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There is hope after a site gets hit by a Google core update

SEOs have been adapting to the ranking shifts that occur when Google’s now roughly-quarterly core algorithmic updates roll out. While Google has told us in the past that there is “no fix” for a site that is negatively impacted by these types of updates, good SEOs don’t sit idle. They make site changes to help their clients not just fix issues but realize more positive results from these ongoing updates.

The last core update Google released was the September 2019 core update and since then Google has provided some advice around these updates. I asked Glenn Gabe, SEO Consultant at G-Squared Interactive and Lily Ray, director of SEO at Path Interactive, about what they’ve been seeing and what advice they have for companies. They’ll both be speaking at our upcoming SMX East conference about Google algorithm updates.

Do sites negatively impacted by Core updates see a common thread between them?

“It’s extremely important to conduct a thorough audit through the lens of core updates,” said Gabe. “That’s a great way to begin to surface a range of problems that could be contributing to the negative impact. There’s never one smoking gun with core updates, since Google is evaluating sites overall (across many factors). Instead, there are typically a battery of issues… which could include content quality problems, thin or low quality content, user experience issues, aggressive, disruptive, or deceptive advertising, technical SEO problems, problems with E-A-T, and more.”

Ray said, “When a site gets hit by a core update, it can take anywhere from several hours to a few days to feel the impact, and in many cases, core updates can cause a devastating decline in organic traffic. Core updates affect the entire domain and generally cause a decline in performance across the board, although there may be certain pages or sections of the site that are hit harder than others.”

“Sites hit by core algorithm updates are generally hit because of a few common reasons: poor content quality, bad user experience, and/or trust issues,” Ray added. “With recent core updates, YMYL (your money your life) seem to be disproportionately affected – particularly medical websites, such as sites containing health advice or nutritional supplement pages. It appears Google is heightening its criteria for good-quality, trustworthy medical content, so medical websites hit by core updates often have issues related to lack of E-A-T. Google (and users) may have issues trusting the content presented on the page.”

There is no quick fix for these issues, so how do you communicate to clients about the plan forward?

“Addressing issues related to content quality, user experience, and E-A-T requires significant time and resources,” said Ray. “Additionally, it can take Google months to process the results. Occasionally, the efforts of these improvements are not fully taken into consideration until the next core algorithm update rolls out.”

In terms of how Ray and her company communicate this to its clients, she said, “We are up-front with our clients that this is the case at the beginning of any engagement involving addressing performance declines due to algorithm updates. However, this is still very difficult for many business owners to accept or fully believe in, so it can be a point of contention. Unfortunately, many business owners can’t afford to wait for Google.”

Gabe agrees. “Right, there’s never one smoking gun and sites will rarely see a quick turnaround in rankings and traffic after seeing a drop based on a core update. Google ison recordexplaining that content impacted by a core update will typically not see recovery until another core update rolls out (if significant changes are implemented to improve the site overall). And that’s exactly what I’ve seen in the field while helping many companies deal with negative impact based on core updates. So a combination of communicating what I’ve seen in the field over years with what Google is officially explaining is a great way for companies to understand the situation and it helps set the right expectations.“

Do you think Google can be more specific than it has been?

Gabe said that while the post Google published with advice around core updates is not that specific, “I love the questions they provided that site owners should ask themselves (which expand upon the original Panda questions from 2011).”

“Many of those questions can help surface a number of potential issues across websites,” he said, “so it’s a great process to go through across topics, including content quality, expertise, presentation/product, competition, and more,” he added.

Ray noted that “there isn’t one singular piece of advice on the blog that is more important than the other pieces of advice, and that’s by design: Google’s algorithms look at thousands of different components when assessing quality.

“The questions this blog offers are a good starting point to know what the algorithm is looking for in terms of content quality and E-A-T,” she said. Ray does think the post is missing some technical SEO aspects, “The blog doesn’t talk much about technical SEO considerations, which can also cause performance declines during algorithm updates. It’s important to audit and diagnose issues related to crawling and indexation; page speed and performance; mistakes with canonical tags or noindex/robots.txt; JavaScript rendering issues and any other technical obstacles that may cause search engines problems with properly accessing the site’s content,” she added.

Are there smaller, unconfirmed core updates?

Both Ray and Gabe believe Google does smaller, unconfirmed core updates between the confirmed ones.

“Yes, Google makes tweaks after major core algorithm updates that sometimes feel like ‘aftershocks’ or a recalibrating after the big core update,” said .Ray “July 17, 2019is an example of an unannounced/unconfirmed update, during which some sites saw huge performance declines.”

Gabe said, “Google can definitely push smaller core updates outside of major core updates, but they usually don’t compare to broad core updates from an impact standpoint. There are also times that Google can tweak broad core updates right after they roll out based on what they are seeing in the SERPs (making fine adjustments). Google’s John Mueller confirmed this to be the case when medieval Panda roamed the web. I called those smaller updates ‘tremors’.”

Is there hope? If a site was negatively impacted by a core update, can it recover?

Both Gabe and Ray said there is hope and sites can recover.

“Yes, there is definitely hope,” said Gabe, “and a chance to increase during subsequent core updates. It just takes a lot of objective analysis and hard work. Google wants to see significant improvement in quality over the long-term in order for sites to see positive movement during subsequent core updates. That’s why it’s extremely important to surface all potential quality problems and fix them as quickly as you can. Google will want to see those changes in place for an extended period of time, and not just a few weeks. It’s also important to know that sites might have to wait for several core updates to roll out before seeing improvement. It all depends on how bad the situation is.”

“It is possible to fully recover, but more often than not, a full recovery can be very difficult and a partial recovery is more common,” said Ray. “However, given the extreme fluctuations we’ve seen on Google in the past two years, especially with regard to medical websites, some sites that have seen massive drops have bounced back and seen enormous gains during the next update. I would encourage site owners to think of website recovery as a long-term process and keep at it; it’s possible the efforts may take a few core updates to kick in.”

Hear Lily Ray and Glenn Gabe discuss “Learning from the Winners of Google Algorithm Updates” at SMX East in New York City, November 13-14.

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