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Google Updates and SERP Changes - December 2018

     
3:13 pm on Dec 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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System: The following 7 messages were cut out of thread at: https://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4926691.htm [webmasterworld.com] by robert_charlton - 4:47 pm on Dec 1, 2018 (PDT -8)


It just keeps getting worse and worse... I was seeing a slow daily uptick from November 4th until day before yesterday and hoping I would finally start to recover from September's massacre. Now I've lost all the ground I made up in two days and back to where I started. No calls, no emails, no inquiries. Meanwhile the huge corporate competitors keep ascending. Google is just determined to kill us all off.
2:42 pm on Dec 12, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I am witnessing a 15-20% drop across all my sites since Friday. Still continuing.

How many sites is that?
Are they in the same or similar niches?
Are they interlinked or otherwise associated in some way?
5:08 pm on Dec 12, 2018 (gmt 0)

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This morning I was checking an old list of links, and two sites that used to be fairly prominent in their niches are apparently gone now. Both of these sites had some unique and interesting content.

It makes you wonder how many other good sites are disappearing. If the web is losing valuable content, it's a loss not only to the web but to the world.
8:10 pm on Dec 12, 2018 (gmt 0)

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In my niche im noticing some out of date sites with thin content, link exchange schemes, in the top 5. Some of them does not contain more than 6-7 pages side-wide.
Apart from that, i had trouble finding what i wanted few days ago when i was searching something programming related, and i noticed the most relevant pages where actually in the 2nd page of the serps.

In my point of view, google engineers just do crappy tests here and there just to justify their salaries. I dont think user experience and relevant content is their top priority, despite of what they publicly say.
9:57 pm on Dec 12, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@Cralamarre it was 8-10 years ago when I filed. All I provided was my sites url and the copied pages url. There were other questions that I answered but I don't remember what they were. I checked out the DMCA a few days ago, it is much more complicated now.


@whoa182 In the past month traffic from Bing, Yahoo, and DDG make up 40% of my traffic and it is rising. Short and long tail keywords that used to rank 1-3 on Google but have dropped off, are ranking very well on other search engines. I have done some work on the site, but I think people are also looking at alternative search engines. The Google returns in my niche are awful.

@broccoli This is an incredibly stressful time for many of us, our livelihoods are hanging on the line. Do your best to control your stress and take care of yourself. :)
12:01 am on Dec 13, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@Derbie

I'm already promoting DuckDuckGo through my web pages. Could it be Bing
After reading your words, I checked out the last 11-day report of search engine referrals to a particular site of mine, which was hit hard during the top three updates this year. 28.1% of visitors come from Bing, 20.7% from Yahoo and 1.7% from DuckDuckGo.

@broccoli
I also fell from the sky. My dream became a nightmare. I am graduated in some professional field and only talk about my work, and still have links in my pages to the high school where I studied. My oldest web site is alive since 1999. Isn't that Authority and trust enough? Has a not very successful facebook page, the same for G+ and Twitter. Nevertheless someone, for no reason, put me in the same bag of pills and supplements, which have nothing to do with my content.

I'm sure you've a lot of skills on websites and related stuff. May I suggest you to think to build some new? I know that it is hard but could be one way to minimize the damages.
2:41 am on Dec 13, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@Derbie @Malanje Thank you guys. Feeling a bit better now. :)

@Malanje I started building a new site this week. Iím going to make several sites in related niches and a new site in my current niche that uses a different strategy. I wonít be beaten by the Googlemonster!

About your rival - nofollow links still seem to have some power, and making links like that is against Googleís guidelines. Check his backlink profile in a variety of different link tools, black hats hide their PBN links from many tools by blocking the bots they use from accessing their sites.
2:57 am on Dec 13, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@aristotle,
Three sites.
Two in Health Niche.
The content is not the same, one is a specialty medicine site whereas the other covers general health and medicine topics.
The content is not same or overlapping.
They are not interconnected except for 2-3 relevant articles being linked.
The third is a Wellness site.
All were hit in August. The first one recovered slowly after that to 70% of what it was pre-August. Incidentally, this has the greatest amount of content. About 4 times more articles than the second one.

Other two never recovered from August punch. And recently traffic went further down.

Maybe Nov 30 update had a delayed effect. I am not sure.

Thanks for your attention and time.
12:45 pm on Dec 13, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Okay - here's the first thing I've discovered.

Regarding Penguin 4.0 and people who have seen a decline in traffic since early 2017.

I believe Google may have released a Penguin related algorithm on the 1st of February 2017 that devalued backlinks that don't get clickthroughs. It was followed in the next few weeks by a spate of manual actions, and I think they were using it to surface link networks.

The update was referred to as the "Groundhog day update".

I read a Bill Slawski article here on it:

[gofishdigital.com...]

Here's the relevant section:

"Demotion based upon a high number of links that don't produce much traffic"

"...a resource may be linked to by a large number of other resources, while receiving little traffic from the links. For example, an entity may attempt to game the ranking process by including a link to the resource on another web page. This large number of links can skew the ranking of the resources. To prevent such skew, the system can evaluate the "mismatch" between the number of linking resources and the traffic generated to the resource from the linking resources. If a resource is linked to by a number of resources that is disproportionate with respect to the traffic received by use of those links, that resource may be demoted in the ranking process."

This article makes it sound like the ratio between active (traffic) and inactive (no traffic) links is important and the result is an actual algorithmic demotion. For the page? For the site?

I first started my site in 1999 and I have a lot of links (100K) going back all that way from users who have shared my stuff on their websites and blogs. I doubt very much that links from the 2000s are going to give me much in the way of traffic.

Alexa says I have about 250-300 links with measurable traffic, about 50-100 less than another site that was started in 2012 that has a similar number of backlinks. The spammy new EMD that took over the niche in March has about 20 measurable traffic links in Alexa, but about 300 links in total, which is a much better ratio than either of us, plus those links are fresh.

I can't quite tell what they mean by demotion. It doesn't say the links are ignored, it says the resource (page) is demoted in rankings. Is the demotion proportionate to the value of the links, or disproportionate?

I believe this algorithm has considerably weakened the power of long-established sites like mine. I don't know whether it's an active penalty, but I believe it's made it very easy for new sites to easily outrank old sites, because old sites are getting their backlinks ignored.It means my carefully curated site has been outranked by people who are out to make a quick buck.

This algorithm may as well be called "Postmodern" because it's effectively removed the quality measurement - the best ranking measurement for my niche - which is user votes. It means one link (paid for or otherwise) from a news article or a big corporate site could outweigh hundreds if not thousands of links from ordinary people.

The article suggests that the effects of this algorithm can be mitigated by high quality scores - "the long click" engagement metric, but I'm not so sure. I don't know how they measure that metric or if it's working fairly, or whether they've added additional factors into that quality score system (like for example the on-page trust factors I've mentioned).

And of course in my own case I lost all of my Panda engagement metrics when I moved my pages off subdomains this summer when Google mucked up my https migration by ignoring my canonical tags, made https links to subdomains without SSL certificates, and forced me to move all of my pages on to my www domain at once (long story).

There's something really suspicious about the timing of this update, and either they didn't think it through or they don't care that legitimate sites with lots of old backlinks could get hit. This could make it much harder for an old site to rank its homepage, since home pages tend to have higher bounce rates, and people rarely spend long on the home page before navigating away.
1:57 pm on Dec 13, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@broccoli
Of your long post there is only one point that I read as problematic:


...when I moved my pages off subdomains this summer when Google mucked up my https migration by ignoring my canonical tags, made https links to subdomains without SSL certificates, and forced me to move all of my pages on to my www domain at once (long story).


If I were in your shoes this is where I would focus my energy on this. A site move as you describe is a big event with a lot areas for something to go wrong. Recovering from such as a move, specially for a large website, can take a very long time. It can be like starting a new website from scratch. I'm not sure about everything that can go wrong. Definitely double check your redirection strategy and scripts to be sure that this is working correctly and optimally. You may want create a thread to explain what you did and to ask for suggestions.

The other stuff about furry animals, follows, no-follows, engagements and long or short clicks is great story telling. That is, attributing plausible explanations to a series of events after the fact but I doubt that making changes based on this stories will make any significant difference for your site's ranking.
2:32 pm on Dec 13, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@NickMNS Thanks Nick. The whole thing was an absolute disaster and I wish I'd never done it, and when it went wrong I should have aborted the process immediately instead of going with it. I should have focussed on on-page quality changes first, then migrated to a single subdomain very slowly, THEN added SSL. I didn't know enough about the technical aspects of SEO, and naively assumed that if Google said they had mechanisms in place for moving pages to SSL, it would all go fine. It's been about six months now, and I have more traffic than before the switch, so I don't think there's much else I can do there. I also made a stupid mistake with my new url structure and repeated a keyword in the url because I wanted to distinguish my application pages from my content pages for backend programming/routing related reasons. I don't believe Google when they say url keywords don't matter. The urls I've moved again are getting much nicer treatment from Google than the urls I haven't moved (and because I'm not moving from subdomains the process is going a lot more smoothly).

I'm currently trying to get back the traffic I lost at the start of the year. There's not a great deal I can do about the backlink algorithm I describe above (I'm not about to hire a team of people from Fiverr to click my backlinks for me), but it's one of a series of algorithmic penalties that do explain why my site was weakened to the point where spammy sites could take my traffic.
3:39 pm on Dec 13, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@broccoli, what is the theory on how Google is figuring out which backlinks get "traffic" and which do not? I know Google often says one thing and does another, but they at least publicly claim to not use any Google Analytics data for their search algorithm (https://twitter.com/methode/status/879362807472545792)

Or am I misunderstanding this and you're talking about traffic to the pages that the link is on?

I'm inclined to find this theory about link traffic to be pretty unlikely.
4:30 pm on Dec 13, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@lostshootingstar They track what people click on from the search results and whether they return, and they also use Chrome. They're watching everything people click on and where they click and how long they spend on the site, and whether they click the back button. Spyware, basically. They're probably doing the same on Android. When SEOs refer to Chrome user experience data, that's what they're talking about. They don't need to use Analytics because they get more accurate data from Chrome, but nothing would surprise me.
4:48 pm on Dec 13, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Conspiracy thought. What if nofollow links that get a lot of traffic do boost your rank?
5:00 pm on Dec 13, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Nofollow links should boost your rank indirectly, especially if placed in contextually relevant pages where people are interested and WILL stay on your page to read. It sends positive signals back to Google. The same way social media can indirectly affect rankings.

At least, this is how I understand it.
5:20 pm on Dec 13, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Well the thing about Google is they decide to change things all the time. People try to test these kinds of things and a few months later they change it again.

Letís think about what kinds of links are nofollow: advertisements, and comment sections. If I were Google and I wanted to promote big corporations in the serps this year, my machine learning algorithm might tell me that large corporations have a lot of nofollow links. But how would I distinguish between large corporations and spam sites? I could ignore comment sections, and I could also check for quality signals on the originating and the target page and look at user experience data from the clicks and from the page and site in general and make a judgment about whether the link should pass juice. Just my theory.
8:53 pm on Dec 13, 2018 (gmt 0)

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If I were Google and I wanted to promote big corporations in the serps this year, my machine learning algorithm might tell me that large corporations have a lot of nofollow links.

Small sites have a lot of nofollow links, too. Nofollow links are the new normal, at least in some circles.
9:27 pm on Dec 13, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I think that nofollow links are the downfall of small online businesses. My site gets mentioned in reddit, on Wikipedia, and in other major media outlets but in the last 5 years these sites and others have switched all out bound links to nofollow. Plus most comments and forum posts on sites are now nofollow as well. I realize a lot of comments are spam but a lot are also not. Webmasters do not moderate there user posts anymore, they should. I think a site that has the majority of their outbound links marked as nofollow should not rank as well.

Mean while large brand sites continue to dominate...
9:28 pm on Dec 13, 2018 (gmt 0)

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arunpalsingh -- Since you did some inter-linking among your three sites, perhaps they were previously helping each other in the rankings. But if the algorithm determined that you own all of the sites, then it might judge the links to be artificial and stop giving credit for them. This could cause all three sites to fall in the rankings. Of course this is only speculation.
9:40 pm on Dec 13, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I believe Google may have released a Penguin related algorithm on the 1st of February 2017 that devalued backlinks that don't get clickthroughs

I would bet that google started doing that many years ago, long before February 2017.
10:01 pm on Dec 13, 2018 (gmt 0)

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"...a resource may be linked to by a large number of other resources, while receiving little traffic from the links. For example, an entity may attempt to game the ranking process by including a link to the resource on another web page. This large number of links can skew the ranking of the resources. To prevent such skew, the system can evaluate the "mismatch" between the number of linking resources and the traffic generated to the resource from the linking resources. If a resource is linked to by a number of resources that is disproportionate with respect to the traffic received by use of those links, that resource may be demoted in the ranking process."

How exactly is Google able to determine "if a resource is linked to by a number of resources that is disproportionate with respect to the traffic received by use of those links"? Are they tracking which links you are clicking on Chrome?
11:22 pm on Dec 13, 2018 (gmt 0)

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My traffic has been up over the past few days, yesterday was my best day since early October. The difference is not big, not even statistically significant given all the volatility we've been seeing lately. But what has changed is that the traffic is unusually steady. Unfortunately, now that my traffic is trending up, AdSense RPM is trending down.
11:33 pm on Dec 13, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@NickMNS My rankings have been unusually still for the last few days.

@jmorgan

Are they tracking which links you are clicking on Chrome?

Yes, thatís exactly what theyíre doing. Anyone who consents to user experience feedback data.
1:28 am on Dec 14, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Is it only my trade-related SERPs queries that are really, really bad or are others seeing utterly crazy and totally irrelevant results?

For instance, I searched for Egypt/keyword1/keyword2/keyword3 and ALL I got were Indian and Chinese keyword1/keyword2/keyword3 results.

Likewise searching the G.uk SERPs, why are USA companies dominating the SERPs? They are totally unable to supply yet, for some inexplicable reason G.uk serves them as their best results ... it's totally utter BS!

Localisation for the UK is USA companies?.?.? What a load of manipulated rowlocks.

Their boss gets paid USD 200+ million a year to churn out this garbage?

Incredulous!
1:32 am on Dec 14, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Marie Haynes is doing a webinar series on EAT. Essential viewing for anyone with a medical site or an online shop!

[youtu.be...]
3:16 am on Dec 14, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@broccoli Look what I found:

[seroundtable.com...]

John Mueller in response to "suspicious backlinks":
If we recognize them, we can just ignore them - no need to have you do anything in most cases.

Which is to say that in the majority of cases, dodgy backlinks shouldn't really do any harm.

This makes sense, IMO. Because if Google were to start penalizing websites for having spammy backlinks, what's to stop a competitor from sabotaging your website by placing a bunch of spammy links to your site. This is probably unlikely to happen of course, but why would Google allow this loophole for your competitors to exist?
8:22 am on Dec 14, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@jmorgan,
Thanks for this. Asking Google to consider some links off never made sense to me. Who links to us is not in our control and if one keeps hunting for them, your precious time is eaten by a mundane nonsense task.
8:24 am on Dec 14, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@aristotle

I am not sure. These sites were already revealed to Google as mine in Webmaster Central. Thanks for the input.
10:38 am on Dec 14, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@jmorgan Yes, the official line is that Penguin just ignores links, but Google has filed several patents that suggest there may be other algorithms in place that make an overall assessment of the links pointing to a page or a site. Iíve also seen a number of black hats boast that theyíve found new ways to negative SEO sites, either by making pages bounce up and down in rankings (something I was having trouble with recently on a page that someone had pointed adult links to), or sometimes by actually managing to derank or even deindex pages (I think Iíve figured out a couple of different ways they are doing that but I donít want to state them on a public forum).
11:45 am on Dec 14, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Seeing a massive site (UK newspaper) seemingly manipulate the search results. They create 5 articles on pretty much the exact same thing with small deviations in pictures and order of text. Link them all up and republish them every day to get up the top of the Google News results.

Each article only is about 300 words each.

Search result maniuplation pure and simple.
3:15 pm on Dec 14, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I'm seeing the SERPs a little more stable than usual the last week or two. Not much bouncing around like I've come accustomed to lately.
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