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Breaking Down the September 27 Algorithm Update

author image Written by: Rob May           Categories - Digital Marketing

Google Confirms A Smaller Update as SEOs Report Turbulence, Changes

It is happening again: Google confirmed another update to their search algorithm that took place around September 27, 2018, though it appears to be much smaller than August’s E-A-T update. Google’s Danny Sullivan confirmed that, unlike the E-A-T/Medic update, the September 27 update wasn’t major: https://twitter.com/dannysullivan/status/1046145741243047936 Of course, just because Google doesn’t see it as a major update doesn’t mean that it didn’t have an impact.

What Happened?

Rolling out on September 27 (Google’s 20th birthday, hence the affectionate nickname “the Birthday Update”), the update was relatively small compared to the broad core updates earlier this year. While this “smaller” update may have impacted fewer sites than past algorithm changes, it certainly felt significant to those hit hardest by it. SEO folks around the globe reported significant spikes and drops in traffic, with one standout theme: Most of the sites hit hardest back in August now seem to be recovering. While it’s entirely possible that these gains are the result of diligent work to bring sites in line with the last update, it’s more likely that Google’s changes are responsible for these big shifts. This could mean that Google’s Birthday Update was a direct tweak of whatever changes they made in August. As we know from past analyses, the August E-A-T update focused on those three key factors: expertise, authority, and trust. Google’s process for evaluating these factors usually involves analyzing links, mentions, and other references. With this in mind, trust, and Google’s approach to assessing it, might have been the biggest impact in this update, causing several reversals and course corrections in sites impacted by the August update. Glenn Gabe’s analysis found significant reversals with the update. He also noted “tremors” in early October, potentially signalling further tweaks to the algorithm. These reversals and changes could very well be Google altering how it assesses how trustworthy a link or site might be.

Rollercoaster of Changes

Though Google described this update as “small,” even the smallest change can make the biggest impact. The rollercoaster rise and fall in rankings and traffic following this update show that there was plenty going on. So was this just a tweak to the E-A-T update, a reversal, or a roll-back? Most analyses point to a tweak more than anything else. Looking at some of the available data, it’s easy to spot the pattern:

A graph of organic traffic sessions showing a decline following an algorithm update in late September.
Organic traffic took another hit following the Birthday Update.
Steve Paine at Sistrix had some very interesting observations about YMYL sites that directly point to this being an addendum to the E-A-T/Medic update, too:
A chart of winners and losers from the recent Google algorithm updates, courtesy of Steve Paine from Sistrix.
Note the inverted relationship between the winners and losers. Chart by Steve Paine at Sistrix.com.
Note the “u” and “n” shapes in these graphs and the timestamps. The “losers” in August—those sites hit hardest by the E-A-T update—see a sharp upswing with the Birthday update. August’s “winners,” meanwhile, show almost the complete opposite: immediate, impressive gains followed by a sharp drop in late September. Marie Haynes’ in-depth analysis also found surprising correlations between update winners and various trust factors. Her research uncovered plenty of evidence to suggest that trust was the biggest factor affected by this update. This gels with Glenn Gabe’s own findings, as he emphasized the role of trust signals.

Understanding Trust

How does Google analyze something as broad as trust? It is, after all, hard to define, especially in the context of the web. Thankfully, Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines offer a direct look into what the company considers trustworthy. In fact, the QRG are frequently pointed to by Danny Sullivan and others at Google as a “how-to” guide for creating the sorts of sites Google is looking for. https://twitter.com/searchliaison/status/1050447188319322112 While it is easy to dismiss these guidelines as “make good websites,” they include serious, actionable intel available for SEOs and webmasters. If you want to improve your site’s trustworthiness, there’s plenty you can do. Social media, brand mentions, and reputation management all play a significant role in developing trustworthiness. Links should not be overlooked, either! A good link profile can make the difference between SEO success and failure, and trusted, reliable sources and information appear to be more important than ever. This also leads us to believe that these off-site signals play a significant role in Google’s analysis of a site’s trustworthiness. Reviews, reputation, and of course the E and A in E-A-T, cannot be overlooked.

Reviews and Reputation

Your business’ reputation is a valuable asset, even in the realm of online reviews. Google’s QRG specifically mention negative reviews on the Better Business Bureau as an example of something that could easily impact E-A-T, and it goes without saying that Google My Business reviews also play a role. Simply put, reviews are a clear signal Google looks for to determine if your site is trustworthy or not based on your reputation. The opinions of your customers are typically the most impartial information presented to the public regarding your business. Google surfaces and centralizes these opinions in Google My Business review listings, which pop up when users search for your business or click on your business’ description in SERPs. Assuming your reviews are all positive, you’re golden, but of course, nothing is ever quite that simple. Reputation management works to maintain positive relationships with your customers while addressing their complaints and concerns. Don’t leave negative reviews to sit unanswered! They’re an opportunity for you to follow up and address the situation. By reaching out in such a public space, you’re demonstrating that you at least care enough to make things right.

An example of a Google Business snippet.
SEO TWIST’s own business snippet, as featured on Google Search – note that reviews get plenty of space!
Positive reviews translate into a positive reputation, as do media mentions and your social presence. Do not overlook them!

Demonstrated Expertise and Authority

The E and A in E-A-T are closely linked to Trustworthiness. It goes without saying that demonstrating your expertise and authority in a given niche, vertical, or industry are vital towards developing trust. But how do you develop these things? It’s a challenge, to be sure. We recommend a strong content strategy to help develop unique, winning material that you can then push via social and digital channels. As always, the hardest part is getting noticed, but once you’ve built a following and earned a few mentions and links elsewhere, it’s easy to build and grow. https://twitter.com/Marie_Haynes/status/966325146968559616 But still, you can’t just become an expert overnight. Highlight the people in your organization and focus on the knowledge. Bring that bear in conjunction with your content strategy (especially in YMYL industries!) and you should start to see gains. There’s still no quick fix for any of the impacts these updates have, but with some careful planning and the right approach, you can rebuild rankings, regain lost traffic, and get a better handle on the ins and outs of Google search. Check back in the coming weeks for more updates on the October rollercoasters and volatility, leading up to the Halloween Update on the 31st!

Rob May

Instagram Updating Its Ranking Algorithm 

04/21/2022

Instagram chief Adam Mosseri announced that Instagram is adding a few changes in order to put more focus on creators and the credit they get. One of the mentioned changes is updating its ranking algorithm with the goal to put more focus on original work. Judging by the number of copy-paste posts we’ve seen so far, this update should have been made a long time ago.

 

Making Sure The Credit Goes To Those Who Deserve It

Instagram announced the following changes:

  • Product Tags – it will now be available to everyone. So, no matter who you are, you will be able to tag products and drive traffic and attention to a business, creator or a company that they like.
  • Enhanced People Tags – now, you can add a category for yourself (into profile, edit profile) which will show up when you are tagged in a photo or a video. This makes sure you have your identity be what you want it to be, and credited according to your wishes.
  • Ranking – people that actually created something from scratch should be more credited for that, so the algorithm will focus more on that kind of content.

“We are going to do more to try and value original content more, particularly compared to reposted content. So, more to come there as well.” – said Mosseri in the announcement.

But, what does it exactly mean? As mentioned in SocialMediaToday, the changes in ranking are not that well explained and it’s not clear if any penalization will happen.

What Will Affect The Ranking?

The Twitter community did have some questions regarding the originality of content and asked about editing outside of the app. If you remember, Instagram started down-ranking content that was re-shared from other apps. So, if you will be re-posting your TikTok with a watermark on it, your content will still be penalized. However, if you only edited it off the Instagram app, that shouldn’t be a problem and won’t affect your rank.

Still, Mosseri admits that Instagram can’t know for sure if a content piece is an original or not. They only build classifiers that will show how likely something is to be an original, but they can never know for sure. It’s still a work in progress.

Posting History Is Also A Factor

Content aggregators are the focus of this update, and Instagram will be able to determine this with the account’s posting history. Instagram is more likely to detect that an account is an aggregator if it re-posts a lot of content from other accounts.” So if you’re re-posting a lot of content from other accounts, you’ll likely see a drop in reach.

The main goal of the whole update is, as we mentioned, to give more credit to original creators, but the system is not yet perfect. However, Mosseri said that Instagram will continue to improve its detection features over time to better distinguish where the content comes from and who posts original content, to promote the real creators and reduce the influence of big farm accounts.

It looks like it’s time to say goodbye to reposting trending memes in order to boost engagement.

 

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Google’s Updates You Need To Understand

12/21/2021

We mentioned the new Vicinity update Google has going on. It was an algorithm update no one was prepared for and caused quite a commotion in the community. To avoid history from repeating itself, we must learn from our mistakes – and what better way than going through all of the things that have already happened? It could benefit you if you go through all the major updates Google had in store in the past year and come up with a strategy for the year ahead.

Google Search Biggest Updates in 2021:

For us to have the most relevant and reliable results, Google Search Algorithms are updated thousands of times throughout the year. Of course, most of them go unnoticed, but every now and then one comes along *cough cough* Vicinity *cough cough* and makes a mess. That’s why it’s better to keep track of each change, make sure to understand what is happening and learn how to use them so it can benefit you.

The Page Experience Update

This update was designed to improve the website experience searchers have. Mobile usability, security issues, HTTPS usage, Web Vitals and Ad Experience are all taken into account. The main goal is safer browsing for users and resurfacing flags in the Page Experience Report.

What To Do?

  • Work on your loading speed
  • Make sure your page has a mobile-friendly version, with no usability errors
  • Make sure your page is secure and use HTTPS
  • Don’t use interruptive, distracting or unfavourable advertising techniques

Here’s a helpful resource for optimizing your page for this update.

Link Spam Update

This was when Google reminded us about the importance of good content and quality links. The update was and still is effective at identifying and nullifying link spam across multiple languages.

What To Do?

  • You need high-quality link building
  • Create high-quality content
  • Focus and improve the user experience
  • Avoid useless linking!

Broad Core Updates

It took longer than expected, but it is done. As usual, Google didn’t offer a lot of advice on how to deal with a core update except to try hard all the time. This update had also caused big commotion since we saw some pretty weird pages ranking high. The conclusion was, again, to use quality backlinks.

ProTip! – Improving content and backlinks might help you to recover more than fixing the technical aspect!

Product Reviews Update

This update was designed to reward in-depth product reviews and “punish” irrelevant, summary-of-a-product type of content. Instead, a review should be relevant and detailed. We have also learned that Google and potential customers like seeing realistic reviews, even if that means seeing a few bad ones as well.

What to do?

  • Write longer, knowledgeable reviews
  • Add your own content, not just the manufacturer description
  • Describe how a product has evolved from previous models
  • Include the Pros and Cons

Here’s more advice on what you should know about the product reviews update and how to handle it.

MUM

Google also introduced us to the Multitask Unified Model which uses AI to help searchers. It “speaks” 75 different languages and understands both image and the written word. However, it might understand much more in the future, since Google keeps saying they’re working on expanding this capability to video and audio.

One of the first things MUM learned to do is to keep track of vaccine queries and it will continue bringing more understanding to Google’s algorithms.

Vicinity

This is a fresh one and we’re still trying to figure out what exactly happened so that keywords aren’t as important anymore. Maybe the lesson with this update is not to violate Google’s guidelines and add keywords for the sake of it. It seems like new businesses are winning with this one.

 

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