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Google Updates and SERP Changes - August 2016

     
8:05 am on Aug 2, 2016 (gmt 0)

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System: The following 11 messages were cut out of thread at: https://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4811319.htm [webmasterworld.com] by robert_charlton - 9:11 am on Aug 2, 2016 (PDT -8)


It seems to me that whatever happened over the weekend / last week has now rolled back. My positions were quite mixed up with some gains and some losses but traffic up overall. And sales were great. I am now seeing the results I have had for months again. It's too soon to tell is sales / conversions are on or off yet. Is anyone else seeing that?
3:56 pm on Aug 8, 2016 (gmt 0)

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My theory is because most merchants do not turn off ads and do not track carefully enough. A smart merchant will turn off adwords when cost/conversion is high but the majority of merchants do not turn off their advertisements.

It is the same game like on amazon. Meanwhilke many resellers use automated tools to set their selling price to lowest best price. They donīt even check taht they sell for less than they pay fo the widget.
Many merchants use auomatic bidding tools for google. They donīt even check that the profit they make with one item is waay beyond what they throwing down googles drain.

The statements above are definitely true in some industries. But my industry is so small I know that automated bidding is not the reason why Adwords is performing so poorly. Supposedly my Adwords manager knows why and is going to call me today to explain. And I will assure my my Adwords manager that it is not because I did not bid high enough because I followed the manager's advice to bid high. LOL If I gain anything useful from the conversation I will share it. Otherwise my site is generating sales this morning but I have not checked the source of these sales yet, but if trends hold true sales from search will be from Bing and Yahoo.
4:05 pm on Aug 8, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Agreed. Even by most zombie day "standards", it is far below anything I've experienced. Very irritated at Googles lack of transparency, they are clearly manipulating traffic and have been since last year September (for me anyway, people have been having issues with this for a few years now). I'm working on a solution, which is simply to get the highest possible ranks for every keyword I can, but particularly high traffic ones. I'm fairly sure I know what I'm doing to not get slapped by any brainfart algorithm they can come up with.

On another note, I strongly suspect this is rankbrains doing, and the more I think about it, the more obvious it gets. It affects informational/commercial querying quite a bit (and one of its purposes is to try and figure out context IIRC), which it is clearly failing at.

They've probably botched Penguin too, considering how much spam they actually created by idiots trying to neg SEO their competitors and created another level of complexity by not being able to distinguish the sites own manipulation vs competitor manipulation. I can't see any way around that issue except for shelving it or completely rebuilding it for much more precise judgements of what "bad" links are.
4:15 pm on Aug 8, 2016 (gmt 0)

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toidi wrote:
Is it possible these click bots/zombies might be coming from adsense sites who are attempting to boosting their revenue with fake clicks and are turning their bots loose on everyone in an attempt to cover their tracks?

It's unlikely that clickbots or zombies would be coming directly from adsense sites. First of all, most adsense site owners don't have the technical know-how to be able to do it, and second, it would be easy to identify the source or sources.

A more likely possibility is that some big player in Adsense has rented a botnet for this purpose.
5:21 pm on Aug 8, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I'm working on a solution, which is simply to get the highest possible ranks for every keyword I can, but particularly high traffic ones.

I already have very high ranks for many buyer keywords for my products and let me tell you it does not matter for conversions. It's as if Google removes my free and paid listings entirely when they detect a buyer. Who knows, maybe that's exactly what they are doing. But I hope you can rank well for very high traffic keywords and get enough traffic that does something other than simply suck up bandwidth.
On another note, I strongly suspect this is rankbrains doing, and the more I think about it, the more obvious it gets. It affects informational/commercial querying quite a bit (and one of its purposes is to try and figure out context IIRC), which it is clearly failing at.

You may be right and August 1st may have been the day they took Rank Brain offline for a while. If that's the case, it needs to stay offline!
7:21 pm on Aug 8, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Looooooong time lurker, but this thread finally had me decide to create an account to add some comments.
I may come over a bit direct but it's NOT my intention to insult anyone.......without further ado:

- Quit and close all your google analytics accounts and stop giving google your most important asset for free with which they can control your business where they send which "buyer" traffic!
- Remove any and all code from your website giving google access to anything on your website. What's with the self inflicted enslavement towards google with many webmasters? And for God's sake, you will NOT get de-indexed by google.
- Block webstes like MOZ, Hrefs and the rest thoroughly in your htaccess file.
- Then watch the google bot jump all over your website indexing more pages. Don't believe me? Try and see what happens.
- From my own testing I have found out that ranking high for your keywords is almost useless now when trying to get "buyer" traffic.
- This is caused by Rankbrain, which is a completely useless and nonfunctional AI in regards to trying to interpret intent of a visitor.
- I am sure that many of you also had extremely high numbers of conversions/sales exactly at the time during the day that the last two or three algorithm updates were pushed out......right? Think about it.....google has no control over the traffic during the push of the update!
- I could go on and on, but will leave you with a final note: build links using short quality content on quality websites in which the content describes a solution/benefit to a problem of which the product you sell is the solution to that problem/issue and you will see your conversion skyrocket from that traffic.

Some of you webmasters are gullible or maybe naive beyond description from what I read in the past few days. Google is NOT here to help you, instead Mr Page and Mr Brin are only looking out for their own interests and their shareholders. Is Google useless? Off course not, but you need to know how to use it as a tool, just like the same way you pick the correct tool to fix a fence.
8:00 pm on Aug 8, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Dooku...thanks for your post! Good information. I have heard theories that removing analytics can cause problems.I have thought about removing but this may be a bad idea. Why? I need to research again. I agree about enslavement to Google.. giving them data makes webmasters weaker. This is one of the reasons why I left Amazon.

Anyway, thank you again for your contribution!
9:00 pm on Aug 8, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Google traffic volume and SERP positions are no longer useful performance metrics IMHO. They are now so independent of traffic quality/conversions that there's little point saying things like 'my traffic has increased by 20%' or 'keyword X has increased to position Y'. Ironically, people complain that this 'Google Updates and SERP changes' thread is dominated by talk of zombie traffic, but actually, traffic quality changes (which is the nature of zombie traffic) are far more important and relevant than volume-based metrics.
9:28 pm on Aug 8, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Simon, what do you think about what dooku said about Google analytics? Not traffic but sharing conversion data...what products convert, etc. Do you have Google analytics turned on? Yes, i think you do according to your posts. Do you block moz, hrefs, etc?
1:39 am on Aug 9, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Google traffic volume and SERP positions are no longer useful performance metrics IMHO.

I completely and 100% agree with you Simon. Ranks mean nothing if Google removes or greatly demotes our listings when buyers are searching and that seems to be happening for me in both free and paid. Yeah, I get a lot of Google traffic but it is almost all pure crap. This is bad for many ecommerce operators suffering from the same zombie problem. The holiday shopping season is around the corner and we have no recourse other than trying to connect with some dude that talks on hangouts. By the way, did he ever get back to you about the zombie problems? My guess is no. Which brings me to this point: Can't a multi-billion dollar company do something just a little bit better then one dude running a hangout to answer a handful of questions every now and then? Really, the lack of any outreach and support channels to Google shows how little they care and how screwed we really are. The end of next month will be a full year of this Google zombie crap for me, and I know many others. A full year of mostly crap traffic from a site so whitehat it would make casper the ghost look blue.

Simon, would you also say that Adwords is also no longer useful for those of us with zombie problems? From my point of view it suffers from the same abysmal traffic quality problems as organic search does. On the Adwords issue, I did speak with my Adwords account manager today who tried to get me to spend even more on text ads and keywords. No surprise there I might add. I stated that I would not expand what has already proven to be a loser (see stats from 8/5 below I posted). As the account manager kept trying to push me to spend more, I kept going back to the topic of traffic quality and that I need an explanation why Bing and Yahoo traffic is many times more productive then any Google traffic. The account manager agreed to escalate the matter and review the traffic quality. Not that anything will happen, but the only way Google is going to hear us is if they see a hit in the wallet.

August 5th Traffic Stats:
Google PPC: Bounce Rate: 75% Session Time: :19
Google Organic: Bounce Rate: 70.59% Session Time: 1:39
Bing Organic: Bounce Rate: 0% Session Time: 9:22
Yahoo Organic: Bounce Rate: 0% Session Time: 11:38

Ironically, some of the best actionable advice regarding zombies/low conversions may have just come from Dooku - a long time lurker. Which, by the way Dooku, thanks for posting because I think we all needed a little reality check. Please continue contributing to the discussion.
10:31 am on Aug 9, 2016 (gmt 0)

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This morning i'm seeing huge discrepancies between mobile ranking and desktop. That isn't a criticism, because there are sites whose UX is vastly different on mobile than desktop, however its a notable change to where we were at post 23rd June. In our vertical, they used to run virtually side by side, especially on the first page.
11:59 am on Aug 9, 2016 (gmt 0)

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@ecommerceprofit GA is so easily manipulated or inconsistently implemented that even if Google were out to get you, I doubt they'd use GA data to do it. And unless you have full conversion tracking implemented, it's not particularly useful to Google either.

@glakes We make good money from Adwords (Google Shopping) despite being on low margins and despite the zombies. So Adwords is still useful if you can optimise your campaigns to profit in spite of what Google is doing.

No, John hasn't got back to me regarding zombies. But I can't push because John deals with organic search and (1) we've been hit by Penguin so our organic data is unreliable until that's sorted and (2) I think the zombie phenomenon is caused entirely by Google paid which John can't help with. In the tests we've done, Google mis-matching paid results combined with changes in competitor activity has a *massive* impact on both paid and organic results.
12:04 pm on Aug 9, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Google mis-matching paid results combined with changes in competitor activity has a *massive* impact on both paid and organic results.
How so, Simon? Can you elaborate please?
12:42 pm on Aug 9, 2016 (gmt 0)

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@Jez123 I gave an example on here a while ago:

------

Site A sells red shoes and lists on Google Shopping with high bids, but uses ad scheduling to lower the bid after 10pm. It doesn't rank highly on organic.
Site B sells red *shoelaces* and lists on Google Shopping with high bids.
Site C sells red shoes and is on organic only.

A user searches for red shoes during the day. Google shows Site A in the Shopping widget on the homepage and Site C in organic. Site B isn't shown as they sell shoelaces not shoes, and shoelaces are a poor match. Traffic is hence split between A and C.

A user then searches for red shoes at 11pm. Site A's bids are now very low, so Google won't show them on the Shopping widget on the homepage even though they're a great match because Google enforces minimum bids (even though it won't admit to doing so). Google doesn't have any other good match results to show yet identifies the search as transactional, so instead shows Site B's shoelaces in the homepage Shopping widget as the shoelaces are a high bid. This is a poor match ('shoes' vs 'shoelaces') but will always get some clicks as it's at the top of the SERPs with a tiny photo and truncated description. Google also shows Site C in organic as before. So now, everything has turned to crap. Site A loses all of its paid traffic even though it's a perfect match and users are likely to convert. Site B suddenly starts getting paid clicks on its shoelaces which will never convert as the user wasn't searching for shoelaces. And Site C will suddenly see a jump in its organic clicks as many users will notice the PLAs in the Shopping widget are poor and so will scroll down to organic.

-----

Interestingly, shortly after I posted this example, Google announced it was improving its Dynamic Search Ads to make them "more relevant", or rather, to reduce the amount of low quality traffic they were sending. The example Google gave was: ads that point to a landing page about iced coffee makers will be less likely to show for less relevant searches like "iced coffee." Which is very similar to my example of "shoes" and "shoelaces" on Google Shopping. I don't mean to imply Google has copied me (!), just that Google is fully aware of the mismatching problems with Google paid and when they happen.

From our tests, I believe this mis-matching is intentional. Here's a real example. Try searching for 'Oriental furniture handles' on google.co.uk. The organic results are good; the top results are all hardware. The results within Google Shopping itself are also good; they're all hardware. But the results within the Shopping widget on the homepage are crap. Half the results are oriental cabinets, NOT handles. We know Google understands the query, because the organic and native Shopping results are good. So, why is the Shopping widget so bad? It must be intentional and it will certainly generate chargeable clicks that won't convert. And, as per my example above, the Shopping widget and search ads all have a huge impact on organic traffic quality.
12:43 pm on Aug 9, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Thanks Simon for your response. The main statistic that matters to us is cost per converted click - so we track all the way to the sale. I think this data is super useful to Google...not saying they use it but in the realm of possibility. If a merchant has a low cost per converted click then Google's code sends the particular web site zombies in an effort to increase cost per converted click. If their cost per converted click is high then the site remains zombie free. Just a theory...not saying Google is nefarious.

Google shopping works for us too...our cost per conversion is quite low. I half believe that Google "is out to get us" but not our business personally. They just want to increase their profitability say 35% across the board using the methods I previously stated in this thread.

What are others thoughts on turning off Google analytics? If I removed like Dooku advises what bad things could happen? After posting saw Simon's second response to everyone...reading it now.
1:06 pm on Aug 9, 2016 (gmt 0)

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@ecommerceprofit Yes, you have conversion tracking set up, but (1) very few sites do and (2) implementations are inconsistent. If people want to do a *real* test to see if Google uses that data, don't turn off GA but instead manipulate the conversion data. So:

1. Tweak your 'payment complete' page to only show the conversion data for, say, 1 in 20 transactions, so it will look to Google that you get very few transactions. Leave it like this for a few weeks/months and see the impact on sales.
2. Tweak your site to indicate conversions have happened far more frequently than they really do, e.g. add the conversion tracking to the billing page rather than the payment complete page. Measure the impact on sales.

Would be interesting to see if either of the above results in a noticeable change in sales.
1:22 pm on Aug 9, 2016 (gmt 0)

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wooooa. Great idea Simon. I am on life support when it comes to my programmer. He helps me with emergencies for sure and does not try to slip in overcharges. This is super valuable to me. The only problem is the programmer is slow to get my other projects done that can expand my business. This would be one of those projects...and I have other projects to get done that are essential to operations.

I need Google analytics to prove long term trends for a project I am in right now that is on the business side with third parties so I won't be able to implement your idea. I would need an alternative way to track conversions from ads which involves using the programmer. Although if my situation became harsh I would drop all other projects and implement your idea immediately.
2:29 pm on Aug 9, 2016 (gmt 0)

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@Simon_H, if you look at googles cost of showing serps then every click costs them money, with every click on ads they earn money!
It is as simply as it is. Good Shopping results would finally result in less money for google. Then there is the bid price. A higher bid ( CPC ) for a "similar" keyword would naturally result into displaying this ad, even if it is not 100% matching.
On the other hand, showing bad organic traffic will result in more costs for them OR in more money as users are now clicking on ads.
Most of you forget that this is business. And business is money. What we are doing in small, they will do in big.
4:03 pm on Aug 9, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Interesting article written yesterday about Google at a place called watchdog.org. Also, found out about "Google Transparency Project" web site.
5:13 pm on Aug 9, 2016 (gmt 0)

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@Martin_Ice_Web Yes, Google has a conflict of interest. The fewer the clicks required for a user to research and buy, the better the user experience, but the lower Google's revenue. But both users and advertisers can tolerate a higher-than-minimum number of clicks for a sale to still happen. It's in Google's interests to find that sweet spot, i.e. the maximum number of clicks a user will tolerate before abandoning Google due to poor user experience, and similarly the maximum number of clicks the advertiser ecosystem can tolerate before the ROAS is too low. (With the latter, the smaller advertisers will naturally drop off before the big players because they work on lower margins and are not as good at optimising paid campaigns.) Google could then theoretically just increase the proportion of mismatched PLAs to reach that sweet spot.
5:24 pm on Aug 9, 2016 (gmt 0)

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we have tried it already displayed the conversion script 1 in 3 for few days, first day we had an increase in sale but after gone flat and lower so do not recommend and do not forget there is Google Chrome that sends information not just analytics or adwards conversion script
8:23 am on Aug 10, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Our ranks have continued to diminish, at a slower rate, but conversions remain steady despite lacking traffic. I've done all i can to force more direct traffic and utilise social media to keep things float, but it doesn't feel stable. I've been looking at other verticals that i used to work in to see who the landscape is there.

Common attributes of the domains that I've found ranking top are:-

- Relatively small site size compared to their competitors
- Inbound links using exact match anchors
- Juvenile domain age compared to competitors (this was really apparent)
- Very little use of no-indexed pages and canonicalised URLs (Some domains didn't even have a Robots.txt)

These were common themes and when you stack them up, it makes for horrible reading.
11:05 am on Aug 10, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I actually find the mismatched traffic theory interesting but I would say that the bounce rate should be high for anybody landed on the wrong product from PLAs. We get like hours full of zombies and watching videos of their journey with clicktale I cannot say that they are bouncing and landed on the wrong page they trying to look normal exploring the product and so on...

Question is if the zombies are real humans working from home creating traffic or bots ?
11:43 am on Aug 10, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I'm not sure its that, we've had a huge inflation in bounce rates and we've turned off adwords.
11:45 am on Aug 10, 2016 (gmt 0)

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@mosxu Good vs poor converting traffic won't necessarily affect your bounce rate as much as you think it may. Here's an example (@Jez123, this is another one showing impact of paid on organic):

So, Google has just announced it's launching more 'smart bidding' options powered by AI, i.e. where Google allows you to bid higher for users who it believes are more likely to buy. It's been in beta testing for a while by some big brands, e.g. Ali Express who said they saw a 93% increase in conversions. Sounds good, eh? But... what we need to realise is that this doesn't mean more users are buying stuff. It just redistributes sales from one merchant to another. So that 93% increase must mean other merchants have seen a corresponding decrease in conversions. Also, given that there is now almost no UI difference between organic results and search ads, a paid smart bidding option will result in highly focussed search ads jumping to the top of the SERPs whenever Google identifies a potential buyer, and so that paid ad will be stealing the high quality traffic both from other search ads and from organic results. So you'll see a drop in conversions across both paid and organic.

However, you won't necessarily see a noticeable drop in traffic or increase in bounce rate. That's because high quality traffic only forms a small percentage of your total traffic. Let's say a good conversion rate for you is 5%. So, generalising, that means 5% of your traffic are buyers and the rest are noise. Now let's say I have a way to skim the buyers off your site, e.g. drop you down the search results page when one of these buyers runs a search and pull you up the search results page when a low quality user is running the search. This will kill your conversions, but only affect 5% of your other metrics, e.g. bounce rate, time on site, etc. So it'll be hardly noticeable.
12:08 pm on Aug 10, 2016 (gmt 0)

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@simon_H

I am sure you done a lot of research and it is true that some big spenders get tools to bid on users likely to buy but I am not happy with a zombie behaviour from an UX perspective and watching a lot of videos of their behaviour. We can try to give them gold and still would not covert so if out 500 users in a raw no one wants the gold there is something more serious than low quality traffic.
12:11 pm on Aug 10, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Im thinking of blocking google totally from one of my sites that gets 500 visitors a day but only 2 of those are from google and are just comment spam bots. Google also steals and scrapes my site with google bot 1 million times over 2 months aswell :/ WOW!
12:19 pm on Aug 10, 2016 (gmt 0)

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@mosxu So you're saying you're watching users come from Google and navigate around your site but not convert? Do these come from organic, search ads or PLAs? (You mentioned PLAs earlier, but not sure if you were referring to your own issue.)
12:42 pm on Aug 10, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Yes, PLAs most of them, some organic as well but not landing necessarily on product pages. We use clicktale.com as it is easy to watch a video of users coming from PLAs or organic, this way we optimize the site for conversions and this is what I am frustrated with that 500 users in a row do not want the gold...
1:42 pm on Aug 10, 2016 (gmt 0)

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However, you won't necessarily see a noticeable drop in traffic or increase in bounce rate. That's because high quality traffic only forms a small percentage of your total traffic.

Very good point that everyone needs to consider.

With the current CPC in Adwords, in my industry, I don't see how Google can spread out enough conversions to support diversity. As you noted previously, the smaller guys will drop out. That may explain why on some product searches three of the PLAs are the same product from different retailers, which I consider a poor user experience. Apparently Google's algo or AI does not take that into account. More product choices can be found on Bing, which may explain why their traffic converts many times better than the bot like traffic Google sends.

For all intensive purposes I see Adwords as a dead money pit not worth the time and definitely not worth the investment for such a huge LOI (Loss on Investment). The same campaigns used to have a conversion cost of $5 or less. Now I'm seeing cost per conversion exceed $80. I'm not sure why others can remain profitable in Adwords, and I suspect Google is squeezing some industries much harder than others - possibly because I'm in a small industry with not enough competition to naturally drive up the CPC so Google does it artificially. Regardless, the numbers are horrible and I can't help feeling ripped off by Google.
2:37 pm on Aug 10, 2016 (gmt 0)

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@mosxu This is the wrong thread for pure PLA chat, but just quickly...

Go to Adwords, to your campaign, Dimensions tab. Check the data in 'search terms'. Check if there are any search terms that don't seem to apply to your products, as that would indicate Google mismatching your results. Also, compare the data in the 'search terms' view with the data in the 'Shopping/item ID' view. So, add the up the clicks on a certain type of product in the 'shopping/item id' view. Then add up clicks on all search terms that could possibly relate to that product type. If there are more search terms clicks on a product type than clicks on products of that type, then that also indicates Google is mismatching your results.
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