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Algorithm Updates:
Brownian Noise
@THCapper
Chen Wu from Shanghai, China.
CC BY 2.0
Vs.
@THCapper
@THCapper
Panda 4
@THCapper
Pre-Mobile-first?
@THCapper
Medic
@THCapper
Covid
@THCapper
@THCapper
Panda 4.0
95°
@THCapper
Panda 4.0
95°
“Typical”
@THCapper
@THCapper
Tom Shockley
CC BY 2.0
@THCapper
Medic
May 2022
Core Update
@THCapper
Just make good
content
KC Green
@THCapper
0
-20
-40
-60
-80
+20
+40
+60
+80
+100
www.wsj.com
@THCapper
@THCapper
0
-20
-40
-60
-80
+20
+40
+60
+80
+100
www.wsj.com
Aug ‘18
@THCapper
0
-20
-40
-60
-80
+20
+40
+60
+80
+100
www.wsj.com
Aug ‘18
Mar ‘19
@THCapper
0
-20
-40
-60
-80
+20
+40
+60
+80
+100
www.wsj.com
Aug ‘18
Mar ‘19 Jun ‘19
@THCapper
0
-20
-40
-60
-80
+20
+40
+60
+80
+100
www.wsj.com
Aug ‘18
Mar ‘19 Jun ‘19
Sep ‘19
@THCapper
0
-20
-40
-60
-80
+20
+40
+60
+80
+100
www.wsj.com
Aug ‘18
Mar ‘19 Jun ‘19
Sep ‘19
Jan ‘20
@THCapper
0
-20
-40
-60
-80
+20
+40
+60
+80
+100
www.wsj.com
Aug ‘18
Mar ‘19 Jun ‘19
Sep ‘19
Jan ‘20 May ‘20
@THCapper
0
-20
-40
-60
-80
+20
+40
+60
+80
+100
www.wsj.com
Aug ‘18
Mar ‘19 Jun ‘19
Sep ‘19
Jan ‘20 May ‘20 Dec ‘20
@THCapper
0
-20
-40
-60
-80
+20
+40
+60
+80
+100
www.wsj.com
Aug ‘18
Mar ‘19 Jun ‘19
Sep ‘19
Jan ‘20 May ‘20 Dec ‘20 Jun ‘21
@THCapper
0
-20
-40
-60
-80
+20
+40
+60
+80
+100
www.wsj.com
Aug ‘18
Mar ‘19 Jun ‘19
Sep ‘19
Jan ‘20 May ‘20 Dec ‘20 Jun ‘21 Jul ‘21
@THCapper
0
-20
-40
-60
-80
+20
+40
+60
+80
+100
www.wsj.com
Aug ‘18
Mar ‘19 Jun ‘19
Sep ‘19
Jan ‘20 May ‘20 Dec ‘20 Jun ‘21 Jul ‘21
Nov ‘21
@THCapper
0
-20
-40
-60
-80
+20
+40
+60
+80
+100
www.wsj.com
Aug ‘18
Mar ‘19 Jun ‘19
Sep ‘19
Jan ‘20 May ‘20 Dec ‘20 Jun ‘21 Jul ‘21
Nov ‘21
May ‘22
@THCapper
0
-20
-40
-60
-80
+20
+40
+60
+80
+100
www.cnbc.com
Aug ‘18 Mar ‘19 Jun ‘19 Sep ‘19
Jan ‘20 May ‘20 Dec ‘20
Jun ‘21
Jul ‘21
Nov ‘21 May ‘22
@THCapper
-50
-100
-150
-200
0
+50
+100
+150
www.reuters.com
Aug ‘18
Mar ‘19 Jun ‘19 Sep ‘19 Jan ‘20
May ‘20 Dec ‘20 Jun ‘21
Jul ‘21
Nov ‘21
@THCapper
@THCapper
EAT
@THCapper
0
-500
-1000
+500
+1000
+1500
+2000
www.nhs.uk
Jan ‘20 May ‘20
Dec ‘20 Jun ‘21
Jul ‘21
Nov ‘21
May ‘22
@THCapper
@THCapper
@THCapper
@THCapper
Liam Quin
CC BY 3.0
@THCapper
@THCapper
Agenda
How can this be?
What actually is a core update?
Who should care?
Where are we (random) walking?
@THCapper
@THCapper
How can this be
Aka the myth of winning every time
@THCapper
@THCapper
Deliberate confusion
@THCapper
@THCapper
What are Google’s
incentives?
@THCapper
@THCapper
@THCapper
Deliberate confusion X
@THCapper
@THCapper
Deliberate confusion X
Google KPIs
@THCapper
Google has its own KPIs
@THCapper
Google has its own KPIs
https://www.cnbc.com/2018/09/17/g
oogle-tests-changes-to-its-search-
algorithm-how-search-works.html
@THCapper
Google has its own KPIs
https://developers.google.com/search/blog/2019/08/core-updates
@THCapper
Google has its own KPIs
https://developers.google.com/search/blog/2019/08/core-updates
@THCapper
@THCapper
Deliberate confusion X
Google KPIs
@THCapper
@THCapper
Deliberate confusion X
Google KPIs
Return of the refresh
@THCapper
@THCapper
The return of the refresh
@THCapper
https://www.webpronews.com/matt-cutts-googles-updates-are-car-parts-data-refreshes-are-gas/
https://twitter.com/mattcutts/status/254335294063656960
@THCapper
The return of the refresh
https://developers.google.com/search/blog/2019/08/core-updates
“Content that was impacted by one might not
recover—assuming improvements have been
made—until the next broad core update is
released.”
@THCapper
@THCapper
Implications of refresh
Competing sites make gradual improvements, but
see no gains
@THCapper
@THCapper
Implications of refresh
Competing sites make gradual improvements, but
see no gains
Core update arrives, they are suddenly rewarded
@THCapper
@THCapper
Implications of refresh
Competing sites make gradual improvements, but
see no gains
Core update arrives, they are suddenly rewarded
It’s a zero sum game: if they go up, you come down
@THCapper
You
Them
@THCapper
You
Them
Working on
authority of
authors
@THCapper
You
Them
Improve depth &
accuracy of
content
@THCapper
You
Them
Refresh
@THCapper
You
Them
Refresh
@THCapper
You
Them
Refresh
“Well, that
was random”
@THCapper
@THCapper
Deliberate confusion X
Google KPIs
Return of the refresh
@THCapper
@THCapper
Agenda
How can this be?
What actually is a core update?
Who should care?
Where are we (random) walking?
@THCapper
@THCapper
What is a core update?
@THCapper
@THCapper
Types of update
@THCapper
Specific
E.g. CWV, Mobilegeddon
Google is trying to change
our behaviour.
“X is now a ranking factor.”
Often slow / non-event
rollout.
@THCapper https://moz.com/blog/cwv-what-next
@THCapper
https://moz.com/blog/state-of-web-
and-core-web-vitals-part-one
@THCapper
https://moz.com/blog/state-of-web-
and-core-web-vitals-part-one
@THCapper
https://moz.com/blog/state-of-web-
and-core-web-vitals-part-one
@THCapper
38.3%
29.4%
36.3%
30.8%
154%
@THCapper
https://moz.com/blog/state-of-web-
and-core-web-vitals-part-one
@THCapper
Specific
E.g. CWV, Mobilegeddon
Google is trying to change
our behaviour.
“X is now a ranking factor.”
Often slow / non-event
rollout.
@THCapper
Vague
E.g. Core updates
Google is telling us to
expect flux.
“Just make good content.”
“EAT”
Specific
E.g. CWV, Mobilegeddon
Google is trying to change
our behaviour.
“X is now a ranking factor.”
Often slow / non-event
rollout.
@THCapper
@THCapper
What is a HCU?
@THCapper
A splash of vagaries - like a Core update
https://developers.google.com/search/blog/2022/08/helpful-content-update
“How can you ensure you're creating content that
will be successful with our new update? By
following our long-standing advice and guidelines
to create content for people, not for search engines.”
@THCapper
A splash of specifics - like Page Experience
https://developers.google.com/search/blog/2022/08/helpful-content-update
• Are you using extensive automation to produce
content on many topics?
…
• Does your content promise to answer a question
that actually has no answer…”
“
@THCapper
Some food for the tinfoil hats
“Does your content leave readers feeling like they
need to search again to get better information from
other sources?”
https://developers.google.com/search/blog/2022/08/helpful-content-update
https://moz.com/blog/click-
based-seo-engagement-
signals
@THCapper
Some slight overcooking
https://developers.google.com/search/blog/2022/08/helpful-content-update
“Any content — not just unhelpful content — on sites
determined to have relatively high amounts of
unhelpful content overall is less likely to perform well
in Search.”
@THCapper
Some slight overcooking
https://developers.google.com/search/blog/2022/08/helpful-content-update
(What is a site? Google has historically denied any domain-level
factors…)
“Any content — not just unhelpful content — on sites
determined to have relatively high amounts of
unhelpful content overall is less likely to perform well
in Search.”
@THCapper
@THCapper
So what kind of update is
this?
@THCapper
Some industry interpretations:
@THCapper
@THCapper
@THCapper
@THCapper https://www.searchenginejournal.com/google-algorithm-history/mobile-friendly-update/
@THCapper https://moz.com/blog/helpful-content-update
@THCapper https://moz.com/blog/helpful-content-update
@THCapper
@THCapper
Q: Is HCU a Core Update?
A: No
@THCapper
@THCapper
Q: Can I safely ignore it?
A: Also no
@THCapper
@THCapper
Agenda
How can this be?
What actually is a core update?
Who should care?
Where are we (random) walking?
@THCapper
@THCapper
Who should care?
@THCapper
@THCapper
About 90% of sites
@THCapper
Sites impacted N times
0%
12%
6%
2%
4%
8%
10%
14%
16%
0 8
4 6
2
1 3 5 7 9 10 11
@THCapper
Sites impacted N times
0%
12%
6%
2%
4%
8%
10%
14%
16%
0 8
4 6
2
1 3 5 7 9 10 11
@THCapper
Sites impacted N times
0%
12%
6%
2%
4%
8%
10%
14%
16%
0 8
4 6
2
1 3 5 7 9 10 11
@THCapper
Sites impacted N times
0%
12%
6%
2%
4%
8%
10%
14%
16%
0 8
4 6
2
1 3 5 7 9 10 11
@THCapper
Sites impacted N times
0%
12%
6%
2%
4%
8%
10%
14%
16%
0 8
4 6
2
1 3 5 7 9 10 11
@THCapper
Sites impacted N times
0%
12%
6%
2%
4%
8%
10%
14%
16%
0 8
4 6
2
1 3 5 7 9 10 11
@THCapper
Sites impacted N times
0%
12%
6%
2%
4%
8%
10%
14%
16%
0 8
4 6
2
1 3 5 7 9 10 11
~20%
@THCapper
@THCapper
About 90% of sites
Not only YMYL
@THCapper
thepointsguy.com
www.monsterhouseplans.com
www.teepublic.com
www.engadget.com
www.chicagotribune.com
www.essensedesigns.com
pinchofyum.com
www.hidden247.com
www.houseplans.net
www.clearblue.com
nypost.com
www.cnbc.com
www.zazzle.com
themortgagereports.com
www.123greetings.com
www.oregonlive.com
www.polygon.com
examine.com
www.carsforsale.com
www.yellowpages.com
www.androidcentral.com
www.zabasearch.com
www.reddit.com
portland.craigslist.org
@THCapper
@THCapper
About 90% of sites
Not only YMYL
Most sites see both
gains & losses
@THCapper
Sites affected by 4+ Core Updates
All positive
All negative
Mixed
41 37
1,520
@THCapper
@THCapper
Agenda
How can this be?
What actually is a core update?
Who should care?
Where are we (random) walking?
@THCapper
@THCapper
Google’s direction
@THCapper
@THCapper
Remember to zoom out
@THCapper
-50
-100
-150
-200
0
+50
+100
+150
www.reuters.com
Aug ‘18
Mar ‘19 Jun ‘19 Sep ‘19 Jan ‘20
May ‘20 Dec ‘20 Jun ‘21
Jul ‘21
Nov ‘21
@THCapper
0
-500
-1000
+500
+1000
+1500
+2000
www.nhs.uk
Jan ‘20 May ‘20
Dec ‘20 Jun ‘21
Jul ‘21
Nov ‘21
May ‘22
@THCapper
0
+500
+1000
+1500
+2000
www.nhs.uk
Jan ‘20 May ‘20
Dec ‘20 Jun ‘21
Jul ‘21
Nov ‘21
May ‘22
@THCapper
+2000
www.nhs.uk
@THCapper
@THCapper
WTF am I supposed to
do then?
@THCapper
https://moz.com/blog/state-of-web-
and-core-web-vitals-part-one
@THCapper
@THCapper
Don’t time the market
@THCapper
@THCapper
@THCapper
@THCapper
Agenda
How can this be?
What actually is a core update?
Who should care?
Where are we (random) walking?
@THCapper
@THCapper
Agenda
The return of the refresh
@THCapper
-50
-100
-150
-200
0
+50
+100
+150
www.reuters.com
Aug ‘18
Mar ‘19 Jun ‘19 Sep ‘19 Jan ‘20
May ‘20 Dec ‘20 Jun ‘21
Jul ‘21
Nov ‘21
@THCapper
@THCapper
Agenda
The return of the refresh
This is about Google, not about you
@THCapper
Google has its own KPIs
https://www.cnbc.com/2018/09/17/g
oogle-tests-changes-to-its-search-
algorithm-how-search-works.html
@THCapper
@THCapper
Agenda
The return of the refresh
This is about Google, not about you
Everyone hurts, sooner or later
@THCapper
Sites affected by 4+ Core Updates
All positive
All negative
Mixed
41 37
1,520
@THCapper
@THCapper
Agenda
The return of the refresh
This is about Google, not about you
Everyone hurts, sooner or later
You should probably make some good content
@THCapper
Chen Wu from Shanghai, China.
CC BY 2.0
Vs.
@THCapper
Want data like this?

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SL London 2022 - Algorithm Updates Method and Madness

Editor's Notes

  1. This talk picks up just where Lily Ray left off at the end of yesterday’s sessions Lily talked about the September Google Algorithm updates, and what we can learn from them I want to talk about how they fit into the bigger picture of Google updates over the last several years, with some stories from the mountain of data I have access to I’d like to start by asking an important question
  2. Who would win in a fight? What I mean to ask, of course, is which, do you think, was bigger - Panda or Medic?
  3. This is the last 8 years in Moz data I think there’s a ton of fascinating stories in this chart alone, but I will highlight just a few
  4. You’ll note the relative quiet of the Panda and Penguin era
  5. The incredible amount of flux in the run up to mobile first - not during, but before. It turns out, the real mobilegeddon was the one we met along the way
  6. Medic, and the surprising period of quiet that followed in 2019
  7. Then the flux of early covid That’s just a few of the stories here Now, it can be quite hard on the heatmap to see the size of 1-day spikes, so personally I find it useful to add a line chart over the top
  8. Something you can see, drawn like this…
  9. Is that for example, in August 2022, we had a Panda 4 scale fluctuation roughly once per week. Indeed, when Mozcast was first conceived, the idea was that 70 degrees would be a typical day. {click} There were zero 70 degree days in the last two years.
  10. There were zero 70 degree days in the last two years.
  11. (This talk is primarily about) 11 core updates (including Medic)
  12. So that’s 11 core updates, from August 2018 to May 2022, visualised here as a timeline, from Medic to now At the time of the SearchLove slide deadline the dust had not quite settled for the September update, but it does fit into the same overall picture
  13. But we all know the answer to Core updates, of course - "just make good content", right?
  14. Well, I’ll show you the story of the Wall Street Journall - whatever your politics, this is a site that basically only publishes original, long form content, from authoritative authors
  15. Now I should caveat that these charts I’m about to share are using the Mozcast keyword set - so it may not be representative of every keyword the site ranked for. In fact almost certainly it isn’t, because that would heavily index on their branded terms. But it’s still representative of how it did within these keywords, which are around 10k head terms in the US. And of course I’m only looking at sites which rank for a fair chunk of those keywords, for the sake of fair comparison.
  16. But still - after this first Core update, which the industry called Medic, you can imagine them not feeling so well
  17. Here’s the second update, not so bad.
  18. Looking better, SEO department perhaps lauding themselves internally right now
  19. Oh dear
  20. Okay
  21. Okay
  22. Nice
  23. Nice
  24. Very nice
  25. Whoops
  26. Right So this is a very turbulent ride, for this site, with all of its good content
  27. Here’s another - CNBC
  28. And here’s ROYTERS So again - this is not general performance, it’s just within the Mozcast corpus. But the point remains, these are real keywords, 10,000 of them, for which these sites had a very rocky ride. These are original reporting news sites. Some of the most credible in the world. Almost nobody makes more “good content” than these guys.
  29. So, you might be thinking, well it’s not just good content, it’s EAT Perhaps there were topics that the WSJ or Royters, were not really qualified to comment on, especially during a pandemic
  30. Try explaining that to the British National Health Service, any time before May this year Maybe Google felt a British site was not appropriate in the US admidst a pandemic, but there’s not much up as there is down. And, they’re still valid answers to the questions being asked. So the point remains. It feels like these sites are on a random walk
  31. This is what I mean by a random walk This is a term more commonly found in finance, referring to a series that just randomly moves up or down every day, and it can be the best way to model things like currency exchange. This is also sometimes called Brownian noise, hence the title of this deck. Not to be confused with Brown noise, which you might have been thinking of. This is what the sites that we just looked at appear to be doing, right? But it’s not very satisfying as SEOs to think that algorithm updates are just a random movement each time
  32. So are algorithm updates genuinely random? That’s what I’m going to spend the rest of this talk exploring
  33. Via these 4 questions Firstly, how can it be that authoritative sites such as the ones I just showed you, are having such a rocky time I want to consider a few possible explanations
  34. Also known as, the myth of winning every time So I’d like to show you a few possible explanations
  35. Firstly, perhaps Google is doing this on purpose It’s attractive sometimes to think that Google is just fucking with us
  36. Google have good reason not to do this
  37. And besides, if Google wanted to fuck with us, they have many better ways of doing that than randomly deflating authoritative sites (quote)
  38. This is similar to what I was saying earlier about how Google can’t afford to present bad results
  39. Google isn’t changing its results to punish or reward you, they’re doing it to hit their own KPIs
  40. This is from those famous non purveyors of good content, we saw earlier, CNBC I’ve referenced this interview from 2018 before because it’s an interesting insight into how Google engineers are thinking about algorithm updates They’re testing against certain searcher satisfaction metrics But they key bit there is *testing*, so there is likely to be some back and forth
  41. Indeed Google kind of say this themselves
  42. Indeed Google kind of say this themselves
  43. So, that feels like it could be part of the story at least
  44. The other big component here is something that Google admits to, but that has kind of fallen out of discussion among SEOs
  45. The notion of an algorithm refresh
  46. So this is a terminology that most would say is no longer relevant to how Google works - if you search for google data refreshes, you’ll find mostly stuff from 2012 and earlier
  47. This could be in a scenario where you make no changes at all, or one in which you make many. Point remains.
  48. Remember that you never have any idea whether a result in position 2 is just behind, or miles behind, position 1
  49. So that could be another component
  50. Okay, so maybe we’ve got some theories there for how the fluctuation might work
  51. In my view, algorithm updates come in two flavours
  52. Most obvious examples are HTTPS, mobilegeddon, page experience update Google is communicating very clearly what they want us to change
  53. Incidentally, these updates are a bluff. I talked about this with the page experience update - they can’t actually roll it out if the industry doesn’t react in time.
  54. On their original rollout day of May 2021, they delayed, I’d suggest, simply because they’d end up punishing too many sites Initially, very few sites had CruX data
  55. By the actual rollout, that had improved dramatically - from 29 to 38%
  56. As had the performance of those pages - from 30 to 36%
  57. When you multiply out these two increases - from 29 to 38%, and from 31 to 36%, it’s a big increase in how many URLs would be eligible for a boost So basically it was a bluff - they waited until websites were ready for it
  58. Meanwhile having said initially that they’d punish URLs which failed any threshold, they ended up punishing only those that failed all 3, further easing the blow
  59. So that’s what specific updates tend to be like these days. Obviously, it wasn’t necessarily so back with Panda and Penguin, but then again, they weren’t generally announced wit so much warning and literature.
  60. Core updates on the other hand, are much vaguer
  61. So, that leaves us with an obvious question about this new flavour of update from the start of September A Helpful Content Update
  62. It has some features of a Core update - such as this incredibly banal advice
  63. But also mentions some specific targeted behaviours, like the Page Experience update
  64. There’s also this curious allusion to a popularly believed user signal ranking factor
  65. And this bold claim, a bit like the page experience update saying it’d punish sites which failed any threshold It’s hard to see how following this through wouldn’t represent an act of self sabotage, I’d say this is a bluff
  66. And then also, more food for the increasingly sensible looking conspiracists
  67. It’s attractive sometimes to think that Google is just fucking with us This is unlikely, as Danny points out here If they wanted to do that, there’s better ways
  68. It’s attractive sometimes to think that Google is just fucking with us This is unlikely, as Danny points out here If they wanted to do that, there’s better ways
  69. It’s attractive sometimes to think that Google is just fucking with us This is unlikely, as Danny points out here If they wanted to do that, there’s better ways
  70. Tis is a bit like how people react to certain other updates (But the lack of pre-announcement doesn’t) So it’s a bit of both
  71. This is before and after the Helpful Content update - after is the darker blue bars Now, I’m sure some sites were affected, but broadly speaking, it was not enough to move the needle Most examples we could find turned out to be false positives
  72. For example WhiteHouse.gov, on the day they published the student loan relief plan This is really important to keep in mind with any kind of algorithm update winners and losers analysis - normally it’s full of people who have better explanations for why they went up or down Site migrations, sudden virality, that kind of thing
  73. But this brings us onto - if Core Updates are vague, and the Helpful Content update did nothing in particular, who should care about all this?
  74. Well, about 20% of sites should expect to be firmly in the crosshairs for Core Updates.
  75. What I mean by that is that only 10% of sites were impacted by none of the 11 updates
  76. This chart shows, of the 11 core updates before this month, how many updates had affected how many sites
  77. This chart shows, of the 11 core updates before this month, how many updates had affected how many sites
  78. This chart shows, of the 11 core updates before this month, how many updates had affected how many sites
  79. This chart shows, of the 11 core updates before this month, how many updates had affected how many sites
  80. But for sites that are affected by *most* updates, you’re only looking at about 20%. Of course, you can take that stat either way.
  81. But for sites that are affected by *most* updates, you’re only looking at about 20%. Of course, you can take that stat either way. And, incredibly, 0 were hit by all updates
  82. The second point you quickly notice is that Core updates are not only about YMYL, or only about medical verticals
  83. These are the most affected sites in the Mozcast dataset, by the 11 core updates on aggregate You’ll notice, I think, that this is not a list of medical sites
  84. This sort of analysis of single updates can really miss the whole story
  85. This sort of analysis of single updates can really miss the whole story
  86. This sort of analysis of single updates can really miss the whole story
  87. Even a bluff is short term
  88. This is from those famous non purveyors of good content, we saw earlier, CNBC I’ve referenced this interview from 2018 before because it’s an interesting insight into how Google engineers are thinking about algorithm updates They’re testing against certain searcher satisfaction metrics But they key bit there is *testing*, so there is likely to be some back and forth
  89. A medic would easily take out a Panda
  90. If you’re interested in some of the share of voice charts I’ve been sharing today, come down to the STAT booth and talk to myself or Duncan about it later