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Google Updates and SERP Changes - May 2017

     
8:21 am on May 1, 2017 (gmt 0)

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System: The following 5 messages were cut out of thread at: https://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4842918.htm [webmasterworld.com] by robert_charlton - 4:18 am on May 2, 2017 (PDT -8)


Last month April 2017 hasn't been a nice month to webmasters as far as Google Algorithm Updates and SERPs fluctuations are concerned. There are several WebmasterWorld friends who have lost big portions of their organic traffic. If you just take a look at RankRanger's Google SERP Fluctuations chart you would notice dates of medium to high levels of fluctuations on April 17th, April 20th, April 25th, April 29th and April 30th. Those are just indications of the "volatile SERPs environment" of April 2017.

I'm just wondering what would the current month brings us of Google Algorithm Updates surprises :)

Personally I wish to see on this thread happy posts reporting recoveries and the return of at least parts of what have been lost of Google organic traffic during the latest few months. Let's hope so :)
4:02 pm on May 3, 2017 (gmt 0)

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For some of us competing in a saturated industry, results are different and we do put the users first but it looks like it all relates to the amount spent in AdWords by the main actors, if they do not spend then it is bad news for the rest.

But for some of us writing amazing new content life is easy cause there is no competition for brand new created content.
4:45 pm on May 3, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@30K_a_month
Also can you be more specific about what handsomely is ?

if its $50 a month to $300 thats not really anything is it ?

Profit is seven figures.
4:49 pm on May 3, 2017 (gmt 0)

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For some of us competing in a saturated industry, results are different and we do put the users first but it looks like it all relates to the amount spent in AdWords by the main actors, if they do not spend then it is bad news for the rest.

To borrow a phrase that has been done to death (but nevertheless remains valid), "don't confuse correlation with causation."
4:58 pm on May 3, 2017 (gmt 0)

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And further to EG's points.
we do put the users first

Necessary but not sufficient
5:04 pm on May 3, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Looks like trust in Google is at an all time low judging by the comments here. Bot seeing much improvement here either. I have a lot of top 3 rankings which just have answer boxes from mediocre sites taking up the good spots anyway. Plus zombies. And Im not sure why, but google switches a lower quality page on my site to a higher position than a much better page at a lower position. Its shorter, and doesnt even mention the keyword its ranking for ... only an LSI. Will be starting a petition soon to have these stupid boxes removed. Its not just for the "knowledge boxes" either - they take thr content and use them as answers for their google home product which is outright theft.
5:12 pm on May 3, 2017 (gmt 0)

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It just so happens I AM in the bar business and the past two days were very good, so please keep talking about bars.
5:25 pm on May 3, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I see, you are mistaking the drink for the punter.

Bars curate drinks and present them to punters, with the intent of covering a range of preferences. The drinks may be selected on merit, or they may pay a fee to be included.

Since Diageo are unlikely to supply the bar for free, your analogy is going to break down at this point (or the bar is going to be insanely profitable, hmmmmmm).


No, I am not mistaking the drink for the punter.

I am trying to point out that all of your argument was based on a dogmatic belief that could only be true in a perfect market (which only ever exists in theory).

At the risk of stating the obvious:
In the case of Google, there is no serious competition, so they can squeeze every last cent out of their business, since there is no competitive threat whatsoever. Google could make their visitors happier by displaying less Ads on their search pages, but they choose not to in order to maximize profits and please shareholders.
The point I was trying to make was:
Happy Customers != Happy Shareholders.
7:02 pm on May 3, 2017 (gmt 0)

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"Don't confuse correlation with causation" is duplicate content, keep telling you that users are bored of this content written from other content.
7:27 am on May 4, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Happy Customers != Happy Shareholders.

I disagree. Let me clarify.

1) Only in theory can there be perfect correlation between customer satisfaction and profit. No argument here.
2) Only in a formal monopoly can companies extort consumers. Formal monopolies can be formed by statute, and especially through State provision.

Anyway, Google wants its customers to be sufficiently happy that they do not go elsewhere. Alternatives exist, so there is a point where USERS will leave.

Google has a number of features that go into their value proposition, but for the purpose of this discussion, lets focus on two
- Content - the actual results, made up of intent resolution, diversity and relevancy
- Presentation - the mix of ads, sites and blended results

From a rational point of view, Google wants to extract the maximum value from their traffic. Extracting value generally means using ads. You state
"Google could make their visitors happier by displaying less Ads on their search pages"*

Sure, they could display less ads. But Google has twin goals- profit and utility. They would much rather optimise the content for utility, and the display for profit. In order to achieve that, they need top quality content. We supply the content. So, for us, but not for Google my statement is true:
Users, shareholders- same difference. Users are ultimately what gets shareholders paid. Serve the users, and the shareholders are happy.

dogmatic

Me? Hardly. I have no inviolable opinions. And unlike many here, I am happy to share an opinion with the express intent of being disproved.

*For the purpose of discussion, we will assume this to be true. With specific regards to Google, and some affiliates that use inline links to monetise content that would exist even without the affiliate link, it could be a whole other discussion whether or not ads actually do degrade the user experience
8:42 am on May 4, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I don't think the results are displaying top quality content though. It's much better than it was even 5 years ago, but in my opinion it works this way.

Site A - Google score of 8
Site B - Google score of 5

Who knows how those scores are earned, links, nice fast, clean site, Adwords...?

Site A produces a 500 word article with no accompanying images which can really help to tell a story. This article ranks at number 1.
Site B produces an 1,800 word article with accompanying images. This article ranks anywhere from no. 2-5.

Now don't get me wrong, I am not saying that a longer article is ALWAYS better, if you want to know what the average temperature of an elephant is, you don't need 1,800 words to cover it. But some topics are complex, and a lot of detail is a good thing, if it is laid out in an easy to read format (lots of bold titles and shortish paragraphs for visitors to skim to the part they want).

I don't mind a page full of Google ads if I do a search for a commercial product. I do think they are somewhat hypocritical in as much as 'do as we say, not as we do', but I'm not sure what can be done. Certainly try to get other traffic sources, but they still provide the majority of traffic, so we are somewhat stuck.
11:01 am on May 4, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Of course the results aren't perfect, but (IMHO) they are Google's genuine best effort, bearing in mind that Google has to use statistics to rank stuff.

Google makes the profit by monetising their product, same as everyone else. The most efficient way of doing that is by creating the best product possible, which will withstand the most amount of monetisation without losing users, then monetise the heck out of it through manipulative lay outs.

"Black Hat" techniques are in a constant arms race with Google, and the exponential proliferation of sites (let along pages) creates an IA challenge orders of magnitude greater than five years ago. That the user experience has remained mostly constant is frankly amazing.

Google were explicit (was it Vince?) that they were going to favour "brands". Shortcuts like this make their job possible, even if human review would prefer #2-5 to #1. Google would prefer to match the Human opinion, but lack the sophistication to achieve this.

When you add in the subjectivity factor, and that many users just want a superficial answer / explanation of something they encountered, a 1800-word essay Vs 200-word précis becomes a real point of contention.

Don't get me wrong. I think Google, like Apple and Microsoft, are intensely focussed on profit. I think they are happy to sully their offering if it makes them more money (a popular brick-phone manufacturer were rumoured to code their product to waste battery after 2 years to prompt an upgrade). I just don't think that it makes any sense at all to deliver anything but the best possible results, and then trade the goodwill generated for cold, hard cash.
12:40 pm on May 4, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@browndog
Let's approach this from a different perspective. What you describe is one keyword == one result set. But there is enough data to show today that two users can type the exact same keyword and be returned two unique sets of results. This can be due to geo-location, browsing history, time of day and a bunch of other factors.

So there is no way to judge the relevance of a 200 word page out ranking the 1800 word page without having full knowledge of all the factors and the context. Also, remember that the serps are a ranking not a scoring system. Only one site can hold the top rank while many can hold the same score. As such the outranking of one site vs another of equal score may come down to randomness.
1:40 pm on May 4, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Let's study Wikipedia, shall we ? They have a lot of angled articles, very long and with very strong links.

They are no longer systematically #1 in the vast majority of non commercial queries, only huge top ones where everybody nows what it is already (countries names, for instance).
4:28 pm on May 4, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@30K_a_month: Well we posted in the google webmaster forum and someone suggested we trim our thin content that didn't really provide value. We strengthened our info guides, updated menu nav. And Bam traffic was cut in half!

Basically noone knows. Anyone making money with Google is lucky and money begets money. Once you have 100K a year coming in, and you spend on adwords, whether or not it converts, you will enjoy nice organic rankings too.

Days of free organic traffic are over. Welcome to pay to play 2017.

Humans ruin everything. It's true. Google was great years ago, so was FB, and many other things.. yet we always ruin it somehow...
4:50 pm on May 4, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Days of free organic traffic are over. Welcome to pay to play 2017.
Humans ruin everything. It's true. Google was great years ago, so was FB, and many other things.. yet we always ruin it somehow...


The fan boys will jump in a tell you that you are wrong. They say free traffic is everywhere and they are correct...on page 3+
The operative word is "convert-able" or "useful" free organic traffic...those are at a point that makes online business very difficult if not impossible for most. But hey, there's always PPC....lol

Long tail and semantic results are what is really dead. I have three #1 listings today. Well under 150 long tail. Compare that to 2009 where I had 15,000 long tail and dozens of #1 results and broke the Alexa 100,000 mark. No effort since 2009 has produced a positive result. All this while improving content and weeding out any trash. BTW, my Alexa rank is now around 6,000,000. Eclipsed by the almighty dollar....NOT better content. I basically own my own niche with the same competition of direct product as in 2009.

By the way, you can blame good old fashioned human greed for ruining it...and virtually everything throughout history. Welcome to planet Earth. ;)

On the bright side, my $80 GOOG stock is now worth almost $940/share - connect the dots.
6:21 pm on May 4, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I started a new thread on Https, where I also outlined reasons for small business sites beying yo-yo-ed in G.

Also I suggested a solution to the fact that Google completely ignores webmasters here, on this site. I think that Google Bombing some of the SEO guru's site pages out of Google top is a good idea to bring attention to the fact that small business sites are being heavily hurt by negative link weights. And the fact that SEOs selling SEO service make out like bandits in this environment, but this isn't really good for the web.

Recommended read:
[webmasterworld.com...]
6:42 pm on May 4, 2017 (gmt 0)

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The fan boys have already merged with the machines, they have been educated at the singularity university and only they can write content that AI would rank.
6:55 pm on May 4, 2017 (gmt 0)

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browndog wrote:
Site A produces a 500 word article with no accompanying images which can really help to tell a story. This article ranks at number 1.
Site B produces an 1,800 word article with accompanying images. This article ranks anywhere from no. 2-5.

You seem to be talking about the rankings for one particular search term. Maybe the shorter article is highly focused on that particular term, whereas the longer article is diluted with peripheral information. You fail to mention the possibility that the longer article could rank higher for other search terms.

You need to look at the bigger picture, not just the results for one particular term.
2:12 am on May 5, 2017 (gmt 0)

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No, there's many search terms this happens with. Any time site A have an article on the same topic, they outrank me. Even if my content goes into more detail.

Matt Cutts said to product content that offers something the other sites don't, which is what I aim for. I like to cover the topic as thoroughly as I possibly can, but Site A always outrank me anyway. Often with 3-4 results on the first page of Google. They are impossible to outrank.
3:23 am on May 5, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I've lost about 50% of the organic traffic i get from African countries. Anybody facing the same thing?
7:37 am on May 5, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Matt Cutts said to product content that offers something the other sites don't, which is what I aim for. I like to cover the topic as thoroughly as I possibly can, but Site A always outrank me anyway. Often with 3-4 results on the first page of Google. They are impossible to outrank.


The trend, at least as far as the topics that I work with, has seen big broad-topic sites outrank specialist sites for the last few years and, yes, it is impossible to outrank them.

An example is a certain UK newspaper that fired its experienced journalists and replaced them with SEO specialists (that should be enough to figure out who I'm talking about). They now produce lots of travel-related content and rank very well with it. Unfortunately, their articles are highly inaccurate, since they are just re-hashing (mis)information that they find online and their staff don't have the language skills to do the research in local languages.
None of the specialist websites on those topics rank in the top 5 anymore, yet the low quality content from that newspaper does.
10:12 am on May 5, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@glitterball

I like your example with the newspapers and SEO it is actually a clear picture to what happens with the quality of content, google is no longer ranking the little guy who is an expert in the field but instead ranks all these SEO articles landing on the newspaper websites and citing/linking the spammer website.

You are correct journalists do not even write the articles the SEOs do it to get the link/citation
10:36 am on May 5, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Well, the paper in question have basically fired the journos on Digital. But generally, SEOs do not write content for Brand papers.

Another somewhat Kippy daily, pantomime villain of the Left, have a significantly different online offering to the paper. Hard to argue it's not click-baity, but it's still professionally written (and I think, but have not checked, it's the biggest newspaper affiliated site in the UK).

But anyway, from Joe Public's view, returning these brands is likely to bring warm feelings of familiarity to the aggregated searcher (i.e. the cohort, not the individual). Just because the content is crap, doesn't mean Joe Public doesn't want to see it. If statistics show that Joe, despite his best interests, actually prefers the crap, Google will serve the crap.

You might as well accept this, and aim for satisfying the non-crap-eating, discerning searcher who would not dream of clicking on the vacuous, slow-loading, ad-heavy, mindless drivel being served up at #1.
11:07 am on May 5, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Let's be honest big SEOs do create a piece of content for the website they manage more or less related and a few hours/days latter the website gets lots of citations/links from newspapers and the blog network, I call it a network even if the owners are different because of the open connection to distribute the content and not "researched audience" to amplify it.

Spent? Over 100,000 but this is not against the guidelines apparently and the result is amazing the website ranks for its money terms and not for the actual content they have paid for.
11:23 am on May 5, 2017 (gmt 0)

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But anyway, from Joe Public's view, returning these brands is likely to bring warm feelings of familiarity to the aggregated searcher (i.e. the cohort, not the individual). Just because the content is crap, doesn't mean Joe Public doesn't want to see it. If statistics show that Joe, despite his best interests, actually prefers the crap, Google will serve the crap.


Exactly. And very depressing.

From a commercial point of view though, the more discerning person does not convert as well and there are a lot less of them.
12:04 pm on May 5, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@browndog
No, there's many search terms this happens with. Any time site A have an article on the same topic, they outrank me. Even if my content goes into more detail.

As I mentioned above your are looking at this as if it were a many to one relationship, many keywords each only have a single serp. But it is not it is a many to many relation ship.

And I am not saying that your approach is wrong, it isn't, only your point of view. For a specific page, your competitor may out rank you for some specific keyword/intent as recorded by some ranking tool. But given the more comprehensive nature of your article, you may rank for a much wider array of keywords/intents. And the search impression from the sum of all keywords/intents may be larger than the impression garnered the marginal ranking differential that your competitor has on you. So in fact, you may well be getting more traffic than your competitor despite the fact that he out ranks on one specific keyword/intent.

The frustrating thing is that there is no way to know or measure any of this. The only tool that can get somewhat close is the Search analytics in GSC but even that only shows a subset of keywords. So really the only true gauge is traffic and since there is no reliable way of knowing you competitor's traffic, it makes it impossible to figure out whether or not you are out performing them.
12:40 pm on May 5, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Just throwing an observation out there because this has affected multiple unrelated M&P sites around the world; on Monday and Tuesday, conversions for ecommerce based site improved dramatically, so much that reports flooded in from sites in the US, UK and down under. On Wednesday, as quickly as it started, conversions turned off and traffic went zombie again and has remained so. There was no volume spike, only quality. Anyone else notice this clear ON / OFF pattern? I would say this is evidence that G does indeed throttle across the board. No surprise or news there....just infuriates ecomms.
1:28 pm on May 5, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Additional note... after the surge of the 1st and 2nd of May, rank for most terms have dropped two or three positions with garbage adsense partner and big name content farm articles moving up. top positions held for over a decade just now dropped. Something major (and yes punitive, again) happened...at least in my vertical.
5:20 pm on May 5, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@samwest do you think google throttling search traffic is one of the main reason why google is lobbying heavily around net neturality in america so throttling laws dont have to apply to them?

Iv had to abandon my buisness online now and focus on other things. Stress can cause things.
9:54 pm on May 5, 2017 (gmt 0)

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There are a few points that seemingly need be reiterated each month in almost every continuing thread involving Google:
1. Google Search was initially an academic exercise that escaped the lab. However, with the 2000 launch of AdWords it became Google's de facto Marketing Department. And Google was on it's way to becoming an advertising agency cum network behemoth.

Our sites are simply product Google puts on it's shelves to entice visitors who in turn attract Google's customers who are, each and every one, advertisers on and through Google platforms. Webdevs and their sites are mostly interchangeable cans of soup and boxes of diapers, shiny cars and exotic vacations... Initially, at the beginning our numbers were small, competitors few, so ranking was relatively simple and easy. However, especially with the advent of AdSense for Publishers in 2003 the large ad bids in some niches caused a gold rush site building frenzy. Arbitrage raged. And the future was writ large for all to see who would. Few did.

Once WordPress allowed the less technically inclined to play and mommy bloggers became stars in the web firmament the floodgates opened and everyone was online digging for (mostly) AdSense gold via (mostly) Google referred traffic. And instead of there being a couple tens or hundreds of comparable competitors there became millions in pretty much every niche imaginable. But there is still only room for (typically) 10 on the potentially lucrative first results page for a query.

2. Google began hoarding traffic early but by 2007 with the general launch of Universal Search, again the future was writ large and again few noticed.

3. Just as SEs love automation so do webdevs and few as much as those who would game the ad networks. Ad clicking and impression flooding bots have increased exponentially YoY since the very beginning of online ads. As SEs fought back they began hiding their behaviour by becoming ubiquitous with greater human behaviours. And most webdevs do NOT have the tech skills to notice let alone identify/account for let alone block these creepy crawlers.

So we have a long history of increasing comparable competition plus a long history of increasing Google traffic hoarding plus a long history of bots swarming like locusts where at least ~20% up to ~90+% of site traffic is software...

And yet, a surprising number of webdevs take the traffic and revenue problems they face as personal targeted attacks rather than as a result of simply being pushed aside by one or all the above points. That month after month it is largely the same group that is suffering (and I do acknowledge that the suffering is real), some alternating between better and worse, a few that routinely say things are great, and a huge amount of silence from the vast majority tells it's own tale.

If a business model and/or it's execution is not succeeding (and that it once did is an excuse not a validation) then please stop doing whatever it is that you are now doing and do something else. I don't mean leave webdev; I mean do a realistic survey of one's niche and whether the resources are available not just to compete but to dominate for that is what is required in the current saturated web. And for heaven's sake please raise one's eye's up from ye olde bog standard traffic and revenue chasing...that is more an opportunity to get trampled than to win.

Time is the greatest hurdle facing webdevs, there is only so much time in a day and so many different things that need to be accomplished to build one's site/business. I know, I worked ~100+ hours a week for ~5-years; it's brutal and if success seems to always being snatched away it is intensely depressing even maddening. But so with any small business, not just on the web. What is different on the web is that the cost of entry is much lower (than B&M) and the possible returns much greater. Correspondingly, so too the competition is much greater.

Business owners (which is what webdevs are) often misattribute the 'loyalty' of a customer. A long time back I was new in town and just selected a hair salon by chance, liked the hairdresser, both as a person and as a professional; she moved to a different salon and I, as a customer, went with her to the great shock of the salon owner. To assume that Google is directly targeting your traffic quality/quantity is much as that salon owner, a misapprehension of reality. I may. of course, be wrong in that presumption, however I sense that those whose angst I read every month are smaller sites as to traffic, which means that statistical anomalies will be heightened by relatively small changes.

I do know that this month as last and as those preceding is great. My Google search absolute number of referrals is up for the umpteenth month in a row while the relative percentage is holding steady at ~22% of overall traffic. It is also, for the umpteenth year in a row the lowest converting traffic I receive; currently ~2.5% against an average conversion rate of ~9%. The math is quite striking.

For those who might want to give direct ad sales a try (yes, it is usually neither easy nor quick) a couple of links to a couple of posts I wrote almost a decade ago over at Cre8 that hint at possibilities:
Note: no paint by numbers here though perhaps a mindset reset.
* Lift Up Your Eyes From The Adsense Plains [cre8asiteforums.com], December 2007.
* Lift Up Your Eyes II [cre8asiteforums.com], July 2008.
Note: please excuse the Flash references, this was the long long ago when Flash roamed the web in vast animated herds :)

AdSense is cut-n-paste easy peasy simple. Direct ad sales, inclusion is not. With one you have a good amount of control, the other little to none at all. Google indexation is even simpler, ranking for a given query though is not. Remember that Google is an algorithm and what you appreciate is probably not in the software's purview. Lastly, a webdev is a biased observer; it is always beneficial (and frequently distressingly eye opening) to get strangers to - uninfluenced - test and compare your site and those of competitors. I take a laptop to local coffeehouses and bars and buy a round, user testing on the cheap.

Afterthought: one intriguing aspect of my diversification of traffic and revenue is that the more I diversified the more love I got from Google. Strange that.
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