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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.
6:40 pm on Aug 28, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@koan

My niche is also full of Top 10, Best 50, and Hottest 100 lists. What's really annoying is, most of these lists contain links to MY articles! Google actually considers sites that do nothing but link to content on other sites as more important than the sites they link to. I may create my own Top 10 style list, full of links to my own articles, just to see if Google takes the bait.
8:39 pm on Aug 28, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I've noticed a lot of top 10, best 20 etc too. Just yesterday I searched for a topic I've covered in detail and the site with the answer box was a '8 things you didn't know about unicorns' type post, covering the topic in a paragraph.

I said in another thread what I've started to do is pander to the answer box and visitors wanting quick answers by writing up a very brief summary of the topic at the start of the post. So, with the topic above, I had an article on 'can unicorns eat snow', and went into detail as to what changes happen in the body which prevents them eating snow'...and suitable alternatives. I then wrote up a 4 line summary of the post which essentially said 'they can't eat snow, it will give them an upset stomach, symptoms include XYZ, fairy dust is best for unicorns'. I then showed it to my son, husband and daughter and they all said they'd read the top and skip the rest. I then experienced the same myself...I was looking online for a timeline I have listed on my site, just to see what other sites are saying. I searched and found the answer in the title, clicked through, and there was a whole lot of text (she'd covered the topic in detail), but I just wanted the answer, I didn't want to read the entire post. So I can see it from both sides.

I will still continue to write detailed posts because I understand people want to research, but try to cater to the TLDR visitors too. I've only made this change with 20 articles, and will monitor them to see how it goes. My one concern is it could affect time on page as they're getting the answer within a second and may then leave and G may see that as a problem.

Another thing I've said on here recently is there's a bit of a contradiction with what Google say and what they do. When Matt Cutts said a couple of years ago we should publish quality content and imagine it will be featured in a magazine I took that on board and ALWAYS write the best article I can. But, Google seem to be placing trust over quality, so brand sites with thin content trump lesser known sites with more detailed content.
9:04 pm on Aug 28, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@all

Right now Google are favouring clickbait and links. How does Google rate an article; source, originality and links to the article - simple as that. You could publish the greatest article in the world but without authority, inbound links and some originality that article is going to sink. Of course CTR and Bounce Rate and Sharing I'm sure play a part but right now the major factors are; the site its published on, the inbound links it attracts and lastly quality of the article.
9:24 pm on Aug 28, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@ browndog

I agree with your approach, catering to both worlds (the Google answer box crowd and the ones who prefer more detailed explanations). I've started doing the exact same thing with my articles. My long-time visitors enjoy the fact that I always explain "why" things are done, not just "how". But a lot of people, and Google as well, prefer the quick answers. So once I'm done with the detailed explanation, I now go back and write a quick summary at the top of the article, something that Google and the people with no attention span can absorb. I've only just started doing this recently so I don't have any hard evidence yet that it works, but I strongly believe this is now the best approach.
10:15 pm on Aug 28, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I think part of googles problem is that whatever it puts at No.1 is going to end up looking even better to their algo. If rankbrain promotes an average article to No.1 then users will still visit it. it will get a spurt of traffic, loads of clicks, probably a load of backlinks, and that will cement its position and make it even harder to dislodge. Rankbrain picked a lousy article, promoted it, and helped to bump up its stats. Now it's stuck with it,
10:22 pm on Aug 28, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@ Cralamarre, I hope it works well for you. You seem to be in the same boat as me, and it's depressing. I do think one thing that is hurting my site is the fact I'm in sheer panic mode and constantly changing things (switching from m.dot to responsive, responsive to AMP, AMP back to responsive), and from what I can gather, Google take a dim view of that. So for now I'm trying to calm down and stop changing things. I'm no longer meeting my mortgage, but my husband thankfully has a few thousand tucked away for tax, so we are living on that. But by Christmas we'll be toast if things don't pick up.

Will be interesting to see how those changes for the TLDR people work. I still like to cover everything I possibly can, and add a tonne of pictures too. Before, during and after type images. Which G then steals and places in the answer box next to my competitor's answer.
10:55 pm on Aug 28, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@browndog, I've been in panic mode for months now, ever since the March update, and I can honestly say that panicking has done me no good. Like you, I've scrambled to try anything I could think of, and nothing has helped. The March update took away a good chunk of my traffic. The May update took more. And my site has been slowly losing a few more visitors each day, all summer long. It's extremely frustrating, and even terrifying, to think that I no longer have any control over things. Not that I've ever really had any control over things. But when things are stable for years, it creates the illusion that you're in control.

If I start writing quick answer-style articles to cater to Google, then my site becomes the same as everyone else's. There are only so many ways to say "Do this, do that, you're done". It's my longer, more detailed explanations that separate my site from the pack, and that have kept people coming to my site for over 10 years. It's also those same explanations that Google no longer likes. So what do you do, other than find a way to cater to both.

One idea I have, and I haven't tried this yet, is to create a separate series of quick answer articles. Rather than just placing a summary at the top of the longer articles, creating a completely separate series of articles that only offer the quick answer. Then, if people want to read more, they can click the link to read the extended article. It's an idea. Not sure if it's a good one, but it's something I think is worth a try.

And yes, Google also steals images from my articles and places them in the answer box beside some other site's article. How do you search for a solution with nonsense like that?
12:11 am on Aug 29, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I've noticed a lot of top 10, best 20 etc

Many people tend to skim through a page, and that's easy to do when it has a list structure.

As for answer boxes, most of them are a waste of time, and I usually ignore them.
12:28 am on Aug 29, 2017 (gmt 0)

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P.S. As an alternative to a list, I like to use a series of short sections, each with its own <h2> or <h3> heading. This breaks the page up in the same way as a list, and people can skim through the headings, stopping to read the sections that interest them.
1:09 am on Aug 29, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@aristotle Has your site, or sites, been affected by the Google updates over the past few months?
1:43 am on Aug 29, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Cralamarre, I have one page titled 'why does my unicorn?'...with quick answers. Also do what aristotle suggested and have lots of shorter paragraphs with H2 titles, as well as that, at the top I have a table of contents so people can click on the link and go straight to the part they want. Those headers also show up in the Google search results.

I really do think it's just a case of brands trumping quality, certainly in my niche. Or maybe Google have realised that a lot of readers just want a quick answer. We have to try and evolve with that. It will be interesting to see how those changed pages go over the next few months. I've decided now to focus more on new content and stop tinkering.

It's hard when you have been in control and earned a living from your site and to lose it. I am now making 1/5th of what I made 2 years ago. I wake up every night in a cold sweat thinking about losing everything. It is terrifying.
2:38 am on Aug 29, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I think a big threat to text-based information websites these days is YouTube. I read somewhere that within a couple of years, more than 80% of web searches will be for video. My website offers software training, and I know that even if one of my articles is number 1 on the Google search results page, there are usually 3 or 4 YouTube thumbnails directly below it. Those thumbnails can render my site's text link all but invisible.

Of course, that's just for my niche. Not all content is video friendly. But after 10 years of running a text-based website, even I caved in and started up a YouTube channel recently, and I've been embedding my videos into my article pages. Now, I don't believe for one second that YouTube is the reason my traffic suddenly plummeted in March and then again in May. Google obviously changed something in its algorithm to cause that. But I do strongly believe that video is the future of the web, and will only become a bigger and bigger threat to text-based sites. I have teenage nieces and nephews who can barely read or write, but they all spend hours a day on YouTube.

And for the record, my Google traffic was down 5% today from the same day last week, same as it's been since last Friday. For some reason, most of the drop is from the UK. Not sure why. US Google traffic was actually up 10% today.
6:06 am on Aug 29, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@Cralamarre 28th was a bank holiday in the UK.
8:34 am on Aug 29, 2017 (gmt 0)

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The sites I value most, I don't google, they are type-ins or frequently used links, or at worst a bookmark.
Often my first visit to them was from a word of mouth recommendation.
My relationship is directly with these sites, google is irrelevant.
They are highly sticky sites.
8:59 am on Aug 29, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I am not a big user of youtube but am older, maybe that changes things. If I want to know about cancer, I would rather read about it, if I want to know how to decorate a cupcake I go to youtube. There's one site I visit frequently as I love her content (completely separate niche to mine), and 50% of the time she posts youtube clips, I won't watch them. But...I follow Tipsy Bartender and that would NOT translate to a blog post. Part of it is watching the drink made and part of it is laughing at what he says.
10:35 am on Aug 29, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@aristotle Has your site, or sites, been affected by the Google updates over the past few months?

Not in any clearcut noticeable way. There's always a traffic dropoff of about 15-20% on several of my sites during the summer, because students are out of school, but they're already starting to recover as schools are re-opening in some places

By the way, I should have mentioned that I like to include two or three relevant images in my articles as another way to break up the content.

One last thing _ From reading the discussions here over the years, I've noticed that people who are always making changes to their articles seem to always be reporting google traffic losses. I've haven't touched most of my articles in years.
12:32 pm on Aug 29, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@browndog, regarding YouTube. I've noticed with my own site, now that I've been embedding videos into some of my articles, that less than half of my visitors to those pages actually watch the video. My wife explained it by saying, "If people want videos, they go to YouTube. If they want text, they go to your website". It's frustrating because I've seen YouTube videos that are literally videos of MY articles (in some cases, word for word, and even using the same images!), and those videos have received hundreds of thousands of views, far more than my actual written articles. And of course, they're all running ads, so these people are earning revenue from my work. I make a video of my own article, embed it in the actual article page, and can't get anyone to watch it. Other people with established YouTube channels make videos of my articles and get 250,000 views.

@aristotle, regarding your comment about making changes and Google not liking it. Back in March, I finally got around to switching my site from a static to a mobile-friendly layout. Works beautifully and passes Google's mobile-friendly test. I thought good things were about to happen. The very next day (I kid you not, the very next day), my traffic dropped by 25% due to a Google update. All that work for nothing. My site has never recovered, and lost even more traffic in May.

Since then, I've gone through my articles making sure to separate out the content into smaller chunks with H2 and H3 tags. I can see the tag headings in the Google search results, so I know they work. And these days, I'm using a WordPress SEO plugin to help make sure that my articles are easily readable on the web (short, well-structured sentences and paragraphs, using transition words, etc). I can clearly see that my articles are ranking well on Google. Unfortunately, I can also clearly see that my traffic is way down. I truly do not understand what is happening lately, why my traffic has dropped so much so quickly and refuses to recover.
1:20 pm on Aug 29, 2017 (gmt 0)

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A thought for those with traffic losses.

When the www first started and until the 2008 collapse, many people's thirst for knowledge and new things seemed to be exponential, since then the "new" social www of Facebook, Twitter, Instragram, TripAdvisor etc has been one of the great drivers of overall traffic.

I do not know if this metric exists but how many people only use social sites and their favourite shopping sites and, ultimately, very rarely go to the regular www?

I know of many people whose mobile phones are solely locked into their favourite social site and very rarely go anywhere else unless someone sends them a link etc.

Just a musing, I have no idea how right or wrong I may be.
1:55 pm on Aug 29, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@RedBar, you could be right. My site traffic depends heavily on the school year. For most of the summer, traffic has been way down, as expected. Yet now that school is starting up again, my Direct traffic has been increasing. Google traffic is still down, but Direct traffic is on the rise. Yesterday, my Direct traffic was up 13% from the previous week, which was already up 15% from the week before. When I look at the content that's being viewed from Direct traffic, I can see that it's articles I would expect students and teachers to be using at the beginning of the school year. I also see that my average session duration is up nearly 20%, while my Bounce Rate is slightly down.

So it does seem like many of my visitors are coming directly to my site rather than going through Google. People do tend to stop looking for things once they find something they like. It could very well be that people are simply not searching for things the way they used to. But still, would that explain the sudden traffic drops in March and May? Probably not.
5:53 pm on Aug 29, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Update: Actually, my Google traffic does seem to be up a bit today, and overall traffic is up roughly 15% from yesterday. Go school year!
9:16 pm on Aug 29, 2017 (gmt 0)

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The thing with updating content, I thought Google encouraged that. I like to keep it fresh and up to date. Some of those articles were written in 2002, my writing skills and knowledge have improved and new research/treatment have occurred.
9:44 pm on Aug 29, 2017 (gmt 0)

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My impression is that google wants to punish people who keep making frequent changes to an article for the sole purpose of trying to improve its rankings. Of course this could mistakenly hurt people who are simply trying to improve their article. Most likely google tries to detect the difference in motive, but that probably isn't easy.
5:33 am on Aug 30, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I can finally view data in WMT for the day the drop started + a couple more days. Average keyword position went up, especially on mobile. But the clicks are going down. Wonder if we are being punished with some new kind of "info box" algo. Hmm.
7:09 am on Aug 30, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Google to Comply With EU Search Demands to Avoid More Fines [bloomberg.com]

Thread over in the Business section:
[webmasterworld.com...]
7:20 am on Aug 30, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Could definately have something to do with it.
4:54 pm on Aug 30, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@browndog, I've updated many of my articles over the years and, to the best of my knowledge, have not been penalized in any way by Google for doing so. Sometimes I update an existing article. Other times, I write a brand new one and include a link to the original. Often, both versions of the article end up ranking at the top of the Google SERPs. Since my site deals with software training, new versions of the software are released every year. If I want to keep up with the times, I have no choice but to update my articles,. Otherwise, my content becomes obsolete. I think Google would care more about obsolete information when ranking pages. At least, I would hope so. Who really knows anymore.
5:15 pm on Aug 30, 2017 (gmt 0)

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The thing with updating content, I thought Google encouraged that. I like to keep it fresh and up to date.

We have any number of evergreen articles that we update a couple of times a year and which rank high (often number one) in Google for competitive searches. In fact, the pages on our site that consistently get the most traffic from Google are updated regularly.
12:01 pm on Aug 31, 2017 (gmt 0)

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How do you compare your pages with those in the top 10?

A while ago I used to spreadsheet them and list PR, inward links, number of mentions of the key word in the site and one other. PR is now invisible, but the spreadsheet used to give me an idea of what to work on to get among the top 10.

What metrics would you use today to compare your pages to those in the top 10 for a keyterm?
2:26 pm on Aug 31, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Wow! I managed to beat last month's sales....by ONE. Usually the end of summer uptick would have been well under way by now. Throttled by Magoo again!

That plus one must have been due to the McAfee secure trust mark trial...apparently not even that makes a RA of a difference these days.
6:05 pm on Aug 31, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@samwest

Big congratulations on beating the machine by one order.

It looks like the brain computer interface failed by one order I wonder next week if you will get one less.
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