In a Webmaster Hangout, a publisher asked Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller, what to do about their 40% decline in traffic due to Google’s update. John offered advice on what they should focus on, as well as what not to focus on.
Publisher Followed Google Guidelines and Lost Rankings
The publisher related how they followed Google’s guidelines, didn’t build links and only focused on creating content, just like Google advises. Despite following the rules, the publisher said they were hit by Google’s latest algorithm.
This is the question a publisher asked Google’s John Mueller:
“The Google BERT update affected two of my websites and traffic dropped by 40%. The only thing I’m doing is following Google’s guidelines, I haven’t built a single link and I’m focused on creating content… the site ranked in the top three and traffic was getting better day by day.
But after BERT the site moved to the fourth and fifth page for the main keywords and the longtail keywords remaining unchanged. My site is the best user experience with average user stays are five minutes. …What’s happening here?”
BERT is Not Responsible For Ranking Declines
Mueller shared that if a site had a rankings collapse from the recent update, it was very likely not related to BERT.
This is what Mueller said:
“Maybe first of all, this would not be from BERT. The BERT changes are particularly about understanding user queries better and around being able to understand text better in general.
So it’s not that we would say that suddenly your page is less relevant. But rather with BERT we would try to understand does this question that someone is asking us, does it match this website best. And usually that’s for more complicated questions.
The thing to keep in mind is that we make changes all the time. We’ve made several core algorithm changes as well over the… last month or so, which kind of overlap with the rollout of BERT as well. “
Core Algorithm Update is Reason for Ranking Changes
John Mueller then said that Google had rolled out several ranking changes and that it was those changes that were the likely reason for the ranking changes, not BERT.
Instead, John offered that this was related to algorithm changes that focused on relevance, as well as which pages are better and of higher quality.
“So that’s something where my guess is that these changes here are totally unrelated to the BERT change and more with regard to the general algorithm changes where we try to figure out which pages are more relevant, which of these pages are better, higher quality and how can we show more relevant pages in the search results.”
Relevance is one of the most important reasons why Google ranks a web page. It’s what makes one page better than another. That’s what Google’s trying to do.
Mueller went on to recommend not focusing on BERT or on technical SEO factors.
This is what Mueller recommended:
“So my recommendation here would be to not focus on BERT, not focus on purely technical aspects.
So you mentioned user experience, you mentioned speed… it’s something where I would really focus on the site overall and kind of improving things overall.”
Mueller then recommended reading Google’s guidance on core algorithm updates, What Webmasters Should Know about Google’s Core Updates.
That is a good document to read.
Here are two of what I feel are important passages from Google’s blog post:
“It’s also important to understand that search engines like Google do not understand content the way human beings do. Instead, we look for signals we can gather about content and understand how those correlate with how humans assess relevance.
…Several times a year, we make significant, broad changes to our search algorithms and systems. We refer to these as “core updates.” They’re designed to ensure that overall, we’re delivering on our mission to present relevant and authoritative content to searchers.”
Much of what Mueller shared was similar to what I had advised in my article, Recovery From November 2019 Google Update.
The advice to not focus on technical aspects but to rather focus on improving the site’s content from the perspective of Google’s mission to, as Mueller said, “figure out which pages are more relevant” is a good place to start for understanding why a site lost rankings. In my opinion based on my experience helping sites hit by algorithm changes, that’s been the key to recovery.
Watch John Mueller answer the what to do about Google’s November 2019 update:
- History of Google Algorithm Updates
- 5 Ways to Build a Google Algorithm Update Resistant SEO Strategy
- How Search Engines Work