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Google Search Ranking Algorithm Tremors Continue & It’s Big




Are you dizzy yet? The Google search results are still super volatile and we are seeing high levels of chatter spike back up over the past 24 to 48 hours and the tracking tools are also running incredibly hot. There is just so much going on right now in Google Search for an SEO that taking off for Christmas might not be an option for many.

This story was originally published on December 17th at 7:50am ET but I wanted to add more data through Sunday, December 19th. In short, the chatter and fluctuations have continued and they actually spiked in a big way on December 18th. I have added a new section below for what is new with the volatility.

Just when you thought we had enough, we didn’t. As I mentioned just before, we had tons of updates this past year, both confirmed and unconfirmed Google search algorithm updates. It seems like this is ongoing volatility from earlier this week and it is hard to say if it is all directly related to the ongoing product reviews update or not.

SEO Chatter

The ongoing chatter at WebmasterWorld is spiking like said. Many SEOs are talking about the results bouncing all around, like you’d see with a big update. Here is some of that chatter:

Feels like something big happened today. I was having minor improvements the past couple of days and then today we had a fairly significant drop. This update seems to be much bigger than the most recent “core update” they released. This “product reviews” update seems to go way beyond products because the losses we took today have nothing to do with products whatsoever.

Traffic went up 20+% on Dec 10, but dropped down 35% on Dec 15. Definitely some big thing happened today. I saw several people reporting big drop the same day.

Looks like something new is being rolled out. What I learned about these updates is that even when your site or sites benefit from a certain update it will not last for a long time. If you happened to receive a huge boost make sure to capitalize it in any way you can because it will end soon. It can be a day, a week or a few months down the road.

Huge drop this morning…

I was having higher and more stable traffic for a month, until December 3rd. It dropped off and seems to remain at around -15% USA traffic since then, mostly concentrated on traffic to my home page. Both search and direct traffic are down and USA can start the day down 65-70% these days and struggles to recover all day. This coincides again with major swings on a daily basis in ranking…I can lose 10 top ten terms in one shot and recover them the next day. All of this has resulted in very few new inquiries and of course zero new sales. The only sales I have had are from return customers.

One company that I work with is also experiencing major ranking swings on a daily basis. It is most noticeable in Search Console when you only select rankings. This seemed to start in April around the time of the Product Review Update. It isn’t an affiliate site, but it does have a lot of in-depth informative content around their products and the situations in which they are used.

“The Grinch” update continues, as does zero traffic and sales. This looks like the last year for the site.

I was also hit, pretty hard. I managed to attain global reach, initially google ranked me mostly in the US. The problem that I came with it is a huge drop in keywords. Now these keywords are coming back very slowly but ranked very poorly. If for example a keyword was ranked in 4 now it is at 94. And it’s not improving. The new update they started rolling out today will hit me tomorrow so I am really hoping for some improvements.

If you are on the wrong end of the stick with the current core update (Im not buying the product review label) this will hurt.

Traffic down 35% today…both search and direct. USA, UK, Germany, Canada, Australia…all way down. I’ve never seen such a large single day drop in my 17 years of doing this so hopefully it’s not some new and permanent terror Google is unleashing on us. One way or another Google is making sure to make all the traffic from organic search go bye bye at an accelerating pace.

For the past 12 months, I have been hit by each algorithm update. Today once again 15% down and now overall down 70% YoY

It goes on but I don’t want to just copy and paste all the chatter there.

Tracking Tools

The tracking tools are also really hot right now, virtually all of them are showing significant volatility over the past couple weeks and it spiked again over the past 48 hours. Here are some screenshots from these tools.



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Advanced Web Rankings:

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Cognitive SEO:

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So yes, a lot of signs point at a big update but what exactly is this update is hard to say for sure, there is a lot going on. It can be core update corrections, it can be the product reviews update, can be some unannounced spam effort or algorithmic shift or something else.


Recent Confirmed Google Updates

So let’s summarize the confirmed updates we had recently:

And actually more confirmed ones and plenty of unconfirmed updates.

I do hope your stress levels are manageable before the the upcoming holiday season.

Updated On December 19th

So like I mentioned above, we are seeing a spike in chatter and fluctuations on December 18th, this past Saturday.

Here is the updated chatter on WebmasterWorld:

Today traffic returned to normal trend until 11am EST sharp, when it fell off a cliff and stayed down the rest of the day until now. I’m 28% lower on the day now so it was a sudden and dramatic drop again.

It looks like the current weekend update is about backlinks. Sites with high authority that were pushed down earlier this week are now up again. Im quite confident this is what is being assessed now by the algos.

An interesting observation that shouldn’t be a big surprise, but an insight as to why we see no traffic… Today, while running two FB ads and being on page one, position two on the Google SERPs, I am watching GART and it is showing zero visitors, yet seconds later, an active signup comes in. I have a cash register sound on my phone that lets me know when a sale is made. So, it’s pretty clear the use of VPN’s is really blinding us from actual traffic.
The only way I am getting any sales is by resorting to FB ads. Not a fan, but whatever works. At the end of the day though, I’ll probably spend more on ads that I make in sales. SMH

Traffic turned off @ 11am sharp again, just like the previous few days

Some of the slowness we’re seeing has to be from the holidays. Last week, and likely the week before, offices began becoming ghost towns and especially this upcoming week due to the holidays. This is probably why some of us see discrepancies with maintaining positions (somewhat) in semrush/ahrefs, but traffic is still dead.

A very unusual Saturday with valid-looking traffic at 92% of my weekday average PVs however so far today, Sunday, the vast majority of “visitors” have been single-page US bots, loads and loads of them from all over the USA.

My global site rankings still appear to be unchanged.

Could be a knock-on effect of the turbulent weather. There are about half a million homes without electricity (or walls) across the US today due to tornadoes. There are many thousands more people trying to assist those folks, so not as much ‘shopping as usual’ for the season. Areas not affected will have holiday travel this weekend. It is bound to affect online traffic.

This is not a normal holiday drop at all. I just calculated my clicks in GSC for the period 12/3/2021-12/17/2021 to the period 12/4/2020-12/18/2020…which is Friday to Friday. There is a 35% decline in clicks this holiday period vs. last year same period. For most terms, clicks dropped to one or zero during this holiday season.

This is almost all due to Google’s manipulation during the prime holiday sales season…presumably to boost ad conversions and send sales to ads instead of organic. I have never seen this kind of drop in the 17 years that I have been doing this.

The tools have remained super hot also:



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Advanced Web Ranking:

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Cognitive SEO:

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SERP Metrics:

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Forum discussion at WebmasterWorld.



How to Write For Google



How to Write For Google

Are you writing your SEO content based on the latest best practice tips?

I originally wrote this SEO copywriting checklist in 2012—my, how things have changed. Today, Google stresses quality content even more than before, conversational copy is critical, and there are revised SEO writing “rules.” 

I’ve updated the list to reflect these changes and to provide additional information.

As a side note, I would argue that there’s no such thing as “writing for Google.” Yes, there are certain things you should do to make the Google gods happy. However, your most important goal should be writing clear, compelling, standout copy that tells a story. 

I’m keeping the old headline in the hopes that I can convert some of the “write for Google” people to do things the right way.

Whether you’re an in-house SEO content writer, a DIY business owner, or a freelance SEO copywriter, this 27-point checklist will help you write engaging, Google-happy content—every time.

Items to review before you start your SEO writing project



– Do you have enough information about your target reader?

Your copy will pack a powerful one-two punch if your content is laser-focused on your target reader. Ask your client or supervisor for a customer/reader persona document outlining your target readers’ specific characteristics. If the client doesn’t have a customer persona document, be prepared to spend an hour or more asking detailed questions. 

Here’s more information on customer personas.


– Writing a sales page? Did you interview the client?

It’s essential to interview new clients and to learn more about their company, USP, and competition. Don’t forget to ask about industry buzzwords that should appear in the content.

Not sure what questions to ask to get the copywriting ball rolling? Here’s a list of 56 questions you can start with today. 



– Writing a blog post? Get topic ideas from smart sources

When you’re blogging, it’s tempting to write about whatever strikes your fancy. The challenge is, what interests you may not interest your readers. If you want to make sure you’re writing must-read content, sites like Quora, LinkedIn, Google Trends, and BuzzSumo can help spark some ideas.


– Did you use Google for competitive intelligence ideas?

Check out the sites positioning in the top-10 and look for common characteristics. How long are competing articles? Do the articles link out to authoritative sources? Are there videos or infographics? Do the articles include quotes from industry experts? Your job is to write an essay that’s better than what’s already appearing in the top-10 — so let the competition be your guide.


– Did you conduct keyphrase research?

Yes, keyphrase research (and content optimization) is still a crucial SEO step. If you don’t give Google some keyphrase “cues,” your page probably won’t position the way you want.


Use a keyphrase research tool and find possible keyphrases for your page or post. As a hint: if you are tightly focusing on a topic, long-tail keyphrases are your best bet. Here’s more information about why long-tail keyphrases are so important.

If you are researching B2B keyphrases, know that the “traditional” keyphrase research steps may not apply. Here’s more information about what to do if B2B keyphrase research doesn’t work.


– What is your per-page keyphrase focus?

Writers are no longer forced to include the exact-match keyphrase over and over again. (Hurray!) Today, we can focus on a keyphrase theme that matches the search intent and weave in multiple related keyphrases.


– Did you expand your keyphrase research to include synonyms and close variants?

Don’t be afraid to include keyphrase synonyms and close variants on your page. Doing so opens up your positioning opportunities, makes your copy better, and is much easier to write!


Are you wondering if you should include your keyphrases as you write the copy — or edit them in later? It’s up to you! Here are the pros and cons of both processes.


 — Do your keyphrases match the search intent?

Remember that Google is “the decider” when it comes to search intent. If you’re writing a sales page — and your desired keyphrase pulls up informational blog posts in Google – your sales page probably won’t position. 


— Writing a blog post? Does your Title/headline work for SEO, social, and your readers?

Yes, you want your headline to be compelling, but you also want it to be keyphrase rich. Always include your main page keyphrase (or a close variant) in your Title and work in other keyphrases if they “fit.”

Here’s some excellent information on how to write headlines that get noticed (and that are good for Google.) You can also use headline-analyzing tools to double-check your work.



– Did you include keyphrase-rich subheadlines?

Subheadlines are an excellent way to visually break up your text, making it easy for readers to quick-scan your benefits and information. Additionally, just like with the H1 headline, adding a keyphrase to your subheadlines can (slightly) help reinforce keyphrase relevancy.

As a hint, sometimes, you can write a question-oriented subheadline and slip the keyphrase in more easily. Here’s more information about why answering questions is a powerful SEO content play.


Is your Title “clickable” and compelling?

Remember, the search engine results page is your first opportunity for conversion. Focusing too much on what you think Google “wants” may take away your Title’s conversion power. 

Consider how you can create an enticing Title that “gets the click” over the other search result listings. You have about 59 characters (with spaces) to work with, so writing tight is essential. 



– Does the meta description fit the intent of the page?

Yes, writers should create a meta description for every page. Why? Because they tell the reader what the landing page is about and help increase SERP conversions. Try experimenting with different calls-to-actions at the end, such as “learn more” or “apply now.” You never know what will entice your readers to click!


– Is your content written in a conversational style?

With voice search gaining prominence, copy that’s written in a conversational style is even more critical.

Read your copy out loud and hear how it sounds. Does it flow? Or does it sound too formal? If you’re writing for a regulated industry, such as finance, legal, or healthcare, you may not be able to push the conversational envelope too much. Otherwise, write like you talk.

Here’s how to explain why conversational content is so important.



–Is your copy laser-focused on your audience?

A big mistake some writers make is creating copy that appeals to “everyone” rather than their specific target reader. Writing sales and blog pages that are laser-focused on your audience will boost your conversions and keep readers checking out your copy longer. Here’s how one company does it.

Plus, you don’t receive special “Google points” for writing long content. Even short copy can position if it fully answers the searcher’s query. Your readers don’t want to wade through 1,500 words to find something that can be explained in 300 words.

Items to review after you’ve written the page


– Did you use too many keyphrases?

Remember, there is no such thing as keyword density. If your content sounds keyphrase-heavy and stilted, reduce the keyphrase usage and focus more on your readers’ experience. Your page doesn’t receive bonus points for exact-matching your keyphrase multiple times. If your page sounds keyphrase stuffed when you read it out loud, dial back your keyphrase usage.



– Did you edit your content?

Resist the urge to upload your content as soon as you write it. Put it away and come back to it after a few hours (or even the next day.) Discover why editing your Web writing is so very important. Also, don’t think that adding typos will help your page position. They won’t.


– Is the content interesting to read?

Yes, it’s OK if your copy has a little personality. Here’s more information about working with your page’s tone and feel and how to avoid the “yawn response.” Plus, know that even FAQ pages can help with conversions — and yes, even position.


– Are your sentences and paragraphs easy to read?

Vary your sentence structure so you have a combination of longer and shorter sentences. If you find your sentences creeping over 30 or so words, edit them down and make them punchier. Your writing will have more impact if you do.


Plus, long paragraphs without much white space are hard to read off a computer monitor – and even harder to read on a smartphone. Split up your long paragraphs into shorter ones. Please.


– Are you forcing your reader onto a “dead end” page?

“Dead-end” pages (pages that don’t link out to related pages) can stop your readers dead in their tracks and hurt your conversion goals. 

Want to avoid this? Read more about “dead-end” Web pages.


– Does the content provide the reader with valuable information?

Google warns against sites with “thin,” low-quality content that’s poorly written. In fact, according to Google, spelling errors are a bigger boo-boo than broken HTML. Make sure your final draft is typo-free, written well, and thoroughly answers the searcher’s query.


Want to know what Google considers quality content — directly from Google? Here are Google’s Quality Raters guidelines for more information.


– Did you use bullet points where appropriate?

If you find yourself writing a list-like sentence, use bullet points instead. Your readers will thank you, and the items will be much easier to read.

Plus, you can write your bullet points in a way that makes your benefit statements pop, front and center. Here’s how Nike does it.


– Is the primary CTA (call-to-action) clear–and is it easy to take action?

What action do you want your readers to take? Do you want them to contact you? Buy something? Sign up for your newsletter? Make sure you’re telling your reader what you want them to do, and make taking action easy. If you force people to answer multiple questions just to fill out a “contact us” form, you run the risk of people bailing out.


Here’s a list of seven CTA techniques that work.


– Do you have a secondary CTA (such as a newsletter signup or downloading a white paper?)

Do you want readers to sign up for your newsletter or learn about related products? Don’t bury your “sign up for our newsletter” button in the footer text. Instead, test different CTA locations (for instance, try including a newsletter signup link at the bottom of every blog post) and see where you get the most conversions.


– Does the page include too many choices?

It’s important to keep your reader focused on your primary and secondary CTAs. If your page lists too many choices (for example, a large, scrolling page of products), consider eliminating all “unnecessary” options that don’t support your primary call-to-action. Too many choices may force your readers into not taking any action at all.



– Did you include benefit statements?

People make purchase decisions based on what’s in it for them (yes, even your B2B buyers.) Highly specific benefit statements will help your page convert like crazy. Don’t forget to include a benefit statement in your Title (whenever possible) like “free shipping” or “sale.” Seeing this on the search results page will catch your readers’ eyes, tempting them to click the link and check out your site.


– Do you have vertical-specific testimonials?

It’s incredible how many great sales pages are testimonial-free. Testimonials are a must for any site, as they offer third-party proof that your product or service is superior. Plus, your testimonials can help you write better, more benefit-driven sales pages and fantastic comparison-review pages.

Here’s a way to make your testimonials more powerful. 

And finally — the most important question:



– Does your content stand out and genuinely deserve a top position?

SEO writing is more than shoving keyphrases into the content. If you want to be rewarded by Google (and your readers), your content must stand out — not be a carbon copy of the current top-10 results. Take a hard look at your content and compare it against what’s currently positioning. Have you fully answered the searcher’s query? Did you weave in other value-added resources, such as expert quotes, links to external and internal resources (such as FAQ pages), videos, and graphics? 

If so, congratulations! You’ve done your job. 

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