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Hit by the Medic Update? Here’s How to Recover (A Practical Case Study)

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Google makes several updates to its search engine ranking algorithm every day.

Some of Google’s updates come and go, without any real notice.

Other updates go live, only to be rolled back several weeks later.

And some, become infamous.

Caffeine. Penguin. Panda.

Mention these updates to any SEO and their expression will tell you how badly their websites (or their clients’ websites) were affected.

Another of Google’s famous updates didn’t quite have the same cute name associated with it.

It’s merely known as the “payday loan” update.

In 2013, Google rolled out their payday loan update in a bid to improve the payday loan SERPs that were being crammed full of websites that had gamed the system through spammy SEO tactics.

Matt Cutts payday loan tweet

In the five years since that Google update, the payday loan industry has been a constant battle of websites that try to outsmart Google versus those that play the long game – and hope that doing things “the right way” will pay off.

Of course, all this changed again in August 2018.

On August 1, Google rolled out a broad core algorithm update

Some people referred to this one as the “Medic” update because, initially, it appeared to target a number of medical websites.

Google Medic update announcement

However, since the initial rollout, we can see that the update has impacted sites far wider than the medical niche, including payday loans.

One reason why this update is still being talked about today is because few websites have been able to recover.

In fact, SEO expert Cyrus Shepard even tweeted that, after 60 days, there hadn’t been a single case study on how sites can recover from the Medic update.

Cyrus Shepard medic update

Until now, very little has been written in terms of practical advice on how to regain traffic and rankings.

Sure, you can always read the 160-page Search Quality Ratings Guidelines document from Google.

Another approach is to “publish great content” and hope your rankings recover.

Or, you can follow the steps outlined in this case study – from Peachy.co.uk – as we share how we recovered within 60 days, and how you can apply the same strategies to your own website.

Was I Hit by the Medic Update?

Each time Google rolls out a new update, the first thing to do is to check whether your website was impacted.

You can use these two reports:

The organic search traffic report in Google Analytics will visually show you if there’s been a traffic drop – especially if you look at the last 30 days of traffic.

Organic search traffic report

If it’s unclear, or you want to be extra vigilant (like me), Barracuda’s SEO tool overlays the latest Google updates on top of your organic search report, so you can quickly see whether an update has had an impact on your search traffic.

In the case of the Medic update, yes we were hit!

Organic search traffic dropped immediately after the update.

In fact, Peachy lost 18 percent of organic search traffic overnight.

Barracuda panguin SEO tool

A drop in traffic and rankings meant we could lose up to 100,000 visits per year, which we cannot afford to lose!

As part of the recovery process, we:

  • Analyzed the website.
  • Identified key pages we wanted to improve.
  • Then created an action plan.

I’m going to share our Google Medic Update recovery process with you now.

By implementing the following SEO techniques, we have been able to recover organic search traffic in less than two months!

These techniques include content rewrites, 301 redirects, on-page SEO, and outbound linking.

1. Rewrite Key Landing Pages to Emphasize Trust

Payday loan sites are notorious for hiding their contact information.

But, unlike other lenders, Peachy has always displayed their contact information on their website from the main navigation menu. The same goes for their About Us page.

These two pages are important. They help us establish trust with would-be borrowers.

However, both of these key pages were thin on content and were poorly written.

And they did not communicate trust.

In fact, the tag line for the About Us page was “Don’t worry about money, life is Peachy.”

Urrghh…

When someone takes out a high-interest loan, it’s important that they:

  • Are lending from a trustworthy provider.
  • Should they have any questions, they can contact the lender with ease.

For the contact page, we went above and beyond and listed all the possible ways a potential customer could contact us, should they wish to do so.

This included phone, email and web form and – going on step further – we also link to our complaints policy in case anyone wants to file an official complaint.

We were not hiding from complaints. And we wanted to make this clear.

Another change we made was to list our support response rate.

According to customers themselves, the best way to provide excellent customer service is to respond quickly.

Peachy has an unusually fast response time, with 95 percent of all support requests being answered within 90 minutes – so, we included the response time on the page to meet (and exceed) expectations.

The About Us page used to have zero words.

It was just an infographic with a brief outline of the history of the company.

And that’s fine for many companies, but we wanted to really emphasize why Peachy is a trustworthy provider. And the infographic wasn’t enough.

So, we turned our attention to highlighting:

  • Our third-party review ratings.
  • Our company history (more in-depth).
  • Our certifications from industry organizations.

And to make it clear that not everyone who applies for a loan will be accepted.

In fact, only 12 percent of all applications are accepted.

Even though we’re a business, it’s not just about giving out loans to as many people as possible.

Our customers’ best interest comes first, and that’s why our customers trust us.

About us page recovery improvements

Plus, both landing pages can now be accessed from the main navigation menu.

Since making these changes, our conversion rates (on those two pages only) have increased by more than 30 percent.

2. Optimize Metadata to Be Less Aggressive

Earlier this year, we looked at the click-through rates for several of our top landing pages and saw room for improvement.

When comparing our own metadata, we noticed we weren’t as aggressive as our competitors.

For example, the title tag for our home page was “Short term loans at Peachy UK”.

Sure, it might work, but the competition was far more aggressive – with an emphasis on urgency and those who needed money now.

So, we rewrote our title tags to appeal to the same audience and our new title tag became “Short term loans at Peachy (get up to £1,000 today!).”

And that worked well.

Until the Medic update hit.

If we look at some of the sites that were affected, we can see that pushing people to sign up and take out a high-interest loan goes against Google’s guidelines – as it interferes with their personal finances.

So we decided to switch back to being more conservative (and more trustworthy).

Today, our title tag is: “Short term loans at Peachy (trusted by 2 million customers)”.

Since doing so, the CTR for our home page has increased from 7.3 percent to 10 percent – resulting in more than 4,500 additional visits.

Title tag rewrite performance report

We did the same exercise across several of our top landing pages and removed words such as “right now”, “immediately,” and “today.”

Instead, we focus our title tags to emphasize trust, leveraging star ratings and verified reviews.

3. Double Down on High-Quality Content

The Peachy blog has had an interesting history.

It used to be a place where we shared personal finance advice.

Over time, however, it lost its way and started to produce content for the sake of publishing new content.

The quality was poor. The topics were rehashed. And the results weren’t very good.

The first two years looked good:

Blog traffic growth

But then, we started to publish content based on frequency, rather than on quality:

Blog traffic decline

By August 2017, blog traffic was close to nothing.

The blog generated 800 visits per month, from over 200 blog posts.

Actually, it was one piece of content that was generating 800 visits.

The rest were almost non-existent.

So, we went back to basics and started to publish one high-quality piece of content per month.

What does high-quality content look like?

We used to write about the same things (as every other finance blog):

  • How to save £250 in 6 months
  • How to budget for once in a lifetime purchase
  • 14 income generating ideas to build your cash reserve

But today, the topics we write about are a lot different (or at least, we hope so):

  • Why don’t Millennials care about their pensions?
  • The long-term psychological impact of student loan debt
  • New research: 62 percent of Brits ashamed to borrow money from family

This strategy was working well, until August 1 came around.

We needed to showcase our expertise, but producing one blog post per month wasn’t enough.

Becoming an expert doesn’t happen overnight, so we’re now doubling down on blog content and have published two posts per month since September.

Again, the focus is on quality advice and we try to include our own experiences as much as possible.

We:

  • Cite a lot more research.
  • Share things we’ve learned along the way.
  • Make sure we’re not rehashing the same content found on every other personal finance blog.

While it’s still early days, but we’re seeing some positive signs already:

Blog traffic positive growth

4. Merge Duplicate Content & Improve Copy

Have you ever performed an advanced search operator, only to find out that you have several landing pages targeting the same keyword?

If not, here’s what you do:

Site:[yourwebsite.com] “”

Here’s an example of what we searched for:

Site:peachy.co.uk “payday loans”

What we found was that more than 10 landing pages were targeting the same keyword!

Some of the topics we covered were:

  • Payday loans (page A)
  • Payday loans and bad credit (page B)
  • When not to take out a payday loan (page C)
  • How do payday loans work? (page D)

That’s a lot of similar content and thus, we ended up competing (and cannibalizing) for the same keyword.

Not good.

So, we decided to merge the content into a single landing page.

First, we identified our most linked to piece (page A), and then took the copy from pages B, C, and D, inserted it into page A and then rewrote the content to keep a consistent message, tone of voice, and flow – and then we ran the page through Fetch as Google via Google Search Console.

Avoiding duplicate content issues is not just an important part of the Medic recovery, but an important part of any SEO strategy.

Another benefit of merging content together is that our overall content length has increased from an average of 500 words to 1,200 words, per piece.

As with other techniques, we repeated this process for more than 10 strategic keywords and reduced more than 20 pages into only a small handful of landing pages.

5. Link Out to Research, Statistics & Data

Once we merged content together, one thing was immediately clear.

We had few outbound links.

Sure, inbound links is what gets you high rankings, traffic, and sales, but outbound links are also important for SEO.

On average, our content – now at 1,500 words – linked out to only 1-2 websites.

By not linking or citing original research in our content, we were missing out on a golden opportunity to improve one of the most important aspects of SEO –  website authority.

Here’s what our copy used to look like, before we made the updates:

“Average wages and house prices continue to grow and it’s almost impossible to reach for many first-time buyers.”

Realizing we could improve the copy to include research and an outbound link to The Guardian website, it now reads:

“Average wages and house prices continue to grow and it’s almost impossible to reach for many first-time buyers.

For example, with an average house price of £210,402, a 10% deposit of £21,000 would be needed. If millennials saved a budget-busting £500 a month, it would take 3.5 years to save. Assuming of course they have a high enough salary to afford the mortgage payments in the first place.”

Again, we performed the same exercise on several of our key landing pages and now average 16-18 outbound links per piece, rather than the 1-2 we originally had.

The Medic Update Recovery

At this stage, you’re probably wondering… did it work?

Well, it’s been about four months since the Medic update went live – and given that it took 2-4 weeks to analyze and implement these changes, we have 2 full months worth of data to review.

So, let’s take a look at organic search traffic.

Peachy lost 18 percent of organic search traffic overnight. That’s a lot of lost traffic!

In July, we generated 47,000 organic search visits.

In August, that number dropped to 38,000 visits.

But, after a brief dip in traffic, we’re now almost back to pre-penalty traffic levels and in October, we generated 43,000 organic search visits.

Medic update recovery report

For the last 30 days, traffic has reached 45,000 visits – meaning we’re well on our way to a recovery.

The business is doing well; our keyword rankings are improving and blog post traffic has increased from 800 visits per month to now 2,900 visits.

Best of all, the content has started to earn editorial backlinks and so far, we have earned links and mentions from The Express, Quora, and Financial Highway.

Conclusion

If you were hit by the Medic update, then chances are you’ve been scrambling for information on how to recover since August 1.

Sure, there’s a lot of best practices that regurgitate the same old SEO techniques – but very little in terms of practical strategies you can use to recover from this specific update.

We:

  • Identified pages that needed to emphasize trust and improved them.
  • Linked out more to authoritative sites.
  • Doubled down on producing high quality content to showcase our expertise.

This won’t be the last time that a Google update hits us, as we’ve been hit with penalties before.

Just like last time, we’re doing all the right things – and Google is noticing, which is why we’re able to recover.

Again.

More Resources:


Image Credits

All screenshots taken by author, November 2018

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How to make your website ADA-compliant and win at SEO

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30-second summary:

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990 does now include mobile apps and websites.
  • An ADA-compliant website helps more people than those covered by ADA.
  • There are many SEO benefits such as increased visibility on google image searches, and featured snippets.
  • Co-founder of Ally digital media, Abhishek Shah says, “Responsive websites help with ADA compliance and further improve your website’s overall search presence.”
  • The four best ways to make your website ADA-compliant with a clear outline of its ADA as well as SEO benefits.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990 does now include mobile apps and websites. Specifically, Title III of the ADA has taken an official stand on how websites should be accessible for disabled users. However, when you look at what’s necessary to make a website ADA-compliant, you will see that these also will help improve your site’s SEO.

Some elements such as title tags, heading structure, alt text, and responsive design are things all websites should include. By ensuring these are done properly and in an ADA-compliant way will maximize your website’s effectiveness.

How ADA accessibility prioritization benefits everyone

Ensuring your website complies with the ADA helps you serve a larger audience and gives a boost to your search engine rankings. This is because most of the necessary components of making your website ADA compliant feed directly into SEO best practices.

After all, the whole point is to make your website easier to view, understand, and navigate. What business doesn’t want all that for their website?

Four ways an ADA-compliant website helps improve your SEO

Here are 4 ADA-compliant must-haves (in no particular order) that will help improve your SEO. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it is a good place to start.

1. Title tags help screen searches and readers

Title tags are very basic SEO. They let the reader, and search engines, know what the page is about. A title tag doesn’t show up on your website. Rather, it appears on the results page of a search engine, and the tab at the top of your web browser.

SEO benefits

Title tags, while basic SEO, are very important. This tag needs to match your user’s intent. For example, when someone googles “best phone” the phrase best phone (or a variation like “best smartphone”) will appear in the title tag.

Writing a title that accurately reflects what the page is about is the best way to get found and clicked on. It’s why a title tag should be specific: “The best Android phones for 2020” is far better than “Why you will want to buy one of these phones.”

ADA benefits

For those who need screen readers to help them use a computer, a specific title tag such as the above example is much more user-friendly. So, it is vital the title tag accurately reflects the page content.

The accessibility guidelines say the title should be “The best Android phones for 2020” instead of “Why you will want to buy one of these phones.”

2. Descriptive alt text

Alt text is not the same thing as a caption. A caption is visible usually beneath an image. Whereas alt text is not visible on the front end of the site. The alt text is a written alternative to a page’s visual elements. This includes: .jpegs, .pngs, and .gifs. the alt text is a description of an image that lives in the backend of the site.

SEO benefits

Alt text lets search engines know the subject matter of an image. It also helps search engines to better understand the page. Additionally, if you want images to show up in Google, then writing descriptive alt text is a must-have.

ADA benefits

For web users with visual impairment using screen readers, descriptive alt text is read aloud. This helps a visually impaired reader get a better sense of what’s going on, on any given page.

A useful descriptive alt text might be: “woman at café with laptop drinking coffee” 

A useless alt text would be: “SEO tips for freelancers | Get more clients with SEO | Writing your way to success with SEO”

3. Responsive design

Responsive design has been around since 2012/2013 in one form or another. But it means more than just your website being able to adapt to whichever screen size it finds itself on.

It’s about where your logo sits, how easy is your site to navigate, how easy is it to read, and how quickly does it load?

SEO benefits

Websites that offer good, functional user experience rank better in search results. User experience isn’t just one ranking factor but an umbrella term for quite a few. Google has said that a site that takes longer than three seconds to load on a mobile site will rank higher.

How easy content is to read (and how useful it is) is also an important ranking factor.

ADA benefits

Good responsive design puts the user first. It starts from the premise that a website needs to be easy to look at, easy to navigate, and be easy to understand.

This is why you need legible text for the visually impaired. As well as quick load times for people with slow internet. And straightforward navigation to make it easy for people to get around your website.

4. Proper heading (and subheading) structure

Headings (which show up in the code as <h1> or <h2> or <h3> etc.) define your content’s hierarchy. These headings (and subheadings) work along similar lines to when you wrote essays in school.

Proper heading structure:

  • Goes in order: a h3 doesn’t go directly after a h1.
  • Describes the copy beneath it.
  • Follows a sequence: if your h2 is “4 ways…” then the h3s would be each of those points.

SEO benefits

When your writing is clearly structured it is easier to read, and easier to follow. It’s also easier for Google to crawl your content and understand what is the most important (starting with h1, and so on).

Good header structure can also your content appear in the featured snippets in the search engine results page (SERPs).

ADA benefits

For users who have limited reading comprehension or cognitive impairments, clear and direct headings make it easier to read. Headings and subheadings let a reader know what’s worth reading and what’s worth skipping over.

And just like a reader skips heading, so too can a screen reader. Which only reinforces the need for a strong, clear heading structure.

An example of a website that has both good SEO and is ADA compliant is Enviro Safety Products. When you review this site you will see it ticks all the boxes, and provides the user a seamless, friendly experience.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA-compliant) - Example

Source: Enviro Safety Products

How making your website ADA compliant will help you win at SEO

By applying all the necessary ADA compliant elements to your website, you are helping the one in four Americans with a disability use your website. Additionally, you will also greatly enhance your website’s SEO.

If you would like to know more about how making your website ADA compliant will help you win at SEO, you can throw questions in the comments section below.

Abhishek Shah is the co-founder of Ally Digital Media, a leading voice in digital media and marketing. He advocates for evidence-based marketing strategies to fuel the businesses. He can be found on Twitter @abiishek.





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How to drive digital innovation necessary during the pandemic

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30-second summary:

  • COVID-19 has kept consumers in their homes, which has led to significant spikes in internet use and companies scrambling to digitize in order to meet customers where they are.
  • The ability to quickly develop digital capabilities will continue to be critical for meeting customer needs and ensuring organizations’ survival.
  • To remain competitive, companies must enhance the digital customer experiences they offer through upgraded social media, optimized conversion, strategies, better marketing research, an effective internal website search, and fresh customer touchpoints.

Emerging digital technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing enticed leaders with their agility and efficiency. Many companies planned to make digitization a goal for the new decade.

In hindsight, they probably wish they hadn’t waited.

The novel coronavirus upended every aspect of our lives. As businesses and governments around the world try to combat the pandemic, millions of consumers sit inside their homes. And where do people go during a government-mandated lockdown? Online.

The unprecedented shift to remote work and online learning, combined with a dramatic increase in movie streaming, videoconferencing, and social media traffic, has led to significant spikes in internet use. In this same time frame, big tech companies — the businesses at the forefront of digital innovation — have flourished, as have brands that capitalized on the power of social media engagement.

The biggest trick to digitization right now is meeting customers where they are. For example, my company, Teknicks, is working with an online K-12 speech and occupational therapy provider. When schools began transitioning to remote learning, students’ needs changed, too. We helped the provider pivot its value proposition and messaging to accommodate school districts’ new realities. By focusing on teletherapy tools and reassuring parents, we’ve seen substantial growth and brand recognition during the pandemic.

Until we find a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, your customers will likely engage with you through online channels. The ability to develop digital capabilities quickly will continue to be critical for meeting customer needs and ensuring survival for your organization. With that in mind, here’s how you can enhance your digital customers’ experiences:

1. Upgrade your social media

It’s not hard to be good at social media marketing — it’s hard to be great. As you build your audience on websites like Facebook and Instagram, be sure to engage with followers consistently. Create a content calendar mapping out your posts and sharing strategies and stick to it. These platforms are also a great channel for customer service, allowing you to provide personalized support and become instantaneously useful (something that customer support tickets and chatbots never seem to be).

If you already have a sizable engaged audience, it’s time to work on your content strategy. Don’t build your content strategy around keywords. Instead, focus on your audiences’ needs. A truly effective content strategy will be customized for the platform you’re on and will account for the user behavior most characteristic of that platform. Naturally, you will use keywords and phrases that are optimized for discoverability while maintaining authenticity.

One key strategy is to conduct marketing research using a survey. This tactic goes well beyond traditional keyword research and generates content ideas directly from your targeted audience, not a keyword tool. Surveying your prospective customers allows them to tell you what type of content they want to consume, significantly increasing the likelihood of engagement. Often, this strategy is the key to successful marketing strategy. I’ll go into more detail below.

2. Focus on and prioritize conversion optimization

Ideally, your website looks good and loads quickly, but those qualities alone don’t make a website great. The user experience that your website offers is ultimately what determines whether customers bounce in droves or actually stick around. Attempting to boost your initial traffic will exponentially increase customer acquisition costs, so improving your conversion rates via website optimization is a more affordable (and profitable) solution.

We often see double-digit increases in conversion rates on our first test. We typically focus on the most trafficked pages to increase the likelihood of big, impactful wins. There is an entire science behind conversion optimization, but the core fundamentals have remained the same for years.

To make sure your website’s architecture is seamless and intuitive, develop a conversion rate optimization strategy that works for you. This will require you to ask visitors for feedback, experiment with different messaging options, and regularly review your analytics, among other things. The idea is to get to know your visitors well. It takes work, but it will pay off over time as the incremental conversion rate increases impact top-line revenue.

3. Conduct marketing research surveys

With the right insights, you can turn every engagement into a memorable and valuable experience for both you and your customers. The best way to get customer insights is to ask. Design a survey of up to 10 questions in a variety of formats along with some screening questions to make sure the feedback you get is actually useful.

When designing, consider your potential customers’ preferences and pain points. For example, if you know your audience is mostly on Instagram, asking “What do you like about social media?” won’t be as effective as “What makes Instagram posts better than Facebook posts?” Once the survey’s drafted, post it to your social channels and send it out to your mailing list. You want to understand which messages resonate with your audience before you spend a cent on marketing. Learning how to conduct marketing research is one of the most important marketing skills you can attain.

Asking individual customers how they feel about various messaging options can give you a goldmine of useful data to help inform the language and design choices you make. Not every customer will choose to participate in a survey, but some will. Show them you appreciate their input by offering a small discount or another incentive once the survey is completed. You’ll be surprised by how many responses you get and how beneficial the precursory information is.

4. Review your internal website search

As much as you’d love for every visitor to spend hours exploring every nook and cranny of your website, most will want to get on with their lives after they’ve found what they came for. To make the process faster, you should offer some sort of internal website search functionality. If you don’t already have one, add a search box to your navigation menu.

Not every website has one, and even the ones that do have very surface-level functions. However, search bars are a valuable asset that can increase internal sessions and conversion. Internal website searchers are 216% likelier to convert, according to WebLinc. Search bars assist your visitors and expand your understanding of user behavior, providing you with the information you need in order to adjust your website accordingly.

Evaluate the effectiveness of your internal search, taking notice of how it finds and organizes the content after a search. Most native search functionality is very basic and just looks for the presence of “search term,” but you may want to test out more advanced filters that help users more effectively find the information they are looking for.

I recommend looking at the search data monthly to see what users have been looking for. Be sure to review what searches yielded zero results and which searches brought up irrelevant content. Identify areas that can be approved and understand your content gaps that need additional content to support the demand.

5. Identify new customer touchpoints

Innovation is all about using new technology to improve old processes. While your typical customer journey might depend on your industry and business, chances are good that you can find ways to enhance it with emerging technologies.

Evaluating whether an emerging technology is a fit for your business and whether you should invest in testing it out, starts with (drumroll …) a survey. As we discussed earlier, surveys can answer just about anything you want to know about your target audience. Go ahead and ask your audience if they own or use the emerging tech and validate its place in the customer journey.

Take the new home buying process, for example. David Weekley Homes, the largest privately-held home builder in the U.S., wanted to better understand whether voice-enabled devices can play a role in the customer journey. The company also wanted to propose a voice app idea to the audience and understand how they felt about the emerging technology concept. By conducting a survey, we uncovered that 81% of the respondents would consider the voice app idea to be somewhat to extremely valuable and 70% would possibly to definitely use the voice app if it existed.

The increasing usage of voice search and voice-enabled devices also offers an opportunity for consumer brands to make it easier than ever for customers to find their products. Tide, for example, has capitalized on marketing on Amazon’s Alexa Skills platform to remove a step from the purchasing process. Customers can use the company’s skill to order Tide products without having to pull up the Amazon app or go to the Tide website. In that way, new tech makes an old process (purchasing detergent) more frictionless than ever.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made digital innovation a business imperative. Regardless of your industry, you should look for ways to anticipate and meet customer needs. Your customers expect a seamless digital experience. If you can’t provide it, they won’t have to leave their homes to find someone else that can.

Nick Chasinov is the founder and CEO of Teknicks, a research-based internet marketing agency certified by Google in Analytics, Tag Manager, and a Google Premier AdWords partner.



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Core Web Vitals, E-A-T, or AMP?

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30-second summary:

  • The biggest Google update of the year is called the Page Experience update.
  • Core Web Vitals are part of that update, and they are definitely ranking factors to keep in mind, especially when optimizing images.
  • AMP is no longer the only way to get a “Top Stories” feature on mobile. Starting in 2021, any news webpage can become a “Top Story”.
  • Combining AMP’s privacy concerns and cost of operation might mean that AMP will disappear within a couple of years.
  • E-A-T is not a ranking factor right now, and we don’t know if it will become one in the future.

2020. What a year. History is happening around us, and Google? Well, Google keeps on revamping their search algorithms. Over the years, there have been many many major algorithm updates, as Google worked to keep us on our toes. 2020 was no different: in one fell swoop, we got the news about a Page Experience update and AMP news. All the while the debate about whether or not you need E-A-T for ranking rages on. How do the Core Web Vitals stand in changing the search game in 2021?

Let’s go over each of these innovations and see which will change the way we do SEO, and which will fade into obscurity sooner rather than later.

1. Importance of core web vitals for SEO

Core Web Vitals were part of Page Experience update, and, by far, caused the biggest ruckus.

There’s a lot to learn about Core Web Vitals, but they boil down to the three biggest issues on our webpages:

  1. LCP — Largest Contentful Paint, which deals with the loading speed of the largest single object on the page.
  2. FID — First Input Delay, which means the reaction time of the page to the first user input after (whether they click, tap, or press any keys).
  3. CLS — Cumulative Layout Shift — this is the measure of how much the content of the page jumps while loading content, mostly visual content, after opening.

How core web vitals influences rankings

Of course, some SEO experts think that the entire Page Experience update is nothing special, and could even: “[…] distract, […] from the core mission of communication and storytelling,”.

And, sure, most of Page experience update is simply an assembly of things we’ve known for a while: use HTTPS, be mobile-friendly, control your page speed, and so on.

But Core Web Vitals are a bit different and can influence the SEO practice in unexpected ways. Key factor that’s already changing rankings is Cumulative Layout Shift.

As most SEO experts know, for a while an important part of image optimization was using the <decoding=async> attribute in the <img> tag to avoid losing page speed while rendering the page.

Using <decoding=async> could lead to some seriously janky pages if coders didn’t specify the height and width of every single image to be rendered. Some websites did it anyway, for example, Wikipedia on most of its pages has a predefined space for images created ahead of time.

Core Web Vitals and other ranking factors for 2021 - Wikipedia

But as SEO experts we didn’t have to worry about pages being jumpy all too much, as that didn’t influence the rankings. Now with CLS being formally announced as a ranking factor, things will change for a whole slew of websites and SEO experts.

We’ll need to make sure that every webpage is coded with CLS in mind, with the needed space for every image defined ahead of time, to avoid the layout shifts.

The verdict

Overall, of course, it’s too early to tell, and more work by SEO’s around the web needs to be done here. However, it seems that if you aren’t used to focusing on technical SEO, Core Web Vitals becoming ranking signals might not influence your day-to-day work at all.

However, if you are conducting complicated technical SEO, then Core Web Vitals will definitely change the way you work in as-yet unexpected ways.

2. Importance of AMP for SEO

The AMP’s relevance today is kind of an open question. While it’s always been great as a quick-and-easy way to increase page speed, the privacy concerns have been voiced over and over again since the technology’s very inception.

But in 2020, significant changes are afoot, since, within the same Page Experience update, Google announced that there’s finally no requirement for us to create AMP pages to occupy the “Top Stories” SERP feature.

That’s a pretty huge step for anybody trying to accrue as many SERP features as they can, and, in particular, for news websites.

Core Web Vitals and other search ranking factors for 2021 - Top Stories

How AMP influences rankings

If we believe John Muellers’ words, then AMP is not a ranking factor. Seems plain and simple enough. But of course, things aren’t so simple, because AMP comes with pretty significant gains in page speed, and speed is an important ranking factor.

Thanks to AMP’s pre-rendering combined with some severe design limitations, AMP webpages often really do win in page speed, even if not in ranking as is.

The “Top Stories” SERP feature, however, was a huge benefit to using an AMP for any news agency with a website, and it’s easy to understand why. Just look at how much of the page is occupied by the “Top Stories” results.

Not only do “Top Stories” automatically get top 1 ranking on the SERP, but they also sport a logo of the website posting them, standing out even more from the boring old blue-link SERP.

This means that for a few years now news websites were essentially forced into using AMP to get into a “Top Stories” SERP feature on mobile since it absorbs a whole lot of clicks.

On the other hand, it takes quite a lot of resources to support AMP versions of the webpages, because you are basically maintaining a whole additional version of your website.

Added to which, a page that’s been properly optimized for speed might not need AMP for those speed gains, as well.

The verdict

While it’s tough to imagine that AMP will fade away completely within the next couple of years, AMP’s privacy issues combined with the cost of maintaining it might spell the end of it being a widely used practice.

Now, with the “Top Stories” becoming available to non-AMP pages, there’s virtually no reason to jeopardize the users’ security for speed gains you could get by proper optimization.

3. Importance of E-A-T for SEO

Expertise. Authority. Trust. All perfectly positive words and something we should all strive for in our professional lives. But what about search optimization?

Coming straight from Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines, E-A-T has been the talk of the town for a good moment now. Let’s dive in and see how they might change the way we optimize for search.

How E-A-T influences rankings

For most of us, they don’t really.

Sure, Quality Rater Guidelines provide valuable insights into Google’s ranking process. However, E-A-T is one of the lesser-important factors we should be focusing on, partly because these are nebulous, abstract concepts, and partly because Google doesn’t exactly want us to.

As Google’s official representatives informed us, E-A-T is not in itself a ranking factor.

Receiving follow-up questions, Google’s John Mueller then reiterated that point, and Ben Gomes, Google’s VP of search engineering confirmed that quality raters don’t influence any page’s rankings directly.

However, in practice, we often see that the so-called YMYL websites already can’t rank without having some expertise and authority established. A very popular example is that it’s virtually impossible to rank a website providing medical advice without an actual doctor writing the articles.

The problem here is that expertise, authority, and trustworthiness are not easily interpreted by the search algorithms, which only understand code.

And, at the moment, there seems to be no surefire way for Google to transform these signals into rankings, except to read the feedback of their quality raters before each algorithm update.

The verdict

While using E-A-T to rank websites might sound like an inarguable benefit for the searcher, there is a couple of concerns that aren’t easily solved, namely:

  1. Who exactly will be determining the E-A-T signals, and according to which standard?
  2. The introduction of such factors creates a system where the smaller and newer websites are punished in rankings for not having the trustworthiness that they couldn’t realistically acquire.

Responding to both of these concerns requires time and effort on the search engine’s side.

As things stand right now, E-A-T is not something to keep in mind while doing day-to-day SEO operations.

Let’s imagine a fantastical scenario where a webmaster/SEO expert has some free time. Then they might want to work on E-A-T, to try and stay ahead of the curve.

On the other hand, there simply isn’t any proof that Google will actually use E-A-T. Or that, even if used, these signals will become major ranking factors. For this reason, E-A-T shouldn’t be your priority ahead of traditional SEO tasks like link building and technical optimization.

Additionally, consider this. The entire Quality Rater Guidelines is 168 pages long. However, a comprehensive explanation of what E-A-T is and why it might be calculated a certain way will take many more pages than that.

Conclusion

As of the time of this writing, the Core Web Vitals seems to be the most important ranking news to come out in 2020 in practical terms. However, search is an extremely volatile field: what worked two weeks ago may not work today, and what works today might not work for most of us.

The matters are further complicated because we’re fighting an uneven battle: it’s simply not in search engines’ best interest to give us a full and detailed picture of how ranking works, lest we abuse it.

This is why it’s crucial to keep our hand on the pulse of optimization news and changes occurring every single day. With constant efforts from our SEO community to work out the best way to top rankings, it’s possible for us to close that gap and know for sure which trends are paramount, and which we can allow ourselves to overlook.

Aleh Barysevich is Founder and CMO at SEO PowerSuite and Awario.





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