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What It (Really) Is & How to Fix It

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What It (Really) Is & How to Fix It


Many people believe that having multiple pages about the same thing confuses search engines and leads them to rank the “wrong” page.

In the words of Patrick Stox, this whole idea is “preposterous.”

He’s right. Having multiple pages about the same thing can lead to unexpected or undesirable rankings, but it doesn’t always mean that something’s wrong or needs fixing. However, it can occasionally signal an opportunity to consolidate content to improve rankings and organic performance.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

What is keyword cannibalization?

Keyword cannibalization is when multiple pages on a website target the same or similar keywords and compete against each other to hurt the site’s organic performance.

For example, let’s say we have two pages about technical SEO. If we could get more organic traffic overall by combining the two pages into one, that’s a cannibalization issue. The existence of those two pages is eating away at our organic performance.

Is keyword cannibalization bad?

Keyword cannibalization is bad. But it’s crucial to remember that you only have a real cannibalization issue when multiple pages target the same keyword and hurt a site’s organic performance.

Given that pages tend to rank for many keywords, that’s not always the case.

Data on how many keywords a top 10 ranking page ranks for

For example, let’s say that we have two pages targeting the same keyword. One of them ranks #1, but the other page (that we’d prefer to rank) is nowhere to be seen. You could argue that this is textbook keyword cannibalization because one page is seemingly “cannibalizing” traffic to the other page.

But even if that’s true for traffic from this keyword, what if these pages each rank for hundreds of other keywords?

In that case, why worry about traffic from just one keyword?

The reality is that we don’t have a real cannibalization issue here because the existence of these two pages likely isn’t harming our site’s overall organic performance. If we were to merge or delete one of them, we’d likely lose some of our other keyword rankings and see a net drop in traffic.

How to find keyword cannibalization issues

The trick to finding real cannibalization issues is to look for pages that target the same keywords and fulfill the same or very similar intent.

How to fix keyword cannibalization issues

The reason for this is that if the intent is the same, each page is unlikely to be ranking for lots of different long-tail keyword variations. So there’s usually more to gain than lose by consolidating the pages.

Let’s look at a few ways to identify these pages.

Option 1. Do a content audit

Unless your site is huge, cannibalization issues should be relatively easy to spot during a content audit.

Option 2. Look at historic rankings

This works best when you want to check for cannibalization issues for a specific keyword

Here’s how to it in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer:

  1. Enter your domain
  2. Go to the Organic keywords report
  3. Filter for the keyword you want to investigate
  4. Click the ranking history dropdown

For example, if we look at Moz’s historical rankings for “keyword cannibalization,” we see three pages ranking in the last six months—none of which ranked higher than position #8:

Finding keyword cannibalization issues by looking at historic rankings

Let’s take a closer look at two of those URLs:

/blog/identify-and-tackle-keyword-cannibalisation-in-2019

/blog/how-to-solve-keyword-cannibalization

Here’s what they tell us about the pages:

  1. They’re both blog posts.
  2. They’re both about the same thing (i.e., tackling/solving keyword cannibalization).
  3. The first one is outdated (it has “2019” in the URL).
See also  Are Outgoing Links Good for SEO?

So this is almost certainly a cannibalization issue. The pages fulfill the same intent and compete against each other. Moz’s overall organic performance could likely be improved by consolidating them.

Option 3. Run a site: search

Head to Google and search for site:yourwebsite.com "topic". You’ll see all the pages on your site related to that topic.

If we do this for site:moz.com "keyword cannibalization", you can see that the first three results are the ones we previously discovered in Site Explorer:

Finding keyword cannibalization issues with a Google site: search

TIP

Be careful with this tactic, as Google returns every vaguely matching result. For example, you can see above that there are 661 results for our search. Moz may very well have a keyword cannibalization issue here, but not all of these pages are problematic. Most are targeting completely different keywords.

Option 4. Run a Google search and remove host clustering

Running a site: search can help you to find potential cannibalization issues. The only issue is that the results lack a sense of place, making it hard to know how to tackle the issue.

If you look at the previous example, you’ll see that it probably makes sense for Moz to merge three of their pages. But how exactly should they merge them? Which pages should be redirected, and which should they keep? Is this even likely to improve things?

You can often find answers to these questions by running a regular Google search and removing host clustering—which is where Google excludes similar pages from the same host from the search results.

For example, if we search for “keyword cannibalization” in Google, we only see one result from Moz in the top 20:

Filtered Google results

But if we append &filter=0 to the Google search URL, it removes host clustering and reveals three results from Moz in the top 20:

Unfiltered Google results

This is useful because it gives each URL a sense of place.

In this example, we see Moz’s 2019 post ranking in position #6 and the other two posts ranking in positions #12 and #13, respectively.

Unfiltered Google results for 'keyword cannibalization'

So we know now Moz could rank higher than position #6 by combining some of these pages and redirecting. It’s also evident that Google currently considers the page in position #6 the most relevant result for this keyword. Thus, it probably makes sense to work primarily with that page and redirect the other pages there.

Option 5. Check for multiple ranking URLs

If Google ranks multiple URLs for a keyword, that can be a sign of a cannibalization issue.

Here’s how to find these keywords in Site Explorer:

  1. Enter your domain
  2. Go to the Organic keywords report
  3. Toggle “Multiple URLs only”
Finding keyword cannibalization issues by looking for multiple ranking URLs

You can see that when we do this for Moz, Site Explorer finds the same issue for the term “keyword cannibalization” as we found earlier using method #2.

Just be aware that this doesn’t always work, as Google tends not to rank multiple pages (in “regular” positions) from the same host, as discussed previously. But as it’s super quick to do in Site Explorer, it’s still worth a quick check.

IMPORTANT

Not all of the keywords that show up here will reflect “cannibalization” issues. You should always check the SERP and ranking history to ensure you have a real cannibalization issue on your hands.

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How to fix keyword cannibalization issues

If you’re confident that you have a cannibalization issue on your hands, you can often improve organic performance by consolidating the pages. That may mean redirecting an old, outdated page to something more relevant that you already have or combining multiple pages into something new.

How to fix keyword cannibalization issues

Either option will usually have a positive impact because they consolidate known ranking signals like backlinks and internal links into one page rather than diluting them across multiple pages.

We saw success by doing this in 2018 for two guides about broken link building.

Here’s what we did:

  1. We wrote a new guide consolidating the knowledge from both guides.
  2. We published the new guide at one of the existing URLs.
  3. We deleted the old guide and redirected it to the new guide.

You can probably tell when we did this in the graph below, which shows our historical rankings for “broken link building”:

Effect of consolidating two cannibalizing pages on rankings

Our historical estimated organic traffic to these two pages also shows the positive change (the arrow marks the consolidation date):

Effect of consolidating two cannibalizing pages on traffic

Until the redirect in 2018, both pages were getting a bit of traffic. After consolidating and redirecting, only one gets traffic… but it gets way more traffic than both pages (combined) did beforehand.

TIP

Remember that it’s always a best practice to swap out any internal links after implementing redirects. You can use the Link Explorer tool in Ahrefs’ Site Audit to do this:

  1. Crawl your site with Site Audit
  2. Go to the Link Explorer tool
  3. Click Advanced filter
  4. Click +Rule
  5. Change the new rule from “Is source internal” to “Target URL”
  6. Enter the old redirected URL
Finding internal link opportunities in Ahrefs' Site Audit

You’ll then see a list of pages internally linking to this URL, along with the anchor text of the link and other details.

An internal link opportunity in Ahrefs' Site Audit

Learn more: Internal Links for SEO: An Actionable Guide

Is the solution really this simple?

Most of the time, yes. But as our more experienced readers will know, there’s a lot of “it depends” in SEO, so there are times when things are a bit more nuanced.

For example, we have two very similar guides:

How to Submit Your Website to Search Engines

How to Submit Your Website to Google

Both of these pages fulfill very similar intent, despite targeting slightly different keywords. And if we look at their estimated organic traffic, we see that one page’s traffic pales in comparison to the other:

Traffic to two similar pages

So this looks like a cannibalization issue, and we should probably merge the pages. Right?

Perhaps. But then again, our guide to submitting websites to search engines couldn’t be performing any better in organic search right now.

It ranks #1 for its primary target keyword…

… and seems to have pretty much maxed out its “traffic potential” (it’s getting more traffic than every other similar guide):

Estimated traffic to our guide on submitting your website to search engines, via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

So is this really a cannibalization issue? Is there really anything to be gained by merging these pages? Probably not. And consolidating the posts into one would probably cause us to lose the small amount of organic traffic that the other guide currently gets. So why bother?

Another example of a nuanced scenario is targeting the same keyword on multiple pages that fulfill different intents. This is fine if the keyword has mixed intent, and this usually isn’t a real cannibalization issue. Sure, you may see some keyword overlap or periodic rank swaps. But each page will usually get traffic from its own bucket of long-tail keywords.

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What targeting the same keywords with pages fulfilling different intents looks like

(Again, this is why it doesn’t usually make much sense to focus on “fixing” cannibalization at the keyword level. You risk losing traffic from long-tails.)

But what if your analytics tell you that one of these pages has little or no value?

For example, perhaps one is a super ToFu blog post, and the other is a BoFu landing page.

In this case, as long as you’re 100% certain that the low-value blog post has no value to your business, you can delete the page and redirect it to the landing page to consolidate “authority.”

This will likely cause you to lose some organic traffic overall. But it shouldn’t matter, as you identified that traffic as having no value to your business.

Keyword cannibalization solutions we rarely (or never) recommend

People often try to solve cannibalization at the keyword level with seemingly logical solutions that are fundamentally flawed in practice. Let’s take a closer look at these, so you know what not to do.

Delete the page

This is rarely a good solution unless the page has no value for your business (discussed previously) or ranks for only the “cannibalizing” keyword. Both of these scenarios are pretty unlikely, so this is a rare thing to do in the face of cannibalization.

Noindex the page

Noindexing causes search engines to drop the page from their index, meaning it won’t rank for anything. This is a terrible way to fix cannibalization and, again, highlights the reason why tackling cannibalization at the keyword level is almost always a bad idea.

Recommended reading: Robots Meta Tag & X‑Robots-Tag: Everything You Need to Know

Canonicalize the page

This is only a viable solution when dealing with multiple pages that are near or exact duplicates, otherwise known as duplicate content. Canonicalization is not a way to fix keyword cannibalization.

Recommended reading: Canonical Tags: A Simple Guide for Beginners

De-optimize the page

This one kind of makes sense in theory but is fundamentally flawed because you can’t de-optimize a page for just one keyword. Things don’t work that way. For example, removing all internal links with the cannibalizing keyword as the anchor is likely to affect the page’s rankings for other keywords too. The same is true for removing mentions of the cannibalizing keyword from the page.

Final thoughts

Keyword cannibalization isn’t really a thing—at least not in the way most people understand it. Google doesn’t get “confused” by multiple pages about similar things or pages targeting the same keywords. It knows what’s on those pages and ranks them accordingly.

Does that mean Google will always rank the page you want it to rank? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean that it’s “ranking the wrong page” or that drastic action is required to “fix” the problem. Many common “solutions” to keyword cannibalization do more harm than good.

Got questions? Disagree with me? 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).

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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.

More resources:


Featured Image: Ulvur/Shutterstock





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