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Google Updates and SERP Changes - November 2018

     
9:14 am on Nov 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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System: The following 18 messages were cut out of thread at: https://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4922186.htm [webmasterworld.com] by robert_charlton - 3:04 pm on Nov 1, 2018 (PDT -8)


Facing with big changes. Something is happening again? I'm pretty tired of Google updates for the last few months... Niche: IT how-to's, technology...
1:04 pm on Nov 20, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Keyword phrase: "How many spoons of honey for a sore throat"

I'd probably easily rank for that before August... And some months later I'd rank for "honey for sore throat" and then "honey sore throat"

Now, keywords like: [How to] or [How many] seems to be devalued, and the algorithm is erring on the side of caution and ranking to authority sites like healthline which might write a topic/title like "Health Benefits of Honey" and have one paragraph on the fact that study A and B said it's effective for a sore throat.

Whereas my fictional article (in this case), has a 1000-1500 word review on multiple randomized, placebo-controlled studies looking at whether or not honey is effective and how much honey is needed for a sore throat that is caused by a virus, bacterial infection, fungal infection etc.


If the query is "How many spoons of honey for a sore throat?" I only need a couple of sentences, maybe a paragraph, to answer the question, not a thesis. Most people would rather read the one paragraph from the authority site and not a 1500 word article. People want answers fast and the majority don't take the time to read which is why we're seeing more featured snippets for those kinds of questions.
1:39 pm on Nov 20, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@Beginner

Well, user metrics says you're wrong. Average time on these types of pages for me is around 7-9 minutes.

And I give them the answer clearly, up front, near the start of the article.

I said that I start ranking for the longer phrase, and then later rank for, e.g: "honey for sore throat", which might be similar, but the user tends to want more information. And even someone searching for the latter has a good CTR% for the main keyword phrase "how many".

You absolutely can go into more depth on these types of articles and people stay and read. Sometimes the answer can't be one paragraph, because there are multiple conflicting studies or there are different amounts needed. Maybe a lower dose fails, but a higher dose works. Maybe there are ways to enhance its effectiveness or maybe there are contraindications.

The [how many] keyword phrases may only get searched 250 times per month, but later the same articles rank for shorter variations which may get 1000+ per month.
1:47 pm on Nov 20, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@whoa

User metrics on your site says I'm wrong but I wouldn't say that the users on your site are reflective of all users. I'm sure you don't have a 100% CTR for those types of queries.
2:28 pm on Nov 20, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@whoa182

Yes, what you describe with the "honey sore throat" type queries is what I'm seeing too. I've been removed from all of the higher volume queries in favour of higher ranking "authority" sites that actually aren't even relevant for the query. e.g. they could be about sore throats and not even mention honey.

I've also been removed or pushed down the rankings for the really long tail queries - for example if I have a page about topic A that mentions topic B and topic C, instead of showing me at the top of the results for a query about topic A, B, C, Google will show the same high ranking sites that aren't relevant and don't even mention topic B or C before it will show me further down, if it shows me at all.

It seems to be related to the neural matching / super synonyms algorithm (see the thread about synonyms). I guess they could use authority and trust signals on the algorithm and they've set the bar so high that relevant results aren't appearing.

I think whatever it was may have started in March and they've been cranking up the dial and adding more features to it with each core update, the big one being August. I've seen grey hats talking about how the search started working in a completely different way in April.
4:12 pm on Nov 20, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@whoa182 I too have a blog in the health sector and I am experiencing exactly what you describe. I do not have a degree, but a 1200 hour certification and I am qualified to speak on my subject matter. My articles are detailed and answer questions that people would have. I have been on the first page for years with evergreen articles that are updated regularly. In August I lost 60% of my traffic overnight.

The real kicker is that many of the articles that out rank mine are simply sloppy rewording of my site, same headers, same info, even same generic product recommendations. What is the difference? These new articles are supposedly written by or reviewed by doctors. Someone suggested that I should feel proud that doctors are using my work. Here is the next problem, they are applying my work to medical conditions that may have some overlap but are not the same. It is like saying the treatment for gangrene is the same way you would treat a small cut.

Google is becoming the arbiter in matters that they know nothing about. There are good and bad doctors, there are treatments that help some but not others. They are suppressing information that can help people to prop up an expert who may or may not be an actual expert.

Sorry for the rant. I know there are a lot of charlatan websites in the health fields. There are no easy answers. But what is happening now in Google search is not doing any favors for people looking for information.

PS If you are looking for medical information use Bing or DDG. So far their results are much more varied so you can find various view points and opinions.
4:37 pm on Nov 20, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@broccoli

What you report is exactly my case. Even the dates coincide with mine. Since March 14th it's been a nightmare. In August it got worse. No matter what I do, I can't revert the process.

Trust / authority, does not seem to be the problem. I have a website with all possible authority and had the same behavior as others.

What am I doing now? Three new websites, it's no use modifying the others. I also decided to remove Adsense code from a few pages. The current ads are so bad that they embarrass my websites. Contextual advertising was lost almost completely and was the one that interested me the most. The one I thought would add value and usefulness to my visitors.
5:08 pm on Nov 20, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@Malanje Yes, the ads are terrible at the moment and they make my site look bad. I've been thinking of trying adthrive or mediavine because they're so bad. Meanwhile the site at the top of my niche is getting rewarded with insanely high traffic and great ads even though the content is terrible and they have two different adsense violations on their pages - encouraging accidental clicks, and a sticky ad. What on earth are they doing to us?

I feel like we're getting somewhere here. We all seem to be seeing the same behaviour over the same timescale, even though we're in a range of different fields.
6:11 pm on Nov 20, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@broccoli
I have the same problem with my German site. Since the march update rankings are going down. I think, that has nothing to do with quality content, ads or page speed. Maybe the authority of backlinks is more relevant. User experience is really important but with the last Updates it doesn't matter. There are some other issues for that nightmare.
6:34 pm on Nov 20, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@RamonOne I am worried about backlinks. Most of my backlinks are from forums and blogs, most of them have snippets of content copied from my site (which generates funny, user-specific content). The site at the top of my niche has hardly any backlinks (but it does have its own little 'network' of related sites sort of like a pbn but not secret). The sites below it have much bigger backlink profiles, but people don't link to them in the same way as my site, they just paste a naked url into a forum, whereas my backlink profile is quite keyword heavy because I've had a copy and paste box on the site since about 2002 that includes a proper link. I've been told my backlink profile looks good, but I don't know, Google has a funny idea of what's "good" these days.
7:07 pm on Nov 20, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@broccoli
In my case it's the same thing. I have also lot's of links from forums and blogs, but I miss some really trust links from institutions, big medias or so. Backlink profiles of new competitors are better. They have also link relations to big website networks. I also thought my backlink profile is fine, but it isn't actual. What I can say, that the last updates since March have nothing to do with content or freshness content. Sure, very old and useless content can be removed, but backlinks seems to be very important. The truth is google takes a mysterious way and I can't find any technical reasons. So page speed, ads, mobile optimisation, ssl etc. are not the reason for bad rankings after the last updates.
10:55 pm on Nov 20, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Hmm, I have quite a few links from press, bigger sites, and genuine .edu links. I have more of those links than most of my competitors because I invested in design value and entertainment factor for my site. If there's something "wrong" with my backlinks it must be complex and multifactorial.

In my case I think I was hit by:

1) The rise of a competitor who has invested in SEO rather than content.

2) The neural matching / super synonyms algorithm which seems to be far too broad and rewards only the highest ranking sites, based on overall site relevancy and authority, even if they are off-topic for the actual search performed.

3) Some sort of complex "panda on steroids" trust/authority algorithm that got triggered (in my case) when I switched to SSL, maybe because of the size of my backlink profile and a few naive SEO mistakes I made to do with ad placement, keyword density, and having to change my url structure. This may be something that affects YMYL fields by default. They have gone well beyond just taking down spammers and onto penalising normal sites by holding everyone to insanely high standards. I would NOT advise anyone thinking of moving to SSL to do it if they have been punished in recent Google updates. It's far too risky if it triggers a reassessment of your site. Make sure your SEO is absolutely perfect and try to get back on an upward curve before doing it.

I think quite a few people here have been hit by all three of these things at once. It's crazy how many corporations have suddenly created massive health sites in the last 18 months and linked them to their existing properties to give them authority. Then Google introduces mass snippets, cranks up whatever Panda is now in a way that favours corporations, and simultaneously releases an AI into the wild in the space of a few months. And perhaps also introduces some sort of indexing bug or weird A/B testing or constantly cycling script that keeps pinging people's pages in and out of the serps for months on end.

Result: mass extinction of mom and pop businesses, particularly in crowded marketplaces like health.

So what can we do to survive this mess? Diversify? Create our own little link networks of related sites, like the big corporations do? (But isn't that like having a pbn? How is it okay for them but not for us?) Keep complaining until Google notices they've messed up the serps? There won't be any web left for Google to scrape our data from if they send us all out of business.

When are any of the big names in SEO going to grow some spine and step up and actually challenge Google on what they're doing to webmasters? I know they read this forum.
12:19 am on Nov 21, 2018 (gmt 0)

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There was a time, a fairy time, when the contextual ads were the king and the queen. I remember they almost enhanced my content. It's over now, they only appear on the SERP pages. I no longer feel like I'm a Google partner. It's a site that uses our content to compete with us. We must remember that Google does not produce content, but uses content from websites to attract visitors to their properties.

About the March update, I get the impression that they target some sites. That would explain many things, like ups and downs, among other things. I know, I know this sounds ridiculous. When we talk about Google, we can only speculate.
1:21 am on Nov 21, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Another year, another Thanksgiving period with low traffic to get through ...
3:12 am on Nov 21, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@jmorgan Yup the next few days are going to be rough.

The one good news is that things have started to trend up ever so marginally. My bottom was reached in mid October, about the 18th. From that point forward I have been seeing an ever so slight upward trend. A few percent week over week. Hopefully it will continue I have long way to recover.
12:11 pm on Nov 21, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Hmm. I wonder whether an element of what people are seeing with reduced traffic could be an anti-spam/anti-seo/trust filter built into the neural matching algorithm. A kind SEO recently advised me that a problem with my url structure containing a word repetition could be considered a spam signal. I experimented with shortening a handful of urls and the traffic to them has jumped by two thirds, even though the rank in the serps for my target keyword stayed exactly the same. It appears to have come from very long tail queries. If that's the case, the algorithm is really harsh. There's absolutely nothing else on the page that could cause it to be categorised as spam.

So - perhaps there's a really high bar of trust signals you have to surpass to get ranked in the neural matching / super synonym queries? There could be one or two small things people aren't doing on their pages that would increase trust to get them over that bar.

This is only anecdotal so far, but I'm going to slowly experiment with moving a few more pages onto shorter urls and see what happens as they get re-ranked.
12:53 pm on Nov 21, 2018 (gmt 0)

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So what can we do to survive this mess? Diversify? Create our own little link networks of related sites, like the big corporations do? (But isn't that like having a pbn? How is it okay for them but not for us?)

This is exactly how sites are winning as far (or certainly one of the big pieces of the jigsaw) as I can see and it make a mockery of the google guidelines as google do nothing about it and for all the shouting about how clever their algos are they dont spot it either.
8:57 pm on Nov 21, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I've started a thread asking a question about this (it's awaiting moderation right now). I would really like to get a clear idea about what kind of interlinking is and isn't allowed by Google, because the guidelines are really vague.
9:49 pm on Nov 21, 2018 (gmt 0)

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what kind of interlinking is and isn't allowed by Google

interlinking which make sense.
9:53 pm on Nov 21, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I can also see that exact match keyword domains are ranking higher than before and got a boost. Some of the winner sites also using keyword spam methods or don't care about keyword density. But can't find a relation to keyword diversty by using super synonyms.
9:57 pm on Nov 21, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Yes, we have a huge exact match domain problem in our industry as well since August, maybe even March to some degree. Google feels more like Bing lately in that regard. These exact match domains are trash at best, I cannot believe in 2018 Google can't seem to figure out that they are being gamed by them.
11:39 pm on Nov 21, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Yes. An EMD (with a dash in the domain!) came out of nowhere and took over my niche in March. I've seen grey hats say it's all about keywords at the moment. Someone got a loreum ipsum site to rank second in an SEO competition by using keywords in headings, title tags, etc. I don't believe "content is king" anymore.
9:14 am on Nov 22, 2018 (gmt 0)

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next very big hit this night. Serps are upside down and not for the best ( yes for the best for google ads but not for users )
In our niche it seems that all the sites that has been hit by penguin are back,
1:07 pm on Nov 22, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@Martin Ice Web Happy Thanksgiving!
As it is Thanksgiving in the US traffic is going to be down across the board. I'm certain that Google will use this time for roll-outs and testing. Since traffic is down and atypical one wont be able to draw any definitive conclusions until mid-week next week at best.

Its probably best to turn off the screens and enjoy the holiday.
1:23 pm on Nov 22, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Traffic off a cliff but rankings seem to be holding steady. Most Americans are no begrudgingly eating Turkey with families so I'm not going to worry until next week.
1:26 pm on Nov 22, 2018 (gmt 0)

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yeah down 20 to 25% since yesterday but not stressing as it is surely a combo of thanksgiving , black friday etc likely will be like this until mon /tue im guessing
2:07 pm on Nov 22, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Personalised traffic here without conversions, what a smart algo
2:10 pm on Nov 22, 2018 (gmt 0)

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conversions? what is this?
2:25 pm on Nov 22, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Well something to be shared by few
2:28 pm on Nov 22, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@KaseyM not eating yet... a few more hours to go before the meals will be served. Now Americans are cooking, the only websites that will be seeing increases in traffic are recipe sites.. Lol.
4:18 pm on Nov 22, 2018 (gmt 0)

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At least the good news is, if you think that traffic today (and tomorrow) is bad, just wait till next month when it will be even worse for much longer!

Wait... is that good news? No, sorry. My bad.
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