What Happened In Google On June 16th, 2015?

Moz just released this month their MozCast year in review infographic which does a really good job breaking down some of the most volatile days in search over the last two years. I highly recommend checking it out!

Before we proceed any further it’s important to give some background on exactly how MozCast tracks things and what “volatile” means in this context. MozCast tracks a set of 1,000 keywords every 24 hours and pulls the top 10 organic results. MozCast then compares those set of kewyords to the top 10 keywords from the previous day. The hotter the temperature on MozCast the larger the change in those rankings. The bigger the change the more volatile the algorithm is that day.

One thing that may surprise you is while some of the higher temperature days (70 degrees being the average) do correspond with confirmed updates there are plenty of days where there was clearly some sort of change occurring in the search algorithm but no confirmed update. As Gary Illyes points out frequently, as seen in this tweet below, Google makes hundreds of changes to their algorithm.

Takeaways

Getting back to the infographic, some of the things I took away from this informative infographic were:

  1.  There appear to be a lot more confirmed updates in 2014 versus 2015.
  2.  I was pretty surprised the most volatile day June 16th 2015 was not attributed to a confirmed update. In fact the year before the closest date that was as volatile was May 19, 2014 which was the Panda 4.0 update. As a refresher, this update hit low-quality content. Some of the so-called losers of this update included popular sites like Retailmenot.com and Ask.com.

So what was the June 16, 2015 update?

We may never know definitively but there were some good theories. Gary Illyes came out and dismissed the theories that this was a Penguin or Panda update. Moz’s Dr. Pete had a good theory that it might have something to do with HTTPS but Gary from Google also dismissed that theory. So what was it?

One interesting part of the Dr. Pete’s theory was that Wikipedia was during this same time frame switching their site over to HTTPS. Could one very large site trigger tons of search term movement? Personally, I believed this theory originally only because if you think about it a lot of Wikipedia content is pulled into top search positions as well as the knowledge graph. Since MozCast is focused on the top 10 organic results it seems completely likely that a site that shows up in the majority of top organic results could be catalyst for all of this. However, this theory wasn’t quite accurate either.

Searchmetrics‘ founder Marcus Tober came out with what I consider to be the leading and best supported theory. It appears that news sites specifically such as Time.com and Techcrunch.com came out with better rankings after June 16, 2015. See this chart below via Searchmetrics as evidence of the increase in search visibility for Techcruch.com

techcrunch-visibility-searchmetrics-1024x588

via Searchmetrics

Interestingly enough, Google Trends had a relaunch on June 17th, one day after all of this activity in the search engine. It appears this update allowed Google to immediately update based on the trending topics. For instance if a certain news event broke and this led to more searchers typing a query into Google the search engine could immediately serve up the most relevant content, both new articles and old articles about that same topic.

Personally, I have to wonder if this update had something to do with when RankBrain started to take a larger part in Google’s algorithm.

I think the big takeaway here is that the algorithm is quite literally always changing and we should by no means only pay attention to the Penguin, Pandas and Mobilegeddon updates.

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Smart Goals In Google Analytics

I was excited to find out Google has announced and started rolling out  smart goals last week. This new feature is a valuable tool for many small to medium sized businesses who don’t have a way of tracking conversions on their website.

Smart goals are a type of goal within Google Analytics. So what’s so smart about these goals? For some websites you may not have a thank you page or any sort of goal that you can set. This is where smart goals are valuable. Smart goals use machine learning in order to pull data from other websites to determine which visits to your site would likely convert. By pulling data from those thousands of websites (which by the way are anonymous at this time) Google is able to determine what behavior on the site correlates with users converting. An example of this might be a user spending over 10 minutes on your site while also navigating to 4 or more pages.

Another aspect of this new feature which makes it incredibly compelling is the fact that it is relatively easy to set up by setting it up within Google Analytics (please note smart goals are only eligible in your account if you have your Adwords account linked to Analytics). There is no need to add a piece of code to your site, a task that might hinder many small businesses from being able to track conversions in the first place.

One you have smart goals set up you can then pull the data into Adwords and optimize for smart goals as your conversions.

In my opinion, smart goals are a win for Google in two respects. First, by being able to show some form of conversions Google gives many of those small and medium business advertisers a chance to see the return on their ad spend (potentially for the very first time).

Second, indirectly Google is further aiding businesses in improving their user experience on the site. Even if a small business owner doesn’t change a single thing on their website if they know that their existing landing pages convert better on 5 specific keywords out of the 100 keywords they have in their campaigns, that advertiser is likely to focus future spend on those 5 terms. This in turn drives the most targeted traffic to their site, which at the end of the day is what Google wants for users clicking on ads.

It’s also good to see such a valuable feature ,aimed at benefiting mainly small business owners, roll out not long after the not so local-friendly Google+ update around Thanksgiving.