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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.
3:19 pm on Dec 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Google has really lost it. In our niche big brands dominate this pass few months. They have literally pumped out hundreds of articles on the topic which are long and just ramble on. Then you have a few out of the blue sites that have zero back links and long content pushing more established niche sites down. These pages appear for a wide variety of keywords. Information in both cases that these site offer is usually outdated or partially incorrect.
3:52 pm on Dec 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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The only flagrant issue I see is that I have thousands of links reported in GSC from spammy hot-linking sites. So far I have assumed that Google would simply ignore the cruft, but now I have my doubts. With nothing to loose, I have blocked hot-linking outright with Cloudflare's hot-link protection and once I have time I will replace the image tags with object tags which will take a load of the server as well.


@Nick Please keep us posted as to whether this has any effect or helps you to recover. I also have lots of hotlinked images that I could block with Cloudflare, but it also blocks Google images so I don't use it. The CF workaround to allow Google Images simply doesn't work. Please keep in mind that I have had an enormous number of hotlinks to my domain for years and have never once suffered from a major penalty before.
5:02 pm on Dec 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@ichthyous, I experienced a similar thing. November was actually fairly decent, I made a bunch of gains in the SERPs slowly over the course of the month and thought maybe we were finally making progress. Then yesterday literally every single gain was wiped out and we were back to where we were or worse. Just incredibly disheartening, it happens every single time.
5:37 pm on Dec 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Then yesterday literally every single gain was wiped out and we were back to where we were or worse. Just incredibly disheartening, it happens every single time.


Yup, exactly the same thing is happening with my sites. I've almost recovered several times now, only for the gains to be wiped out again by the next significant update.

It doesn't seem like a fair game where you can fairly win the SERPs anymore by having good content. It's more about what Google wants people to see.
9:56 pm on Dec 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Yesterday and today have been horrible for me, I am hoping it's because people are celebrating and not another slap down from Google.

So far have dropped from my highs of 20,000 visitors a day to 7,000 and nothing I do seems to help. It's all branded sites getting the love.
10:56 pm on Dec 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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A few thoughts/observations:

It's going to take me a bit of time to properly analyse the data and things are complicated for me as I have a couple of Christmas related pages that are starting to kick in. But an initial look seems positive as my non-Christmas traffic has increased. I think the changes I'm making are working.

Some of my pages are up, some of my pages are down. The interesting thing is *which* pages.

I'm seeing the same thing others are here. I have some new pages that have been making incremental progress up page 1, I think due to a bit of keyword tuning but also due to positive user signals, and they got slapped back down. Meanwhile I have other new pages for tough keywords that weren't even ranking, and they've made progress upwards.

I don't know if this is a core update or the regular monthly refresh yet. I'm sure that will become clearer over the next week.

I think it works like this: Google now has rolling Panda and Penguin algorithms baked in, and they cause incremental changes to individual page rankings. I don't think they're really separate any more. Then there's a monthly recalculation which I think might be more about overall site metrics and things that are harder to measure. I think it tends to have an averaging effect across a site's pages. Then there are the core updates which are the really big tweaks they make.

Google's algorithms are always at war with each other because they're measuring different things and pulling in different directions.

Panda is user experience signals. Panda has always been very kind to me. I'm a former pro web designer and I know how to make decent user interfaces. It seems to me that over the last couple of years I've been getting traffic IN SPITE of increased pummelling from Penguin thanks to Panda and social sharing.

I think what's happened this time is my overall site quality score has been adjusted upwards a bit due to the trust changes I've been making, but it's still not a high enough measurement to allow my new pages to go as high as rolling Panda wanted them to go.

Those rolling-Panda-progress pages have been slapped back down a couple of spots by the update, but I think they'll work their way back up again. Meanwhile, pages in tough serps that were ranking very low got pulled up due to my new quality score, because it's much easier to make progress at the bottom end of the serps compared to the top.

I think what's been happening this year is they've effectively been turning up the volume of Penguin, which is drowning out the effect of Panda. Plus the super synonyms searches are just broken because they're relying too much on the site quality scores and too little on actual topical relevance when they sort the results.

Don't panic if you have pages that were increasing in traffic that have dropped, they will probably start rising again as rolling Panda reassesses you. You really need to work on corporate-style and medical trust signals and making sure you aren't accidentally keyword heavy though, as they keep turning them up as part of the Penguin algorithm. Marie Haynes has some good stuff about this, although she's quite coy about the specifics.

I think Penguin is broken. I think it might have a machine learning element and it might use disavow files and manual penalties to learn, but machine learning isn't very smart, and it's possible that it's slowly learning that almost all backlinks are untrustworthy. One of the many ways black hats ruin things for white hats (and always win because they actually have control over their backlinks and understand how things work long before the white hats do).

I have links going back 20 years, and I even think someone might have had a half-hearted go at negative seo-ing me in around 2014 (they failed). If (and this is speculation based on some analysis of Google patents I've read) Penguin is making an overall trust assessment of backlinks and it's decided that web 2.0 blogs and forums are untrustworthy in general, I might never be able to get my trust score up high enough to see the rankings I ought to be getting if my site was assessed by a human. It's obvious from my serps that there's something terribly wrong with the algorithm, there are several other good sites in my niche who have been badly hit.

And there's no way to request an appeal of an algorithmic demotion, or get a human assessment or whitelisting of backlinks. I am 100% white hat and I will never disavow my organic backlinks because a) disavowing doesn't work and b) that would just make the machine learn my backlinks were untrustworthy. It may be that I need to set up a second somewhat different site on a fresh domain and see what happens to it, it's obvious people can rank with no backlinks at the moment, and I need to put food on the table until Google actually notice and figure out what's going wrong.
1:47 am on Dec 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@broccoli

I have to assume you are in the USA since NONE of what you say you have done works for those of us with non-USA businesses and non-USA hosted sites.

I have some new pages that have been making incremental progress up page 1,


You are making tweaks that are making improvements?

Honestly, I find that incredulous as a non-US business and non-US hosted, all Google is doing to ALL my sites is throwing them OUT of the USA SERPs, period, even when mine are without doubt the best results and ackonwledged to be so in my global industry.

Google is totally and utterly biased and manipulated towards US localisation results YET still delivers US sites into ALL non-US Google tlds whereupon, in my widget niche, they are completely irrelevant.

Fact, the USA population is 6X the size of the UK.

Fact, my USA traffic used to be 6X my UK traffic 2-3 years ago.

Fact, November 2018 saw my US traffic just UNDER parity of the UK - Just under 1X.

Question - WHY would anyone IN India want to buy from a US site selling a 100% Indian product? That's the Indian Google SERPs for a totally exclusive Indian product ... absolute freakin' madness.

I have said this before, my global industry has given up on Google, it's useless, it frustrates me since it used to be so good.

Then again, how much is Google being dictated to by its "government"?
10:57 am on Dec 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I’m actually British but I have a dot com and my main market is the US. I’m not selling a product though, I have an entertainment website with adsense ads.

Sounds like Google has decided you are UK local. I assume you have your site set to international in search console? Are you implementing hreflang tags? Apologies if these are silly questions.
1:08 pm on Dec 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Position for some keywords has improved significantly but no traffic boost.
3:23 pm on Dec 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@RedBar My business and site are based in the USA east coast. My ranking in USA serps have suffered by far the worst, while I have gained both in the UK and Australia. My UK traffic used to be 10% of my USA traffic for the last 15 years...now it's 20%, mostly due to the decline in USA traffic but also an increase from the UK.
I am getting just as many inquiries from UK and Australia based customers now as I do from US based customers. Perhaps the changes being made to the algo are being implemented in the USA results first or more strongly?
4:08 pm on Dec 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Some of my pages that dropped have already popped back up and I've even made significant gains on a couple of high volume queries. Don't know whether the update is over yet or whether it's the rolling Panda component of RankBrain kicking back in.
4:29 pm on Dec 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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The small gains made in October were decimated in November.
In the past decade, this is typically the upswing time of year.
Thanks Rank Brain.

The old 'about', 'dotdash', 'thebalance', 'thespruce' garbage aggregation article is right back at the top of my serps.
That's a sign in my niche that things are once again fubar.
Love how these 900lb gorilla 'spinoff sites' get away with things that would sink our sites in a second.
If you can't dominate the serps with one domain, use 10.
10:07 pm on Dec 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Hanukkah may or may not affect your traffic depending on your niche this week.
10:10 pm on Dec 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I am seeing the spruce featuring a lot too.
10:16 am on Dec 3, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Very bad traffic here
11:43 am on Dec 3, 2018 (gmt 0)

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A tale of two searches. Wanted to check organic search placement for site.

First searched for: buy red widget
Site nowhere in the first ten pages.

Then searched for: "buy red widget"
Site in 0 (answer box) and #1 spot.
12:28 pm on Dec 3, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@Shepherd Very interesting. Could it be the searches being handled by the super synonyms algorithm are advancing? Exact match queries are obviously being treated differently. I keep saying it's broken and favouring something to do with arbitrary corporate/trust/quality scores over actual relevance when it sorts the results.
1:30 pm on Dec 3, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@Shepherd Although thinking about it you need high trust scores to get in the answer box don’t you? So it has something do with these “smart” intent queries miscategorising your site? Maybe as informational rather than ecommerce? Do you have a blog on your sales website?
2:30 pm on Dec 3, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@broccoli. You do not need high trust scores to get a FS.
2:49 pm on Dec 3, 2018 (gmt 0)

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After doing several more searches it amazes me how much different the organic results look using the exact match operator for general keywords (widget vs "widget").

Using the operator seems to remove google's "reorganization" of the organic results and actually returns some pretty good results.
2:51 pm on Dec 3, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Whatever this update is, it's not over yet. But let me say that this may not be an update at all. For a long time I thought the Internet wasn't working right. By that I mean that everything from our point of view has improved over time as far as the SERPS go, but there's still something that's clamping it down. It's been this way for years and I wonder if it's something that is outside the control of Google or any other search engine. I know this is out there and I might be crazy but it seems to me that there something else to this. Why is it that all the search engines seem to have a problem at the same time? I'm talking about traffic that actually clicks through to a website, they all seem to go down at the same time. I'm convinced I could make a living off of alternative search and never touch Google, so I believe it's something else. The periodic nature of this makes me think it's something else altogether and we're talking about Google updates and it may not have anything to do with it.
3:06 pm on Dec 3, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@McPheeSees

“traffic that actually clicks through to a website, they all seem to go down at the same time”

Intresting point, thing is no one knows if the traffic is from a human or hacked device pretending to be human but one thing is for sure your competitor will probably not have the capabilities to do that.
3:25 pm on Dec 3, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Using the operator seems to remove google's "reorganization" of the organic results and actually returns some pretty good results.

Your observation is quite intriguing. It suggests that the "..." operator forces the algorithm to use the actual intended search term instead of going into the weeds to look for "super synonyms".
3:25 pm on Dec 3, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@Shepherd Just to finish my thought before I forget it - there seems to be a problem for ecommerce websites that also have informational articles on them, Google tries to classify you as one thing or the other, but not both.
3:30 pm on Dec 3, 2018 (gmt 0)

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It suggests that the "..."

Hard to know for sure. Try a few searches yourself and see if you see the difference. Short tail, general searches. Not Long tail. I used the incognito chrome browser.
4:38 pm on Dec 3, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Checking in Google Analytics, it seems that my home page got hit by far the hardest on 11/28. It dropped for 3 days and has plateaued for two days. I lost 38% of my traffic to that page compared week over week. That is despite the bounce rate dropping to 37% and the load time of all my pages being slashed in the last month since I upgraded my server. So user metrics can't be working against me. I did give my home page a mini-redesign about two weeks ago, adding more content on the home page, meaning more text and new terms introduced. Is anyone else seeing their home pages being hit hardest?
6:58 pm on Dec 3, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@ichthyous When I was hit in March, my homepage was hit the hardest by far. It has a higher than average bounce rate, whether that's because it gets hit by bots more or whether it doesn't instantly give users what they want, I'm not sure, but I'm working on a redesign that will hopefully fulfill user's queries and channel them to the right pages better.

I think homepage losses could have as much to do with overall site quality/trust scores and Google's rather vague ideas about relevance lately as they do the page itself. Take a look at the queries associated with your homepage and have a look at which competitors have gained. In my niche the stacking order is virtually the same all the way up, which suggests site quality scores are outweighing page relevance and user satisfaction scores.
7:01 pm on Dec 3, 2018 (gmt 0)

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traffic dropped by 50%

Does Google have nothing to do but playing around with websites?

sh****
9:25 pm on Dec 3, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I do have substantially better results with exact queries "...."
Super synonyms at work indeed.

On a side note, people tend to search in different ways now than some years ago. The queries have more and more keywords on it, the long tail is longer and longer.
10 years ago, the vast majority of queries where of type : "widget" and that was it.

Today, it more like : "if I by a red blue widget with tiny flames, will the unicorn likes me ?"

So, with that in mind, we, small webmasters working on the long tails should have been favored. It is not the case with this cruel "super synonyms", where exact match domains integrated in PBNs are dominating side by side with huge corporations.

Google, I don't know what you're doing, but I'm not sure users are satisfied.
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