Last month, we were examining search rankings for one of our clients when we noticed something strange…
One of our client’s primary competitors—think Apple vs. Microsoft—experienced a HUGE drop in their Google rankings.
Other than a few increases (where we took the competitor’s place), we didn’t see any significant changes on our end. So, while this wasn’t a huge concern for us, the competitor’s massive plummet piqued our interest enough to poke around.
As far as we could tell, the competitor hadn’t done anything new to their website.
Their site wasn’t hacked, they didn’t migrate to a new domain, and they didn’t lose a significant number of backlinks. And yet, in a matter of 24 hours, their search traffic had dropped by nearly 50%.
For a brief moment, we were completely puzzled. What was going on to cause such a dramatic drop in our competitor’s search rankings?
About ten minutes later, the culprit hit us like a ton of bricks.
No, this competitor didn’t make a giant, glaring error on their website. From the looks of things, they hadn’t even touched the website for 2 weeks!
Their downfall came right after Google updated their algorithm.
To be clear, Google is constantly updating their algorithm in the background; and much of this activity goes unnoticed.
But this update was different in that it was a core algorithm update—one of the biggest updates we’ll see all year.
But still, what did this algorithm update do to make our competitor’s rankings nosedive, while our client’s rankings remained largely intact?
Let’s get the answer straight from the horse’s mouth, shall we?
Here’s what Google posted on Twitter on January 13, 2020.
Later today, we are releasing a broad core algorithm update, as we do several times per year. It is called the January 2020 Core Update. Our guidance about such updates remains as we’ve covered before. Please see this blog post for more about that:https://t.co/e5ZQUA3RC6— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) January 13, 2020
Although they didn’t provide specifics about this update (which is par for the course at SEO-land), they did link to a post called “What webmasters should know about Google’s core updates” which gives us a lot of really good insights on what Google is trying to accomplish.
Google’s New Age
Just a few years ago, most of us in the SEO space held the belief that Google’s algorithm was getting smarter, and thus increasing in its ability to read content like a human.
While we weren’t wrong about the algorithm getting smarter, we were a bit mistaken on how it would get smarter.
For more than a decade, Google has contracted with over 10,000 “Search Quality Raters.” As part of their line of duty, these human employees are tasked to test the quality of Google’s search results.
Though Google’s Quality Raters don’t affect search rankings directly, they do give the algorithm a benchmark standard for what a searcher wants to see.
We thought that Google would rely on their human Quality Raters less and less as the Google AI learns more about the web. But in 2020, Google actually relies on their human input more than ever.
The YMYL Police
According to their most recent guidelines, Google holds certain webpages to a higher standard than others. These pages are known by the acronym “YMYL,” which stands for “your money, your life.”
According to Google, YMYL pages are those that can have an impact on your happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.
If a YMYL website contains false or misleading information, it could end up causing harm to the reader. Google’s goal is to minimize this harm as much as possible.
So when quality raters are presented with a page about health, wellness, or finances, they rate that page with a stricter set of standards than they would normally use.
So what’s this mean for you? If your business focuses on happiness, health, or wealth, your search rankings could come crashing down at a moment’s notice—just like our competitor’s.
How to Avoid A Ranking Drop
If you’re like us, the idea of losing half of your search traffic is a scary thought.
According to Google, “there’s nothing wrong” with pages that lose rankings after a core algorithm update. While this might be technically true, that answer isn’t good enough for us as an SEO agency.
Google updates their algorithm on a regular basis. In 2019 alone, they rolled out at least eight major algorithm updates—and that’s just the ones that they announced!
To ensure our clients’ bottom line is always going up; we re-visited Google’s quality guidelines and picked it apart to find out what impresses their quality raters the most.
Now more than ever, we feel the most equipped—not only to help our clients avoid ranking drops, or to help new clients recover, but to move ahead of the competition through white-hat SEO.
The Most Crucial Goal of SEO
To put it simply, websites and pages should always be created to help the users.
While this insight might seem a bit obvious, we’ve seen hundreds—no, thousands—of businesses get this dead wrong.
It’s easy to get caught up in the technical side of SEO. While we always do the most to make our clients easy to find, crawl, and index; it’s important to remember that, at the end of the day, SEO is not about pleasing search engines.
Our number one goal as an SEO agency is to serve the end-user. We do this by finding out what they’re looking for (keyword research), and then we create the content that they want to see.
We also improve onsite SEO and build domain authority with backlinks; but if this first condition isn’t adequately met, the entire plan will fall short.
Help searchers solve their problems, and Google will reward you in abundance.
If we weren’t so busy helping our clients, we’d embroider that quote into a pillow.
Looking for an SEO Partner?
SEO is always changing. If your business website falls into one of the many YMYL categories, it’s never been more important to be on top of your search rankings.
Chances are, you’re already wearing several hats, and ladling in another marketing responsibility isn’t in the cards right now.
In the age of AI and machine learning, partner with our team of experts to craft and implement proven strategies, land your business at the top of Google and funnel qualified traffic straight into your site.
Our mission is to empower people to reach their full potential and live their wildest dreams. Schedule a free strategy session today to see why our clients outrank their competitors—and how you can too!