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Google Updates and SERP Changes - August 2017

     
7:14 am on Aug 1, 2017 (gmt 0)

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System: The following 12 messages were cut out of thread at: https://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4856114.htm [webmasterworld.com] by goodroi - 8:21 am on Aug 2, 2017 (utc -5)


Google is, or should I say has, just become or is closely becoming an actual website. You know. The place you go to get what you need and not go somewhere else. It's almost officially the era of the Google tax. They got a piece of everything that comes through the web.
7:01 pm on Aug 24, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@Cralamarre insert sarcasm and read again.

it can never be false

You can't argue or try to disprove something that has been framed in such a way that it can never be shown to be false. But the thing that escapes many people is the fact that just because something can never be false does not make it true.

My point about evidence is that on its own evidence or observations are of no value. More so when one uses evidence in discussing something that can never be false. The evidence has no way of changing the outcome of the discussion. Add more evidence that confirms the idea. Is it now more true? Provide evidence that does not confirm the idea. That evidence does not apply. So has evidence contributed anything? No! Fooled again.

Evidence or observation is only of value as it relates to a falsifiable claim, and the real value is when it is used to show that the claim is false.
8:19 pm on Aug 24, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@Cralamarre

They want me to write "Do this, do this, do this, you're done".


Actually, that is EXACTLY what Google wants you to do. If you wrap the Q, the steps, then the A in divs or markup named for each, they'll even love you more! Right to the point that your page no longer gets any of that traffic, because Google now uses it under "fair-use" to provide the answer directly to the visitors, versus sending them to your site, where they used to get it.

All those answer boxes and voice answers, and instant answers... that's your new serp now. It won't surprise me in the least when Google starts inserting ads directing in to the answer boxes as well.

Re: Throttling -

I don't know if it's a real thing or just just perceived to be, but we've seen very similar instances of Google traffic coming in at almost identical numbers for several days at a time, then start fluctuating again. Almost as-if the traffic was being measured for [insert quality signal here] before turning the spigot open or closed as the results of the quality-measurement was calculated.

I'll also qualify this by saying the times we most often see these static referral numbers, are within days/weeks of content or thematic changes on the site(s).
9:29 pm on Aug 24, 2017 (gmt 0)

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While 50, 000 bright engineers were working to organise world's information, Bezos was working to organise world's buyers. As a result I can only see Bezos becoming the first trilionaire and small businesses getting the first trillion of zombies?
8:22 am on Aug 25, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Evidence or observation is only of value as it relates to a falsifiable claim
Traditionally, a "theory" needs to have two main properties:
1) It explains the observed facts
2) It makes predictions (often formulated as "it is falsifiable" - an equivalent statement dealing with incorrect predictions)

@Shepherd
RE: Market share / saturation. The main contention is irregular traffic pattern within the period. So, you might top out at 6000, and a typical day (in three-hour chunks, for brevity) looks like this:
100,200,400,1000,1000,1500,1300,500

Then one day you get
100,200,400,4000,300,500,400,100

Obviously, the later traffic should be independent of the earlier traffic, whereas proponents of Throttle Theory argue that an early spike causes later drops.

The problem, as Nick points out, is that Throttle Theorists contend that sometimes the throttle is "switched off" and they get "normal" traffic with "natural" variation. Rather than seeing this as a challenge to the theory, they see it as evidence that Google is deliberately and maliciously "siphoning off" traffic.

Further muddying the waters is the matter of traffic ceilings. Say I posit my ceiling is 6000, but my series runs
2541,5821,5465,5589,4926,5899,3721,2971,5921,5745,5663,5101,5641,3749...

Showing that to someone is unlikely to convince them of a traffic ceiling.

Now, the most credible report of throttling is where a site has natural traffic patterns way below the ceiling, but a spike takes them towards the ceiling and then traffic is lower than usual for the remainder of the day. The ceiling is only ever approached on a Spike day, and traffic is always lower in subsequent hours to maintain the quota.



I have not seen conclusive evidence of throttling for many years (there used to be more examples circa 2008, time of the "buzz-cut"), but I am inclined to think it exists (I am unaffected) as an unintentional artefact.

If you are interested in reading less polarised discussion on the topic, I recommend dipping in to some older threads:
Tedster discusses basis in patents [webmasterworld.com]
internetheaven provides case study [webmasterworld.com]
Possible mechanisms [webmasterworld.com]Though why remains unaddressed
Yo-Yo Effect [webmasterworld.com]The most popular explanation, now superseded by Personalisation
8:33 am on Aug 25, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I think Google is sending, let's say, 1000 visits on a website for a keyword. It measures how satisfied those users are. It sends for another website 1000 visits for the same keyword.

If it can not determine what website is the winner, it will make this for a long period, until it has enough data.

How Google can regulate those 1000 visits? By changing positions. Google knows exactly how many visits it's sending to a website. It's test and learn, always.

That's my theory, based on my observations.
8:49 am on Aug 25, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Does anyone have any theories on what the latest "update" targeted? I got a slight but very welcome bump in positions. I have yet to see any raise in traffic as yet but that might be the time of year.
9:03 am on Aug 25, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I would like to know as well. Trying to figure it out. Traffic took a big hit yesterday (24th of August). Today does not look great either.
9:04 am on Aug 25, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Does anyone have any theories on what the latest "update" targeted?
I have accepted martinibuster's general point that most updates no longer "target" anything, in that commonalities in winners and/or losers are hard to disentangle.

More often, Google's AI has incorporated a new "insight" - perhaps natural language processing via Hummingbird or semantic associations via RankBrain.
9:54 am on Aug 25, 2017 (gmt 0)

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An AI insight is still an algorithmic change and it seems to affect a broader set of sites. Thats what makes it interesting. It will only benefit us trying to decipher it.

While others gain positions/traffic others lose them. Our site is on the losing side. But gained like 50% traffic since last year due to significant positive changes and optimizations.

Lately we have done a few major additional adjustments though. One of them implementing http2 and the other was an introduction of a large indexed category section that I just noindexed most of (I did not want to make it indexed in the first place, but there was other forces in play). Anyway our Google index grew with about a third and did not add any new content. I think that the new section is our culprit. But you never know if other things are in play.
9:32 pm on Aug 25, 2017 (gmt 0)

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More often, Google's AI has incorporated a new "insight" - perhaps natural language processing via Hummingbird or semantic associations via RankBrain.

I'd say the excessive use of the strike through and omitting results with words that were used in queries is not a matter of insight or natural language processing but instead a major flaw. How does one communicate a strike through verbally? LOL Artificial, yes. Intelligent? Far from it.

IMO, Rank Brain had a stroke the day it was released into the wild. Many minor updates reflected by SERP tools can also be interpreted as mild Rank Brain aneurysms.
3:18 pm on Aug 27, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Anybody else noticing a huge drop in US traffic (Saturday, Sunday)? It's down here, mostly from California and Taxes.
3:34 pm on Aug 27, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Probably due to the hurricane that's hitting that area.
4:01 pm on Aug 27, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Since 8/19 it's been all downhill traffic wise, reaching new low levels. Surprisingly, conversions still managed to hit the same mark as the week before. After labor day we would typically see a rise in traffic and conversions but I'll predict that rise will not be seen as it's been decaying each year since 2010.
4:11 pm on Aug 27, 2017 (gmt 0)

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My traffic was actually up for most of last week. Tuesday and Wednesday saw the biggest improvements over the previous week, reaching traffic numbers that I hadn't seen since the beginning of summer. But for whatever reason, things started to drop on Friday. My traffic has been down roughly 5-6 percent since Friday. The hurricane in the southern US, which hit on Friday, could explain the traffic drop. It could also be that people are getting ready to go back to school. We'll see what happens on Monday.
7:48 pm on Aug 27, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Hey there! New here, such a great resource and lots of reading. I have seen a 25% drop in traffic this week, all kinds of fluctuations with my SERPS, the keywords I don't care so much about are doing better...thinking I am over-optimized as I am quite a bit over the mean for my homepage.

So frustrated. Also, on August 10th my mobile usability curve went down the crapper and I haven't changed anything there.. kind of wondering if they are rolling mobile into their algorithm sooner than they said they would.
8:08 pm on Aug 27, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Maybe I'm the only one seeing this but here are my observations...

Google is aggressively filtering content, removing thousands of pages
Google has reduced the threshold on quality links, many old tricks now appear to be working (ie forum sigs, comment spam, sql injection links)
Google has not implemented mobile first

I believe this is a slow rollout of a content filter and the reduced threshold on links maybe temporary.
8:39 pm on Aug 27, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I wonder if Google is running a quality score on SERPs, i.e. how many users finish their search on a particular page, and when there is a lot of repeated searching. But that would not explain the concept of throttling.
9:14 pm on Aug 27, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Google is aggressively filtering content, removing thousands of pages

But aren't millions of new pages created everyday? So google would probably need to remove some old pages to make room for new pages. Otherwise the index would become so big it would be unmanageable.
9:49 pm on Aug 27, 2017 (gmt 0)

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But aren't millions of new pages created everyday?

True
So google would probably need to remove some old pages to make room for new pages.

Removal (in this filter) is not based on age of page its filtering out new pages too. Of course Google removes 404 pages from its index which frees up a fair amount of room but what I am seeing is removal from index of new and old pages and a boost for old techniques for link building.
1:10 am on Aug 28, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Google is aggressively filtering content, removing thousands of pages


But don't some pages deserve to be removed?
2:09 am on Aug 28, 2017 (gmt 0)

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But don't some pages deserve to be removed?

They sure do, but content that is authoritative, well received when it does get traffic and ranking well since Google's birth could probably stay. As it is, all I see in my vertical is 3 consecutive Pinterest pages extolling "89+ great blue widget ideas" and Google's own interests pushing everything below the fold....oh, and one guy blatantly plagiarizing my trade name.

Seems Google's idea of 'deserving to be removed' is more like "you've had your run, now get lost kid".
10:44 am on Aug 28, 2017 (gmt 0)

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removed
1:45 pm on Aug 28, 2017 (gmt 0)

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We have lost another 10% of traffic over the last 3 days too. No signs of recovery.
2:00 pm on Aug 28, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@westcoast For us it started on the 23rd. About 7 -10% drop each day compared to same day last week.
2:53 pm on Aug 28, 2017 (gmt 0)

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My traffic was up 10% for most of last week, beginning on the 21st. But on Friday (the 25th), it was suddenly down 5% from the previous week, and stayed down 5-6% all weekend. Today also started out slow, but as of 10 am it seems to be back to normal, with "normal" being roughly the same as it's been all summer.

Quite honestly, I wake up every morning now thinking "Today's the day Google kills my website". I don't even want to get out of bed anymore. I was hit in March by an update that took away a huge chunk of my traffic. And then another update in May took more of it away. Right now my traffic is down 50% from what it was at this time last year. And yet it's the same website that, up until recently, had been extremely successful for the past 10 years. It's not my website that changed. Google has changed.

I've spent more time than I care to admit staring at my real-time Google Analytics, watching my traffic numbers going up and down, up and down, wondering if this is the moment I lose it all. And you know what? It was all a complete waste of time. Google has proven that no matter what I do, no matter how hard I work on my site to make it the best it can be, Google can take it all away in the blink of an eye. And there's nothing I can do about it.

All the time I've spent staring at my analytics and worrying myself sick these past few months could have been spent writing new content. New content, more than anything, is what drives traffic to my site. So realizing that I'm wasting my time worrying about things I can't control, I'm trying to train myself to focus on the one thing I CAN control... publishing new content. Google will do what Google will do, and if a future update wipes me out completely, so be it. What will make it worse is knowing I spent all my time worrying instead of working. It's not easy for me to be productive when I'm worried and stressed out. But I need to do it. I need to quit caring about Google and get back to caring about my visitors while I still have visitors to care about.

One last thing... Yesterday, I received an email from one of my visitors thanking me for having the best content of its kind that they've ever found. The day before, another visitor called my website "Best on the web!" (for its topic... no offence to anyone else). I receive praise like this from my visitors all the time, and have for years. My newsletter, which I just started a few months ago, already has thousands of subscribers. My site is well liked. My point is not to brag. It's simply to point out that the people who visit my site love my site. Google also loved my site for 10 years. But something Google did recently is making it harder and harder for people to find my site, and easier and easier for people to find sites that shouldn't be found. And there's nothing I can do about that, so no more worrying about it.
4:27 pm on Aug 28, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@Cralamarre

Wow, your complete experience detailed above parallels mine EXACTLY right now - dates, numbers, everything. Very eerie. I'm, too, left wondering if this will be the last hoorah for a site loved / respected by millions over the last 15 years.
4:48 pm on Aug 28, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@CommandDork

I hope it's not the last hoorah for either of us. Quality still has to count for something, doesn't it? As Steve Jobs once said, you have to believe that someday, it's going to work out. If you don't believe that, then what's the point?

My site is heavily dependent on the school year. Summers are always very slow. So, the big test for my site will be September. Will traffic numbers improve, at least enough to keep me going. I'll keep believing that they will.
5:34 pm on Aug 28, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@Cralamarre

Same experience here too. Our website is 22 years old this year. We were THE first website of its kind in our niche. I contacted Jerry Y at Yahoo in 1995 to add our category into the original Yahoo.

Our traffic has dropped with every single update for 5 years now, and its rate of decline has accelerated sharply over the past 6 months. We are down 80% from our highs 5 years ago, and down 20% just this year alone.

At the same time, our content has actually improved. We have weeded out thin content, have a large number of editors who help keep all of our old content up to date and accurate, etc. Nothing matters. With every single update I know that our traffic will drop.

Looking at the SERPs, our website is plummeting under all keywords. We are getting taken over by websites with no content, no authority, and clearly no use to the end user.

The only way to explain this is that in our 22 years we have accumulated massive, invisible penalties -- far more damaging than "manual penalties". The frustrating part is that there is no way to know whether this is due to a bug in their algorithms or data collection or something legitimately wrong.

The "bug" issue worries me a lot and is my long-running hypothesis. Given 22 years of data and algorithm changes, it is more than conceivable that at some point something in our site's data profile got seriously screwed up. There does not appear to be a way to audit this though or raise the attention of anyone at Google.
5:58 pm on Aug 28, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@westcoast

The biggest problem, as you described it, is that there's no way to know what's wrong anymore. Is there something legitimately wrong with my site? Is there something I can actually fix? Or is there nothing at all wrong with my site and I'm wasting my time looking for answers. Who knows? The experts don't know anymore. Over the past few months, SEO experts have watched their websites disappear. And rules? What rules? I see web pages with a single paragraph of content, surrounded by ads, ranking at the top of the SERPs.

My theory, and it's just my personal theory based on my own observations, is that Google now favors content that it can easily steal. They want quick answers that fit nicely into their Featured snippets so no one needs to go anywhere but Google. Our sites now exist only to provide Google with the answers. It's the only explanation for why my pages still rank highly on Google yet my traffic has plummeted. Google has removed the need for anyone to actually visit websites. Well, I'm not changing my content structure just so Google can more easily steal it. What would be the point? I still wouldn't get any traffic, and I'd lose the visitors who enjoy my content the way it is. If I have to settle for 50% less traffic these days, so be it.

My site seems to have survived the latest couple of Google updates that were reported on here, so maybe there's hope.
6:29 pm on Aug 28, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Cralamarre, same story for one of my oldest site, stable traffic for a long time, but significantly dropped two times this year, I assume due to some updates, now at 50% of what it was last year. If I check a few of my main keywords, I see mostly better known names with articles in the form of 10 ten lists and click-baity titles. It's like the intellectual level went from college to high school.
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