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Danny Sullivan on Google Core Updates and how to deal with them

     
12:52 am on Aug 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Danny Sullivan has posted in the Google Webmasters Blog an article about Google core updates which repeats some comments that he's posted previously, but which often goes deeper into them than he has before....

What webmasters should know about Googleís "core updates"
Thursday, August 01, 2019
by Danny Sullivan

https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2019/08/core-updates.html [webmasters.googleblog.com]

By its timing, I believe, the post also confirms that what we've been seeing in the serps recently has been a core update.

I think that this is a significant article, largely because of the questions it suggests web creators should be asking themselves to evaluate their content and quality.

The observations are very consistent with what I've been seeing myself in the serps, in some cases for many years... and they remind me of the self-evaluation questions that Steven Levy reported in his classic Panda that Hates Farms Wired magazine interview with Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts. That said, I think the questions presented are often different in how they're used in formulating the algorithm, but that may simply be an issue of how Danny's reporting them.

Some of the questions Danny presents simply come down to what can you expect a machine at the current state of the art to "understand"? I suspect that these questions might evolve as the state of the art develops, but these I feel are some good suggestions for dealing with it now.

This thread, I should note, is about the mechanics and understanding of core updates. It's not a place for discussing how any poster feels about Google, its business, or its policies. If you feel compelled to post such comments, please post them elsewhere.


Added emphasis...

[edited by: Robert_Charlton at 4:33 am (utc) on Aug 6, 2019]

2:06 am on Aug 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I think Google release an update to their QRG weeks before the June Core update. This blog post was something that John Mueller hinted at a few weeks ago after a question was put to him asking what advice he could give on how to recover from these types of updates. So this was expected...

Didn't Google say that every major core update from June would be announced beforehand?
7:34 am on Aug 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Well, his use of the film analogy ("The list will change, and films previously higher on the list that move down arenít bad. There are simply more deserving films that are coming before them.") reads as if I'm going to find some really good films in the top ten now. Does he ever go to the movies?
2:07 pm on Aug 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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This question caught my eye:
Does the content seem to be serving the genuine interests of visitors to the site or does it seem to exist solely by someone attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?

This is consistent with the impression that I get from reading the posts by some of the members who wonder why their sites aren't getting much traffic from google.
10:04 am on Aug 6, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Interesting article, I will have to digest it properly.
5:33 pm on Aug 6, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Thanks for alerting us to DS post - useful read.

BUT remember:
Danny Sullivan is paid to tell the truth - and so he does (up to a point).
Danny Sullivan is NOT paid to tell the WHOLE truth - and so he doesn't.
Go solely by what he says, . . . good luck to you.
And don't forget to write us.

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9:59 pm on Aug 6, 2019 (gmt 0)

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"someone attempting to guess what might rank well"

And so what ? What does this mean ?

If I try to answer a question that many people are asking for, is it an issue ?

I have some very passionate blog posts, with deep research. Nobody looks at it, as I am the only one interested in that subject. Is it wrong to try to change it a bit, in order to bring to my blog some people more, who will discover something different ?

Let's say, I'll do a very good article about Indigo (the colour). If I want to rank a bit better, is it wrong to add "blue" to my "indigo" title ?

Someone searching for "blue" maybe interested in knowing that indigo exists.
11:51 pm on Aug 6, 2019 (gmt 0)

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@Jori I agree with the general idea of what you are writing. Google is focused mostly on what is popular, it uses signals such as number of links as a proxy for determining good content. But some topics or approaches to a topic will only ever get few links (eg: complex analysis about some topic that is typically vulgarized) may in fact be "better" but will remain undiscovered due to the bias of the ranking signals. Is then wrong to correct for these biases?

Let's say, I'll do a very good article about Indigo (the colour). If I want to rank a bit better, is it wrong to add "blue" to my "indigo" title ?

Someone searching for "blue" maybe interested in knowing that indigo exists.

From my experience Google is pretty good a determining that an article about the color indigo is ultimately about the color blue. Adding blue to the article in my view will not change much and certainly wont correct for the biases described above.
2:57 am on Aug 7, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I think webmasters need to understand that their rankings do not SOLELY hinge on the "quality of content". In fact most reasons are completely out of your hands judging by what I've seen pass me in rank, or fall behind.

example: You have a guide, it's detailed and complete, and if a user deviates from it they can expect bad results. When a query is seeking informational step by step help this should rank tops, and does. Over time people's queries tell Google that sometimes they are about to buy said item the guide is about. When that happens a shop or company is returned ahead of the guide, a site where it can be purchased, often advertising pops up on the serps page too.

You USED to rank well for the topic even with a slightly "buying" tone to your querry, but not anymore, you possibly drop from #1 to #5, and no fixing the quality will change that.

Informational and transactional boundaries are constantly changing, being tweaked if you will, and can have a huge impact on rankings. Don't go sweating the quality too much if what passes you is transactional and you are informational.
4:16 am on Aug 7, 2019 (gmt 0)

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@jori good point

I guess the new SEO is to somehow convince Google that you are not doing any SEO. So instead of optimizing the title tags, file names and alt tags as you previously did, optimize them in such a way that it "appears" unoptimized.

Regular optimized title: Reasons Why Coconut Oil is Bad for You.
Optimized title that appears unoptimized: Coconut oil: The Good, Bad and The Ugly

Make the Bot think that you have not done any keyword research, even when you actually have. :)

Another tip: Use keywords within your content, but make sure to use a lot of semantic variations so the Bot thinks you are super innocent.

Regular optimized content: The reason why coconut oil is considered bad is..
Optimized content that appears unoptimized: The grounds on which oil of coconut is considered inferior is because..

Does G really think they are going to force people to give up on SEO by making these changes? Absolutely not. People are simply going to adapt their content to satisfy the algo.
4:43 am on Aug 7, 2019 (gmt 0)

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As long as there are search engines with their "rules" there will be rule breakers gaming it.

Fact of life.
9:15 am on Aug 7, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Some of the points are interesting and food for thought.

Does the content provide a substantial, complete or comprehensive description of the topic?


This one really got under my skin because I do write substantial, complete and comprehensive descriptions and am outranked by thin content written by insurance or food companies. An example would be...

Causes of wigititis in unicorns:

I'd write every possible cause with photos, descriptions, how it happened and how to fix it.

An insurance company writes a short article on ONE cause of wigititis in cats and gets the no. 1 spot.
9:36 am on Aug 7, 2019 (gmt 0)

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As I said in another topic, ranking is one thing, getting visitors is another. If you are outranked by a thin page, and people do not visit your site, it means they were satisfied by the thin page. Think about it.
10:00 am on Aug 7, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I asked my teenage daughter about this recently, I said 'if you are looking for information on unicorns, what appeals to you', her reply was 'I just click on the first link in Google'.

So for her, and other searchers, they may be satisfied with the thin page, but they're also missing out on a much more in-depth page. It also contradicts the above guidelines which state...

Does the content provide original information, reporting, research or analysis? No
Does the content provide a substantial, complete or comprehensive description of the topic? No
Does the content provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious? No
If the content draws on other sources, does it avoid simply copying or rewriting those sources and instead provide substantial additional value and originality? Maybe
Does the headline and/or page title provide a descriptive, helpful summary of the content? Yes
Does the headline and/or page title avoid being exaggerating or shocking in nature? Yes
Is this the sort of page youíd want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend? Maybe
10:10 am on Aug 7, 2019 (gmt 0)

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The problem is that all this is subjective. The "quality" of a content is subjective, it has to be in phase with the visitor. And the profile of visitors is evolving all the time, no necessarily positively. More and more people are just fine with thin content, something they simply rely on the title and don't even read it, or scan pages, jump here and there. So there is the theory, and the practice. This is why, to me there are no rules. I know I am called silly for saying this, but to me, you do your site the way you'd like it to look like, and happens what happens. It get popular, fine, it earns you money fine, and if it doesn't, too bad. And keep in mind there are billions of sites, and certainly hundred of thousands in your nice, so ...
10:21 am on Aug 7, 2019 (gmt 0)

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For sure, I know my attention span has shrunk over the past 20 years. I've also said that if I'm researching 'wigititis' because my next door neighbour has it, then all I want is one or two lines. If my child, myself or my husband has wigititis, then I want to know everything there is to know about it. Same topic, completely different user intent.

But as webmasters, we try to make our content popular, and to do that, and Google give conflicting advice. Of course we (well we should) write for our visitors, but then G have arbitrary rules which change by the day.
11:33 am on Aug 7, 2019 (gmt 0)

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browndog, I sympathize, and you ask questions that aren't easy to solve....
So for her, and other searchers, they may be satisfied with the thin page, but they're also missing out on a much more in-depth page. It also contradicts the above guidelines which state...

You are likely also be dealing with who's reading what, and on what kind of device, under what type of conditons.

I think what's necessary is an organization and style that combines the best of both worlds... an article that can be initially skimmed, but which offers the main points up front if that's all a reader wants....

For reader with longer attention spans, or with more time, or reading under circumstances (say on mobile) where they might read the opening and skim the rest, the article should going on to offer the depth and detail for those wanting that more comprehensive material.

There are tricks in laying things out to grab the reader's attention along the way. I'd do a lot of research on "the inverted pyramid style", and I'd also read a range of wikipedia material and see how they do it. I'd also study Amazon, among other sites, to see their order of presentation.

Mobile material, eg, might be scrolled very quickly, then bookmarked for later if you've done it right. Make sure there is a way to email a reference from the mobile device to something you'll receive on your desktop.

But if you immediately hit your readers with all the details you've lovingly put together, you're going to lose too many of them.

Re not satisfying your checklist, when an algo ranks an inadequate page, it's because it grabbed at the best it could find. If you have good content without links, it's going to take a while to accumulate enough "freely given editorial links" to compete with some of the competing 800-lb gorillas... so you must publicize your content as well as create it... and be very patient... many months of patience... but don't push artificial link building, and don't fiddle with your pages in reaction to Google.

---

To equidistant, to be quite honest, I read what you wrote with dismay. Somewhere, I think, you've been misinformed....
I guess the new SEO is to somehow convince Google that you are not doing any SEO. So instead of optimizing the title tags, file names and alt tags as you previously did, optimize them in such a way that it "appears" unoptimized.

I haven't seen anything that suggests doing that, at least not in Danny's article. If you are talking about old style keyword stuffing, even Google's guidelines caution against that, using some ludicrous examples of keyword stuffing, if I remember correctly... but the main point you need to realize is that those old techniques are no longer SEO. So, it's not a question of hiding that... it's a question of not relying on SEO bad practices from 15 years ago. They are no longer viable.

There was a time in old school SEO where some SEOs (and if they see this, they should know who they are) felt that onpage optimization should be so subtle that no one reading it could really say what you were optimizing for. They assumed that links with anchor text would do the rest. As a result, many SEOs now have sites with pages where I look at them and wonder what they are really about, as there's not enough relevant text on the page to establish a unifying theme... and as links become subject to greater scrutiny, there's maybe nothing left... and some really good material doesn't rank because Google-the-machine isn't psychic.

I see that Danny isn't saying, keep things secret... he's saying, send us a clear message. But it's no longer about scattered "LSI" keywords dropped into a page.... That's nonsense, and those really aren't actual LSI keywords anyway...

I always do make sure I use enough contextual language so we have several ways of triangulating the vocabulary and the theme. It is about ideas, now. I do try to include keywords too, because I don't think that Google is quite at the point of "understanding" everything without them, and it's about good writing.

Note too that Google does not get humor, irony, or many figures of speech.

12:12 pm on Aug 7, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I'm as confused as anyone on how to approach a topic and what to include. But, I'm strongly leaning towards "to the point" and "just enough" information; opposed to long articles that lose the readers attention or have them searching too much for specific information. I'm going to break up long articles and use basic bold text links with Related Articles or Also Read within the content.

Case in point query of something I searched a while back and saved for reference on what to do vs. what not to do. [google.com...]

The #1 ranked article does a perfect job of answering the query, and nothing more is needed. The #2 articles and below go into a whole lot of babbling, while trying to cram as many <h> tags as possible. This is what I call a perfect example of optimizing for SEO.
1:13 pm on Aug 7, 2019 (gmt 0)

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A problem of "SEO" is that, you end with pages which are all looking the same. I mean, the construction, and with unnatural looking sections titles. You know, for example, a page about how to take care of the Unicorn horn. A SEO-ed page, will have sections, with titles like "1- What is an Unicorn" , "2- In which material is made of Unicorn's horn?" , "3- Why you should take care of the Unicorn's horn", and eventually, after several pages, you might have a section about to take care of it.

It might sound pedagogic approach, but let's face it it's annoying the readers...

edit: nowhere it's said that a "quality" page is one which is covering ALL the aspects of a subject.
6:19 pm on Aug 7, 2019 (gmt 0)

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In ecommerce, when marketing tens of thousands of items in a niche while not a huge dominant company, doing it exclusively through a single site under a single content approach, you may find yourself dead in the water. Reason : as a rule only a fraction of products are indexed, picked randomly, whatever the content approach - the rest are like they never existed. Multiple sites under multiple composition approaches work up to a point.

This should not be so, a terrible waste on all sides - but one cannot escape forced upon reality.
It is spelled "survival".

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6:31 pm on Aug 7, 2019 (gmt 0)

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"someone attempting to guess what might rank well"

Sorry, but this can be interpreted in more ways than just one. It doesn't automatically mean "content farm." Which are typically thin content and thousands or millions of pages of content...

Another way to look at it is where SEOs are just writing about a load of random topics based on keyword research but the website misses out on important and useful content (which might not be optimized for search engines.) The website might seem incoherent, off-topic, and not useful for the user beyond the page they landed on. Maybe a question to ask is: Does the website feel complete? Does it cover the most important topics, regardless of whether or not they will rank well?

The fact is though, almost every top website and even Youtuber's are optimizing in some way with SEO.

If you did some keyword research and you found a topic on:

"How to make crusty widgets"

There is nothing wrong with writing a descriptive title such as:

"How to make delicious crusty widgets: Step-by-Step Guide"

You could swap out [how to] and just say "making delicious crusty widgets...." and Google will probably figure it out eventually.

As long as the content you are writing makes sense for your website and that it helps the user, I think it is fine.

SEO/keyword research and high-quality content are not mutually exclusive.

If you're a NEWS website which reports on the latest news several times a day, then it's expected that titles would be more natural and lengthy than for other types of sites which may have a more refined and descriptive title because they will produce fewer similar pages.

Who on earth titles an affiliate page like:

"My comparison of these widget supplements that I bought last week"

Actually, I did many years ago and it received ZERO organic traffic for years. I had no idea what SEO was.

A better title would be more descriptive: Which is the best [widget] supplement to help with [snowflakes].
9:25 am on Aug 11, 2019 (gmt 0)

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My kid clicks on the second link. I asked why - "because the first one is always a stupid ad or something dumb".

nuff said.
9:36 am on Aug 11, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I don't even know how to do keyword research. I just think about an interesting topic and I write about it. My no. 1 ranking post, which made me thousands of dollars when it went viral last year was written because my then 14 year old suggested it. I said 'oh that's silly, there's not much to say about it', but I wrote it anyway, and it went crazy.

I can't afford SEM Rush, and have no idea how to research. My no. 1 goal is to write content for people and not Google. With the exception of the above, which I thought was a crazy thing to write about, I generally cover stuff I would be interested in myself. I've built up a fairly good FB following now and it's the quirky stuff they love...same with my visitors.
12:57 pm on Aug 12, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I think that this is a significant article, largely because of the questions it suggests web creators should be asking themselves to evaluate their content and quality.


Classic, it's not me it's you. I've been publishing since before Google was a gleam in Yahoo's eye. I've had content on top of the hill and then not so much without any changes. A drop nor bump in the serps does not mean you've done something wrong or right. Googles algos can be imperfect, picky and then forgiving and unless you're doing something very, very forbidden don't assume a change in your serp position is caused by you - it could really be Google and a poorly thought out algorithm. Be patient, look for solid evidence that itís you.

But, to be honest I donít and have not chased the latest Google algo expectation theories for a long time I just keep responding to my audience and what moves them. Responding to Google serps qweeks is mostly a waste of time.
1:09 pm on Aug 13, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I have begun to simplify the cause of ranks to 2 levels -

1. Keywords that you use to improve your knowledge - The pages are ranked on the merit of the content and the user engagement. Notwithstanding the regular SEO factors that everyone knows and does.
2. Keywords that will lead you to take out your wallet - Pages are ranked basis the company/brand that stands behind them.

The above observation, by no means without exceptions. But if you asked me to find a pattern, this would be it.
7:23 pm on Aug 14, 2019 (gmt 0)

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But, to be honest I donít and have not chased the latest Google algo expectation theories for a long time I just keep responding to my audience and what moves them. Responding to Google serps qweeks is mostly a waste of time.

Sounds like you and Google are on the same page (no wordplay intended). To quote Google's quality guidelines: "Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines."
8:35 pm on Aug 14, 2019 (gmt 0)

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"Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines."


To which all of us say Amen!