Chris Raines: Hey there, welcome to episode 25 of the Dodgeball Marketing Podcast, and video podcast, if you're on YouTube. My name's Chris, and this is Michael.
Michael Utley: Hey, everybody.
Chris Raines: Today, our topic is How to Avoid Disaster with a Google Core Update. Now, Google Core Update is when Google decides they're going to update their algorithm this week.
Michael Utley: That's when Google does something big, big enough that they talk about it, and everyone on SEO Twitter talks about it, and starts crying. . .
Chris Raines: And sets their hair on fire.
Michael Utley: Sharing war stories, and showing charts of stuff going up that they didn't know it'd go up, and stuff going down. It's when there's a big change in the Google Universe.
Chris Raines: It happens. . . It's Google's universe, we just live in it. So this is kind of. . . They give you some ways to protect yourself from disaster, and then a little bit of... After the disaster happens, gather yourself and say like, "Where do we go from here?" because it affects everyone when these updates come out. And so, how to prepare for it, how to move forward if disaster happens.
Michael Utley: Yup, that's right. Number one: fresh, steady, relevant content is critical. Google is really just trying to help their audience find what they're looking for more and more easily. When they make a core update, they're not trying. . . There's no conspiracy, they're not going after certain websites and they're not lifting up certain perspectives and damaging others. Now, there are things like the Medic Update that tended to squelch non-professionalized, non-credentialed healthcare information or health information.
Michael Utley: There are some times when there are updates that are a little more pointed and a little bit more observable around particular industries, but in general, with a core update, it's some broad set of changes that they're making under the hood to improve the user experience. That's what they're trying to do. They're not trying to attack anybody personally. The biggest thing that they say is, just focus on producing valuable content, and so we've got to take them at their word.
Michael Utley: So, here's what that looks like, to put a little bit of a skin and bones on that platitude "produce steady content". Your website: if you're going 30 days with no new pages hitting your website, you're essentially just transmitting dead air out into the ether, and so Google is seeing that and they're saying, "Well, there's not really a lot going on there." You really should have anywhere between two and 10 new pages of content hitting your website every month. If you're working with an SEO agency, you've probably got some blog posts happening, but what about services pages being updated? What about sub-services being broken out in more detail, and linking between your sub-services pages and your services pages?
Michael Utley: For your products, are you appropriately creating more useful information and highlighting the most important information, and creating secondary pages for supporting information—technical specs, access to the manual, whatever it is, user stories—are you creating new pages that your users can see and get to, but search engines can index? If you're creating that steady flow of new valuable content, and breaking it up and structuring it, in as useful a way as possible, Google's always going to see that as a good thing. No matter how small you are, nobody's small enough that they would never have something new to say. A minimum of "the lights being on at home", is between two and 10 pages a month.
Michael Utley: Chris, talk to me about this next topic. I want to ask you about page speed. What is the framework of how to think about page speed in relation to avoiding these big disasters?
Chris Raines: Well, I would say just keep tabs on it. Google, as we've talked about on this podcast before, really, really cares about page speed. It's a ranking factor, and it's only going to get more stringent, and-
Michael Utley: In part, because these guys, phones.
Chris Raines: Exactly, yeah. Keeping a monitor on... Websites evolve over time, if you're on WordPress for instance, your theme might update, you're going to add new plugins, you're going to add new images, a lot of things that might bog down your site. So it's a really good idea to. . . Because we know when Google does core updates, they oftentimes will include speed in that update, and whatever their new bar is for speed, demote sites that fall below that bar key. It's a good practice to keep a good tab on your page space. You're going to use Google's free tool called Google page. . . What's it called?
Michael Utley: Google PageSpeed Tool. If you go to Google and just search for Google PageSpeed Tool, you'll go right to it.
Chris Raines: They will divide it up into categories, and they'll tell you, what's harming your site the most when it comes to page speed. Once a month, it's a good idea to print that out and save it. If you see your page speed creeping down, start taking proactive action to correct that. That's a really great way to prepare for a Google update that might include page speed as one of its factors.
Michael Utley: Absolutely. Yeah, websites are sort of a living, breathing organism in an environment of living, breathing organisms. They're all sort of checking in with each other, and so if you have plugins that get updated automatically or Google makes a change, these. . . You can have change on both sides that can change that relationship to how they proceed page speed, and they'll straight up knock a site down for just page speed.
Chris Raines: Yeah, great. Michael, let's have you take this next one, Use Best Practices for Access and Usability. Why don't you explain that one to us?
Michael Utley: Yeah, absolutely. There are just a couple of issues here that you can use to scan a website, and you can get online and look for these. What you want to do is, make sure that your website is working for most types of users. This can range from anywhere to differently-abled users. Using alt text on images is a real basic thing for people who are maybe vision-impaired and are using a different type of interface than most other folks are using. Using the basics. . . This is in that realm of something to ask your web developer about, so it gets technical, but you just-
Chris Raines: Is it also something also like contrast on a page?
Michael Utley: Yup.
Chris Raines: If you've got... If there's not enough context between text and the background color, or something like that?
Michael Utley: Yeah, and then a phrase that... I worked with an agency for a couple of years, Immersion Active, and something that David was always really passionate about there, was that it's not... Their focus was older consumers or sort of the Baby Boomer market, and they would say, "It's not about big fonts." It's not that simple. Instead, they would focus on Universal Design. Universal Design is, "Can anybody get to this page and have function and do what they're trying to do?"
Michael Utley: Using the online tools for running a scan for either HTML compliance or ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance, those are going to give you some basics and they might highlight some lesser known problems that can become flat red flags for search engines. When you've got a Google Core Update, sometimes they're just saying, "How we decide who's best, and who doesn't have a good website?" They've got some big categories that they can use, and sometimes these scans pick up things that are basically just usability problems on the website.
Michael Utley: So, talk to your web developer and say, "Hey, is our website compliant with all of the different parameters for folks who are differently-abled?" And they'll say, "Well, I don't know. Let me check." This is in that category of thoroughness when it comes to doing SEO search engine optimization or usability, but the basic principle is, "If it doesn't work for a handful of folks, it's probably not working as well as it could for everyone." Usability and design, basics, being able to do things, font size, thinking about not having overlapping elements, not having any sort of archaic elements that are not really good coding, and those are things that you'll catch with mobile use.
Michael Utley: We've gotten away from having left sidebars on pages. They just don't flow well when you go to a mobile device, and so they're just. . . One column is pretty standard now. I would avoid falling into the trap of thinking that really big fonts are important for your audience. They might even be adjusting for that. You want to aim for the mainstream and use just basic, good, solid, clean look and feel, where you're trying to let people interact and do things functionally. Using those scans like any sort of compliance, basically, HTML compliance, you want to make sure that you're just using those or having your web developer run those once or twice a year.
Chris Raines: That's great. Fourth, on How to Avoid a Google Disaster for Core Update is, monitor and understand the changes in traffic after the disaster happens. A lot of times, Michael, I know you've experienced this before with clients, the traffic may go down, plummet quite a bit after core update, but the damage isn't really as bad as it looks, because you're looking at big picture metrics, like amount of traffic, like the number of hits or whatever. A good thing to do if you're a local business especially, would be. . .
Chris Raines: Here's an example of something that looks bad, but is not really bad. Let's say you're a kitchen remodel... I always use kitchen remodeling, but just a little local business. Say you're a kitchen remodeler in Minneapolis, and your traffic goes down after a core update, but you look at your traffic before and after, and you happen to get a lot of traffic from other states where you don't really provide service, in Arizona and Florida and whatever. Maybe you have blog content that was more generalized, and those were coming in from those places where you can't serve those people.
Chris Raines: If that's the case, and your traffic in Minneapolis and their surrounding area is intact, well then the core update really... Google might've been trying to help you by focusing more on your service area, because it's understanding you more as a local business. Someone from Florida, while they might benefit from your content that you're providing, are not really in your customer set, and you're not meant to serve those, so Google's trying to identify localities and what's more appropriate for people in different localities. So-
Michael Utley: So you've really got to dig into your analytics to understand what's happening, and not to just say, "More traffic, good," but to say, "How's business?" "How are we doing?"
Chris Raines: Having a more sophisticated look. Another thing is, your goal's on your site. If the core updates happens and it lasts for a month, you're getting less traffic, but the same amount of leads and sales, did it really hurt you? Another one might be bot traffic or something like that. Maybe Google's getting smarter at cleaning out bots and weird segments of traffic that are just spammy. Maybe that's the only thing that went away. Maybe you got to do a better job of filtering that out on Google analytics or something.
Chris Raines: Just overall, freak out a little bit, but then look... Allow yourself to freak out a little bit and then look at the data and say, "Okay, what have we really lost here? How are we performing in terms of the KPIs of the website?" And you might find that it's not as bad as you think it is.
Michael Utley: Yeah, that's a good point. We've definitely seen that before where we might be running a little bit hot. It's not uncommon for us with search engine optimization, as part of what we do, to sort of dominate for a category nationally, even when we're focused on, say, the Boston area for a set of healthcare practices that cover maybe three states. It's not uncommon for us to see one of our sites run hot. For Google to cut out a lot of out-of-area traffic and rankings for us, not really a real problem, but it sure feels bad to explain that chart.
Chris Raines: Now, if you went and opened up a practice there, I bet what would happen is you would start to accumulate more traffic there, because you'd have a Google My Business profile, you'd start to have those keywords. So it's all, like you said, it's [inaudible 00:12:43].
Michael Utley: Good. All right, so I'll take our last segment for How to Avoid Disaster with the Google Core Update. We talk about this a lot, but being mobile-ready. I want to hit on a couple of different factors here then we've covered a lot of other places. The core updates are heavily focused on thinking about how people are using the internet. It's easy for us to focus on things like the shape of the blocks on the page, and the position and the order of the blocks on the page to a smaller screen, but it's easy for us to overlook what is the mode someone's in when they're trying to accommodate a bit of content they're scrolling before past, to get to what they're trying to do.
Michael Utley: The set of functions someone's trying to use a website for when they're on the phone, are totally different. And the set of things that are part of how they think about using a product or a service from a company, are totally different. Things like reputation management become much more important when you're thinking, "Mobile First" with your internet strategy. Being mobile-ready on your website and with your offsite factors, is a really major component of the success of going through Google Core Updates.
Michael Utley: Here's some basic things with core updates to keep in mind around mobile that are going to be evergreen and are going to always get through any kind of problem. Making sure that the most important stuff is at the top of the page, and that people don't have to scroll to get it. Making sure that any phone number or form of contact is high on the page. Making sure that your reputation in places like Google My Business is actively monitored and managed. And that if you have any negative reviews or any positives, that you're responding to them quickly in an authentic and real way. Claiming offsite listings to make sure that the links from those other websites pointing to your website show that you're active in your service area.
Michael Utley: Google knows that there's a high correlation between someone using their phone to find a service provider, and the fact that that service could be a local or a national service. Understanding how localization terms are used on both your desktop and your mobile version is really important. We really like to have something in the header, that's text, that search engines can see, that define the service area, not just the office location, but the service area. And then we like to have service areas listed in the footer. Those are really good tactics for thinking about when Google is trying to serve up that phone-based internet, that they're saying, "Somebody's looking for a local provider of whatever that you've localized well."
Michael Utley: The core updates that we've seen, especially the one in December, we saw winners and losers based on how well we had localized websites, and so localization is a major factor for the phone users of the internet.
Michael Utley: This has been How to Avoid Disaster with the Google Core Update. Drop your comments and ideas in the comments area below and hit subscribe. Thanks for being here, we'll see on the next one. Thanks, Chris.
Chris Raines: Thank you, yeah.