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Google Update November 2019

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There is substantial evidence that an unannounced Google Update is underway. This update has been affecting sites across a wide range of niches. Most of the feedback is negative although there are winners mixed in, including winners in the spam community.

Impact Felt Across Many Industries

Forensic SEO expert Alan Bleiweiss (@AlanBleiweiss) noted in a tweet how this update affected a plurality of industries. He tweeted:

“I monitor 47 sites

  • Mental Health Knowledge base & Directory – up 20%
  • Travel booking – up 14%
  • Travel booking – up 25%
  • Recipes – up 12%
  • B to C eCom – up 20%
  • Tech news – down 20%
  • Skin care affiliate – down 48%
  • Alternative health – not impacted
  • Other Recipe sites – not impacted”

Note: The double listing for travel sites is not a typo. It’s a reference to two travel sites. 

Recipe Bloggers Report Update Effects

Google does not target specific niches. The recipe blogger niche is a highly organized community. Because of that when something big happens the community’s voice will be amplified.

Thus it was that the recipe blogger community noticed this update. As of earlier today there was a growing list of 47 recipe blogs that had reported losses from this update.

Casey Markee of MediaWyse (@MediaWyse) who specializes in food blog SEO said this about those 47 sites that were suffering from Google’s November 2019 update:

“All of them, big sites, small sites, medium sites, all are showing like 30%+ drops. I know it’s tough on bloggers to see drops and thing “OMG I need to make some dramatic changes.”

But that’s like throwing darts at a board, blindfolded, in the dark, while underwater. Definitely need to WAIT for more data and until this “update” (or whatever it is) has fully rolled-out.”

I agree, it’s best to wait to hear what Google says about this update. I took a quick look at two of the recipe sites that were lost traffic and both of them had heavy keyword term densities.

For example, I extracted the Heading outlines (H1, H2) of both sites and they both were hitting their target keywords hard in every single heading. A keyword density report of two sample pages revealed that the target keywords were being used as high as 5% of all words on the page.

Travel Bloggers

Leslie Harvey of Trips with Tykes (@TripsWithTykes) tweeted:

“Seeing it reported heavily in the travel blog world too – dozens of high traffic travel blogs are significantly down from anecdotes I’m hearing.”

Screenshot of a tweet by Trips with Tykes about travel blogs and Google's November 2019 update

Many First Time Google Update Casualties

A curious note about this update is that there are many publishers reporting that they have never been hit by a previous update and are surprised to have finally been hit by the November 2019 Google update. As a representative example, one publisher tweeted:

“I’m down 25% organic in the last two days. I’ve seen positive impacts from every previous algo update.”

Jim @ UncoveringPA (@UncoveringPA) tweeted:

“Definitely frustrating. First time I’ve ever gotten a big hit from a Google update. Down 20-25%. For my local site, it seems mostly that more official sites got boosted over mine, even though mine has better and more in depth content.”

tweet by publisher frustrated by Google's November 2019 algorithm update

Facebook-Hat Observations

A member of the private SEO Signals Lab Facebook group had a similar experience.

As an example, a Facebook member stated that his seven year old site that’s been in the top three for years suddenly dropped to page two and three.

Perhaps of interest or maybe not, this member reported having used content analysis software to analyze the SERPs to understand the kind of words are ranking for queries. Regardless if that’s a clue or not, this is another person out of many who reported having never suffered from a previous Google update and are now having a difficult time with this update.

Another Facebook member reported a 20% change in traffic but with little change in keyword positions. That kind of result is sometimes caused by an increase in People Also Ask, Featured Snippets, Carousels, Top Stories and other “helpful” Google features that tend to push organic results down.

According to Moz’s Mozcast, the biggest changes has been in the Top Stories, with a spike beginning on November 5th, 2019 that peaked on Thursday November 7th, when evidence of an update was beginning to surge.

Screenshot of Mozcast

Could that be causing some of the traffic declines? It’s hard to say, these are the first days of the update and information is still trickling in.

In general, there are more people reporting ranking losses than increases in the SEO Signals Labs group. And on Twitter there are many reporting losses, far more than winners.

Gray Hat Update Experience

Members of the self-described “gray hat” Proper SEO Facebook group are generally positive. This group is focused on Private Blog Network (PBN) links. The Admin of the group posted an Accuranker graph showing that all his keywords were on a steep upward trajectory, with one member saying his graph resembled a hockey stick.

Another member remarked that he was having a week to week improvement in sales on the order of 30%, with Friday tracking at a 70% improvement.

Several members noted that there have been huge gains in Google Local changes.

Overall, the gray hats are responding more positive than negative.

Black Hat Update Reaction

Over at the Black Hat World forums members are discussing dramatic changes to their rankings. Some are reporting losses as high as 40%.

A few however are reporting improvements from Google’s November update.

According to one member:

“There must be something going on, I’ve seen 2 people on amazon affiliate forum stating that their traffic took a huge nose dive. Mine is up 30% yesterday and today.”

While in another discussion a black hat member commented:

“Just today I saw massive improvements finally… “

No-Hat SEO Observations on Google Update

Over on WebmasterWorld Forums, members started noticing changes on Wednesday November 6th . One member noted on Thursday that they hadn’t seen conversions in 24 hours. Another member noted:

“I’m seeing serps filled with malware and sneaky redirects from .cf .tk .ml .gq .ga domains.

Google can’t tell apart anymore a legitimate site and a spam site. This is serious. The anti-spam team lost the battle.”

That observation seems to affirm the positive reports seen in black hat and gray hat communities.

Member Paperchaser said:

“Entertainment industry here, I see lot of movement on my end, lot of sites losing their ranking heavily and couple hours later everything gets back to where they were.”

Fishing Hat SEO Reaction to Update

Someone asked me if I’m a white hat SEO. My response was that I’m more of a camo fishing hat type of SEO. In other words, I color within the lines while doing what needs to be done to get results.

That means understanding what Google is trying to accomplish and working within those parameters. It’s not about “tricking” Google. It’s about knowing the lines and coloring within those lines.

It’s also about being critical of SEO information that is unsupported by any  kind of Google research or patents. For example, for the past year there has been a line of thought that it’s important to add author bios to websites. That’s been debunked by Googlers like John Mueller.

There have been numerous responses to recent updates that have proven false because they were based on poor sources of information or poor reasoning. Thus, many of today’s poor observations  such as:

  • The advice that to build an authors page
  • Advice to display expert accreditation on the site
  • The advice to improve E-A-T (Google’s confirmed there is no E-A-T ranking factor)

All of that advice have been debunked by Gary Illyes and John Mueller.

That poor advice came from using Google’s Search Quality Raters Guidelines as a way to understand Google’s algorithm.

The Search Quality Raters Guidelines can be used to set goals for what a website can be and from those goals one can create strategies to achieve those high standards. 

But that document was never a road map of Google’s algorithm. It was a road map for how to rate a website. That’s all. Two different things.  But that document is useless for trying to understand why a site is no longer ranking because there are no ranking secrets in the Search Quality Raters Guidelines.

Google Does Not Target Individual Niches

Google rarely targets an industry. In the past some SEOs promoted the idea that Google was targeting medical sites. They were wrong and now we are stuck with the ineptly  named Medic Update to remind the SEO industry that Google does not target specific industries.

Google is Not Targeting Recipe Blogs

Anyone who says that Google is targeting the recipe blogs is wrong. This update has affected publishers from all niches. It’s a broad update that affects a wide range of site topics.

Takeaway About Google’s November Update

The point then is to wait until we hear from Google.

Most of the past updates have focused on relevance through understanding user queries better, understanding what web pages are about, and understanding the link signal better.

It could be that Google is rolling out a combination of changes related to content, queries and backlinks. That’s a safe bet… but at this point, but we simply don’t know. To say that Google is targeting specific kinds of sites or types of content is to skate on thin ice.

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Google December 2021 Product Review Update via @sejournal, @martinibuster

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Google announced an English language product review update is rolling out today, Wednesday December 1, 2021. Product review pages that have made improvements since the last product review update may see them reflected in the new update.

The update is called the December 201 Product Review Update and will take three weeks to fully roll out.

This update is preceded by a Spam Update in early November and a Core Algorithm Update that finished rolling out at the end of November.

While some may feel it ill-timed or mean for Google to roll out updates during the busiest shopping season, so far these updates have not been especially disruptive.

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Yet it would be most unfortunate if legitimate product review sites unintentionally lost rankings during this critical time of the year.

A tweet from Google Search Central announced:

“Our December 2021 product reviews update is now rolling out for English-language pages. It will take about three weeks to complete.”

Google Developer Advocate Alan Kent tweeted:

“It is one of many ranking signals, but certainly the goal is to reward authentic high quality reviews. The docs page lists our recommendations for good reviews.”

Alan tweeted clarification of what kinds of sites will be affected by the product reviews update:

“Mainly relevant to sites that post articles reviewing products. Think of sites like “best TVs under $200″.com. Goal is to improve the quality and usefulness of reviews we show users.”

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The response on Twitter generally took the announcement in stride:

Product Review Page Ranking Assessment

Google’s announcement makes reference to an “automated assessment” that is specific to product reviews. It also notes that product review pages will also be ranked by the other ranking factors common to other web pages.

“…note that our automated assessment of product review content is only one of many factors used in ranking content, so changes can happen at any time for various reasons.”

New Product Review Best Practices

Google also gave an advanced warning that they will be introducing two new product review requirements that are clearly aimed at fake product reviews.

The first requirement is that a product review provide on-page evidence that a product has actually been handled and reviewed.

Many low quality reviews are clearly affiliate sites posting bogus reviews that are closer to rewritten versions of the product specifications.

The second requirement is that product reviews offer multiple buying options.

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Google’s product review update stated:

“Users have told us that they trust reviews with evidence of products actually being tested, and prefer to have more options to purchase the product.

Provide evidence such as visuals, audio, or other links of your own experience with the product, to support your expertise and reinforce the authenticity of your review.

Include links to multiple sellers to give the reader the option to purchase from their merchant of choice.”

Google didn’t call these best practices ranking factors but does say that these “best practices” will be folded into a future product reviews update.

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So these two best practices can probably be considered ranking factors.

The new documentation is called, Write high quality product reviews.

The best practices page highlights requirements that seem designed to promote actual reviews and eliminate fake reviews.

Here is a sample:

  • Share quantitative measurements about how a product measures up in various categories of performance.
  • Describe how a product has evolved from previous models or releases to provide improvements, address issues, or otherwise help users in making a purchase decision.
  • Describe key choices in how a product has been designed and their effect on the users beyond what the manufacturer says.
  • Include links to other useful resources (your own or from other sites) to help a reader make a decision.

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Promoting Quality Product Reviews

Many products are expensive to review, such as kayaks, which is why there are so many fake reviews that do not feature original images of the products because no kayak was actually reviewed.

One has to wonder if these new requirements could backfire by causing fake review sites to respond by adding fake hands-on assessment content and images.

Citations

Announcement of Product Review Update

Product reviews update and your site

Read Google’s Product Reviews Best Practices

Write high quality product reviews

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Google’s New Pathways AI Is Closer to Mammalian Brain via @sejournal, @martinibuster

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Google announced a new AI architecture that powerfully expands Google’s AI computing ability in a profound way. The new AI architecture is is a single model that can be trained to do millions of things, which Google says is closer to a mammalian brain.

Google Pathways AI

The announcement by Google states that the current state of AI is to train a machine to do one thing very well, like to recognize images or understand the sound of an animal.

So in order to understand sight and sound it would take two different AI models to accomplish the two tasks.

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The new AI architecture takes a different path by training it to generalize by learning skills that can be applied across different tasks.

Google explains how it works:

“…we’d like to train one model that can not only handle many separate tasks, but also draw upon and combine its existing skills to learn new tasks faster and more effectively.

That way what a model learns by training on one task – say, learning how aerial images can predict the elevation of a landscape – could help it learn another task — say, predicting how flood waters will flow through that terrain.

We want a model to have different capabilities that can be called upon as needed, and stitched together to perform new, more complex tasks – a bit closer to the way the mammalian brain generalizes across tasks.”

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An AI That Can Train For Multiple Senses

Current AI models train for single senses, like sight or hearing but not both. Google states that such a model will be able to understand a concept in all the relevant senses together.

With Pathways Google can understand text, images and speech together in a single AI model.

Pathways Works Like The Human Brain

The human brain only uses a small amount of its processing power to complete tasks, using the specialized parts and not the entire brain network.

Google’s new Pathways AI will accomplish tasks in a similar way, which will make more energy efficient, be able to learn more and do it all faster than older models.

“There are close to a hundred billion neurons in your brain, but you rely on a small fraction of them to interpret this sentence.

AI can work the same way.

We can build a single model that is “sparsely” activated, which means only small pathways through the network are called into action as needed.”

Pathways AI Will Solve Multiple Problems

The purpose of Pathways is bigger than search. Google says that it can be adapted to solving many problems, including problems that we haven’t yet faced.

“…we’re crafting the kind of next-generation AI system that can quickly adapt to new needs and solve new problems all around the world as they arise, helping humanity make the most of the future ahead of us.”

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Google Pathways AI Architecture

Google’s blog post does not say if Pathways has been activated in any system yet. The announcement says that Google has the ability now to create these systems and that they will build them.

Google also states that they have teams that are working on designing the “next-generation” AI architecture.

Google explicitly says they are “crafting” this new AI architecture:

“That’s why we’re building Pathways. Pathways will enable a single AI system to generalize across thousands or millions of tasks, to understand different types of data, and to do so with remarkable efficiency…”

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Google has been publishing research papers on machine learning technologies that can learn to generalize, one of which is called FLAN.

FLAN can train a machine to learn how to complete a task and apply what it learned to other tasks, very much like what is described in the article about Pathways.

This new Pathways AI architecture may be very close to realization if it’s not already here in some form.

Citation

Read Google’s Announcement Of A New AI Architecture

Introducing Pathways: A next-generation AI architecture

Read About New Google Research Paper About FLAN

Google Research Develops Better Machine Learning

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Google November Core Update Is Over – What Happened? via @sejournal, @martinibuster

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It’s official, Google’s November core algorithm update is over today on Tuesday, November 30, 2021, the day after the popular Cyber Monday shopping day. Sites that experienced an up or downward shift in rankings should not expect additional changes to their status until the next algorithm update.

Google announced the end of the core update rollout on Twitter:

“The November 2021 Core Update is now rolling out live. As is typical with these updates, it will typically take about one to two weeks to fully roll out.”

It’s possible that changes in traffic around the time of the algorithm might not be related to the update. Coincidences do happen but it’s a slim hope.

The changes seen today can be said to be permanent and until the next update there should only be the daily up and down in rankings that are characteristic of a constantly updated search index.

Unlike in the past where the search index remained fixed for a month at a time, today’s search engine is more dynamic and responsive to links and content.

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What doesn’t change is the underlying processes themselves.

Read more: Google Update Slapped Your Rankings: What’s Next

What Was The November Update?

Search Community Shares Insights

Many search marketers agreed that the November core algorithm update did not have the disruptive impact of a major update.

Japan-based SEO Kenichi Suzuki (@suzukik)

Kenichi Suzuki, a respected Japanese search marketer offered his observations of the impact to the Google search results in Japan.

Kenichi shared:

“The November 2021 Core Update seems to have made much less impact on rankings, compared with other core updates.

The ranking changes are not that different than daily fluctuations.

That said, we’ve seen Google look at who (author/company) publishes the content more carefully.”

Jason Barnard (@jasonmbarnard)

Jason Barnard noticed wild fluctuations in Google’s Knowledge Graph on November 16th, the day before the update:

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Is that related to the update that would be released on the following day?

Nobody knows for certain but it’s an interesting sideshow accompanying the main event.

Jason offered his thoughts on what happened in the Knowledge Graph:

“Here we had Google announce a core update on the 17th of November and the knowledge graph went crazy beginning the day before.

There was also a “deepening” of the Knowledge Graph that same day (ie queries returned 6% more results on average…).

That number had not changed for at least 2 years. So that 6% is big news.”

Ammon Johns (@Ammon_Johns)

I asked widely respected search marketer, Ammon Johns, about the update.

Ammon shared:

“There’s no single unifying theme (yet), no suddenly recurring problem or symptom surfacing in the various SEO groups.

Only the ongoing mass of issues many smaller site owners had in the weeks running up to the update where crawling was reduced, and sites with lower crawl priorities found they couldn’t get their new content indexed.”

Ammon is referencing the growing concern in the worldwide search marketing community about how Google seems to be indexing less content.

That’s something that began peaking in October 2021 and continues to be a source of anxiety for many publishers.

Steven Kang (@SEOSignalsLab)

Steven Kang is the administrator of the wildly popular SEO Signals Lab Facebook community. His community has thousands of members and countless discussions every day. If anyone has the pulse of the search community on social media, it’s Steven Kang.

Here is what Steve observed about the core update:

“I’m seeing mixed results. Some went up and some down. I’m not seeing the seismic difference…”

Jim Boykin (@jimboykin) – Founder of Internet Marketing Ninjas

Jim Boykin has been in SEO for over twenty years and one thing I have observed about Jim is that he’s open minded to changes and is quick to adapt, which to me makes his opinions matter all the more.

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These are Jim’s observations on Google’s November update:

“We had 12 clients that had really nice ranking/traffic improvements, and about 25 clients that didn’t see much either way, and we had 7 clients that saw a bit of a drop. About 5 of the 7 that dropped fell 1-3 ranking positions lower. Two of those seven had bigger drops.

Overall, this is just another algo update… there will always be winners and losers each time… I just try to keep making the sites better and stress doing that to those who were negatively effected.”

Bill Hartzer (@bhartzer)

Bill Hartzer, another search marketer with over twenty years of experience concurred with the observation that this update had a small impact.

Bill observed:

“I feel as if it’s been a low impact update.”

Was The Update Partly An Infrastructure Update?

This update is generally agreed by many in the search industry to have been a relatively mild one. That in itself is very interesting because it could suggest a shift in the underlying algorithm architecture where it still does the same thing, relatively, but it does it more efficiently and faster.

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The core algorithm update was preceded by a spam update which presumably cleared the table of negative influences to the search index, to make the search index more pure and less spam.

FLAN Machine Learning Research Paper

It’s especially interesting because Google AI has published research on new machine learning models that do not specialize at doing many things really well, which is a change from previous models that did one thing really well and required an army of multiple models to do all these different things.

One such model is called FLAN that was introduced as a research paper in October. What FLAN does is focuses the natural language training on solving different kinds tasks and then generalizing the method so that it can apply to a wide variety of tasks.

Read More: FLAN: Google Research Develops Better Machine Learning

Google Introduced Pathways, A New AI Architecture

The November core algorithm update began on November 17, 2021 and finished nearly two weeks later on November 30th.

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If Google were to introduce a new more efficient way to accomplish the same thing it was already doing, then that might require clearing the board of spam with a spam update and then introducing the new algorithm architecture slowly across the entire system.

Perhaps not coincidentally, around the same time as the FLAN research was published Google officially announced a new AI Architecture called Pathways that seems to do many of things that FLAN claims to improve on.

The Google Pathways announcement states:

“Too often, machine learning systems overspecialize at individual tasks, when they could excel at many.

That’s why we’re building Pathways—a new AI architecture that will handle many tasks at once, learn new tasks quickly and reflect a better understanding of the world.

….Today’s AI models are typically trained to do only one thing.

Pathways will enable us to train a single model to do thousands or millions of things.”

One thing to note is that the Pathways article, published in October 2021, refers to things they are going to build, not to things that they have already introduced.

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So it’s entirely possible that Pathways was not introduced in the mid-November 2021 core algorithm update.

Ammon Johns Is Reminded of Hummingbird Update

Ammon Johns remarked that the November 2021 core algorithm update felt like an infrastructure update.

Ammon shared his thoughts:

“I’m reminded a bit of the Hummingbird Update, where it had actually been live for a couple of months or something like that before the news broke, and nobody had noticed.”

I agree with Ammon. In general terms, the November 2021 update had a relatively gentle impact on the search results.

And that is what makes it feel like an infrastructure related update that makes Google’s algorithms more efficient.

Google November 2021 Core Update Takeaways

I think most people would agree that Google’s core update was somewhat odd.

  • Kenichi Suzuki, the search marketer in Japan, feels that Google was focusing a little more on authorship signals.
  • Jason Barnard noticed extreme volatility in the Knowledge Graph, sharing that Google was returning 6% more knowledge graph-based results. Jason says a 6% increase is huge and a scale he’s never seen before.
  • Ammon Johns feels, like I do, that the quiet nature of this update might indicate that Google made more infrastructure-related changes.
  • Social media has been relatively quiet this update, suggesting that whatever impact it had was not widely felt  in the way that a major update would feel.
  • Lastly, Google published an article and a research paper that both signal improvements to Google’s algorithms that can dramatically speed up current question answering tasks and in the future greatly increase Google’s ability to answer more complex questions.

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