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Steal Our SEO Report Template (Inspired by SEO Experts)

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Steal Our SEO Report Template (Inspired by SEO Experts)


How do you instantly tell the difference between a good SEO and a bad one?

Look at their SEO reports.

  • Bad SEO reports – Clients get lost in pointless data, don’t know what work was done, and get no insightful comments.
  • Good SEO reports – Clients see key data summaries and easy-to-understand insights and overview of the work done.

I’ve seen many SEO reports from consultants, in-house teams, and agencies. I discussed them with experts from our Ahrefs Insider community. The conclusion? You can’t create an SEO report template that covers everything necessary without knowing a client, their business, and your responsibilities in the project.

But what I have for you here will get you as close as possible to a perfect SEO report. That is the main reason why I started discussing SEO reporting with experts in the first place.

Before you steal our SEO report template, let’s first learn the following:

Let’s get into it.

An SEO report is an overview of important SEO metrics reflecting business growth, performance in search engines, backlink portfolio strength, and website health.

It’s the main resource for your clients, managers, or bosses that tracks the progress of your work and its impact. After all, these stakeholders want to see that their money is well spent on you.

And while you can’t win with SEO every month, an effective SEO report should still convey that your work is likely to have positive ROI in the long term.

This leads us nicely to…

What should an SEO report contain?

What and how you report on your SEO efforts depend on how you set up expectations with your client. While SEO reports are dependant on a client’s business type, this is what everyone generally wants to see:

  • SEO KPIs – Evaluate SEO metrics that are closely tied to revenue growth.
  • Ranking progress – See how rankings of the most important keywords have changed.
  • Organic traffic progress – Check how the previous two aspects translate into absolute traffic numbers.
  • Backlink growth – See new, valuable referring pages that drive traffic and/or pass link equity.
  • SEO health – Know that the website is doing well from the technical SEO perspective.

Your work doesn’t end with just dumping a bunch of metrics into a document, though. You need to interpret them. Your SEO reports should convey the impact of your work in the most succinct and coherent way possible. That’s how we made the template as well.

Now let’s get back to the expectations between you and your client. The report should primarily contain what you’ve previously discussed. If you sent an SEO report without educating the client beforehand, you’d get a lot of questions and demands to show more data. This is even if the SEO report is perfect. That’s because you’re the SEO expert, not the client.

I’ll explain all the used metrics and data as we go through the slides later on. But I also highly recommend you to check out our articles on SEO KPIs and SEO metrics that actually matter. These will help you and your clients be on the same page.

How long does it take to create the report?

Based on what I’ve heard, SEOs can spend anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours per month on each SEO report. This depends on several factors:

  • Your responsibilities in the project
  • Complexity of the project
  • Your SEO experience and knowledge
  • Your data analytics experience and knowledge
  • Reporting format you and your clients prefer

Let me expand on the last point. It seems most SEOs prefer using the good old PDFs and decks for reporting purposes:

Our SEO report template is also in a deck format because it’s the easiest to use and read for everyone. The downside is you have to go through new data every month and put it together manually.

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Some seasoned marketers prefer to use automated data dashboards like Google Data Studio, Tableau, or Power BI. These may take you a lot of time to set up initially. But they can update all the data automatically, saving you time in the long run. If you’re wondering about this option, we’ll be releasing Ahrefs’ GDS connector soon to help you with that.

But back to the actual template…

Steal our SEO report template (and make it better)

As explained previously, our SEO report template (or any other) isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s simply a great starting point to create an SEO report your clients will appreciate.

To get this done from start to finish, you’ll need the following tools:

Ready?

Click here to make a copy of the SEO report template.

You can change the color scheme to the brand colors of your client, give it a bit of your own branding, make it look fancier, whatever you like.

Before we get into explaining the rationale behind each slide, let me emphasize a few things.

First of all, feel free to tailor the slides to suit your client’s needs, as well as your service offerings. We’ve made this report to cover all SEO areas for monthly reporting.

Second, the type of business you’re doing SEO for should also be reflected in the report adjustments.

If you’re doing local SEO, you’ll probably include an overview of local rankings and local SERP features. E‑commerce client? You may want to include Average Order Value from the organic traffic and dive deeper into the technical side of things.

And lastly, keep in mind the template contains mostly made-up data, insights, and scenarios. Don’t try to analyze the content of it. Rather, use its structure as a guide.

Let’s get started.

1. Title card

The first slide is the easiest part to create.

Slide showing the title of the SEO report

Add in the date/month of the report, your own logo, as well as your client’s website URL. Once those are completed, you are good to go.

It’s time to move on to the actual SEO reporting.

2. Highlights

A highlights page that summarizes the most important information of that month is a good intro.

Slide showing key highlights for the month

This can be basically the first and also the last slide that a CMO or CEO looks at. Thirty seconds later, they’ll say, “Cool, good job,” and won’t bother with the rest.

What type of things can you include here?

  • Brief summary of your SEO KPIs
  • Stuff worth bragging about
  • Most important tasks completed during that reporting period
  • Tasks that require further attention

3. SEO KPIs overview

Next, you should dive into the SEO KPIs more. While the previous slide won’t cut it for most clients, some will already be pretty satisfied. This is as we’ve covered what matters the most on the first two slides:

Slide showing data on progress of search visibility and conversions

As said earlier, you may want to include different or more KPIs, depending on the client and their business type. The rule of thumb is to choose metrics as closely tied to the business’s revenue as possible.

You can see the most universal SEO KPIs above: search visibility and organic traffic conversions.

Search visibility is the SEO version of one of the most important marketing KPIs: share of voice (SOV). It’s basically keyword rankings on steroids.

To get the search visibility metric, create a project in Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker. In there, paste the main keywords that encompass what your audience is searching for (you need to finish keyword research first), tag it to enable filtering later, and you’re good to go:

Rank Tracker page to add keywords, also features SOV

You’ll then find the search visibility metric in the Competitors overview tab:

Competitors overview report results

Regarding organic conversions, the screenshot in the report is taken from a custom Google Analytics (GA) report that only shows the source/medium dimension and selected conversions to avoid all the clutter in the default reports. The conversions are then compared month over month (MoM).

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If the client’s customers go through a complex buying process, you’ll also want to report assisted organic traffic conversions. You can find this in GA under Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels > Assisted Conversions. These will complete the picture of the overall impact of SEO on the business.

4. Ranking progress

The overall search visibility KPI isn’t the only visibility metric that clients are interested in. They have certain product categories or topics on the blog that usually differ in relevancy and value to the business. That’s where measuring search visibility for keyword segments comes into play.

Slide showing data on ranking progress per keyword segments

You can get this data by creating more tags in your Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker project. Scroll down to your keywords in the overview, check those that you want to tag, and assign the tag to them or create a new one:

Dropdown options for keywords in Rank Tracker

5. Money keywords ranking overview

While search visibility metrics are the best proxies to your organic growth, most clients also want to see position changes of their most important keywords.

Slide showing key data on money keywords rankings

It’ll get pretty messy to present position changes of possibly hundreds of keywords in a deck. We should, therefore, satisfy the client by only reporting on the most important keywords for the business, aka “money keywords.” You can then include the rest by linking to the exported spreadsheet if the client wants to see it.

Again, tag these keywords in the Rank Tracker. You can decide whether a keyword should be tagged like this based on its business relevancy and CPC. Or you can just go through the keyword list with the client.

6. Non-branded organic traffic progress

It took us a few slides before we got to the metrics a lot of SEOs and clients focus on first: organic traffic. The reason for showing this later is simple: Growing organic traffic doesn’t necessarily translate into business growth. The website can start ranking for keywords that drive traffic but not revenue.

The overall traffic number isn’t really a great SEO proxy for anything. To make it more relevant, let’s segment it into non-branded organic traffic only:

Slide showing data on non-branded organic traffic progress

The reason for showing non-branded traffic here is to avoid attributing organic traffic changes to marketing activities unrelated to SEO. For example, if the marketing team launched a great PR campaign or started airing mass marketing campaigns, your organic traffic would naturally go up just from people looking up your brand more.

To show a more accurate overview of organic traffic progress, simply apply a query filter in Google Search Console (GSC):

Query filter in GSC

Again, you want to compare the current month’s performance with the previous month’s and, ideally, even with the year-over-year (YoY) performance. Most businesses tend to have seasonal swings, so some MoM comparisons may look bad just because the high season has already ended.

Be careful here. GSC only provides 28-day views and comparisons by default. Thus, you need to select custom dates to compare whole months. Remember to compare the same number of days. Let’s look at a scenario where a month has 31 days (e.g., in such a case, start the comparison on the last day of August to account for only 30 days in September).

Your client may also get a significant amount of traffic from Google Discover or Google News. If that’s the case, it’s probably worth dedicating a separate slide to it.

7. New referring domains highlights

Next up is the backlink profile—showing the client what new, interesting coverage they got in the past month.

Slide showing key data on new referring domains

However, you should only report on backlink profile changes if your activities in the project influence the acquiring of new links. That can range from creating link bait content to planning and executing outreach campaigns. I mention this because link building is quite often a separate activity from many SEO projects.

If you are responsible for backlink profile growth, go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, check the Referring domains report, and filter for new referring domains in the past 30 days (as you can see in the slide).

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We show the highlights of the newly acquired referring domains sorted by Domain Rating (DR) score because it’s a solid and easy-to-understand proxy for improving backlink profile growth.

If you engage in outreach activities and see a new referring domain gained from that, you can highlight it in the screenshot so that the client can differentiate earned and acquired links.

8. Link building progress

This slide is designed to let you go into further detail about your link building work done during the month.

Slide showing data on link building progress

It can include:

  • The pages you built links to.
  • Any standout, new referring pages.
  • The number of links those pages got.
  • Your link building statistics, e.g., prospects contacted and success rate.
  • Any insights you deem relevant, e.g., exceptionally good or bad link bait content.

Ahrefs’ Best by links growth report in Site Explorer is good to include here because it shows you pages that received the most backlinks in the past 30 days.

Truth to be told, there’s much more to evaluating link building than the number of links and DRs of referring domains. But that’s relevant for link prospecting before launching outreach campaigns, not for SEO reporting. Your clients don’t need to dive into all the nuances.

9. Technical SEO health overview

This is where you’ll give a snapshot of the website’s health that takes into account all technical SEO errors and issues.

Slide showing Health Scores for this month and last month, respectively

To get this data:

Go to Ahrefs’ Site Audit, set up a project for the client’s website if you haven’t done so already, and let the tool crawl the website. Depending on your crawl settings, Site Audit can recrawl the website periodically, providing you with all the current and historical technical SEO data.

You get the Health Score on the overview page after each crawl is done:

Various data on technical SEO overview page

If this is your first time crawling the website, use this Health Score as a starting point. You can start referencing monthly comparisons in your second report.

Now, you may be thinking that one metric isn’t enough to reflect the whole state of technical SEO. And you’re right. But you’re usually not sending SEO reports to developers or other SEOs who can easily understand more in-depth information. For this reason, the Health Score is the best proxy for a client-friendly, technical SEO metric.

Again, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t report on more technical SEO metrics, etc. Some projects involve huge websites and complex, technical SEO tasks. In such situations, it’s likely the client will welcome crawling and indexing statistics, details about the most important issues, etc.

10. Next month

After showing your client all the data and reports, you should give them a plan of the most important SEO tasks you’ll be working on next month.

Slide showing "to-dos" for next month

A quick to-do list that summarizes your main focus for the following month will suffice. It will also serve as an anchor for your next SEO report.

Final thoughts

So there you have it. A fully customizable SEO reporting template to give to your clients. In case you skimmed through the article first, here’s the link again:

Click here to make a copy of the SEO report template.

Reporting will probably never be anyone’s favorite activity. But it’s crucial that you nail this to have satisfied and well-paying clients.

To wrap up, I want to thank everyone who shared their reporting insights with me over the years. I’m also grateful for Ahrefs Insider members, who proactively reached out with their knowledge and reports before I even started creating the template. And special thanks to Gyorgy Bolla, the search performance lead at Westpac, who introduced me to enterprise SEO reporting—the only area I wasn’t familiar with.

Think there are more metrics or slides this SEO report template should have? Got any questions? Ping me on Twitter.





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Are Contextual Links A Google Ranking Factor?

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Are Contextual Links A Google Ranking Factor?


Inbound links are a ranking signal that can vary greatly in terms of how they’re weighted by Google.

One of the key attributes that experts say can separate a high value link from a low value link is the context in which it appears.

When a link is placed within relevant content, it’s thought to have a greater impact on rankings than a link randomly inserted within unrelated text.

Is there any bearing to that claim?

Let’s dive deeper into what has been said about contextual links as a ranking factor to see whether there’s any evidence to support those claims.

The Claim: Contextual Links Are A Ranking Factor

A “contextual link” refers to an inbound link pointing to a URL that’s relevant to the content in which the link appears.

When an article links to a source to provide additional context for the reader, for example, that’s a contextual link.

Contextual links add value rather than being a distraction.

They should flow naturally with the content, giving the reader some clues about the page they’re being directed to.

Not to be confused with anchor text, which refers to the clickable part of a link, a contextual link is defined by the surrounding text.

A link’s anchor text could be related to the webpage it’s pointing to, but if it’s surrounded by content that’s otherwise irrelevant then it doesn’t qualify as a contextual link.

Contextual links are said to be a Google ranking factor, with claims that they’re weighted higher by the search engine than other types of links.

One of the reasons why Google might care about context when it comes to links is because of the experience it creates for users.

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When a user clicks a link and lands on a page related to what they were previously looking at, it’s a better experience than getting directed to a webpage they aren’t interested in.

Modern guides to link building all recommend getting links from relevant URLs, as opposed to going out and placing links anywhere that will take them.

There’s now a greater emphasis on quality over quantity when it comes to link building, and a link is considered higher quality when its placement makes sense in context.

One high quality contextual link can, in theory, be worth more than multiple lower quality links.

That’s why experts advise site owners to gain at least a few contextual links, as that will get them further than building dozens of random links.

If Google weights the quality of links higher or lower based on context, it would mean Google’s crawlers can understand webpages and assess how closely they relate to other URLs on the web.

Is there any evidence to support this?

The Evidence For Contextual Links As A Ranking Factor

Evidence in support of contextual links as a ranking factor can be traced back to 2012 with the launch of the Penguin algorithm update.

Google’s original algorithm, PageRank, was built entirely on links. The more links pointing to a website, the more authority it was considered to have.

Websites could catapult their site up to the top of Google’s search results by building as many links as possible. It didn’t matter if the links were contextual or arbitrary.

Google’s PageRank algorithm wasn’t as selective about which links it valued (or devalued) over others until it was augmented with the Penguin update.

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Penguin brought a number of changes to Google’s algorithm that made it more difficult to manipulate search rankings through spammy link building practices.

In Google’s announcement of the launch of Penguin, former search engineer Matt Cutts highlighted a specific example of the link spam it’s designed to target.

This example depicts the exact opposite of a contextual link, with Cutts saying:

“Here’s an example of a site with unusual linking patterns that is also affected by this change. Notice that if you try to read the text aloud you’ll discover that the outgoing links are completely unrelated to the actual content, and in fact, the page text has been “spun” beyond recognition.”

A contextual link, on the other hand, looks like the one a few paragraphs above linking to Google’s blog post.

Links with context share the following characteristics:

  • Placement fits in naturally with the content.
  • Linked URL is relevant to the article.
  • Reader knows where they’re going when they click on it.

All of the documentation Google has published about Penguin over the years is the strongest evidence available in support of contextual links as a ranking factor.

See: A Complete Guide to the Google Penguin Algorithm Update

Google will never outright say “contextual link building is a ranking factor,” however, because the company discourages any deliberate link building at all.

As Cutts adds at the end of his Penguin announcement, Google would prefer to see webpages acquire links organically:

“We want people doing white hat search engine optimization (or even no search engine optimization at all) to be free to focus on creating amazing, compelling web sites.”

Contextual Links Are A Ranking Factor: Our Verdict

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Contextual links are probably a Google ranking factor.

A link is weighted higher when it’s used in context than if it’s randomly placed within unrelated content.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean links without context will negatively impact a site’s rankings.

External links are largely outside a site owner’s control.

If a website links to you out of context it’s not a cause for concern, because Google is capable of ignoring low value links.

On the other hand, if Google detects a pattern of unnatural links, then that could count against a site’s rankings.

If you have actively engaged in non-contextual link building in the past, it may be wise to consider using the disavow tool.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal





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Is It A Google Ranking Factor?

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Is It A Google Ranking Factor?


Latent semantic indexing (LSI) is an indexing and information retrieval method used to identify patterns in the relationships between terms and concepts.

With LSI, a mathematical technique is used to find semantically related terms within a collection of text (an index) where those relationships might otherwise be hidden (or latent).

And in that context, this sounds like it could be super important for SEO.

Right?

After all, Google is a massive index of information, and we’re hearing all kinds of things about semantic search and the importance of relevance in the search ranking algorithm.

If you’ve heard rumblings about latent semantic indexing in SEO or been advised to use LSI keywords, you aren’t alone.

But will LSI actually help improve your search rankings? Let’s take a look.

The Claim: Latent Semantic Indexing As A Ranking Factor

The claim is simple: Optimizing web content using LSI keywords helps Google better understand it and you’ll be rewarded with higher rankings.

Backlinko defines LSI keywords in this way:

“LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) Keywords are conceptually related terms that search engines use to deeply understand content on a webpage.”

By using contextually related terms, you can deepen Google’s understanding of your content. Or so the story goes.

That resource goes on to make some pretty compelling arguments for LSI keywords:

  • Google relies on LSI keywords to understand content at such a deep level.”
  • LSI Keywords are NOT synonyms. Instead, they’re terms that are closely tied to your target keyword.”
  • Google doesn’t ONLY bold terms that exactly match what you just searched for (in search results). They also bold words and phrases that are similar. Needless to say, these are LSI keywords that you want to sprinkle into your content.”

Does this practice of “sprinkling” terms closely related to your target keyword help improve your rankings via LSI?

The Evidence For LSI As A Ranking Factor

Relevance is identified as one of five key factors that help Google determine which result is the best answer for any given query.

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As Google explains is its How Search Works resource:

“To return relevant results for your query, we first need to establish what information you’re looking forーthe intent behind your query.”

Once intent has been established:

“…algorithms analyze the content of webpages to assess whether the page contains information that might be relevant to what you are looking for.”

Google goes on to explain that the “most basic signal” of relevance is that the keywords used in the search query appear on the page. That makes sense – if you aren’t using the keywords the searcher is looking for, how could Google tell you’re the best answer?

Now, this is where some believe LSI comes into play.

If using keywords is a signal of relevance, using just the right keywords must be a stronger signal.

There are purpose-build tools dedicated to helping you find these LSI keywords, and believers in this tactic recommend using all kinds of other keyword research tactics to identify them, as well.

The Evidence Against LSI As A Ranking Factor

Google’s John Mueller has been crystal clear on this one:

“…we have no concept of LSI keywords. So that’s something you can completely ignore.”

There’s a healthy skepticism in SEO that Google may say things to lead us astray in order to protect the integrity of the algorithm. So let’s dig in here.

First, it’s important to understand what LSI is and where it came from.

Latent semantic structure emerged as a methodology for retrieving textual objects from files stored in a computer system in the late 1980s. As such, it’s an example of one of the earlier information retrieval (IR) concepts available to programmers.

As computer storage capacity improved and electronically available sets of data grew in size, it became more difficult to locate exactly what one was looking for in that collection.

Researchers described the problem they were trying to solve in a patent application filed September 15, 1988:

“Most systems still require a user or provider of information to specify explicit relationships and links between data objects or text objects, thereby making the systems tedious to use or to apply to large, heterogeneous computer information files whose content may be unfamiliar to the user.”

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Keyword matching was being used in IR at the time, but its limitations were evident long before Google came along.

Too often, the words a person used to search for the information they sought were not exact matches for the words used in the indexed information.

There are two reasons for this:

  • Synonymy: the diverse range of words used to describe a single object or idea results in relevant results being missed.
  • Polysemy: the different meanings of a single word results in irrelevant results being retrieved.

These are still issues today, and you can imagine what a massive headache it is for Google.

However, the methodologies and technology Google uses to solve for relevance long ago moved on from LSI.

What LSI did was automatically create a “semantic space” for information retrieval.

As the patent explains, LSI treated this unreliability of association data as a statistical problem.

Without getting too into the weeds, these researchers essentially believed that there was a hidden underlying latent semantic structure they could tease out of word usage data.

Doing so would reveal the latent meaning and enable the system to bring back more relevant results – and only the most relevant results – even if there’s no exact keyword match.

Here’s what that LSI process actually looks like:

Image created by author, January 2022

And here’s the most important thing you should note about the above illustration of this methodology from the patent application: there are two separate processes happening.

First, the collection or index undergoes Latent Semantic Analysis.

Second, the query is analyzed and the already-processed index is then searched for similarities.

And that’s where the fundamental problem with LSI as a Google search ranking signal lies.

Google’s index is massive at hundreds of billions of pages, and it’s growing constantly.

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Each time a user inputs a query, Google is sorting through its index in a fraction of a second to find the best answer.

Using the above methodology in the algorithm would require that Google:

  1. Recreate that semantic space using LSA across its entire index.
  2. Analyze the semantic meaning of the query.
  3. Find all similarities between the semantic meaning of the query and documents in the semantic space created from analyzing the entire index.
  4. Sort and rank those results.

That’s a gross oversimplification, but the point is that this isn’t a scalable process.

This would be super useful for small collections of information. It was helpful for surfacing relevant reports inside a company’s computerized archive of technical documentation, for example.

The patent application illustrates how LSI works using a collection of nine documents. That’s what it was designed to do. LSI is primitive in terms of computerized information retrieval.

Latent Semantic Indexing As A Ranking Factor: Our Verdict

Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI): Is It A Google Ranking Factor?

While the underlying principles of eliminating noise by determining semantic relevance have surely informed developments in search ranking since LSA/LSI was patented, LSI itself has no useful application in SEO today.

It hasn’t been ruled out completely, but there is no evidence that Google has ever used LSI to rank results. And Google definitely isn’t using LSI or LSI keywords today to rank search results.

Those who recommend using LSI keywords are latching on to a concept they don’t quite understand in an effort to explain why the ways in which words are related (or not) is important in SEO.

Relevance and intent are foundational considerations in Google’s search ranking algorithm.

Those are two of the big questions they’re trying to solve for in surfacing the best answer for any query.

Synonymy and polysemy are still major challenges.

Semantics – that is, our understanding of the various meanings of words and how they’re related – is essential in producing more relevant search results.

But LSI has nothing to do with that.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal





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What Is a Google Broad Core Algorithm Update?

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What Is A Google Broad Core Algorithm Update?


When Google announces a broad core algorithm update, many SEO professionals find themselves asking what exactly changed (besides their rankings).

Google’s acknowledgment of core updates is always vague and doesn’t provide much detail other than to say the update occurred.

The SEO community is typically notified about core updates via the same standard tweets from Google’s Search Liaison.

There’s one announcement from Google when the update begins rolling out, and one on its conclusion, with few additional details in between (if any).

This invariably leaves SEO professionals and site owners asking many questions with respect to how their rankings were impacted by the core update.

To gain insight into what may have caused a site’s rankings to go up, down, or stay the same, it helps to understand what a broad core update is and how it differs from other types of algorithm updates.

After reading this article you’ll have a better idea of what a core update is designed to do, and how to recover from one if your rankings were impacted.

So, What Exactly Is A Core Update?

First, let me get the obligatory “Google makes hundreds of algorithm changes per year, often more than one per day” boilerplate out of the way.

Many of the named updates we hear about (Penguin, Panda, Pigeon, Fred, etc.) are implemented to address specific faults or issues in Google’s algorithms.

In the case of Penguin, it was link spam; in the case of Pigeon, it was local SEO spam.

They all had a specific purpose.

In these cases, Google (sometimes reluctantly) informed us what they were trying to accomplish or prevent with the algorithm update, and we were able to go back and remedy our sites.

A core update is different.

The way I understand it, a core update is a tweak or change to the main search algorithm itself.

You know, the one that has between 200 and 500 ranking factors and signals (depending on which SEO blog you’re reading today).

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What a core update means to me is that Google slightly tweaked the importance, order, weights, or values of these signals.

Because of that, they can’t come right out and tell us what changed without revealing the secret sauce.

The simplest way to visualize this would be to imagine 200 factors listed in order of importance.

Now imagine Google changing the order of 42 of those 200 factors.

Rankings would change, but it would be a combination of many things, not due to one specific factor or cause.

Obviously, it isn’t that simple, but that’s a good way to think about a core update.

Here’s a purely made up, slightly more complicated example of what Google wouldn’t tell us:

“In this core update, we increased the value of keywords in H1 tags by 2%, increased the value of HTTPS by 18%, decreased the value of keyword in title tag by 9%, changed the D value in our PageRank calculation from .85 to .70, and started using a TF-iDUF retrieval method for logged in users instead of the traditional TF-PDF method.”

(I swear these are real things. I just have no idea if they’re real things used by Google.)

For starters, many SEO pros wouldn’t understand it.

Basically, it means Google may have changed the way they calculate term importance on a page, or the weighing of links in PageRank, or both, or a whole bunch of other factors that they can’t talk about (without giving away the algorithm).

Put simply: Google changed the weight and importance of many ranking factors.

That’s the simple explanation.

At its most complex form, Google ran a new training set through their machine learning ranking model and quality raters picked this new set of results as more relevant than the previous set, and the engineers have no idea what weights changed or how they changed because that’s just how machine learning works.

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(We all know Google uses quality raters to rate search results. These ratings are how they choose one algorithm change over another – not how they rate your site. Whether they feed this into machine learning is anybody’s guess. But it’s one possibility.)

It’s likely some random combination of weighting delivered more relevant results for the quality raters, so they tested it more, the test results confirmed it, and they pushed it live.

How Can You Recover From A Core Update?

Unlike a major named update that targeted specific things, a core update may tweak the values of everything.

Because websites are weighted against other websites relevant to your query (engineers call this a corpus) the reason your site dropped could be entirely different than the reason somebody else’s increased or decreased in rankings.

To put it simply, Google isn’t telling you how to “recover” because it’s likely a different answer for every website and query.

It all depends on what everybody else trying to rank for your query is doing.

Does every one of them but you have their keyword in the H1 tag? If so then that could be a contributing factor.

Do you all do that already? Then that probably carries less weight for that corpus of results.

It’s very likely that this algorithm update didn’t “penalize” you for something at all. It most likely just rewarded another site more for something else.

Maybe you were killing it with internal anchor text and they were doing a great job of formatting content to match user intent – and Google shifted the weights so that content formatting was slightly higher and internal anchor text was slightly lower.

(Again, hypothetical examples here.)

In reality, it was probably several minor tweaks that, when combined, tipped the scales slightly in favor of one site or another (think of our reordered list here).

See also  Why Search Console and Analytics Differ in Discover Reporting

Finding that “something else” that is helping your competitors isn’t easy – but it’s what keeps SEO professionals in the business.

Next Steps And Action Items

Rankings are down after a core update – now what?

Your next step is to gather intel on the pages that are ranking where your site used to be.

Conduct a SERP analysis to find positive correlations between pages that are ranking higher for queries where your site is now lower.

Try not to overanalyze the technical details, such as how fast each page loads or what their core web vitals scores are.

Pay attention to the content itself. As you go through it, ask yourself questions like:

  • Does it provide a better answer to the query than your article?
  • Does the content contain more recent data and current stats than yours?
  • Are there pictures and videos that help bring the content to life for the reader?

Google aims to serve content that provides the best and most complete answers to searchers’ queries. Relevance is the one ranking factor that will always win out over all others.

Take an honest look at your content to see if it’s as relevant today as it was prior to the core algorithm update.

From there you’ll have an idea of what needs improvement.

The best advice for conquering core updates?

Keep focusing on:

  • User intent.
  • Quality content.
  • Clean architecture.
  • Google’s guidelines.

Finally, don’t stop improving your site once you reach Position 1, because the site in Position 2 isn’t going to stop.

Yeah, I know, it’s not the answer anybody wants and it sounds like Google propaganda. I swear it’s not.

It’s just the reality of what a core update is.

Nobody said SEO was easy.

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Featured Image: Ulvur/Shutterstock





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