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Has Anybody Recovered from the February 7th 2017 Update?

     
5:40 pm on Jan 10, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Hi,

The February 7th 2017 Google ranking update was discussed on WebmasterWorld here [webmasterworld.com].

I'm wondering if 2 years later anyone's managed a recovery or have any useful information regarding the update?

I was asked to look at an interesting Analytics profile where the owner thought he was torched because of bad backlinks, allegedly built by competitors.

Looking at organic, he suddenly lost approximately 80% of traffic in early February 2017 and never recovered since.

From what I can gather, this was likely to be a content/UX quality update, although there hasn't been any confirmation, however, this guy's website is as average as the websites currently ranking on page one for his key terms. There's no clear leader, they all have small companies behind them an most of the time they haven't got the clue regarding SEO.

Having said that, this chap did try to sort out his content issues, like merging short-form articles, fixing duplicates etc etc. I can only say he's done a decent enough job for a non-SEO person, so the question is why did his site not recover after the cleanup?

The Top20 group within his niche has a mix of mobile-friendly and mobile-unfriendly as well as SSL/non-SSL sites. Load speed is all over the board - ranging from super fast to super slow, so I'm not convinced UX has had much bearing on the situation.

Making decisions more difficult is the fact that his link profile is not great either. His CF/TF is waaaay out of balance. Ok, ok, I know this is almost as bad as talking about PR, however, I ran a quick analysis of 100 sites within that niche and statistically, the ones with off-balance CF/TF tended to rank badly, his site among the bad pile, of course.

Any findings or thoughts regarding the February 7th update would be greatly appreciated.
1:01 pm on Jan 16, 2019 (gmt 0)

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adder, welcome back. Good to see you posting again. It's late at night for me, and this is potentially a more complicated discussion than there's time for right now to do it justice, but here are some initial thoughts to get it going. Thanks for such a well-formulated post.

First, I think that in a way you've answered your own question. Your last point touches on what I feel is probably the only answer that would be including the algo changes subsequent to improving the site in the months after Feb 7th, 2017... In particularly, the March update (aka "Fred" was said to be harsh with sites with not very good backlinks.) .
His CF/TF is waaaay out of balance. Ok, ok, I know this is almost as bad as talking about PR, however, I ran a quick analysis of 100 sites within that niche and statistically, the ones with off-balance CF/TF tended to rank badly, his site among the bad pile, of course.

I also don't think that CF/TF is such a bad thing to look at, considering what else is available at this point. Even though TF is from Majestic...not an actual Google metric... and there's lots else in the Google ranking algo, I think I'd trust TF (Trust Flow) more than I'd trust the old public reports of PageRank, to give me a quick reading on backlinks. Majestic TF does break links down into which are meaningful and which aren't.

Also, in the heavy days of Panda and Penguin that recovery from a link "penalty" wasn't automatically going to get you to the top again... It was simply going to get you back to the base level of where your "good" backlinks were without your bad backlinks... and if those pre-penalty links of a site weren't good, "recovery" wasn't necessary going to restore your old rankings, which had been gotten by bogus link votes. Whether it was shaking off either penalty recovery or simply bad backlinks, a site would need to earn new backlinks, and if backlinks got built with the same techniques that got the site penalized originally , then it probably wasn't going to recover.

This may be where the site is now... It may be that the site hasn't since been aggressively marketed enough, or that the site simply isn't as engaging as it needs to be... or that there hasn't been enough time to rank since the site has been rebuilt.

Regarding the early drops....
from what I can gather, this was likely to be a content/UX quality update, although there hasn't been any confirmation.

There's been some contention as to what was going on. Several of the studies reported were quite specific that some Panda-like observations were observed. Google, IMO, was hitting sites with multiple algos, I think, perhaps to obfuscate something else that was going on... or perhaps they were running extended tests on a subset of sites that, say, were outliers, or sites in spam-prone niches, where Google needed to rely on combinations of signals that didn't hit all niches. I don't know. I haven't seen this kind of research on the algo, and Google hasn't said much.

The idea of being cautious to avoid excessive monetization efforts, one of the vulnerabilites mentioned in various studies, is a factor that I can see being tested with an additional algo "level", apart from Panda, and conceivably it might have resulted in the kinds of algo cycling which were reported at the time.

It may also be that linking in some areas changed to need more topicality to be effective. This might account for the very precipitous drops, which remind me a bit of "Florida". I should note the John Mueller, after the February change and then "Fred" in March, suggested that much more than small quality fixes would be required in many sites he saw. In some niches, he seemed to be saying that it could well take something astonishing and new to get searcher, linker, and Google's attention.

Anyway, I toss these ideas out... in some cases educated guesses, and in some complete conjecture. I'm relying mostly on memory about the algos.

More from you about the background of the site and how competitive the niche is could be helpful. I hope you keep us posted about how this evolves.

4:43 pm on Jan 16, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Making decisions more difficult is the fact that his link profile is not great either. His CF/TF is waaaay out of balance.


Could you be more explicit about what "CF' and "TF" refer to? Either I forgot, or never knew, anything about this.
5:21 pm on Jan 16, 2019 (gmt 0)

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TF = Trust Flow
CF = Citation Flow

Both are Majestic Link Metrics. From their page: [majestic.com...]

Trust Flow, a trademark of Majestic, is a score based on quality, on a scale between 0-100. Majestic collated many trusted seed sites based on a manual review of the web. This process forms the foundation of Majestic Trust Flow. Sites closely linked to a trusted seed site can see higher scores, whereas sites that may have some questionable links would see a much lower score.

Citation Flow is a trademark of Majestic. Citation Flow is a score between 0-100 which helps to measure the link equity or "power" the website or link carries. Citation flow is used in conjunction with "Trust Flow". Together the Citation Flow and Trust Flow form the Majestic Flow Metrics algorithm. Citation Flow represents an evolutionary leap from our old metric - ACRank - and predicts how influential a URL might be based on how many sites link to it. Links are now not all created with equal weight - and because a strong link will have a relatively stronger influence on URLs, Citation Flow is based on stronger, iterative mathematical logic than the old metric of ACRank.

We use this extensively and the imbalance the OP is describing between the two is 9/10 a sure sign of a low quality site. Just by looking at a link profile graph you can tell so much about the link profile it represents.
6:02 pm on Jan 16, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Shai _ Thanks for your reply. I almost never visit majestic or similar SEO sites.

Most of us here can already recognize a good or bad backlink profile just by eyeballing it. I never look at any sites except my own, so don't need anything more.

P.S. I wonder if majestic takes account of how much traffic a backlink sends. In my opinion the best backlinks are those that send traffic.
10:23 am on Jan 17, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Majestic is more of a link indexing service rather than an "SEO site". It was one of the first decent service to replace the old Yahoo site explorer when it became useless years ago now. The link Metrics they provide, as always, needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Its more of a quick overview. In certain cases such as when disavowing links, i would certainly never take it a s the final word and would suggest that a manual overview is always required. But, saying that, with a combination of other tools, the data it provides is invaluable when carrying out analysis on complex larger sites.

Its always safer to eyeball links but when you have thousands of them, it makes sense to prioritise the ones you are going to start lookng at first.

With regards to your question regarding majestic taking traffic into account, no it does not. Other tools do though.
2:44 pm on Jan 17, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Yes I can understand why you could need a special tool for analyzing a very large site.

P.S The old Yahoo site explorer was the best link analysis tool ever, by far. It showed the top 1000 backlinks for any page, arranged in the order of their overall link power as judged by yahoo's algorithm. It's the only tool I ever spent much time playing around with. But they dis-continued it about 10 years ago.

But I caused this thread to stray from the original topic. If the problem was due to Panda, the content may not have been improved enough to get out of it.
10:19 pm on Jan 17, 2019 (gmt 0)

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@Robert Charlton, thank you, that's actually way more useful than anything I've read about 7th February on the big SEO blogs.

being cautious to avoid excessive monetization efforts


This is a brick-and-mortar business that relies on lead generation. There are no popups anywhere, just an occasional lead capture form.

the site simply isn't as engaging as it needs to be...


I think you're spot on. I installed LuckyOrange on the site - a little tool that records visitor behaviour real-time and generates heatmaps to help decide which links or CTAs should be ditched. Most visitors look a bit confused as to where to click.

But I doubt this issue has caused the problem on its own (hence the "core update" which suggests multiple factors) - if you're amongst 20 sites that serve the same niche and same buyer intent, you would have to be worse than the other 19 sites on a wider array of factors for you to end up in position 20th, right?

So, I can see a good number of businesses ranking above who have duplicate content, poor links, no site structure to talk about plus other issues.

However, I managed to identify 6 winners and 6 losers in the same narrow niche who've seen a positive/negative movement back in February 2017 (by looking at historic ranking graphs) and I pulled in all ranking factors that I believed were important and I thought I had established a pattern.

For example, all losers had dofollow footer links to their web designers or "professional SEO" companies. Could be a coincidence, I'm not saying this could have anything to do with their organic traffic nosediving. What was also evident was that all losers had a very poor server performance, especially on mobiles. We're talking 12 - 20 seconds from first byte to full interactivity...

However, this was before I took a totally unrelated niche and analysed a bunch of sites there hoping to find similar correlations. Tell you what - it was like looking at the Enigma code - everything seemed totally random. There it was - a site ranking in position #2 with mobile loading time of 17 seconds and a sizeable Topical TF in Soccer (and this was a business site as far removed from Soccer or sports as possible)

So yeah, just like you @Robert Charlton, I'm tossing some ideas out hoping that someone might spot familiar trends.


Could you be more explicit about what "CF' and "TF" refer to?


What @Shai already said, only I wanted to share a little formula I've been using to quickly (and superficially) evaluate a massive pool of websites in the same niche. When I download TF and CF data from Majestic, I simply add a new column in Excel spreadsheet and populate it with a division betwen CF/TF.

The thinking behind this is that TF is a qualitative metric while CF is a quantitative metric. In most cases, spammy link profiles will be stronger on the quantitative side and they will have failings on the qualitative side. In the ideal scenario where every link you build is amazing quality, your CF/TF ratio would be 1.00 or lower. If CF/TF is 1.80 or over, the backlink profile needs a serious rethink. I find it useful when evaluating potential link sources.

The old Yahoo site explorer

Oh yeah, I loved that little tool!
 

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