Hello! Welcome to the first SEO Brief, brought to you by Senior SEO Strategist Dan O’Leary. Every quarter, we’re going to curate three to five of the most important topics or stories within search and distill them down into video and blog content for you. For each topic, we’ll tell you what happened, what it means for your organization, and most importantly, what you can do about it.
Let’s jump in!
The May 2022 Google Core Update finished rolling out. Were you impacted?
If you’re not familiar with what a “Core” update is, Google makes tweaks to their search results every day. Most of these are so slight that Google doesn’t even acknowledge them. SEOs might speculate, but other than reiterating that they make changes daily, Google won’t formally recognize or name any of these small updates.
But, once or maybe twice a year, Google releases a more significant update, one that fundamentally changes Google search results across the board. These are known as “Core Updates”, and Google will acknowledge them through their social media channels, their Webmaster’s blog, and through search liaisons like Danny Sullivan.
The most recent Core Update was just released in late May and took into June before it finally finished “rolling out”. If you look regularly at your organic search traffic or rankings, you might have noticed some changes. Maybe your traffic improved, maybe it went down. Or maybe it didn’t impact your site at all. But the May 2022 Core Update was significant enough that Google formally recognized it and announced the start and end dates of the rollout.
Why does this matter?
Whenever there is a Core Update, there is going to be flux. Because search results are fixed amounts of space on a screen, when one website moves up, others have to fall. This is a “zero-sum” competition. For websites that saw ranking improvements, it’s generally all sunshine and rainbows. Better visibility translates to more clicks, more leads, more conversions, or sales: whatever KPIs you are tracking.
But from the perspective of a site that was “leapfrogged” by another website, the perception is often that your website was “penalized” or “targeted” by the update. When you’re on a train standing still, but another train outside your window is moving forward, your brain tricks you. It feels like you’re starting to move backward. And that’s exactly how being on the other side of a Core Update feels. “We’re being punished”, “our site has something wrong with it”, or some other perception of deficiency.
What should you do if a Core Update impacted YOUR site? Well, whether your site was impacted positively or negatively, the first and most important thing to do is BE PATIENT.
These Core Updates take time. As Google rolls them out, there are often further adjustments. “Rollbacks” or “tremors” that reflect the longer windows of time it takes Google to fully roll out the update. You cannot be certain of anything until you’ve given them enough time to settle before you draw conclusions.
Unfortunately, we live in the Attention Economy. It’s human nature to want immediate answers, so SEOs are incentivized to get out there and publish findings and draw wide-sweeping conclusions based on very limited data sets. Within 48 hours of it being released, there’s no shortage of posts or tweets claiming that the Update is specifically targeting this or about that. Core updates have to target SOMETHING, right?
Google search now incorporates technologies like Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning, and AI models. It’s all math based. It’s simply not accurate anymore to imply that human engineers are the most active agents within this process or that there are specific motivations behind these Core Updates. When it comes to Machine Learning, a team of engineers could confidently state the search results are “improved” but couldn’t point to something specific as to why or how the results are improved. Ascribing intentionality to mysterious processes is part of human nature, yes, but it’s not an accurate description of how Core Updates work in 2022.
So besides waiting, and avoiding overly speculative content, what CAN you do? Well, this sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many forget this simple tip: Review the search results.
Get out of the Analytics graphs and go look at the search results. What has changed? If you’ve been leapfrogged by a competitor, go to their page and study it. Read other pages, above you and below you. You’ll often find that the Update has rewarded stronger content, more unique content, or bumped down content that had ranked earlier, but maybe wasn’t as relevant to the search query as it should be.
Whatever the case, you’re almost guaranteed to find a new kind of benchmark to strive for in terms of content quality, value, or relevancy. Whatever Google “wants”, if anything, they’ll show you right in the search results. Your main goal in SEO should always be to deliver the best and most relevant content for a search query. It’s really as simple as that, and no Core Update, good or bad, should change your True North in that regard.
So, go check out how your site fared with the May 2022 Update, but never panic, and don’t seek out shortcuts or easy answers. They’ll only lead you astray in the long run, and search is a long game.
We’re One Year Out From GA4. Are You Ready?
This is a topic that isn’t just relevant for search channels. But because measuring performance is so important in SEO, we’ve decided to cover it. If you’re not aware, Google Analytics is going to change dramatically starting in July 2023. That’s when Google will finally and completely sunset the current version of Analytics that many site owners use now, called Universal Analytics. It’s being replaced by an entirely new Analytics platform called GA4, which is actually available for implementation right now. But if you don’t switch over to GA4 by next summer, you’re not going to be able to track website performance anymore.
Why does this matter?
Well, here at Overit, we’ve started our transition process for our clients a full one year out, because of how significant the change represents. We can’t overstate how much of a shift this really is. This is not just a minor update to Universal Analytics. This is the most significant digital analytics infrastructure change in the last decade, and many organizations are going to find themselves in the dark if they don’t plan for this. We’re not trying to alarm you, we’re trying to prepare you.
GA4 is fundamentally a different paradigm for digital analytics than Universal was. If you’ve used Universal before, gone are Profiles and Views. GA4 is built around a single property that tracks across an organization’s website but also its Apps. A lot of digital activity is not on web browsers anymore, it’s on Apps. And while tracking in-App activity in Universal Analytics wasn’t impossible, it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t necessarily designed to do that. With GA4, Google has made it easier than ever to monitor users across all your digital offerings.
A second big change involves what Google is even tracking. In Universal Analytics, Google was fundamentally tracking Sessions and PageViews. Those were the core data points and everything else was basically an attribute of those 2 things: a User Session and the underlying PageViews that made up a session. With GA4, Google is now tracking Events.
And an Event can be anything, with any number of parameters associated with those Events. So while you can choose or create events that align to a PageView or Session, it’s not something that’s immediately obvious to users right out of the box. If you’ve grown used to your standard array of reports for Audience and Acquisition, you’re going to have to set up customized reports on your dashboard to re-create those.
And finally, GA4 comes out of the box ready to integrate with Google’s BigQuery product. This is a big leap from offering just data to offering insights and even Predictive analytics. In this sense, GA4 is as much a Business Intelligence tool as it is just a reporting suite. There’s a lot of great advantages to that kind of change, but the learning curve on GA4 is going to be quite steep for most users.
So what should your organization do to prepare for GA4? Well, first and foremost is to read up on it, get more familiar with it, and start assigning stakeholders within your organization to manage this process. Planning is everything.
Secondly, we recommend that you begin archiving your old Universal Analytics data BEFORE the sunset date. The transition between Universal and GA4 is not going to be a smooth one, and if you are measuring year-over-year or month-over-month performance, you’re going to have to save and archive all that old data before you launch GA4.
And finally, start identifying the KPIs you WANT to track, rather than just the data that Universal gave you as a default. The setup time to choose or create Custom events will be a bit cumbersome, but well worth it if you do it properly.
If you have questions or concerns about GA4, find someone you can trust to help you with it. Feel free to contact us here at Overit and we can help point you in the right direction
Google’s Digital Marketing Certification Course Gave Bad SEO Advice. What gives?
In other Google news, Google now offers a Digital Marketing Certification that comes with self-paced learning modules. It just released in early May, and for the most part, it’s been pretty popular and successful. BUT, one of those modules was designed to teach digital marketers the basics of SEO, and when some professional SEOs, including Giunluca Fiorelli, reviewed the module, they found some very suspect advice in the lesson material. This included references to long-debunked or abandoned SEO practices, such as keyword density or minimum word counts, among others.
When Google’s search liaison Danny Sullivan was alerted to this, he effectively said “Ignore this” and clarified that Google’s Search team had no part in developing the materials. So what happened here? If you can’t trust Google to give you good SEO advice, who can you trust? What other lessons can we learn here?
One thing to note is that Google isn’t just a search engine anymore. It’s been re-organized from a corporate standpoint under the Alphabet, Inc. umbrella, and it’s now a multinational corporation with a wide range of products and services from Google Search to YouTube to the Chrome web browser and more. In our opinion, this is a classic example of the left hand not talking to the right hand, which happens in any organization of this size.
But the deeper concern becomes “what’s the value of these certifications?” if they are actively spreading what are effectively SEO Myths. One of the long-prevailing problems within SEO has been the perpetuation of debunked myths or bad advice. Many excellent SEOs have spent most of their careers actively trying to combat these, so it’s not helpful to the industry when a major player like Google makes a mistake like this. It sets the entire industry back in many ways.
Our advice to you is to never take any SEO advice as Gospel truth. It’s always okay to ask questions. If you’re getting SEO advice from outside parties, you may want to ask questions like “Is there any documentation or citations you can send us that corroborates your advice?” or “Do you have any proof behind this besides your own experiences”?
These types of questions will require any SEO you are working with to back up their claims or advice. The more documentation, citations, or links they can send you on a topic, the better you can feel about it. But review what they send you. An out-of-date blog post in 2012 might have given good advice then, but would be well past useful today. Check for the timeliness, relevancy, and authority of the materials they send you. There are no perfect answers here, but due diligence is never a bad idea, even when working with subject matter experts you are deferring to. It’s your website, it’s your organization, so you ultimately have to take a deeper responsibility than any outside expert will.
And of course, you can always grow your own SEO knowledge. Sign up for courses, not just Google’s. Bookmark a blog, or sign up for an ongoing video series, like ours. The more you know, the better off you’ll be in the long run.
What SEO topics would you like to see covered? Let us know! We’ll see you in Q4 for more updates.