think hearing from more people about what changes they've made that seem to have triggered a "snap reaction" from the algo would be really helpful in trying to narrow down if the changes and ranking impact are coincidence or if some changes really do have a near immediate impact on rankings.

lucy24

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 12:05 am on Jul 10, 2014 (gmt 0)

<begin Boring Old Poop mode>
Before you start working out the ante quem, you need a post quem cutoff: If a change on your site is older than {time period to be determined}, then it cannot possibly affect a current search-engine action. Only after you know this can you say that such-and-such was the only action on your part within the relevant time period, and therefore the only thing that can have led to an observed change in search-engine behavior.

It is probably safe to say that the terminus post quem is never more than a year. Probably. Beyond that, I wouldn't make any assumptions without some fairly concrete evidence.
</end BOPM>

JD_Toims

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 2:08 am on Jul 10, 2014 (gmt 0)

I think anything more than 3 to 4 days, a week at the most, is outside of this discussion -- I'm talking about what seem like a "nearly instant" reaction/re-ranking by Google's algo due to onsite changes.

brotherhood of LAN

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 2:43 am on Jul 10, 2014 (gmt 0)

Admittedly I'd somehow read that you were meaning a general timeframe regarding the measurement of cause and effect.

>Is it time for us to quit simply discounting any statement about a change made yesterday possibly having an effect on rankings today, or not?

I'd say yes, and it's been that way a long time. I can't recall any threads where people have made a change on one day and expected a (predicted?) change within a day or two. No one has really operated that way have they?

Yes Google are a lot quicker to account for changes of content, particularly where they want to see it. It's never necessarily meant a correlating ranking difference when it sees something different.

webcentric

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 2:46 am on Jul 10, 2014 (gmt 0)

It would make sense to keep the window of supposed cause and effect as narrow as practically possible. I'm with JD that anything broader than a week is gonna be impractical.

In this venture, you'll be running up against very infrequent algorithm shifts (like a Panda or Penguin updates) as well as more frequent cyclical shifts (like the old Google dance) and then the random, who knows what it was, tweaks that seem to be happening almost constantly.

Any one of the above can bump directly up against some change a webmaster made so the coincidence factor is always going to be a variable in the equation. Still, by focusing on the changes people made that bumped up against a dramatic swing in rankings, it might be possible to identify what kind of rules were applied at the time. What's needed though is honestly assessed data related to impacted site so that various factors can be ruled out when a major shift occurs. Just thinking on the keyboard here is all.

JD_Toims

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 3:16 am on Jul 10, 2014 (gmt 0)

I'd say yes, and it's been that way a long time. I can't recall any threads where people have made a change on one day and expected a (predicted?) change within a day or two. No one has really operated that way have they?

I can only speak for myself, and I don't "predict" things will change within a day or two, but there have been a number of recent posts about "changing [blah]" one day and seeing a difference in rankings the next or within a couple days, so I think it's a good time for us to revisit cause/effect rather than just writing off "possible cause/effect" as coincidence, as easy as saying "Oh, it's coincidental. The problem is..." may be for us to do.

I'm not saying there's a definite cause/effect in the rankings; what I'm saying is: I think it's time for us to have a good, SEO based discussion to explore things further and see if we can figure out if change==effect or if change+effect is simply coincidence.

brotherhood of LAN

WebmasterWorld Administrator brotherhood_of_lan us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 4686223 posted 3:20 am on Jul 10, 2014 (gmt 0)

Sure, makes perfect sense. I sometimes think it'd be wise if we had a 10 page signature link just so we know where we're all at before starting a discussion... to save some of the clarificaiton. I seem to notice people who've accidentally blocked Googlebot, been hacked, 301'd an established domain to a new one etc, I haven't noticed threads where people are experimenting with small purposeful changes for measuring. Do feel free to link to them as a frame of reference.

JD_Toims

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 3:32 am on Jul 10, 2014 (gmt 0)

I seem to notice people who've accidentally blocked Googlebot, been hacked, 301'd an established domain to a new one etc,

If that's all it is, then, it is what it is and the cause/effect are self-inflicted, imo -- I have seen what appear to be cause/algo-effect on at least one site before, so I've seen an "odd" situation if it's not algorithmic on Google's part.

I haven't noticed threads where people are experimenting with small purposeful changes for measuring.

I can't argue and don't disagree, because I haven't seen them either -- What I have seen are more frequent posts where people say they changed [something] and their rankings/traffic were "nearly immediately" [within a day or two] different than they were prior to the changes.



I hope everyone keeps in mind, I'm not saying cause==effect; what I'm really wanting to do is explore the idea cause *could* == effect, and effect *could* == coincidence, but until there's more info about exact changes made, time between cause to effect, etc. I don't think we can rule out either cause==effect or effect==coincidence.

webcentric

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Msg#: 4686223 posted 3:37 am on Jul 10, 2014 (gmt 0)

Establishing some baselines is a good idea.

I'm not saying there's a definite cause/effect in the rankings


Well there's definitely cause and effect. The question is about whether two can be connected with any certainty. We build websites. How we build them, promote them, populate them with content etc. is what Google is responding to. Question is, can anyone connect a particular change with a particular response (over any period of time elapsed)?

JD_Toims

WebmasterWorld Senior Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 4686223 posted 3:53 am on Jul 10, 2014 (gmt 0)

Well there's definitely cause and effect. The question is about whether two can be connected with any certainty.

****

Question is, can anyone connect a particular change with a particular response ... ?

Okay, okay, way to get "more specific" on me -- LOL -- What you're asking is definitely the "root of my question" and goes to how we as SEOs evaluate the difference between what is "just a change by Google" and "what we did" to cause an algorithmic change in the rankings of a given site.

If the recent reports of changes on-site and subsequent ranking/visitor changes are simply coincidence, then as I previously stated, it is what it is, but if there's a pattern of "I changed [blah]" and a ranking/visit-level change nearly immediately occurred, then we can get an idea of what to change/not-change to have a better chance of keeping a consistent visitor level from Google.

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