SNYCU Ep. 127 - April 8, 2020 - Light Version

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In this episode we discuss how Coronavirus is continuing to affect search traffic, possible updates March 10th and 23rd, E-A-T and ranking losses, MHC's live tweets from Virtuacon, great new documentation to help sites, more on Google's efforts to help webmasters during COVID-19 and so much more.


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In this episode:


Paid members also get the following:

  • Have you lost rankings during the pandemic? It could be connected to E-A-T
  • New guide available for sites that are struggling to keep up with a much higher load of traffic
  • New documentation from Google on using JavaScript to generate structured data
  • Google temporarily rolling back SameSite cookie labelling
  • Watch Google Search Engineer Paul Haahr review the evolution of Search over recent years
  • Local Home SDK ready for Actions
  • A query with the featured snippet pushed down the page
  • Landing press coverage and links during COVID-19
  • Did you know you can remove an image from Google Search using a tool within Google Search Console?
  • Did you know you can drag and drop files (if they're supported) into this tool and it’ll do the rest?
  • A Python script that will compare two Screaming Frog crawls and show what changed
  • Chromium developers are testing a new Omnibox menu that has the option to “Always Show Full URLs”, on desktop only
  • John Mueller touches on whether content behind tabs is given less weight - with some interesting info from MHC
  • Should your most popular pages be linked to from your navigation?
  • More image talk from Google; Image search rankings rely on-page context
  • More on Amazon suspending affiliate programs
  • Google no longer tracks the number of total indexed pages on the web
  • Is Google willing to peel back the curtains on their algorithms?
  • Critical vulnerabilities with this plugin
  • A Google easter egg that changes into hacker language
  • How to earn Yelp reviews like a pro
  • Update made to Glen Allsopp’s SEO extension
  • My tl;dr summary of some awesome recent SEO and Local SEO articles

Algorithm Updates 

Coronavirus is continuing to affect search traffic patterns

We do not believe that Google has released any significant algorithm updates during the last week. However, as we have seen over the last few weeks, the majority of the websites that we monitor have seen changes in the amount of search traffic they are receiving.

As we have been doing for the last few weeks, we ran a Twitter poll to ask SEOs and business owners whether they are seeing improvements or declines in search traffic as compared to the previous week. 

Almost half of the respondents reported that they were seeing less search traffic than in the prior week. However, it was encouraging to see that close to 30% of the people responding said they were seeing some type of improvement.

The chart below tracks the trends of this poll over the last month. Please note that the numbers do not add up to 100% as one of the options on the poll was “other/see results”:

site owners seeing improvements

Were March 10 and March 23 Google algorithm updates?

We had speculated previously that perhaps Google pushed out a significant update on March 23, 2020 as many sites that we monitor saw massive change on this day. Here is a client of ours who is seeing a big increase in Google organic traffic that starts on March 23.

march 23 increase

However, we can see that this site also sees a similar spike in Bing traffic at the same time.

similar spike in bing

We believe that most sites that are seeing a sudden change in traffic patterns starting March 23 were not affected by a Google update, but rather, due to changing search patterns in this unprecedented time. While we do not think Google pushed out a core update, we do, however, feel that they have made some changes in regards to how they rank sites for YMYL queries. There is more on this in the next section (for premium readers).

Another date on which we had several clients see increases in traffic on was March 11 (marked with a circle below). This is a client of ours who saw nice improvements with the January core update after implementing much of our advice surrounding improving elements of trust on their site.

march 11 increases

While Bing shows some increased traffic starting in early January, the January 14 core update spike is not seen in Bing (as that was a Google update). But the March 11 traffic increase is indeed present in Bing organic traffic trends:

march 11 in bing

As such, the increases the site saw on January 14 are likely due to a Google update. The increases seen March 11, 2020 are likely due to changing search patterns as this site offers good health information that is being widely searched for at this time.

Most of the sites we monitored did also see changes in keyword rankings that could leave some to believe that they had been affected by a Google update. John Mueller was asked recently whether wild changes in search behaviour could affect keyword rankings. He said, “I mean, it’s something where we always see user behavior shifts and sometimes certain topics become really popular and we try to show the right search results for those kind of things….But these kind of shifts are things that our algorithms have to watch out for, so it’s not something that I’d say would be specific to this current situation.

Our interpretation of what John said is that Google doesn’t specifically change keyword rankings based on current events. But, as users search, Google’s algorithms are also working to determine which results are the most helpful and to surface those sites. As such, if your keyword rankings have changed recently, it may not be due to a Google update, but rather, due to Google figuring out which sites are now the most helpful to users at this time. It could also be due to Google making more strict criteria for which sites they want to rank for YMYL queries. We’re still in the early stages of analyzing this theory, but premium newsletter readers can read our current thoughts on this in the next section.

We have added the following significant dates to our Google algorithm update checklist and also our resource page with important Coronavirus information for SEOs. Although these are not likely to be Google updates, we have included them so that if you are looking at traffic patterns months or years from now, you will be able to identify that many online businesses saw traffic changes on these dates as a result of COVID-19.

  • March 10-11, 2020: At this time Donald Trump announced a travel ban to those travelling to the US from Europe. Also, the NBA made the decision to shut down their season. While there was some suspicion in the SEO community that this was a Google update, we believe the changes seen were more likely due to worldwide changes in search patterns. The travel ban, combined with the loss of the NBA season made the whole Coronavirus situation much more real to most people and greatly affected how they live their lives.
  • March 23, 2020: Many sites saw traffic changes starting on this date. We had initially suspected this was due to a Google update. While it is still a possibility, most of our clients who saw drastic Google organic traffic changes also saw similar changes in Bing which makes a Google update less likely to be the cause. March 23 was a Monday, the start of a week of much devastating news in the world. On this date, Britain closed all of their non-essential shops and a day later, the entire country of India was placed on lockdown. 

This tweet shows some interesting statistics on consumer spending habits in the US in the wake of COVID-19. We think that most of the changes in search traffic patterns we are seeing can be connected to changes in how consumers are spending their money.

Similarly, here are some statistics on the fastest growing niches right now. It looks like it is a really good time to be in the bread machine business! 

We also found this chart fascinating. Keyword rankings are all over the place for “disinfection services”. This is likely the case for many other keywords that are in much higher demand now than ever before. The increased volatility in keyword rankings is probably due to Google’s algorithms determining exactly what type of information searchers are finding helpful. 

We’d like to close this section with this encouraging tweet. If you are one of the many SEOs out there who have lost clients due to the failing economy, we’re hoping things look up soon!


MHC Announcements

MHC live tweets from John Mueller at VirtuaCon 

We live tweeted the Q&A session with John Mueller at VirtuaCon on Friday and got some great content in the process. We want to say thank you to both the VirtuaCon team and John for this great event. Here are some Q&As worth reading: 

A lot of SEOs were unsure as to whether Google would pause algorithm updates in wake of COVID-19, John answered this for us. They will put users first, and if releasing algo updates helps improve search for them, that is what they will do. 

We also loved to hear John discuss the trends in search and how it has/will evolve. There has been a change in the way users search with younger generations asking full questions, whereas older gens search by keywords. With this in mind, it could mean that Google adapts the SERPs to this search method, and may rely more on things like BERT to fit this new model.

Head over to the MHC Twitter account to read all of the Q&A we transcribed last week! 


Watch Marie discuss the state of search with COVID-19 

Marie joined in a Search Engine Land webinar led by Barry Schwartz to discuss the COVID-19 search disruption. The panel os SEOs shared data from tools like SEMRush, RankRanger and Moz that shows some pretty interesting movement in SERPs.

Watch it here:


Google Announcements

Introducing a new way for sites to highlight COVID-19 announcements on Google Search

Google has introduced SpecialAnnouncement structured data and the ability to submit COVID-19 announcements in GSC. For now, these are primarily available for health and government agency sites (to highlight important updates such as school closures or stay-at-home directives), but Google hopes to expand this to more sites sometime soon.

The SpecialAnnouncement structured data, which is the preferred method for webmasters to use, appears in the SERPs similar to how FAQ markup appears. Those without the technical ability to do the above can use Search Console to submit a COVID-19 announcement but Google warns that this is intended only as a short-term solution


Docs related to COVID-19 schema released to prepare webmasters

The team from Google Webmasters released a document on how to implement structured data for COVID-19 announcements.


A recap of all the major COVID-19 announcements from Google in recent weeks 

With several new announcements coming our way over the last few weeks, Google has posted a recap thread on Twitter. Here is our brief version of the updates:

You will find more great information like this on our Coronavirus resource page


Google SERP Changes

Review stars could be getting new placement and/or colour

According to Barry Schwartz, a small change seems to be coming to the star-review system on Google, as a few users noticed that there is a possible colour grading system being tested. 


SEO Tips

As all Google events have been postponed, catch up on many of the past event recordings

Google is streaming their Webmaster conference from November that covers web deduplication, rendering, Googlebot, web hosting and more. You can see the playlist here, or watch it in the video attached below. 


Google Help Hangout Tips

Does old-school link building still hold any merit?

In this hangout John is asked about link building tactics such as image sharing with links, article submission on blog sites, free sites where you can post any type of content, etc. Not to our surprise, John says these have zero SEO value. This would be seen as spam by G and will not help your website. 

If you’re making great content and reaching out to sites who discuss that type of content, then that is okay in his opinion. “Focus on things where you will get natural links because of the value of your content.. Not dropping links in random places.” 


Other Interesting News

Google has been using location data to help public health officials understand people’s movement (and changes of this) in response to COVID-19 

According to The Verge, Google is not only using this location data to help the public decide which time is the less busy time to shop, but also to help public officials have an idea of how well the new COVID-19 measurements are being followed. This data is especially important for retail locations and public areas that have been temporarily closed. Google is also considering using the same information to show the flow of patients in hospitals. 


Traffic Think Tank live 2020

Grab your calendars and circle May 16th. This free one-day virtual conference welcomes many leading marketing experts including Hamlet Batista, Kevin Indig, Lily Ray and more. The event covers lessons on SEO, content marketing, conversion optimization, and automation. To register or to find out more, visit the website.


outREACH Workshop April 2020

Verve Search’s free online workshop is split over two days and caters to brands (April 15th) and agencies (April 22nd). Focusing on content and link building, some of the topics include creating award winning campaign ideas, tips for refining your outreach strategy, and understanding and measuring success. Check out the website for more information.


Local SEO - News from SterlingSky 

We're happy to report that organic local ranking movements have been quiet and quite minimal for the most part. While the rest of the world is hectic, it's nice that GMB is keeping the organic rankings from going haywire - a choice that is appreciated by many! While organically not much has been happening in local search - Google My Business has not been standing idly by waiting for the end of the pandemic mandates.

The changes around COVID-19 information have continued since last week. Towards the end of the week it quieted just a bit - but we're still seeing steady changes from GMB. Today (Tuesday) we even saw some lightening of the previous lockdown around reviews. That's great news!

We're seeing some new features and refinements to existing features for a few categories. The most movement seems to be centered around the healthcare and food/restaurant categories.  Here's what's new in the world:

April 1 - COVID-19 posts started showing towards the top of the business listing on mobile devices. Google rolled out this change, but as is typical sometimes, wasn't very clear on the "where" in their announcement. By playing around with results, we found that increased visibility was exclusive to mobile devices. As of this post on April 8 - it's still not more visible in desktop environs. This seems like an oversight - as the information is valuable to the searcher, regardless of device.

April 1 - TIP: Adding special hours to your GMB listing will remove the COVID-19 warning that was added a few weeks ago to individual business listings. While you will still see the message in the search results, special hours will cause the message to disappear from the individual business listings. This is extremely useful for businesses that are operating in some capacity (or at full capacity) and don't want their customers to question the accuracy of the information on your business listing!

map pack vs listing covid msg

April 6 - Google adds labels for map pins to indicate takeout/delivery/or Temporarily closed. This is a handy addition as the individual listing doesn't have to be clicked on to indicate whether or not the listing has what the searcher may be looking for.

takeout-labels

April 7 - The maps label & attributes implemented on the 6th was taken one step further with the addition of a "sort" feature now visible on mobile. Click on the bubble and then are taken to restaurants that only offer takeout and delivery.


April 7 - We learned late in the day that review responses have been released from furlough.  While we're now seeing review responses being accepted via the GMB dashboard, the App and API, seeing them live is happening more slowly. Google's update states that "Over the coming weeks..." more GMB features will become available, and will "gradually expand by country and business category." This is great news as soliciting and responding to customer feedback is made even more important when the design and parameters of a business service changes - either through their own design or by mandate, law or necessity.

post rely review

April 7 - Google My Business adds more link opportunities within in the GMB dashboard for medical and healthcare categories. Now physicians, clinics, dentists, etc. and other medical care categories can add more links specifically for telemedicine and COVID-19 info. Although the links are not showing live on a business listing as of the writing of this article, we're fairly confident they will be showing up shortly.

covid gmb links


Local SEO - Other Interesting News

New attribute available in GMB for retail

Curbside pickup has been added for retailers to show off their offerings during COVID-19.


Recommended Reading

The Rules of Link Building - Best of Whiteboard Friday – Britney Muller
https://moz.com/blog/link-building-rules
Feb 28, 2020

Another fantastic WBF from Moz, this time featuring the wonderful Britney Muller. She covers the dos and don’ts of link building and outlines the types of links that really help webmasters and those that cause serious harm. Based on the underlying principle of value, learn where links like guest posts, directories, link exchanges and others fall on the spectrum. Hats off for this great video!

 

Why Google Search Console & Google Analytics Data Never Matches – Michael King
https://www.searchenginejournal.com/google-search-console-google-analytics-data/358206/
April 2, 2020

Did you know that Google Search Console and Google Analytics don’t measure the same things? This article by Michael King dives into those differences in data collection and explains how this likely causes GCS and GA data to have a discrepancy. If you’re interested in the higher-level concepts about why things are the way they are, we promise that this article is one you’ll enjoy reading.

 

What Readers Want During COVID-19: Content Ideas for Every Niche – Amanda Milligan
https://moz.com/blog/what-readers-want-during-covid19
March 31, 2020

Amanda Milligan breaks down all the topics that readers are interested in during COVID-19 lockdowns. It might shock you that some of these topics are related to outdoor activities that, now, are having to be done at home.

 

How to Get Your Brand in Google’s Knowledge Graph Without a Wikipedia Page – Jason Barnard
https://www.searchenginejournal.com/get-brand-in-google-knowledge-graph-without-wikipedia-page/356530/
April 1, 2020

Last week we wrote about a tweet from Jason Barnard regarding the multiple sources from which Google extracts information for knowledge panels. This is a significantly more detailed post on the topic focused around how to get a knowledge panel for your brand by getting into the knowledge graph, without creating a Wikipedia page. 

 

The Ultimate Guide to Fixing and Troubleshooting the Most Common WordPress Errors – Matteo Duò
https://kinsta.com/blog/wordpress-errors/
April 1, 2020

Any WordPress user should bookmark this comprehensive article on almost everything that can go wrong in WordPress, and remember it for later when the time of crisis inevitably arrives in the form of a site outage or error. It’s especially topical with the release of WordPress 5.4 last week.

 

How to Improve Page Speed from Start to Finish (Advanced Guide) – Patrick Stox
https://ahrefs.com/blog/advanced-pagespeed-guide/
March 31, 2020

Patrick isn’t kidding when he calls this an advanced guide! Anyone who isn’t especially technically inclined can easily become overwhelmed by the information overload from tools such as PageSpeed Insights or WebPageTest. Patrick does a great job here of telling us what matters, why it matters, and which metrics could be worth targeting depending on your site’s individual situation. 

 

Marketing in Times of Uncertainty - Whiteboard Friday – Rand Fishkin
https://moz.com/blog/marketing-in-times-of-uncertainty
April 3, 2020

Happy Whiteboard Friday from Moz! Well.. last friday we mean. Add this video to your viewing list for this week as it contains a bunch of encouraging information on how to continue marketing through these devastating times.

Rand Fishkin reminds us that these current tough economic times are “compressed” meaning we know this epidemic isn’t going to, relatively, be a long-term ordeal. Moz has the video’s full transcript available on their page as well so definitely check it out.


Recommended Reading (Local SEO)

Operating During COVID-19: Helpful Tips for Local Businesses – Miriam Ellis
https://moz.com/blog/operating-during-covid19-tips-for-local-businesses
March 30, 2020

Track the support resources along with tips from Miriam’s own tight-knit local search community in this excellent article available on Moz. We’d advise you check this out in its entirety as it is packed full of useful info related to GMB, your own website, as well as social and email. 


Jobs


Want More?

Paid members also get the following:

  • Have you lost rankings during the pandemic? It could be connected to E-A-T
  • New guide available for sites that are struggling to keep up with a much higher load of traffic
  • New documentation from Google on using JavaScript to generate structured data
  • Google temporarily rolling back SameSite cookie labelling
  • Watch Google Search Engineer Paul Haahr review the evolution of Search over recent years
  • Local Home SDK ready for Actions
  • A query with the featured snippet pushed down the page
  • Landing press coverage and links during COVID-19
  • Did you know you can remove an image from Google Search using a tool within Google Search Console?
  • Did you know you can drag and drop files (if they're supported) into this tool and it’ll do the rest?
  • A Python script that will compare two Screaming Frog crawls and show what changed
  • Chromium developers are testing a new Omnibox menu that has the option to “Always Show Full URLs”, on desktop only
  • John Mueller touches on whether content behind tabs is given less weight - with some interesting info from MHC
  • Should your most popular pages be linked to from your navigation?
  • More image talk from Google; Image search rankings rely on-page context
  • More on Amazon suspending affiliate programs
  • Google no longer tracks the number of total indexed pages on the web
  • Is Google willing to peel back the curtains on their algorithms?
  • Critical vulnerabilities with this plugin
  • A Google easter egg that changes into hacker language
  • How to earn Yelp reviews like a pro
  • Update made to Glen Allsopp’s SEO extension
  • My tl;dr summary of some awesome recent SEO and Local SEO articles

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Part of the challenge of SEO is staying on top of industry news, trends, and techniques There is so much information out there that it is easy to get bogged down in information overload and trying to disseminate what's truly important from all that noise can be really time-consuming and challenging.

 Marie's newsletter is a game changer because it manages to cut through the fluff and deliver high-quality information that is not only really important for those that do SEO, but it is presented in a format that is really easy to absorb.
If you are looking for a trusted information related to search that is highly actionable I would strongly recommend Marie's newsletter.
Paul Macnamara - Offers SEO Consulting at PaulMacnamara.com


That's it for this episode! Stay tuned for our Youtube video (my channel is here). If you want to follow me on Facebook, here is my page.


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