Last week, Google dropped the biggest core algorithm update of the year – maybe of the past several years, even. Some websites are seeing massive traffic growth, and others are watching their visits and revenue slow to a trickle.
If you’ve been hit with a traffic drop, you’re probably a little anxious and ready to do whatever it takes to get those visitors back. We’ve put together this guide to help out:
It’s ok. Take a deep breath. We all understand that your livelihood may be on the line and the stakes are high. But the worst thing one can do after any setback is to panic and get tilted. While the term originated in poker, it really applies to any sort of competition. Losing is frustrating, but if you let that frustration consume you you’re only likely to make more mistakes and continue losing.
So repeat after me: “It’s OK.”
Everybody gets dealt a losing hand once in a while. Everybody makes mistakes on occasion. When I took music lessons I learned that the note you miss isn’t the critical one – the note after it is the one that matters. Can you accept the loss and start playing the right notes without missing another beat? That’s the attitude you need to approach this with!
Don’t take it personally
It’s also important to acknowledge that a loss of traffic after a core update doesn’t necessarily mean you did anything “wrong.” It’s not the same as a manual penalty or search action, it just means Google has shuffled how they determine which websites are most important.
So don’t take it personally – we can’t control all the ups and downs. We can only keep working to adapt!
Understand how Google updates the algorithm
The December update is called a “Core” update. But what does that mean?
Well, Google has targeted updates and broad updates. Targeted updates have historically focused on a specific area of search results such as local business listings and maps, or specific details such as the quality of backlinks and depth or freshness content.
Core updates, on the other hand, are not limited to a particular aspect or type of search. Everything is on the table and that means any number of changes to any number of variables that compose Google’s algorithm.
So every core update is going to be a major change to SERPs, and this one is even big relative to the other big ones. It can also take 2-3 weeks for the update to fully settle, so it will probably be even longer than that before we can really understand exactly what’s changed.
Take Inventory of your methods
If your traffic and search results are going backwards, the first thing to ask yourself is what you’ve changed.
The last Core Update was in May. Did anything about your website or marketing efforts change since May? Prime suspects include building lots of low quality backlinks or reducing the rate of new content. Consider any link schemes, networks, or “systems” you may have recently joined. Anyone claiming to have a secret shortcut to the top is likely to be on Google’s radar, and if Google hasn’t fixed their exploit yet it’s likely they will in one of these big updates.
Increase content publication rates
One of the best things you can do for your site – with almost zero risk of penalty – is to produce more content.
The internet is full of sites that used to be great, but if they haven’t updated in ten years they probably don’t offer much insight to our world today. Don’t believe me? Look through any successful site’s archives and you’ll find posts from a decade ago that are useless at best, and absurd at worst. Trust me! I’ve got some articles on the back page about social networks that don’t exist anymore, controversies that were resolved and forgotten about years ago, and questions about the viability of other sites that look like titans now.
It’s OK that old takes might not age well. We have the benefit of experience to show us why we were wrong in the past.
But if you want to succeed in the SERPs in 2021, you’ll need to keep up the publication rates to stay fresh. If you’re not including the latest updates, why should Google pick you out of the crowd?
Review on page and technical SEO problems
Other than increasing content production and updating older posts & pages, the next best action you can take is to run a deep audit of your site’s SEO.
Google Search Console should be your starting point, because this is the best information you’re ever going to get about how Google sees your site.
Pay specific attention to the “Coverage” tab. Are all of your pages getting indexed? What types of warnings and notifications do you see on the URLs that are being excluded?
Some exclusions could indicate everything is working as intended:
- Alternate page with proper canonical tag
- Page with redirect
- Excluded by ‘noindex’ tag
On the other hand, the following exclusions can be a red flag:
- Crawled – currently not indexed
- Crawl anomaly
- Not found (404)
- Soft 404
- Discovered – currently not indexed
So either Google can’t find the page your Sitemap says should be there, or maybe Google can find it but they’ve decided not to include it. You’ll have to figure out why those pages aren’t included, but it might have something to do with thin or outdated content, a lack of originality, or even a questionable link profile.
Fix the 404s first, then move on toward analyzing what can be done to improve the content that is crawled or discovered but not indexed.
Resist the urge to “build” links
Did you get a little carefree with the link building? Prior to the December update, it looked like a lot of spammers were winning. There’s certainly a lot of logic in copying success, but remember that Google can always redefine what success looks like.
Whatever you do, don’t rush out and try to fix your lost traffic with more of the types of links that caused you problems in the first place. If things got too far out of hand, consider something like SEMrush to help ID toxic links for disavowal.
In fact, just go ahead and ignore the concept of “building” links altogether for a while.
Focus on developing compelling content, fixing on page technical issues, and updating your existing content to reflect how much the world has changed. Those actions will help you earn links, and earned links will always carry a lot more weight than any you can build. Sure, you might find a temporary vulnerability in the algorithm, but Google has an army of engineers also looking for those bugs and ways to fix them.
Of course, you still have to get your name out there, but focus on more constructive marketing efforts like social media or even paid ads. If the content is useful, up to date, and compelling, it will earn plenty of links.
PS: If you’re looking for a 2020 ornament to help commemorate this dumpster fire of a year, check out the listing for this one I got on Etsy!