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Why You Should Understand Google’s 2018 Updates – Here’s Why #196


Google’s updates to its search algorithms can sometimes seem like a card game where the rules change with each hand. Is there a rhyme or reason behind their changes?

In this episode of our popular Here’s Why digital marketing video series, Eric Enge shares some interesting observations about the major search updates of 2018 and his thoughts on what they tell us about what matters to Google now.

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Mark: Eric, for some sites in 2018, their Google rankings were a real roller coaster ride.
Eric: That’s a good description, Mark, because in many cases the site’s organic search traffic really did look like a roller coaster ride. They either had a steep drop in the spring with a sudden climb in the late summer, or in fact, some sites did exactly the opposite.
Mark: So, what do you think accounts for the sites that lost a lot of ground early in the year but then regained it a few months later?
Eric: Of course, we can only speculate. But I detected some interesting patterns that might tell us something about how Google balances some probable ranking factors.

2018 Major Google Search Updates

Mark: Okay. Let’s start with a quick review of the major Google updates to help us understand those patterns.
Eric: The first major stir in the Google search world in 2018 came from Google-confirmed updates in March and April. The general consensus of search experts, based on some Google statements and their own observations, was that these updates had to do with how Google determines the relevance of a site to a given query.
Mark: But you had some additional observations, right?
Eric: Right. Most of the attention was focused on sites that lost significant traffic in March and April. I noticed some sites that actually gained quite a bit of traffic and I saw what those sites had in common.
Mark: And what was that?
Eric: Primarily that they had not only relevant content, but they covered the topics very comprehensively with lots of content exploring each topic both broadly and deeply.
Mark: Interesting. Now let’s turn to that August update.
Eric: There was far less consensus among the search experts and pundits about what the August update was targeting. Some said mostly health-related sites, which is why it ended up being dubbed “the medic update”. Others said it had to do with what Google calls E-A-T for content quality, by which they mean expertise, authority and trustworthiness. Still others claimed it was about matching user intent or even about basic SEO fundamentals.
Mark: It’s beginning to sound like that old proverb about the four blind men describing an elephant according to the part right in front of them.
Eric: It does. But once again, I concentrated my investigation on a set of high traffic commercial sites that lost a lot of traffic in the spring, but then recovered it substantially in August.
Mark: What did you see when you looked at those sites?
Eric: First, in all of the cases I looked at, the site seemed to deserve the hit they took from the spring updates.
Mark: Why?
Eric: Because they all have one thing in common: a lack of good in-depth content on their eCommerce pages.
Mark: Then why did they recover in August? I mean, it’s unlikely they could have remedied that in a few months, given the amount of content they would have had to produce.
Eric: My speculation is that Google realized that they had to bring these sites back up in search because of the amount of authority they carry as brands in the marketplace.
Mark: Why would Google feel a need to do that?
Eric: Because the primary goal of Google Search–something essential to their business model–is that users feel satisfied by the results they get. And consumers want to see the brands they know and trust, so if Google devalues them, even if they deserve it from a quality and relevant standpoint, it’s like Google shooting its own self in the foot, because users want the brands they want, even if the content isn’t quite as good.
[Tweet “There is evidence that Google may rank brands consumers want to see even if they’re content is subpar.”]
Mark: What can we learn from that?
Eric: First of all, I’m not saying that brand authority is all that mattered in the updates of 2018. Certainly not the case. As always, there were many factors in play.
Certainly, sites should continue to work hard at the other things mentioned by trusted search experts, such as the quality of their content, the depth and breadth of their coverage on key topics and all the fundamentals of sound technical SEO.
But I think we also have more evidence of something I have believed in and talked about for a long time: the authority and reputation of your brand in the marketplace still matters to Google. Therefore, it’s really important to work hard to earn good links, positive brand mentions online, and to develop a superior user experience on your site.

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About the Author

Eric Enge leads the Digital Marketing practice for Perficient. He designs studies and produces industry-related research to help prove, debunk, or evolve assumptions about digital marketing practices and their value. Eric is a writer, blogger, researcher, teacher, and keynote speaker and panelist at major industry conferences. Partnering with several other experts, Eric served as the lead author of The Art of SEO.

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Thoughts on “Why You Should Understand Google’s 2018 Updates – Here’s Why #196”

  1. I strongly believe this update will force marketers to step up to stand out in the crowd. We have seen some great improvement to our client’s sites when we pay more attention to the user experience and the content that we are producing. While we also see a lot of sites that are struggling to meet the standards and remain competitive. Really curious to see where this will take online marketing!

  2. Hi Mark and Eric, I am amazed along with your views in this post. You have stated the points with exceptional style and intelligence. I actually need to accept most of your information in this content. Website/Business owner should prioritize the user experience. I think it is very important to consider the accessibility of your website for the sake of your visitors, allowing them to interact with your site in the same manner regardless of impairments. Search engines like Google also consider user experience when ranking websites.

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