Navigating Google Updates and diagnosing specific causes of traffic loss can be a challenging task. In 2021, Google has rolled out nearly a dozen major algorithm changes – and those are just the ones they’ve told us about. Many of these updates even overlapped, making it all the more difficult to correlate traffic & ranking drops with dates of known updates.
From site speed to link spam, let’s hop in to 3 things you can do to recover lost traffic in Q4.
1. Page Experience, Site Speed, and Core Web Vitals
Originally announced in the pre-COVID era and delayed until this past summer, Google’s Page Experience update had a 3 month rollout from June through August of 2021. This change is aimed at rewarding fast loading pages which offer a positive user experience across three Core Web Vitals. If you lost SEO traffic in early September and fail the new requirements, this could be a cause of your traffic loss.
Luckily, Google has made their PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse tools available to get a better understanding of what’s slowing down your website and how to fix the problems. There are also additional reports within Search Console regarding your website’s performance.
It’s important to note this is largely a page-level update, so webmasters will need run diagnostics at the URL level. For large websites, including publishers and Ecommerce companies, this can present a large time investment, and is likely the reason Google gave such rare advance notice of this update.
In addition to the recommendations from the above-mentioned tools, it may be beneficial to move your site to a service like Cloudflare which has built-in speed and security optimizations, or hire a professional who can make a complex project more approachable for you & your developers.
2. Skeletons in the (link) closet
It’s no secret that backlinks are one of Google’s primary ranking factors, leaving a site’s link profile ripe for manipulation. Google has a long history of playing cat & mouse with link spam, going back to the days of monthly Google “dances” in the early 2000’s, to the Penguin updates throughout the early-mid 2010’s, and manual actions through present-day.
More recently, Google rolled out their latest “Link Spam” update in late July, which specifically targets guest blog posts and sponsored content. Why guest posts? They fit a pattern that’s easy for an algorithm or human reviewer to detect – scalable, repeatable, and pattern-forming. Most link building companies (NOT IMN) lean on guest posts to acquire links for their clients because it’s low-effort, high profit, and scales incredibly well, but they’re really doing their clients a disservice in the long run. Any time a link building tactic becomes popular, it’s only a matter of time before Google catches up and takes action.
If you lost traffic in late July and know that you (or someone at your company in the past) ever built links directly or through an agency, it’s likely those links that once helped you are no longer providing ranking value. Consider a backlink audit and potential disavow to clear your association with these links, but be careful here – even Google says you can do more harm than good disavowing links if you don’t know what to look for.
None of this is to say that all link building is “bad” – if done correctly, the results can be rewarding, long-lasting, and safe. Earned links really do rely on the quality of your content and it’s intended audience, so a win-win scenario entails building an outreach strategy that is aligned with your editorial calendar & overall content plan.
3. Authenticity & Understanding your users
E-A-T, YMYL, oh my! By now, we all know the acronyms, and they’re becoming a bigger piece of the ranking puzzle. If you lost rankings throughout June and/or July, you may have been affected by one of the Core Algorithm Updates, and it’s likely your content and user experience may be a reason why.
When reviewing your site’s content, ask yourself:
- Are the articles, stories, and other content pieces on your website written by someone who is an expert in the field they’re writing about? Are you demonstrating this in your bylines and in author profiles?
- Are you writing content to meet a minimum word count or to meet your users’ search intent?
- Is the ratio of ads to content across your site working more in your favor and less in your users?
- Is the content written and formatted in an easy to consume, digestible way?
- Are other elements integrated into your content (related YouTube videos, images, and trusted external citations)?
Our friends at Semrush take a deeper dive into Usability and it’s SEO impact and it’s well worth a read. It’s also never a bad time to review and familiarize yourself with the latest version of Google’s quality rater guidelines.
These are some, but not all of the things to review if you’ve lost SEO traffic this year. In reality, having a multi-channel approach that doesn’t rely so heavily on Google organic traffic can not only help protect you against search engine changes, but also help develop branding signals and provide the food for Google that can help recover your rankings too. Thanks for reading!
Chris Sullivan is a digital marketing veteran, launching his first online business in the late 90’s (a sports message board & newsletter) and being part of the Internet Marketing Ninjas team since 2007. Chris helps new clients create custom strategies to grow their business online. Want to chat? E-mail Chris at [email protected]