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When Revamping a Site Can Negatively Impact Rankings via @sejournal, @martinibuster

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In an After Hours Webmaster Hangout, Google’s John Mueller answered multiple questions about what kinds of changes may impact rankings and what kinds of changes will not.

Along the way Mueller explains different scenarios that are harmless and also the kinds of changes that may impact how Google sees the website, including seeing it as a brand new site.

Search Performance Impacted by a Site Revamp

The person asking the question said that the last three sites he had “revamped” had experienced extremely negative ranking changes in Google search.

He noted that had never before happened in previous “revamps” and was trying to find out if this was something on Google’s side as well as to understand what kinds of changes could impact search performance in general.

It must be said that John Mueller did not ask to clarify what the person asking the question meant by a “revamp” of a website.

A revamp could range from a simple redesign to a full SEO update to the content, meta data and profound changes to the site structure.

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Google’s John Mueller Discussing Revamping Websites

Google's John Mueller

Google's John Mueller

John Mueller Says it’s not Google…

Mueller:

“In general these kinds of things I would look at on a per website basis.

There is nothing on our side that is kind of saying that …if a website is revamped then we must change its ranking.

…If you’re seeing this with three websites that sounds like maybe you’re doing something unique with the revamp processes and not that there’s something on Google’s side that would be blocking revamps in general.

For revamps there’s sometimes a few things that come together and it’s sometimes tricky to figure out exactly what all is happening.

But the main thing that I would watch out for when you’re doing a revamp is to make sure:

That the URLs stay the same as much as possible so that you don’t change the URL structure.

That the internal linking stays the same as much as possible.

That the content and the layout on the pages stays the same as much as possible.

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And if those technical elements are essentially aligned then from our side the only thing that we see is that maybe the website is a little bit faster now because you’re using a faster infrastructure.”

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What Causes Google to Treat an Old Site as Brand New

John Mueller listed the kinds of changes that may cause Google to treat a website as being completely new.

“If on the other hand those factors don’t align like:

  • If the URLs change
  • If the layout changes
  • If the content changes
  • If you don’t have redirects from the old URLs to the new ones

Then those are essentially aspects that say to use that we have to treat this as a new website because essentially we crawl from the start and there’s completely different content or it’s completely different in setup or it’s a completely different layout or the URLs are completely different.

So that’s… essentially from our side, we would say oh it’s a new website, we will start over and try to understand it again.

So that’s something that I would watch out for there.”

When Website Changes Coincide with Google Updates

Mueller next mentioned that Google is always updating and that changes in rankings might not be related to recent changes to the website.

Mueller observed:

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“The other thing is also that we also make other kinds of ranking changes across the web as well.

And sometimes when you do a revamp you get the timing in such a perfect way that it aligns exactly with when we make a core update or when we make a bigger ranking change.

And then it’s really hard to recognize: Is this issue because of my kind of technical change that I made or is this issue because Google just generally would have understood my website differently anyway.

Trying to figure out like… is it something that you did with the revamp or is it something that Google changed?

I think that’s kind of a good first step and to do some of that it’s really useful to just double check all of the technical details and really kind of link get a map of all of the old URLs and then check them in archive.org and see what they looked like before and confirm what they look like now.

Use the different testing tools to make sure that it’s all crawlable and indexable… all of those things.”

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That last bit about crawling a site is excellent information. Always crawl a site before making any changes in order to have a record of what the site looked like before the change.

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Once the site is updated the new site can be crawled and any changes between the two states can be compared.

Screaming Frog offers a visual representation style of overview showing the internal link structure with well connected nodes highly visible. Comparing the two views, for example, can give an instant idea of any unintended changes.

If a site URL structure has changed then the crawl of the old site can yield a list of internal pages which can then be fed into Screaming Frog as a list crawl which will show if any pages are orphaned or not redirected as they should be, etc.

Is Changing the Structure of Site Impactful?

The person asking the question thanked Mueller then added that he had changed the structure of the website in order to divide it into multiple sections.

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He hadn’t mentioned this before so now Mueller in effect is answering a different question.

Now he’s answering if changing the structure of a site will have an impact on how Google sees the pages in the site.

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Mueller answered:

“It’s something where changing the structure of a website will affect how search looks at it and it can be a positive effect too.

So that might be that the previous revamps that you did if you went from a one page website to a multi-page website, it might be that that was a good change for those websites.

But it might be that the same change for the current website that you’re working on does not make so much sense.”

Does Changing Order of Paragraphs Affect How Google Sees Page?

The person asking the question next asked if changing the orders of paragraphs on the web page could affect how Google views those pages.

Mueller answered:

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“Not usually but it can affect a little bit because we do try to understand the context of the text that you have on the pages and if you move one paragraph from something that is very prominent to an area where it’s like oh this is a side note.

Then that could affect how we see that information.”

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Example of a Change Google Would Notice

In response to one more follow up question John offered an example of a change that could get Google to look at the page differently.

“It would be more if you change something from it’s like a heading of a page and you moved it way to the footer or something like that, that’s something where I could imagine our system saying oh it’s not important anymore.”

Will Changing All Images Impact Rankings?

The person asking the question asked one more follow up question, this one asking if Google would change the rankings if the website updated their site with brand new images.

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Mueller answered:

“For normal web search it wouldn’t matter.

For image search, if you want those images in image search and if you’re getting traffic from image search, then of course changing the images would matter.”

Negative Search Changes Should be Investigated

If the changes in search rankings cannot be easily identified then the first step should be a site crawl to identify negative changes that might become apparent from the crawl data.

When there are no apparent causes then it could be a change related to a Google update, which then means a different kind of audit that involves checking the search result to see what has changed in the kinds of web pages Google is ranking.

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Changes to a website should be done carefully.

Backups are essential. In the event that something goes horribly wrong the site can quickly be restored to the original state and ranking declines reversed.

Citation

Watch John Mueller answer multiple questions about website revamps and drops in ranking, from the 40 second mark of the video.

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NEWS

Google December Product Reviews Update Affects More Than English Language Sites? via @sejournal, @martinibuster

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Google’s Product Reviews update was announced to be rolling out to the English language. No mention was made as to if or when it would roll out to other languages. Mueller answered a question as to whether it is rolling out to other languages.

Google December 2021 Product Reviews Update

On December 1, 2021, Google announced on Twitter that a Product Review update would be rolling out that would focus on English language web pages.

The focus of the update was for improving the quality of reviews shown in Google search, specifically targeting review sites.

A Googler tweeted a description of the kinds of sites that would be targeted for demotion in the search rankings:

“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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Google also published a blog post with more guidance on the product review update that introduced two new best practices that Google’s algorithm would be looking for.

The first best practice was a requirement of evidence that a product was actually handled and reviewed.

The second best practice was to provide links to more than one place that a user could purchase the product.

The Twitter announcement stated that it was rolling out to English language websites. The blog post did not mention what languages it was rolling out to nor did the blog post specify that the product review update was limited to the English language.

Google’s Mueller Thinking About Product Reviews Update

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Product Review Update Targets More Languages?

The person asking the question was rightly under the impression that the product review update only affected English language search results.

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But he asserted that he was seeing search volatility in the German language that appears to be related to Google’s December 2021 Product Review Update.

This is his question:

“I was seeing some movements in German search as well.

So I was wondering if there could also be an effect on websites in other languages by this product reviews update… because we had lots of movement and volatility in the last weeks.

…My question is, is it possible that the product reviews update affects other sites as well?”

John Mueller answered:

“I don’t know… like other languages?

My assumption was this was global and and across all languages.

But I don’t know what we announced in the blog post specifically.

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But usually we try to push the engineering team to make a decision on that so that we can document it properly in the blog post.

I don’t know if that happened with the product reviews update. I don’t recall the complete blog post.

But it’s… from my point of view it seems like something that we could be doing in multiple languages and wouldn’t be tied to English.

And even if it were English initially, it feels like something that is relevant across the board, and we should try to find ways to roll that out to other languages over time as well.

So I’m not particularly surprised that you see changes in Germany.

But I also don’t know what we actually announced with regards to the locations and languages that are involved.”

Does Product Reviews Update Affect More Languages?

While the tweeted announcement specified that the product reviews update was limited to the English language the official blog post did not mention any such limitations.

Google’s John Mueller offered his opinion that the product reviews update is something that Google could do in multiple languages.

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One must wonder if the tweet was meant to communicate that the update was rolling out first in English and subsequently to other languages.

It’s unclear if the product reviews update was rolled out globally to more languages. Hopefully Google will clarify this soon.

Citations

Google Blog Post About Product Reviews Update

Product reviews update and your site

Google’s New Product Reviews Guidelines

Write high quality product reviews

John Mueller Discusses If Product Reviews Update Is Global

Watch Mueller answer the question at the 14:00 Minute Mark

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