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Episode Overview: Google wasted no time entering 2020 with a bang, releasing a core algorithm update and updating their Google Shopping Experience within the same week. Join Ben and Searchmetrics CEO Jordan Koene as they review and analyze the immediate impact of Google’s first update of 2020 and offer key advice on how to best strategically react.
- The update visibly affected SERPs, refining the ability to select sub-categories and expanding knowledge graphs in the right-hand rail for broad topics.
- The improvements indicate Google is trying to expand its influence by acquiring more online real estate with their Shopping Experience and upgrade the user experience overall.
- SEOs and search analysts should focus on ranking data, taking screenshots of SERPs and testing key results and sets. Documenting and saving these records to analyze the history of changes Google makes is paramount to tracking and formulating SEO strategies.
GUESTS & RESOURCES:
Ben: Welcome to an emergency Google core update edition of the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro, and today we’re going to reevaluate the changing landscape of Google Search post the January core update. Joining us today is Jordan Koene who is the lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc., and today Jordan and I are going to pull back the curtain on what we’re calling the selection and filtering update.
Ben: But before we hear from Jordan, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise-scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data-driven decisions. To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a free trial of Searchmetrics’ software. That’s right, you can use Searchmetrics’ Research Cloud, Software Suite and Content Experience tools for free, no risk, no credit card required. To try the free trial, go to searchmetrics.com/freetrial.
Ben: Okay. On with the show. Here’s my conversation with Jordan Koene, lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc.
Ben: Jordan, happy new year. Welcome to our first episode together on the Voices of Search podcast.
Jordan: Yeah, it’s a crazy start to the new year. I guess little patience from Google on getting us going right off the bat.
Ben: Google did not get the message that the new year’s party has ended. Google, you’re drunk. Go home. Seriously.
Jordan: Okay. Please come back in May.
Ben: And we call these emergency updates. I’m going to start calling them Tuesdays. There’s been so many updates lately, they’re like a weekly thing.
Jordan: Yeah. Well, one of the interesting things is that, hey, that at least they’re telling us that this is happening, as opposed to previous years where nothing, just crickets from them. So hey, it’s an upside.
Ben: All right, so Google is at least doing a better job of communicating, but man, they are launching these algorithm changes quick, fast and easy. Let’s talk about how this was communicated and what we can tell so far.
Jordan: Sure, absolutely. So on January 13th Google updated through Twitter, through the traditional channel of Google Search Liaison’s Twitter handle, that they were going to be releasing what they call the January 2020 core update. The reality is that they didn’t give us a ton of additional context, they pointed us to a previous blog post that was relevant to the September core update, so really didn’t actually add any new content outside of the fact that they were going to be releasing a broad core update in January.
Ben: All right, so Google has an Easter egg, they’ve got a little surprise for us there. They have an update. They didn’t give us much information about what’s happening. And it’s only a few days after the update. Actually right now as we’re recording, it’s only a day after the update. So Jordan, what did you and the crack team at Searchmetrics discover in terms of what has been different with Google search?
Jordan: Yeah, I mean it’s still really early days. But we’re analyzing some big changes to the SERP, in particular what we’ve identified is a considerable amount of improvements to refining in the SERP. So refining our things like when it comes to featured elements or featured snippets, the ability to sub-select category, especially say you take an image carousel and then you provide users with the ability to sub-select certain topics that they might want to see images for, so like being able to sub-select by color or transparent so you’re looking at an image and you want the image to have a transparent background.
Jordan: So, those are some experiences on the SERP that we’ve seen increase post this update. We’ve also seen some changes to the knowledge graph, so the knowledge graph has been expanded, especially in the right-hand rail when looking at really broad topics, especially in desktop, this is broad topics like Eiffel Tower or brand names. What we’re seeing is just additional information with more carousels, trending data that Google’s providing for some of these. So Google is just making a steeper claim on the real estate that they already own within the SERP.
Ben: So, to reiterate what Jordan’s saying, a couple of different things that are somewhat thematic. Google is trying to help their users have better ability to filter what they’re seeing and have the right selection. You mentioned image filtering, there’s also more real estate in knowledge graph. So this goes along with the theme of: A, Google is trying to take more real estate and have more of the Google experience takeover, as opposed to linking off to third party sites. And B, it’s also a user experience adjustment when it’s related to the search. It’s not something like how Google is processing natural language filtering or like what we saw with the BERT update.
Jordan: Exactly, yes. So right now at this particular juncture we’re not seeing the same level of volatility from the BERT update or the September core update where it’s rank position shifting for particular brands. We have seen four really strong brands an increase in brand results. So what I mean by that is a user is searching, say, Walmart and a specific product, Walmart’s actual domain showing up more frequently in the search results. Now, let’s all be candid, I don’t think that this is a monumental traffic driver. Walmart already usually controls the top two to three positions for that branded keyword search, having positions six through 10 really doesn’t add a ton of value. But that was one of the additional things that we noticed in our data. But again, if Google was testing this a few weeks ago, we’re still in the early days of understanding what exactly has transpired at the SERP level.
Ben: So how much do you think this plays into a larger strategy from Google? There’s been a sequence of updates. They’ve been coming fast and hot. Do you think that there’s some theme? Is Google just implementing some of the things they were testing with the previous updates? Or why is all of this happening all at once?
Jordan: Well, I think that this is a sequence of events, right? Let’s just say it’s like a detective trying to track down a serial killer. And what we have here is a pattern of behavior where Google is continuously expanding their influence when it comes to elements within the SERP that they can control: knowledge graph and desktop, carousels, not sure other featured elements within the SERP. So no surprise that they keep trying to really push the envelope here and identify ways to improve the user experience, use that data they have to improve the user experience within the SERP.
Ben: Hey Jordan, give me an example of some companies or some industries where you see this trend taking place.
Jordan: Absolutely. So one of the most unique is in mobile experiences around health-related topics. So searching for any, say, infection disease, what you’re going to notice is that there’s a really heavy expansive use of the featured snippet. Google is showing the ability for the user to refine based on different treatment options, based on different brands that may provide treatments, as well as a much deeper knowledge graph around that topic. So we’ve always seen the knowledge graph that Google has used around the medical topics, but Google, again, expanding the use of that and leveraging the data that they have from various sources, which I think is incredibly valuable to consumers, but maybe not the traffic driver that we all anticipated to be right now today. So that’s one category.
Ben: You said something similar twice, but it’s maybe not the traffic driver as we’re seeing Google put similar results at the top of the page in a few different circumstances. Is this just Google basically protecting against clicks that shouldn’t actually be happening that are irrelevant? Or they’re basically just giving more coverage to what they are pretty sure is the content people are looking for and that’s just taking up the entire SERP?
Jordan: You’re absolutely right, Ben. This is giving consumers options and choices at the top of the SERP that they may not have had before. Another great example of Google thinking on that track when it comes the SERP is what we call the PAP, or the people also ask, which is the related questions. And again, we’ve seen this grow exponentially over the last six months. We’ve seen it basically at the same volume, through the January update here. But this is another way for Google to allow users to stay engaged on Google and find the ultimate answer they’re looking for.
Ben: So, where does this update have an actual impact? You’ve mentioned a couple of times that we’re not seeing this as something that’s going to impact performance. Why is Google doing this update and what does it impact?
Jordan: Yeah. So I think that from an impact standpoint for brands, the thing to recognize the most here is this continued traction that Google is making when it comes to featured snippets. So their traction and investment here is one that we should all be mindful of. We predicted this, Ben, you and I when we were talking about our 2020 predictions, we said this is going to be one of the areas where Google invest heavily. And I believe that it’s the case because Google has to, right? I mean Google has to be able to provide more visual search, more voice search, and more mobile experiences that allow users to quickly identify the content they want without it being another text-based search. And so that’s why these experiences are so valuable for Google and Google’s using all this data to justify the expansion of these experiences.
Ben: So how do brands address that?
Jordan: Yeah, Ben. So that’s the tough part, right? I think back on the Wikipedia days when it was just the knowledge graph, right? 10 years ago you just had Wikipedia, a little tiny faded blue color, a mention of Wikipedia. And so I think that by and large Wikipedia is always a big winner in the fact that they were getting their content exposed, they were getting their brand exposed. And I believe that the big investment that brands need to take here is identifying ways in which they can become hyper-relevant in these experiences. If you’re not winning the featured snippet or the answer box, that’s okay. Can you win in the image carousel? And can you control multiple placements within the image carousel? If you’re not winning even on the first page, can you control the video carousel and have a video that is shown on the first page.
Jordan: So, there’s new ways to really think about your SEO strategy. It’s almost like a three dimensional focus versus this two dimensional focus of just being on positions one through 10. And I think that that’s one of the components that brands need to think about a lot. And the best way to start is by looking at what kind of content assets you have, ensuring that you’re using the right markup on your pages to highlight that you have these video assets, image assets. And ultimately it’s about the user experience. Are those valuable resources for their consumers who may find them, whether they’re be in a video carousel image carousel or other placements within the SERP
Ben: So, I think at the end of the day it’s obviously early and it’s hard to tell exactly what the impact of this update is. We’re seeing lots of changes with how Google is taking real estate, what information they’re presenting to the users and also how they’re flushing the results that they don’t want to present down the page. Jordan, any last thoughts as we continue to look at the long-term ramifications of this update?
Jordan: Yeah, so for our listeners who are still on this episode, don’t just focus on your traffic data, go look at your ranking data, go test some of the key results and results sets, take a screenshot of what that SERP looks like, store that away. I expect there to be a lot of changes and you’re going to want to save that record so that when you we’re sitting here in December, you can go back and you can see what the SERP look like a year ago. I really want to encourage people here in the beginning of the year, right off the bat Google made a change, I expect there to be a lot of evolution here. And that evolution isn’t going to just be in the blue links that show up in the results, but in these other experiences. So start building your repository so that when you’re analyzing data in the future, you have something to go back on to reference. So I think that that’s just a really valuable point for our listeners to start tracking that data and insight early.
Ben: We talk about this podcast going over the ever-changing view of Google and its search algorithm. The landing pages are obviously something related to that. They’re going to change. They’re going to continue to evolve. So you need to keep track of that as much as you do your performance.
Ben: And that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan, lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. We’d love to continue this conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Jordan, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes, or you can contact him on Twitter where his handle is JTKoene, it’s J-T-K-O-E-N-E.
Ben: If you have general marketing questions, if you’d like to talk to me about this podcast, you can find my contact information in our show notes. You can send me a tweet at BenJShap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P. Or you can try our new Twitter handle, which is Voicesofsearch.
Ben: If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility, or to gain competitive insights, head over to searchmetrics.com/freetrial for a complimentary trial of their Searchmetrics’ software and content experience service.
Ben: And if you liked this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed later this week. All right, that’s it for today. But until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.