How Should Marketers React When Google’s Search Results Have Dramatic Changes?

Posted on Thursday, July 4th, 2013 and is filed under News, SEO. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Posted by randfish

Late last month, Google made an update to its search algorithm that caused our MozCast to spike to an all-time high of more than 113 degrees. Our work as web marketers can be frustrating when we’re aiming for a continuously moving target. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand covers how we can keep our cool and learn from those changes when they happen.









For reference, here’s a still image of this week’s whiteboard.

Reference photo of this week's whiteboard!

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week, I want to talk a little bit about how marketers should be reacting when Google makes big, dramatic changes in their rankings and their algorithm. Now, this can be a challenging topic, right?

So we’ve seen, for example in the recent past, MozCast, which is Dr. Pete’s project that monitors several thousand search results and sort of looks at changes in the top ten and what percent of them are churning in and out, and we saw one of the biggest spikes we’ve ever seen, bigger than Panda, bigger than Penguin, just hugely dramatic.

Dr. Pete represents those in MozCast with temperatures. So the average day temperature is 70 degrees. This one was 113 degrees. Very, very hot, meaning a dramatic amount of change. Lots of things in the first page of results on average moving out and being replaced by other things and lots of positions moving around too.

Now, the way I like to approach big algorithm updates is to look at, number one, what happened? What actually changed in the results? Because sometimes a dramatic variety of different things can be happening. So we see through MozCast and through monitoring lots of search results ourselves, for ourselves and for campaigns that we pay attention to, we can see that you’ve sort of got one, two, three, four ordering. That might shift over to be, oh wow, look. Almost everyone who is in the first page of results kind of fell down or fell out of those results, and now it’s number 11, 19, 4, and 16 that are ranking in there. Wow, okay. That was a big algorithmic shakeup. Push a lot of people down, a lot of new people in.

Or it might just be a reordering. So, one, two, three, four went to four, two, six, eight. Well, okay. I mean, two and four are still in the top four. Six and eight are still in the top ten. But we’ve had some bouncing around. So this is a shift, but not nearly as dramatic as the prior one, and actually MozCast temperatures represent that because Dr. Pete looks at sort of where things are shifting to figure that out.

Or, and we also see a lot of this, Google has introduced new types of results. There’s now a carousel at the top. There are now news results going in there. There are other things that are pushing results off of page one that are shaking things up, that are making things dramatically different, that are making essentially organic visibility quite different from how it used to be.

Those different types of results are of a vast variety, and Google rolls them out in tests all the time and then permanently when they like the results of those tests. Now, if you’re observing these patterns in the change of types of results and observing the patterns in what’s rising and falling, this can really help you get to the bottom of, “What should my strategy be? What tactics should I take?”

But the second question that I want to take you to before we get there is: What is Google saying about the update? Sometimes Google is very quiet and they don’t say anything, and sometimes they’ll give some information. Right?

So, for example, Google mentioned with regards to this big update that happened recently that there’s a rolling update going on, meaning you can see spikes in values potentially over a period of time as they roll out the update, and it will be ending on or around July 4th.

Okay. That’s potentially very interesting information. That might tell me, “You know what? Before I do a big, wholesale analysis of how this impacted me, I’m going to wait for this whole thing to roll out. Let me just give it a few more days, wait until the 4th of July and see what actually happens at the end of the shakeout.” Gianluca Fiorelli asked Matt Cutts, he said, “Is this a global update or just U.S. or English results only?” Matt nicely replied, “Well, it’s global.”

So that is also helpful to observe and to know so that people can get this sense of, “Oh, wow. I’m targeting mostly Spanish language search results in Spain or in Mexico, or in South and Latin America. I guess I should be paying attention to whatever is going on with this update.”

Third, I like to ask, “How has this update affected me?” Of course, because I’m a marketer who observes broad trends and runs a software company in the field, I like to see what those broad trends are and know about them. But I also really want to see how it affects me, and as a search marketer, that’s certainly what you should be thinking about, too.

So being able to monitor this through data is really important, and there are three points of data that you can collect from your own analytics. Those are the number of pages that receive one or more visits from Google search, the number of keywords that send one or more visits from Google to your site, and the total amount of Google search traffic that you’re receiving.

Then, if you want to get more granular, you can go down to the keyword level and look at what are individual keywords sending. Of course, remember that because of “not provided” a lot of that won’t be trackable anymore, which is frustrating and challenging.

Then the last thing that you’re going to need in order to see how this has impacted you is ranking position. So I like to collect rank position data in non-personalized, non-geographically biased results. This is not perfect. A lot of people are geographically biased, are searching on mobile phones or devices that are location-enabled, do have Google accounts that are biasing them personally. But this is the best that we’re going to do, those non-personalized, non-geo biased results.

You can achieve that by going outside of your country code. So for example, if I’m in Google US, I’m going to go search “Google.co.uk/search?q=” whatever keyword I’m tracking, “&gl=US”. That will bias me back to the U.S., but taking me to the U.K. and then saying U.S. will make it so that I’m not geo-personalized to just Seattle or just Washington, or just wherever I happen to be on the road where I’m searching.

Using “pws=0″ will help remove personalization. This actually removes most of the personalization anyway. If you want, you can also log out or use a browser window that is non-personalized where you’re not logged in. From this, you get the best picture we can really get as search marketers about what’s going on and how the shift has impacted you, and you can see really different things.

I mean, if I see that my rankings haven’t really changed, but the number of pages that are receiving one or more visits from Google has dropped dramatically and that’s affecting my overall total traffic, I can presume, “Hey, you know what? This is probably an indexation problem for me.”

Whatever update Google has been making, the way it’s affected me is that I’ve lost pages that used to be in the search results. I’m no longer performing for them at all, and they weren’t the ones that I was tracking. So probably it means my long tail is where this is impacted, and so that can inform my strategy and my tactics from there.

This is the last question that I like to visit whenever something like this has happened which is: Are there actions that I should be taking? Not just what actions, but are there actions? Sometimes I just kind of go, “Hey, it’s cool. I’m going to let Google do what they’re going to do, and I’m going to do what I’m going to do. I’m not going to worry about them.”

But sometimes there are tactical actions like, “Hey, you know what? I need to bolster some individual keywords. We lost rankings on some keywords that are really important. Let’s see if maybe we should produce new pages of content. Maybe we should update the existing content. Maybe we should redirect the old ones to the new ones. Maybe we should be trying to earn some new links and social signals and shares to that stuff, whatever that might be.”

Or there might be more strategic level SEO types of things like, “Man, Google just introduced this big carousel across all these different types of hotel and travel results. I’m not sure that keyword phrase of city name plus hotels or city name plus places to stay is really going to help me anymore. Maybe I should start to consider whether I need to go earlier on in the keyword search funnel.”

Maybe I need to get in here where people aren’t yet searching for hotels, but they’re searching for destinations or places, or those kinds of things, rather than targeting down here where it looks like Google is kind of dominating the search results themselves. That’s a big strategic kind of shift that you’ll have to make with your content and your website and your keyword targeting strategy.

But being able to ask these questions, all of them, and then getting down to the tactical and strategic can really help make you more reactive in an intelligent, considerate way to the big changes that Google might be making.

All right, everyone. I hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday, and we’ll see you again next week. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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