Early in December Google announced that they were launching a core update of their algorithm which in Googlespeak is just a refresh of their biggest product. In my opinion, algorithm updates are a good thing and benefit all Google users. No one would want to have an old operating system on their mobile device, so similarly we should want our Google searches to be running off the latest and greatest technology.
Every time there is an algorithm update, there are complaints on Twitter and inevitable blog posts about the winners and losers. Obviously, the losers are quite disappointed while the winners remain silent out of fear of igniting the Internet’s wrath against them. In all of this chatter there is a single protagonist: Google. I believe this attention is entirely misplaced and leads to bad decision making.
From the sites where I have access to their search console, I see both increases and decreases from this most recent update and the common theme is intent – content match. A site might have been ranking on a query that might not have been the best match for the intent of that query. Google’s algorithm refresh did a better job of identifying the intent, so the formerly ranking URL might have been demoted in favor of a URL that is more of a fit.
Likewise, the sites that I saw benefit from the update didn’t suddenly magically have better content. Rather, other websites that might have been “hogging” the rankings without the right match have now been demoted.
The greatest impact to web traffic in my opinion is shifting demand by real users. Google doesn’t determine that demand all they do is direct that demand for content into the right places. Google is a convenient bogeyman, but I think instead of focusing on Google algorithm updates, sites should be hyper focused on their users and their needs. Sometimes sites will benefit from mismatched intent, but it should be considered only temporary and will likely disappear eventually.
The best way to measure the risk of mismatched content to user queries is to look at conversion rates on pages. If there are pages that have a lower-than-average conversion rate when compared to the rest of a website, this might be a sign that the content isn’t the greatest fit for what a user might be looking for on that query. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, of course, but it is an avenue that should be looked at.
Another way to assess content is to look at the other sites that are ranking on the same queries. Do the other pages and results have similar themes or is your site an outlier? In the same vein, you can also look at Google knowledge boxes on your popular queries. If the knowledge box is aimed at a different topic or intent than your page, then this could be something Google might eventually identify as a mismatch to intent that should be demoted.
Regardless of where you stand today in search results, remember that rankings are just a vanity KPI and it is your business metrics that should dictate your strategies. Stay focused on the customer/user and search engines will hopefully recognize your natural fit for the user.
Note: this is an oversimplified summary of an algo update and is not meant to be a granular look at how any site in particular benefited or lost in the latest update.