Google’s John Mueller responded to a Reddit SEO discussion where a search console warning about mobile usability was soon after followed by a rankings drop in a medical related website.
The timing of the drop in rankings happening soon after search console issued a warning about mobile usability issues made the two events appear to be related.
The person despaired because they fixed the problem, validated the fix through Google search console but the rankings changes haven’t reversed.
These are the salient details:
“Around Aug. 2022, I noticed that Google Search Console was saying ALL of our pages were now failing Mobile Usability standards. I had a developer “fix” the pages…
…I resubmitted the sitemap & asked Google to “Validate” all of my fixes on Oct. 25, 2022. It has been 15 days with no movement.”
Understanding Changes in Ranking
John Mueller responded in the Reddit discussion, observing that in his opinion the mobile usability issues were unrelated to the rankings drop.
“I’ll go out on a limb and say the reason for rankings changing has nothing to do with this.
I’d read the quality raters guidelines and the content Google has on the recent updates for some thoughts, especially for medical content like that.”
This is a great example of how the most obvious reason for something happening is not always the correct reason, it’s only the most obvious.
Obvious is not the same as accurate or correct, even though it might seem like it.
When diagnosing a problem it’s important to keep an open mind about the causes and to not stop diagnosing an issue at the first more obvious explanation.
John dismissed the mobile usability issue as being serious enough to affect rankings.
His answer suggested that serious content quality issues are a likelier reason for a rankings change, especially if the change happens around the same time as an algorithm update.
The Google Raters Guidelines are a guide for assessing site quality in an objective manner, free of subjective ideas of what constitutes site quality.
So it makes sense that Mueller suggested to the Redditor that they should read the raters guidelines to see if the descriptions of what defines site quality matches those of the site in question.
Coincidentally, Google recently published new documentation for helping publishers understand what Google considers rank-worthy content.
The document is called, Creating helpful, reliable, people-first content. The documentation contains a section that’s relevant to this problem, Get to know E-A-T and the quality rater guidelines.
Google’s help page explains that their algorithm uses many factors to understand whether a webpage is expert, authoritative and trustworthy, particularly for Your Money Your Life pages such as those on medical topics.
This section of the documentation explains why the quality raters guidelines information is important:
“…our systems give even more weight to content that aligns with strong E-A-T for topics that could significantly impact the health, financial stability, or safety of people, or the welfare or well-being of society.
We call these “Your Money or Your Life” topics, or YMYL for short.”
Search Console Fix Validations Are Generally Informational
Mueller next discussed the search console fix validations and what they really mean.
He continued his answer:
“For indexing issues, “validate fix” helps to speed up recrawling.
For everything else, it’s more about giving you information on what’s happening, to let you know if your changes had any effect.
There’s no “the website fixed it, let’s release the hand brake” effect from this, it’s really primarily for you: you said it was good now, and here is what Google found.”
YMYL Medical Content
The person asking the question responded to Mueller by noting that the majority of the website content was written by doctors.
They next mention how they also write content that is meant to convey expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness.
This is what they shared:
“I’ve tried to really write blog articles & even marketing pages that have a satisfying answer above the fold, but then explain the details after.
Pretty much everything a person would do if they were legit trying to get an answer across – which is also what you read to be “EAT” best practices.
They lamented that their competitors with old content overtook them in the rankings.
Diagnosing a ranking issue is sometimes more than just navel gazing one’s own site.
It may be useful to really dig into the competitor site to understand what their strengths are that might be accounting for their increased search visibility.
It might seem like after an update that Google is “rewarding” sites that have this or that, like good mobile usability, FAQs, etc.
But that’s not really how search algorithms work.
Search algorithms, in a nutshell, try to understand three things:
- The meaning of a search queries
- The meaning of web pages
- Site quality
So it follows that any improvements to the algorithm may likely be an improvement in one or all three (probably all three).
And that’s where John Mueller’s encouragement to read the Google Search Quality Raters Guidelines (PDF) comes in.
It may also be helpful to read Google’s fantastic Search Quality Raters Guidelines Overview (PDF) because it’s shorter and easier to understand.
Read the Reddit Question and Answer
Image by Shutterstock/Khosro