Have a sticky toffee pudding and plan your Google Core Update recovery

Outstanding in your field

If you’re getting flustered by those pesky Google updates, don’t worry! You are not alone. And fear not, there is hope for a Google Core Update recovery. Today we’re going to share a success story of one such recovery.

Promise! No fluff. We’re even going to tell you what they did to recover. And to make your day, we’re even going to throw in another case study. The recent Google Core Updates have thrown off quite a few website owners and marketers, and it’s crucial to understand what changes have been made and how to navigate through them, and more importantly – achieve recovery!

Is Google Core Update some kind of a penalty?

BenchmarkNope. If you’ve been around the proverbial SEO block a few times, you might remember the famous (or infamous) Penguin and Panda updates which kind of worked more like penalties as they were targeting specific websites that had upset the Big G. Now these updates have evolved and the SEO folk should no longer think about them as penalties. Because they’re not.

To grasp the essence of this update, imagine Google’s algorithm as a fine-tooth comb that meticulously combs through billions of web pages to evaluate their quality, relevance, and user-friendliness. The aim of these updates is to enhance the user experience by refining how Google ranks content. If your content used to rank in the #1 spot and it tanks after a Core Update, it’s not because it’s been penalised, it’s simply that Google has moved the goalposts. Quite literally. In other words, they’ve re-evaluated your content against your competitors’ content and decided their content was better.

One of the principles behind Google’s ability to rank content is benchmarking. Each topical niche and keyword group will have its own benchmark where Google is trying to predict what kind of search results the average user would find most relevant. It all comes down to search intent. SERPs evolve as Google continuously learns about search intent and how best to match it with relevant content.

Have I been affected by a core update?

That’s a good question. Fluctuations in organic traffic can be caused by a myriad of other things. One way to check is to keep an eye on the Google Core Update Calendar – this shows exact dates when the previous (and future) updates are rolled out. In most cases though, it may take a week or even two weeks for an update to roll out. So if you find your traffic is still ok on next update announcement, it’s too early to celebrate. Another cool resource for all you DIY SEO enthusiasts is this Google Core Update Checklist. Just download the PDF checklist, try to score yourself and this should give you a pretty definitive answer.

What’s with the sticky toffee pudding?

No, we’ve not branched into food blogging and you won’t see us trying to be baking influencers on YouTube either.

We analysed a food recipe site that crashed hard during the September 2022 Google core update. It sent ripples across the digital realm and a lot of popular sites tanked. You can have a formidable domain authority and brand clout but it counts for nothing if Google thinks you’re an article directory.

How do you elevate an article directory to something that is worthy of receiving organic traffic? Yes, we’re talking about added value here. What is added value in SEO? It’s a fresh angle on a topic, it’s detailed stats, it’s unique expertise in the shape of instructions that you can’t find anywhere else.

Prove that you’re an expert in the field. In other words, added value is anything that makes your content stand out from the crowd of article directories. If we come to think about sticky toffee pudding recipes, just google for it – 12,000,000 results.

How do you make your recipe stand out? You can’t. It’s just sugar, egg and dates. So you have to find a way to mix it up (no pun intended) and ask yourself a slightly modified question – how do I make my page about the pudding recipe stand out. What other content elements can I introduce to present the recipe in a way that it’s considered an added value? Websites offering valuable, original, and user-centric content are the winners in core updates.

On the flip side, those with duplicate content, low-quality content (and based on anecdotal evidence – low-quality backlinks), or a lack of E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) face a decline in visibility.

What does a Google Core Update recovery look like?

Before we cut to the chase, let’s look at our little spy tool to discover what an organic traffic graph looks like when a website is affected by core updates. Introducing foodandwine.com – one of the world’s top resources for foodies. The 2022 was apparently pretty miserable for them as they got hit by an update after an update. You name it, they were hit by it. The only thing they didn’t get hit by was a bus. Ok, I’m getting dramatic here but you get my drift.

Food and Wine dot com google core update recovery

Looking at the graph, they hit rock-bottom after the September 2022 Google Core Update but what followed was a truly remarkable recovery. By March 2023 they had achieved a tangible SEO uplift and by September 2023 they had recovered their positions. The top graph shows an estimation of organic traffic received by a website.

This graph can be inaccurate as it’s based on estimations. The bottom one is slightly more accurate as it measures the actual number of keywords that a website has visibility for. So, looking at their visibility graph, they’ve actually made an improvement compared to the pre-update highs of 2021. Hats off to their SEO team.

Show me the toffee

Ok, going back to the toffee pudding recipe, thankfully, we have Archive.org that lets us peek into what a page looked like back in 2022. Who said time machine had not been invented yet?

How would you characterise the old page?

  • Generic – it’s just a very average recipe and the main point is that you can get the same recipe on hundreds of others websites
  • 20 years old content without updates
  • Bad user experience – lots of scrolling through blank spaces, disjointed blocks of content
  • Lack of supporting content

Do you see how the new page is different?

  • Improved user experience
  • Original (not borrowed) photos with each step
  • big block of related recipes
  • Improved schema markup that includes authorship and other important elements

Recovery Case Study 2 – Does Google Love Article Directories?

Yes, it’s an ironic question and I guess we all know the answer. Google hates article directories. Let’s look at what is a definition of an article directory and why it is that Google hates them. What we would classify as an article directory is any website that is made up of disjointed and “samey” pieces of textual content with an aim of generating income from display ads.

Typical article directories will be very low on authority signals and they will mainly consist of regurgitated content that provides absolutely no added value. Individual authors will have low or non-existent authorship signals. Although this might be painful, think about it – does your website have any traits of an article directory? Do you have enough high quality varied content?

HomeStratosphere Organic Graph
HomeStratosphere Organic Graph

Let’s compare HomeStratosphere.com to HouseBeautiful.com – there are similarities. Both sites have churned out thousands of pages to do with what they call “interior inspiration” these days. Usefulness of such sites is a separate matter. Both have been affected by a string of consecutive Google Core Updates and while HouseBeautiful (HB) has achieved a partial recovery,

Housebeautiful Organic Graph
Housebeautiful Organic Graph

HomeStratosphere (HS) is apparently destined to falling into oblivion because that’s where they keep falling, just look at the screenshot. What are the main differences between these two sites?

  • HS – almost all their articles follow the same recipe – “Top 20 ideas for this or that” – that’s what I meant when I said “samey” content. HB is a bit more like an online magazine because they also feature interviews, overviews and other bits that make them look and sound more human.
  • All the HS articles have been written by one dude… Hey, dude, this is not plausible. Even if he were the most diligent writer in the whole wide world, there is no way he could’ve written all this stuff. HB – again more human touch and better Schema authorship signals
  • Backlink profile. Although Google always tries to downplay the off-site element, it’s pretty clear that backlink profiles contribute a certain weighting in the post-Update search result formations. Websites with high backlink authority are often forgiven content misgivings while websites having poor and spammy backlink profiles often see themselves worse off.This is the case with HS and HB. Now, HS has 95,000 external domains linking to them but their own domain authority score is just 35. Although we don’t always read too much into these estimated figures, it’s clear that this site has built a looooot of low quality links. As for HB, they have achieved a much higher auth score of 75 with “only” 65,000 domains linking back. Less effort + higher quality = better resilience against core updates.Could HS ever achieve recovery from Google Core Updates? Theoretically, nothing is impossible. But it looks like it might be an uphill struggle. Sometimes you have to review your business model and weigh up potential gains because depending on your size and structure, Google Core Update recovery can be an expensive endeavour.

Navigating Recovery from the Google Core Update:

Now, onto the golden question: How do you recover from the September 2022 Google Core Update? Fear not, for we’ve got your back!

Step 1: Rethink your purpose

Yeah, I know, this sounds very philosophical and deep but there is a rationale here. With so much competition around, you have to find a way to stand out. Have you defined your “added value”? Have you thought how this added value slots into your brand message and your long-term plan? To achieve real success, you have to be out-standing in your field. See what I did there?

Outstanding in your field

Step 2: Content audit for Google core update recovery

Take a deep dive into your content. Weed out duplicated, low-quality, or irrelevant material. Aim for fresh, original content that resonates with your audience and aligns with your expertise. Google’s update aimed to prioritise original and unique content, relegating duplicated, or repurposed content to the backseat. If your site relies on duplicated content across multiple pages or borrows extensively from other sources without adding substantial value, you might’ve felt the heat of this algorithmic shift.

Step 3: E-A-T

Make E-A-T your mantra. E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness. It’s a mantra that was taught to Google’s Search Quality Evaluators – the humans that help assess quality of content and help inform the continuous development of Google’s ranking algorithm.

  • Is your content written by real humans and more importantly, have you signalled that this was the case by implementing Schema Authorship in a way that it makes sense?
  • Does your content cite authoritative sources?
  • Does your website look legitimate and is it receiving a constant stream of links and brand mentions?

Step 4: Quality over quantity

Remember, it’s not about churning out volumes of content—it’s about delivering quality. Focus on creating in-depth, authoritative pieces that add value and engage your audience. Identify existing pages that receive very little organic traffic and think if there are opportunities to merge and/or refresh the page content. Rather than having 3 weak pages on the same topic, merge them into one strong page.

Step 5: Technical SEO check-up

Perform a thorough technical SEO audit. Address issues such as broken links, Google crawl budget, page load speed, mobile-friendliness, and ensure a smooth user experience across devices. Think about duplicate content again! Yes, again because sometimes duplicate content issues are caused by technical SEO shortcomings.

Step 6: Backlink audit

Evaluate your backlink profile. Disavow toxic or spammy backlinks that could negatively impact your site’s credibility. Rethink your link building approach. Is your mindset hampering your link acquisition? Aim for high-quality, relevant backlinks from authoritative sources. Although there is no direct evidence that the September 2022 Google Core Update had a backlink-lead element to it, we all know backlinks is a big part of Google’s algorithm so cleaning up you act is a no-brainer.

Step 7: Patience is key

Recovery from a Google Core Update takes time. Implementing changes and improvements doesn’t guarantee an overnight fix. Be patient, monitor progress, and stay the course. Ok, in the Foodandwine example, the recovery was fast but boy, did they put a lot of effort and resource into it!

Final thoughts on Google Core Update recovery:

The September 2022 Google Core Update was a game-changer for many websites, reshuffling the digital deck and emphasizing the importance of quality, originality, and user-centricity in content creation. Navigating through the impact required diligence, adaptability, and a commitment to delivering top-notch content.

Remember, recovery from Google Core updates isn’t an exact science. It requires a multifaceted approach encompassing content, technical SEO, and a deep understanding of your audience’s needs. By staying proactive, adapting to changes, and consistently providing value, you can steer your digital ship through these algorithmic storms and emerge stronger on the other side.

Perhaps start with the Google Core Update Checklist to ascertain if you even have this issue.

Arvid Linde

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