The first week of every month is Performance Report Week (PRW) here at Clapping Dog Media.
This means that we block off our calendar and don’t meet with any clients at all during the week. The focus of the whole team is to build and to send our comprehensive SEO reports to clients.
As someone who loves to check things off of my to-do list, I enjoy PRW because our list is long and it is all the more rewarding to complete it.
It is also good to get a pulse for how things are going from a macro sense, to find traffic and keyword patterns among the clients we work with.
This month, April 2023, the traffic and keywords reports were inconsistent.
In other words, the normal pattern of posting new, high-quality content didn’t necessarily lead to new ranking keywords and new organic traffic for some of our clients. In fact, some clients this month had steady traffic but their ranking keywords tanked or vice versa.
There isn’t a technical term for it necessarily, but the monthly reports for April were just off. There were several that didn’t follow the expected pattern.
Maria and I dissected the data and we concluded that several of our clients were negatively impacted by the March Core Algorithm Update.
Your site may have been affected too.
In this post we will review what the algorithm updates are, how to tell if your site was impacted (either negatively or positively) and what to do about it.
What is a Google Core Algorithm Update
Google says, “Several times a year, Google makes significant, broad changes to our search algorithms and systems. We refer to these as core updates, and we give notice when they happen on our list of Google Search ranking updates. Core updates are designed to ensure that overall, we’re delivering on our mission to present helpful and reliable results for searchers.”
The first major algorithm update happened mid March and took about two weeks to fully roll out for the whole internet.
The March 2023 core update targeted all types of content, again Google says, “the changes are about improving how our systems assess content overall. These changes may cause some pages that were previously under-rewarded to do better in search results.” And of course, the opposite is also true, as some of our clients have experienced.
How to Tell if Your Site was Affected by the Core Update
There are several ways to diagnose whether or not your site was affected by a Google Core Update. The most obvious way is to look at the performance report from Google Search Console.
This report shows how many times a site appeared on a Search Results Page (SERP) and how many times a site was clicked from a SERP.
You can clearly see the sharp decline in the above graph in mid March.
This means that the site was found less often by Google, was clicked on less often by users and therefore had less opportunities for users to engage with and possibly convert on the site.
It’s a big deal.
If you are not comfortable with logging into the Google Search Console, another way to discern if your site was affected by a core update is by analyzing traffic data in Google Analytics.
Login to Google Analytics and look at the overall traffic for the month, then compare it to the previous month and the previous year. Note any change of pattern or sharp incline or decline in traffic, is there a logical reason why traffic would spike or drop?
If unusual traffic patterns do emerge and they don’t align with marketing efforts, then check the timeline of the Google Core Updates.
If there was an abrupt, unexplainable change in traffic, it is likely a result of a core update.
It is worth noting that an organic rise and fall of SEO KPIs is normal and expected, so if one month is +/-10% , it is not a cause for concern. When diagnosing SEO issues we look for the sharp increases and decreases.
Another key indicator is to monitor the ranking keywords of the site. If they rise or fall dramatically, it is a clue that something is wrong.
This happened to a client this month.
This client posted new content throughout the month (as they always do) and the traffic was very steady to the site. The keywords on the other hand spiked by 300% in one month, this caused our internal alarms to go off. Upon investigation, we discovered the client’s site had been hit by malware and was now ranking for very spammy words. In this case the client needed to work with their host to get the site cleaned up. This was not a core update issue, but as a website owner, you need to understand what to look for.
This is just one more reason why you should monitor your site regularly. By being aware of traffic and keyword patterns you can quickly spot when something is wrong and get help quickly. We suggest that all website owners use a tool like our Insights Reports to easily monitor the metrics that matter most.
Your Site was Hit by a Core Update, What do you do next?
Well, on this question Google is way less clear. Because broad core updates are broad and don’t focus on a specific region, language or site category, there is no specific guidance for improvement given by Google.
They simply say, in my words, be better.
There isn’t necessarily anything fundamentally wrong with a site that performs worse after a core update, it just isn’t as “good” as Google would like.
At Clapping Dog Media, our approach is to look at the site as a whole. We will focus on the Content, Usability and the Technical parts of a site to find areas that need to be improved.
We will find and identify where the site can be more user friendly or faster. We will also conduct a full content audit and identify pages that need to be updated. Our goal is to strategically improve upon areas of the site that we know matter to users and to Google.
If we can make improvements that engage and convert more users – amazing – that is the goal. To fully feel the impact of the improvements from an organic traffic perspective, we won’t see that until the next core update which can be anytime.
Here is a really insightful article about two different approaches to recovering from a Core Update.
If you think your site has been negatively impacted by the March Core Update, reach out, we are here to help. If you don’t know because you don’t regularly monitor the data, we have a great solution for you, check out our Data Dashboards.