Have you seen your site take a turn in traffic in recent weeks? Was it a reversal of what happened last fall? Google just had yet another major algorithm update on March 12. Rumors around the industry are that this update is a bit of a rollback from some of the big changes that were made with the “Medic Update” last fall. That update got its name from that fact that it seemed to hit YMYL, or your money or your life websites the hardest. Often Google has higher standards for sites related to health or finance because they view them as more important and or dangerous to be unethical. In actuality, though the dials may be turned up a little bit for these industries, much of what hits them trickles down to other industries when applied at a broad level. For example, link strength, trust metrics, etc. that are applied with the algorithm as a whole, may be applied more strictly to some of these industries. In fact, Google has admitted this to be the case. However, often what is applied to the YMYL sites eventually comes down to the others, so it is good to get ahead of it.
Glenn Gabe Digs Into The Google Algorithm
If you are a search geek like me, you want to hear Glenn Gabe’s take on each algorithm update. He really rolls up his sleeves and digs into the data and has a great understanding of impacts and what they may mean. His latest post on the recent update continues to enforce this reputation.
Tweaking Link Rewards
If you dig into his article, he touches on how slight tweaks to how Google rewards different types of links can cause massive switches to rankings and overall search traffic. It makes sense. Though he touches on some of the other trust elements that were mentioned with the updates last fall as well, the most interesting part of the latest post to me is this concept of tweaking link measurement. Simply by turning the dial up or down on types of links can cause adjustments to the algorithm that will drop many sites out of the top spot and introduce other sites to traffic they weren’t seeing before. This is why we see some of these spikes and drop for individual sites.
So what do we mean by moving the dials up and down? Here is an example at a very basic level. Say Google rewards sites with blog site links at a score of 10, news site links as a score of 8, and local sponsorship or chamber links as a value of 6. This is totally done for example and is not necessarily accurate and is definitely far more complicated in actual practice. This is just to give an example of what may be going on. In this example, a site with lots of blog post references would do very well here and possibly be #1. Say Google changes the dials a little bit with an update and makes the news sites a 10, the blogs an 8, and the local stuff now even more at 8 as well. The link profiles for sites have had major re-shifting in value. Suddenly sites with a lot of local interaction and news references will pass the sites with more blogger relationships and the whole search and traffic landscape changes.
Oops, Let’s Dial it Back
Now suppose after seeing the results for a few months, Google decides they maybe went too far, and either reverses this tweak or maybe applies a new system, where blogs are 9’s, news 9’s and local links are still at 8. It may still see yet another re-shuffling, but some of those sites that dropped last fall would now shoot back up in the rankings.
At a very high level, this is what is believed to have happened with the fall update and then the follow-up March update. Google made a big change, but possibly decided it was too much, and dialed it back a bit. Some of the sites that saw big drops are getting their traffic back, but not all. Why? Because this isn’t the only thing that changed. Though links are a huge part of ranking and it appears both of these updates had a big piece of the link values in them, there were other aspects of trust at play also, and if those weren’t corrected, you may have not been given your ranking back with the latest update.
Google is constantly experimenting. Some experiments only last a few months or years like Google plus, while others last for longer. When they make algorithm adjustments and aren’t happy with what they did for the search end user, they will dial it back or switch it up again. This is the nature of algorithm updates and the reason that there are typically at least a couple of big ones each year. First of all, minor adjustments to factors of value can cause huge changes in the rankings, and secondly, as the algorithm gets stronger and better, they have new ways to measure important aspects of the user experience. Though we get frustrated by obvious misses we wish they could pluck out like fake GMB businesses, it is still impressive what the algorithm can do and reward. Try to understand the Google goal of providing the best answer to your search and it will help you better understand algorithm changes. You still have to look at the data that comes in to truly understand what specific things Google is rewarding, but if you strive to provide your users with a great experience, you are at less risk of dropping off with a new update.