Did your search rank and web traffic drop? It is possible that your site was affected by the most recent semi-major Google algorithm update.
Now, I realize that to most of our client-base that this article will like a lot of nerdy tech jargon. However, having a website that drives traffic and brings in new leads is vital to any business. Therefore, this tech nonsense is very necessary to your continued growth and success. It is for this reason, that we stay on our toes and pay attention to what may or may not affect our SEO campaigns.
Noticing Changes between February and May 2017
Personally, I knew something had updated purely by the majority of our 30+ campaigns showing major shifts. Thankfully, most of our campaigns improved, while some dropped; but such is the life and times of SEO.
Once the pro SEO’s figured out something was up, they began pressing the Google team via Twitter to try to get an answer. The first response, however, was not entirely sufficient. But this vague reply is very typical of Google, who is very private about their inner workings.
Why Do We Care About Algorithm Updates?
Google updates their algorithm constantly, although we in the web world are always looking for a named update. If you are keeping a watchful eye on your site’s analytics and have a basic knowledge of SEO, you probably have heard names like Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, etc. However, there are tons of updates that are unconfirmed and barely recognizable by the search weather. The most recent update that has shook a lot of sites, has been jokingly given the name “Fred” by Google’s Gary Illyes.
So, what’s with all the talk of names and updates and Twitter trolling? Well, organic search is a big deal and it is (at its core) extremely complex.
Brass tacks: Google makes these updates in order to provide users with high-quality search results. These updates push the good content and useful sites to the top. Additionally, part of search improvement is eliminating content from SERPs that is spammy or unhelpful to the user.
And what it means to you: Do you want to be at the top of search results or nowhere to be found?
What is “Fred” All About?
“Fred” primarily affected websites using Black Hat (and even Gray Hat) SEO techniques. It is possible that this update went unnamed since it addressed what is already a part of the webmaster guidelines. To that end, there really wasn’t anything new or shocking about the update.
Black/Gray Hat SEO refers to practices that are generally considered unreliable and illegitimate. This includes, but is not limited to: keyword stuffing, link spamming, duplicate content, spammy backlinks, and other similar tactics. These practices seek to trick search engines into listing their pages at higher rankings, without having content that is deserving of increased web presence. Google algorithms eventually catch on to this, and attempt to gradually root out the offending websites.
Overview of Fred’s Targets
High volume of ads
Lots and lots of keyword-based content
Overly focused on call-to-action overlays
Poor quality backlinks
Content to drive revenue, rather than solve search queries
How to Tell if Your Site Was Impacted
As these Black Hat pages decreased in ranking, more legitimate pages observed ranking increases. These pages will likely sustain higher rankings, especially after the Black Hat pages suffered such a defeat. As stated above, this is how I was first alerted to a seemingly major update.
The best way to check, is to use your existing Google Analytics account. Go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. You will be able to see any dramatic shifts taking place after the update period. The update was suspected to be rolled out on March 8th, 2017, but your site’s shift may not have taken place exactly on that date.
Another way to check is by using a tracking software like Moz or SEMRush. They both have an easy-to-use interface that tracks your sites stats over time. The one in particular that is good for seeing the effects of Google updates, is the Visibility Trend tool. In both Moz and SEMRush (pictured below), the visibility trend is a percentage determined by keyword rankings in Google and Click-Through Rate (CTR). The cool thing about SEMRush is that they note on the chart where the updates are. See that little Google logo on March 8th where the visibility of the site increased exponentially? Yeah, that was good ol’ Fred.
Some changes aren’t as dramatic as the ones above, however. For our accounts that we are optimizing regularly, there is barely a noticeable change around the update timeframe. In these instances, we have been seeing a steady increase over time. Although we like seeing big jumps in rankings, it speaks to our consistency and quality of work when a major update is rolled out and we continue to increase in rankings. Generally speaking, it is better to be ethical and use White Hat techniques, rather than scrambling to recover when your site gets hit by an update.
4 Steps to Recover Lost Traffic and Rankings
Several years ago after a one-two-punch of updates, Google had us scrambling to provide Penguin and Panda Recovery services. What had happened was websites had climbed to the top of the rankings due to those shady Black Hat techniques, and then were wiped off the face of search as we know it. In some extreme cases, sites were hit with some harsh penalties and had to ditch their domain entirely.
While this update wasn’t nearly as drastic, there are some concrete steps you can take to recover some of your lost rankings and traffic. Additionally, these tips are just your basic, good old fashioned, White Hat SEO, thumbs up kind of tactics that everyone should be practicing. After all, the best way to write for search engines, is to write for the user.
#1 Improve your content
Your affected pages are likely to have relatively thin content. Revise and improve your site’s content by making them more useful to your visitors. Increasing word count, adding media, and linking to valuable resources are all good ways to improve upon existing content.
Another important aspect of this is the purpose of your content. When the content seeks to draw revenue, rather than answer questions, you should consider changing it up a bit. Blog posts that are basically 600 words of how great your company is at a particular service with tons of “call us now,” Google will frown upon it. While writing your posts, think to yourself: What is the point of this? Will anyone want read this? and Does this sound natural or like a bad infomercial?
Of course you want leads and traffic, but you can do that by being awesome, instead of telling people you’re awesome.
#2 Remove (some) ads
We get that you are in business to make money. But if you are relying heavily on ad clicks and impressions, you are going to have a bad time. Ads block your user from getting to the content they want and will slow your site down. We advise testing and measuring to find the right amount of ads. Here at Logic Web Media, we have found 3-5 per page to be the sweet spot. Moreover, it is better for everyone if the user knows that what they are looking at is an advertisement. Let’s face it, nobody likes to get tricked!
#3 Cleanup your backlinks
This might be unchartered-territory for lots of folks, but it is worth the time. Don’t know about your backlinks? There are tons of resources online to help you. If you have an SEO plan in action, your SEO company should have that under control. If they don’t know the status of your backlinks or are practicing spammy back-linking, you may want to jump ship. Regardless, sites with poor quality backlinks or a bunch of artificial (purchased) backlinks, should be assessing and disavowing.
#4 Check your call-to-action overlays
If your call-to-action overlays are too aggressive or stop the user from reaching the content of the page, you will want to adjust. While those calls-to-action are good for gaining a quick lead, without your search rank there will be no traffic to get leads from in the first place!
While some website owners and SEO’s find these updates to be a hassle, I’m not mad about it. Google wants to show the most relevant results for every single query entered. Updates are the best and fastest way to do so. It’s the very reason why the word “Google” has become a popular verb these days. We all depend on it for quick and easy answers. So, as responsible marketers and SEO’s, why would we want to, essentially, spam ourselves?
If there’s anything that “Fred” has taught us, it’s that if you do the right thing by your audience, it will pay off. Often times we get clients looking for a quick fix to their poor search results. There are currently over 1 billion websites live today and we have come a long way from the first-ever website. We have found that the best way to stand out from the crowd is with an intuitive design, informative content, quality back linking, and regular updating.
So, curb your click-bait and check your ad roll at the door. The internet is at its best when supported with what it is used for: helping people share and connect. Oh…and of course, memes