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Google Updates and SERP Changes - February 2017

     
11:07 am on Jan 31, 2017 (gmt 0)

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System: The following 8 messages were cut out of thread at: https://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4830556.htm [webmasterworld.com] by robert_charlton - 4:05 am on Feb 1, 2017 (PDT -8)


Here's something I found happened at the start of January across smaller, medium and massive websites, across verticals, within my GSC account.

I will write down the exact steps you can take to check if this happened with your properties as well.

1.) Timespan last 90 days, select all metrics, group by countries (there is no possibility to write in a country you're looking for so you need to find it manually in the next step)
2.) Sort by impressions descending
3.) If I'm right, most likely you'll see "Unknown Region" within the first 30 results for larger sites (in terms of organic traffic), first 10 for smaller ones
4.) Click on the Unknown Region to filter by that, what you should see is a 10x drop in impressions and a 2x spike in avg. position at around January 4th-5th -> clicks actually remained the same (so CTR rose also through the roof)
5.) This change is maintained and steady for the data I have so far (last day for which I have data is January 29th, because of the GSC delay of course)

Just sharing this 'cause it looks like a wide-spread phenomena, so hoping to get confirmations from others, feel free to report if you found something similar.

One of the questions arising from this observation is: could this be related to the general observation about country of origin traffic shifts that other members noticed (at a later date though, January 24th if I'm not mistaken)?

Another hypothesis that leaped to mind is maybe a SERP tracker or some other major bot that Google started counting out of the equation since this date. I based this on the fact that most of those impressions were evenly spread across queries and the number of impressions per specific query was the same each week.

But let's see if others see this same pattern in GSC
6:36 pm on Feb 17, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@Shai
I specially registered here to confirm this.
We have the same thing with one of our website, but not so huge drop in position, but -2 to -15 for VERY TOP money keywords.
No so old domain with quality links
10:25 am on Feb 18, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I going to share our experience, all the sites we have that are afected with the update (some goes fron 5k visits per day to almost nothing) are sites with strong long tail and natural links from sites not related with the topic but since there are common or open topics websites its a normal thing, i think. Its strange because since we have a heavy drop in traffic there is not such heavy drop in adsense and incomes (there are loses, of course, but drops of 20-25% not the 60-70% like the traffic drops)
10:41 am on Feb 18, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Huge drop in image search traffic since Jan 28.

I noticed a dramatic drop in the Image impressions on our photo website www.loupiote.com since about Jan 28.

We used to have about 500,000 image impressions per day, and now we are around 85,000.

There has been no recent change of content, layout or code on our site, and there is no "Manual action" or security issue. No issue or warning with "Mobile" friendliness of our site.

So I am at a loss to understand what could cause such a dramatic drop.

We have another photo website with similar layout and design, and I observed a similar drop of image search ranking and traffic, with a similar timing (starting around Jan 28), but less dramatic (only about 50% drop).

This other photo website does not have adsense ads, since it is NSFW. There are no links between the two sites. This other photo site has a lot less photos, maybe around 1000.

So is it possible that google is "accidentally" penalizing legitimate photo websites with many images, in an attempt to reduce the ranking of so-called "image farms"?

The most depressing part is that searches that used to return some of my photos, now return unauthorized copies of my photos, located on various spam sites! Not too happy about this situation.

If this is the result of an algorithm change, Google should fix that mess. Our photography site has only unique and interesting content, with photos being organized, documented and keyworded for easy search, and it has been in existence for more than 10 years.

I started a thread on their forum, too:

productforums.google.com/forum/#!topic/webmasters/DgwuPSLeZw4;context-place=topicsearchin/webmasters/category$3A(images--video-content)$20is$3Afirstpost%7Csort:relevance
11:03 am on Feb 18, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@Juand
Can confirm, that the most of our websites have the same backlinks profile.
But the backlinks are of very high quality, not like forums, blogs, private blog networks etc.
The question is: Why one website lost 40% of search traffic and another websites lost 1 - 10% of traffic. The style of backlinks profile is the same. Where is the difference and logic?

Our competitors have direct match anchors link profile from different garbage websites and that works!
If we are talking about organic backlinks and anchors, noone will link to with commercial anchors, but longtail anchors in most cases.
Back to 2000-s, Google?
11:35 am on Feb 18, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Looks like another update last night - anyone else? Back to where I was 11 days ago, not that it worries me too much as the extra traffic didn't bring any extra sales.
12:07 pm on Feb 18, 2017 (gmt 0)

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For those reporting significant loss of traffic from Google's image search, this is related to the fact that now Google is using its "new" image search layout to all countries. This is what is being used in the USA since some years now.

Also, since mobile friendliness is now an important criteria for Google (even for desktop searches), it's highly possible that sites which are mostly image galleries are being penalized. Displaying images bigger than a mobile screen device is not "mobile-friendly", and it's also long to download on such devices. That's why those relying on image gallery, should use the "srcset" parameter of the <img> tag or use the <picture> tag. (personally, I am using <img> + "srcse" which I found to be both more convenient and having better integration). Like that you can serve images which are adapted to the device and bandwidth of your visitors. I am sure Google is taking this in consideration.
12:15 pm on Feb 18, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I am also not seeing what the point of this supposed "update" is supposed to be doing. It appears as if Google is more confused than ever about where to place certain pages, because it can't figure out that its about the same thing but covering different aspects of the same topic (even if they are written around different keywords). I have the same sentiments as I said a bit earlier - Google is trying to guess what it THINKS people are really searching for rather than just giving them what they want and actually search for.

Also, I don't particularly use image search that much anyway, but I was seeing a random redirect notice on every single image just a few days ago. This looks like it is some kind of bug. When I clicked on an image and wanted to "visit webpage", I would end up on something that looked like a superstitial page before having to click a link to go where I wanted.
1:15 pm on Feb 18, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Guys,

Are you also seeing significant drop in revenue? What if the drop is only in fake traffic!
4:39 pm on Feb 18, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Hey, guys!

Please, can you share - those of you who had increased traffic because of 7-th update: is you increasing trend continue now? Your traffic increase didn`t stop till today? Are you noticing a lot of long tail keyword loose after update? (I mean only in case your traffic is increased).

Will be very appreciate you for information.
4:49 pm on Feb 18, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Google traffic to our information site is now averaging about 15 percent ahead of what it was before the rumored February 7th update. (Yesterday it was up 20 percent over two weeks ago.

One thing I've noticed: Our rankings seem to have improved for queries that could be interpreted as either "informational" or "transactional." Some pages that never used to rank on the first page of an incognito Google search are now ranking 5th, 6th, or 7th on the first SERP. (These are pages whose commercial competitors consist largely of boilerplate text.)
8:42 pm on Feb 18, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@mosxu +
....
Guys,
Are you also seeing significant drop in revenue? What if the drop is only in fake traffic!
.....
A lot of webmasters noticed, that revenue increased right after that update. The first thought was that Google “killed” so called “zombie” or “ghost” traffic (fake traffic) and now we all see real visitors and that`s why, for example, Adsense CTR increased after update (no bots – more clicks etc).

But I`m sure, this theory is incorrect – the reason is just a new season begun (winter ended and competition among advertisers increased, this is happening every season).

If this theory was true – why there is some part of websites, that actually INCREASED their traffic after 7-th February? In case this theory is correct and Google just killed “zombie” traffic by this update – why all webmasters didn’t notice only DECREASE of their websites traffic (because of zombie traffic loss for all web)?

And we CAN see some happy people, who got great benefit from this update – so they are getting MORE traffic from Google, not less… This is not “zombie” traffic update for sure, that’s my opinion.
9:43 pm on Feb 18, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@cyril

I am not free of zombies rankings are higher than ever after this update
11:10 pm on Feb 18, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@Dimitri

> For those reporting significant loss of traffic from Google's image search, this is related to the fact that now Google is using its "new" image search layout to all countries. This is what is being used in the USA since some years now.

this does not explain what we observe. 80% of our traffic was coming from the US. also, we observed that most of our high ranking images have completely disappeared from the image search results.

it looks like we have been hit with some sort of serious algorithmic penalty, and i have no idea what it could be.

we have two photography sites with similar layout and organization,and the one that has the biggest ranking hit is the one with the most photos.
2:20 pm on Feb 19, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I apologize for my low level of English.

The algorithm has started to change on February 7 and ended on 11 February. The number of visitors of 18 February are the same on 11 February; Accuranker and Rank Ranger from February 12 to date indicate nothing special.

I lost about 37% of visitors of which approximately 40% from mobile devices and tablet and about 30% from the desktop;

I lost a year of growth in 4 days.

What I noticed is that before 7 February the pages that were in first position on google were also POSITION 0, now in POSITION 0 There are pages that are classified 3/4/5/6 position, here something has changed .

AMP and HTTPS does not center with POSITION 0, in some cases I found in position 0 may also not optimized pages for mobile devices, this makes me think that the update is now finished but could resume.
2:36 pm on Feb 19, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Example POSITION 0 in this case there are 11 results in POSITION 0 and 1 is the same page. This is a strong page to the topic of the keyword.

<no serps links please/see charter>

For more keywords in POSITION 0 we are now lower ranked pages according google are very relevant to the topic.

There was a change of confidence.

[edited by: sharpo at 2:41 pm (utc) on Feb 19, 2017]


[edited by: not2easy at 5:37 pm (utc) on Feb 19, 2017]
[edit reason] compliance [/edit]

5:14 pm on Feb 19, 2017 (gmt 0)

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One thing I've noticed: Our rankings seem to have improved for queries that could be interpreted as either "informational" or "transactional."

I see this as well, but in a different sense. On a transactional search query, my business holds both #1 and #3 positions. The #1 listing has been replaced in Google with an informational page we have while the prior #1 listing has been placed in the #3 position. This latest update by Google simply swapped the listings for that query. Traffic from Bing is up, which leads me to believe that people searching for what my business sells are having a more difficult time finding it in Google. My Google traffic is slightly lower, page views are up and are void of transactions. I don't see any major difference with this update at all, and I certainly don't see any indications that Google can better match buyers to ecommerce websites. If anything, placing information pages in the #1 position for an ecommerce query is a step backwards, but may explain why my page views are up (people having to click inside my website to find what it is they originally were searching for).
7:29 pm on Feb 19, 2017 (gmt 0)

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If anything, placing information pages in the #1 position for an ecommerce query is a step backwards

Yes, but what if it's a query that could go either way, such as "Widgetco Thingamajig" or "Hotel Whatsit"? One could make an argument (given Google's mission statement) that, in such cases, an information page would be a better result than an ecommerce page.

But let's assume, for the moment, that Google is neutral in such cases, favoring neither type of page by default. What's the tiebreaker?
9:26 pm on Feb 19, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Yes, but what if it's a query that could go either way, such as "Widgetco Thingamajig" or "Hotel Whatsit"? One could make an argument (given Google's mission statement) that, in such cases, an information page would be a better result than an ecommerce page.

If the query can go either way, transactional or informational, then a mix of search results on the first page of the serps should be expected. However, transactional queries often have identifiers that set them apart such as "buy widget," "widget discounts," "widget wholesalers," and so on. I guess it really comes down to what each of us define as a query that is transaction based and what would motivate Google to show information pages when queries contain one or more of these identifiers.

But let's assume, for the moment, that Google is neutral in such cases, favoring neither type of page by default. What's the tiebreaker?

In many cases I believe the tie breaker would go to most informational websites. Besides having the added bonus of revenue generation via Adsense (Google wants to get paid), good informational websites will cover all aspects of a widget so that buyers can move on to the next phase of the purchase cycle armed with information they did not have before. That's why I believe in spending the time to do in-depth product descriptions, besides the search benefits it also greatly reduces returns. But that's just scratching the surface. Personalized or profiled search results, as many are calling them these days, can include other variables that rely on a specific person's history. So what a mechanic sees in the search results when searching for a specific auto part may be entirely different then what either you or I would see. I think a lot more of that goes on then any of us are aware of.
1:55 am on Feb 20, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I get the impression that the reported recent traffic losses on some sites were due to people adding new content too rapidly. You can't create high quality content in a hurry. It usually takes me at least a month to write one article if you count the time spent on research.

People who churn out a new article everyday, or even more than that, are just trying to beef up their sites and bring in traffic for more and more new keywords. But content created that rapidly will always be mediocre at best. Eventually google will catch on to what you're doing and reduce your traffic.
3:59 am on Feb 20, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I add content at varying times to most of my sites, and I am seeing no benefit from this update at all. I had 2x as much traffic before 2016 closed out. Content is long and typically over 2000 words, well researched and original posted maybe once a month or fortnight.
10:03 am on Feb 20, 2017 (gmt 0)

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How would this informational v transactional work? What we search for we always see same thing but we are not the buyers we are the owners of the sites?
3:11 pm on Feb 20, 2017 (gmt 0)

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U.S traffic to my site has dropped by over 80% while traffic from other countries to my site just keeps increasing. I have no idea why Google has decided to send me more traffic from non English speaking countries.
4:59 pm on Feb 20, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Two questions worth your thoughts, maybe:

- Is it safe to assume that Google Algorithm Update of 7th February 2017 is about fighting all kind of what Google consider as spam and poor contents quality?

- Is it safe to assume that Google organic traffic to your website is more productive after Google Algorithm Update of 7th February 2017?
5:08 pm on Feb 20, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@reseller

- Yuuuuge NO. I'm loosing some important SERPs to a competitors indexed search result pages (that is, users are getting search results in a search results).
- Also NO. My visitors are more productive, because I've decided to ditch the AdSense finally.

(smalsih website, around 80k unique visitors per month - PIWIK)
5:41 pm on Feb 20, 2017 (gmt 0)

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How would this informational v transactional work? What we search for we always see same thing but we are not the buyers we are the owners of the sites?

If you login to GA, GSC or any Google service that identifies you, it would not be that hard for Google's AI to generate a set of search results that it thinks you would want to see based on your IP address. And what webmaster would not want to see their site ranking towards the top? In that sense Google's AI did its job and satisfied your query to your liking. This is one problem with rank checking, but when you think of all the other variables Google uses to generate a set of search results it is clear that ranks are highly volatile and the SERPS do change from user to user. User profiling (aka personalization) is the reason why ranks don't mean much to me in Google anymore because what each person sees in the SERPS can be completely different. It's the quality of traffic that matters most to me these days and from what I've seen of this latest Google update traffic quality has become even worse.
6:06 pm on Feb 20, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@sangi

I may be an ass somewhat. But if Google is showing a competitor's search result or a bunch of items that are stitched together, you could report that as spam. I have done so for the competitors in my particular niche that autogenerate pages (search results are automatically generated) based on keywords and sell that as queries. Like stitching paragraphs together. But then the sites that I have reported are smaller and spammy in nature, it'll probably be fruitless is a mega brand is the offender.

The sites in question sometimes get moved around or demoted after a few days/weeks.

But after a while a new iteration with a new domain would pop back in with very similar setups. But at least it can deter bad actors somewhat by making it that much harder.
7:06 pm on Feb 20, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I'm noticing lately that Google results are more like a website rather than a search result. So it's all the information above the fold, and then a few search results sprinkled at the bottom. Content first, results second. A distant second. I'm curious to know what searches are fetching results rather than blocks of text and information. Seems pretty significant these days.
8:43 pm on Feb 20, 2017 (gmt 0)

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User profiling (aka personalization) is the reason why ranks don't mean much to me in Google anymore because what each person sees in the SERPS can be completely different. It's the quality of traffic that matters most to me these days...


@glakes

I agree and disagree with you at the same time. If you check your average (as per Google!) position in GSC for some keyword and later you check the same keyword in some independent SERP tool, you will find that they (exactly or almost) match. So SERP still matters.
At the same time, I agree that the quality of traffic is more important.

@frankleeceo

Thank you for your input, I'm an ass too, haha. Tried this many years ago when I found first time my competitors are spamming SERPs with their search results. Guess if it worked?

A remainder to myself: Google is business. They take your data and make money. You can make some money from Google too, so take everything you can. At the same time give them as little data as possible.
8:46 pm on Feb 20, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@reseller

After 7th update despite rankings going through the roof I do not see more productive traffic, as glakes put it rankings do not seem to influence sales for us.

Are you seeing more productive traffic on your sites?
12:29 am on Feb 21, 2017 (gmt 0)

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FYI, these recent studies on the update of two weeks or so ago might be helpful....

Feb 7, 2017 Google Algorithm Update - studies suggest it was Phantom
https://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4836985.htm [webmasterworld.com]

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