On Monday, June 3rd, 2019 the world came to an end.
Just like it always does for many web sites when Google does a broad core algorithm update. The truth is that it’s not really the end of the world but for many, it might feel like it is. If you’re one of the unlucky ones who lost a considerable amount of traffic after the update, stay tuned to this series of articles. I’m going to explain exactly what happened, why it happened, and how to start on a road to recover. Since this is a new blog, I’m going to need to cover a lot of ground here – I don’t have any existing articles that I can refer you to, so I need to write them as I go along.
If you are one of the lucky ones to have gained traffic or if your traffic remained stable, it’s still fairly important to understand what’s going on here. If you understand what’s happening, it’s a lot easier to understand how to leverage it to your advantage, not your dismay.
Google’s Path To Now
We need to go back a little bit to get a grasp on what’s happening now. I’m writing this under the assumption that you already understand the basic aspects of SEO like links, content, headings, and that sort of stuff. Also understand, there are a LOT of other things happening in search – this article (and the background info herein) is only touching on the key points which lead to and created the biggest effects in this update. (This would be a 10,000 page article if we covered it all.)
All of this really goes all the way back to 2003 when Google acquired Applied Semantics. It was at this point in search engine history where it all began to change. Before that you needed to account for singular and plural versions of keywords and coming up with each and every possible variation. Quite simply, if the word wasn’t on the page, it wouldn’t rank.
By 2004 we started to see some of this technology going into place. We had basic word stemming (i.e. understanding that “walk,” “walks,” “walking,” “walked,” etc. generally mean the same thing in different contexts). We also started to see things where pages about “kittens” might start to rank for search terms which only included the word “cats.”
In the early days, the whole thing could generally be explained by having an understanding of what’s called Latent Semantic Indexing or LSI. As the years went on, Google got better and better at this and ultimately we can’t even call what they are doing LSI anymore. It has its heritage there, but it’s so much more.
The Google Medic Update of 2018
Usually, we get a few years between major updates that shake up the world of search engine optimization. Our most recent update came just over a half year ago. It was dubbed the “Medic” update by Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Round Table based upon his analysis of the sites that were affected. Many others speculated that it was more about what are known as YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) sites. These are sites that offer you products that are supposed to make you live longer, feel better, get healthier, lose weight, and that sort of thing. You know… those “Buy this or you’ll die!” type web sites.
Many people’s conclusions were based upon the observations about the most commonly and greatly affected sites. They assumed that it was something in the algorithm specifically targeting a specific niche and type of web site. To this day, I sometimes have difficulty explaining that it is an incorrect conclusion to many professionals. Those sites were affected, true, but it wasn’t specifically targeting them – it was just that Google had taken a huge leap forward in being able to understand, verify, and validate them.
On the heels of the Medic Update, we have this June 2019 update which is, essentially, just a broadening and growth in some of the technologies and mystical mathematics introduced last year. I think that when all is said and done, this update will be known as…
The Fake News Update
Obama made the term popular. Trump turned it into a cliche – and maybe even a joke. The fact remains that it can really be difficult when surfing the web to figure out if something is actually true or not. Compound that by the fact that you can take real data and come to some incorrect conclusions.
For example, the image to the right shows that there is a near perfect correlation between the number of people who fall into a swimming pool and die each year and the number of films Nicolas Cage appears in. Can we assume, then, that there is some sort of cause and effect here? Certainly not, but there are a lot of so-called news articles out there which make equally false correlations between things. And then they call it science – because, you know… data.
What is happening here (and back in 2018) is that Google is starting to figure out ways to verify claims of fact.
For this article, I’m going to keep the explanation of Frame Semantics short. It’s going to be something we’re discussing a lot in the future, so we’ll delve into it some more in other posts. You can read my introduction to Semantic Frames here.
In short, semantic frames are a way to frame an “entity” like a person, place, thing, idea, fact, etc. in a way that we can understand it. Different types of elements that machines can understand – like a movie has “actors” and “directors” etc.
This comes into play during our “Fake News” algorithm update because Google can use this to help determine validity of claims. (Which you can read a bit more about in my intro article linked to a few paragraphs up.)
The reason Medical and YMYL sites tended to be among the biggest hit during last year’s update wasn’t because they were targeted by Google. It was because Google has a good understanding of medical type sites and claims. There are a lot of scholarly articles on the subject – and even more on each specific element of these.
When you make a claim like, “These diet pills burn away the fat!” or that they help you “lose weight without exercising.” it’s fairly easy for Google to look at these claims and see that they are untrue. There’s a lot of other information out there – some may agree. Some says the opposite. Even in the less controversial claims, Google can give you less credence because there seems to be an equal amount of claims on either side.
This Update’s Effects
Stories of affected sites from this update have a broad range. There is at least one Crypto Currency News site that has threatened to shut down (with no signs of actually doing so as of yet). A lot of news sites were affected adversely, including the most notable huge drops at Daily Mail. There is a lot of pretty wild speculation on just what happened here. Rank Ranger has a list of broad niches and how they were affected too.
If we keep in mind the basic principles I’ve outlined above, it all becomes a bit less speculative, though. It wasn’t a punishment on Crypto Currency sites – a lot of financial sites were affected according to Rank Ranger’s list. Why? Financial sites often deal in speculation as to what the best investment is, or whether gold is going to drop or fall. It’s not easily verifiable until after it has happened.
And, why did Daily Mail get hit hard but the Mirror go up? They’re both sensationalist news sites. So what gives?
If you look at a Daily Mail article, they almost always start with a HUGE list of claims. No sources cited. Nothing. Read on in the article and you might find a few links to other Daily Mail sections or articles, but there’s no connection to other sources – no way to validate the claims. On the Mirror.UK site, most of the articles cite some sources for the news (e.g. “According to Joe Somebody, Chief of Something”) and many times links to external sources (which is ultimately the big key here). This gives Google a way to “connect” the various “frames” it’s building around this subject, the people involved, and even the various web sites reporting. If the Daily Mail never lists a source, it can’t verify its claims against anything else – authoritative or not.
The lesson: Back up your claims with links to authoritative sources and data which help verify your position. The post “Fake News Update” web is a term paper.
But Wait, There’s More!
Part Two of Understanding the June 2019 Google Update is here!. Highlights include:
- Google Everflux: Step by step, minute by minute.
- Is it Lunch Time Yet?
- …and more.
In case you missed it in the post, above – here’s an important background article to help fully understand this. It’s my Introduction to Semantic Frames. Give it a quick read if you didn’t catch it up top.