Everything eCommerce Retailers Need to Know About Google’s Broad Core Algorithm Update
by Ron Dod
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On the first of August, Google announced a massive algorithm update that ended up causing enormous search ranking drops to a significant number of websites across a variety of categories and verticals worldwide.
We’ll get to Google’s advice from earlier in the year momentarily.
As Google stated in its announcement, a core algorithm update happens numerous times throughout the year. The main difference between this type of update and other algorithm alterations such as Penguin, Panda and other infamous updates is that the ones bearing specific monikers (such as Fred) are intended to target definitive and exact issues within the Google algorithms.
With the August core update, Google did not seek to refine a specific aspect of its code, but instead made alterations to the core of the algorithm, as the tweet implies. This essentially means that broad changes were implemented that impacted the importance or weight of various ranking factors such as keyword usage, backlink quality, domain authority and similar SEO elements.
Despite Google not actively penalizing any sites through this update (such as it did with Panda, Penguin and others), many sites saw a substantial dip in their traffic and rankings.
So, what exactly did Google alter and how can affected eCommerce merchants recover?
Who Did the Algorithm Update Impact and Why?
Google’s latest broad core algorithm update impacted a significant number of sites across many industries; however, a sizable number of the websites hit fall under the category of YMYL sites, which stands for “Your Money Your Life.” Broadly speaking, Google defines YMYL pages as those that could “potentially impact the future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety of users.” Naturally, eCommerce sites fall into this class of sites.
A potential reason as to why these YMYL sites were so heavily (though, not exclusively) impacted by Google’s algorithm update is their close link to E-A-T guidelines. Google defines E-A-T as a site’s “expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness.” While YMYL isn’t indicative of a website’s quality, E-A-T regulates that by imposing standards on such (and other types of) sites.
E-A-T guidelines help Google’s algorithm to rank sites accordingly. Non-authoritative sites that are serving up questionable advice and solutions to readers are ranked beneath more dependable and trustworthy sources. This mechanism helps searchers to unearth credible and useful knowledge while simultaneously protecting them from scams or incorrect information that could have adverse consequences in a person’s life.
In a nutshell, these implications point to the idea that Google is evaluating the relevance and quality of the sites within its index. However, it is important to note that “quality” can have a variety of meanings. “Quality” could refer to content, a site’s user experience, technical SEO elements or various other interpretations.
Given this information, what exactly should eCommerce purveyors do if Google’s latest broad core update walloped them?
How to Rebound
As has been established, broad core updates impact a variety of factors. Given the nature of such an update, Google’s advice (from March 2018) following a similar broad core update was:
That said, Google’s advice is essentially to wait as most algorithm updates are followed by a refresh that ends up correcting losses some sites experience. However, there is an alternative explanation here, which is that Google is not informing sites on how to remedy their situation because it is dependent on each site’s specific circumstances.
Given that a broad core update affects so many aspects of the engine’s algorithm, the reason(s) for a site’s dip in traffic and rankings could be attributable to numerous (and diverse) components, and remedies would need to be doled out on a case-by-case basis.
Google’s advice to wait for a site’s content to “rise relative to other pages” may seem inadequate. This notion is predicated on the idea that a given site’s content is “great” and is just as useful as the competition’s offerings. The underlying message of this means that despite Google stating that there is no “fix” to be had, merchants must take a proactive stance against their losses and actively aim to remedy their site’s ailments.
To begin this process, start by studying the sites that are currently ranking at the top of the SERPs. Analyze the site’s elements concerning relevance to a query and quality of its contents (using the multi-dimensional definition from earlier). Doing this can help give merchants some insight as to how the algorithm shifted and where they can improve their efforts.
It is essential to study the SERPs to determine potential reasons as to why Google might prefer a particular site over another. With some ideas in mind, merchants can begin to formulate a plan of attack. However, be sure to keep in mind that Google is all about quality and that this was a “broad” update. These speak to the same ideas laid down by Danny Sullivan in an August 1 tweet:
It seems relatively clear that Danny Sullivan is alluding to the fact that overall site quality is the angle that site owners should be approaching this conundrum from if they wish to increase their standing in the SERPs.
With that in mind, here are a couple of the most pertinent website elements that merchants should focus their efforts on to regain lost ground.
Where to Focus Your Efforts
When attempting to enhance the site elements that follow, it is of the utmost importance that eCommerce purveyors seek to implement augmentations through the lens of user intent. This perspective is vital as Google is continually trying to provide the most accurate, helpful and high-quality experience to its users; therefore, the intent of the searcher is everything.
This connection means that retailers should focus on providing an intuitive site structure, restricting ad usage, paying close attention to various customer journeys to understand how customers interact with eCommerce sites, and figuring out what consumers find different or compelling about a website.
Merchants can utilize the Google Analytics Behavior Flow report to understand more about these pathways.
Additionally, merchants should be crafting their CTAs around user intent as this has significant implications of the entirety of sales cycles.
Content is a huge consideration for a rankings rebound. As Danny Sullivan tweeted in response to the most recent broad core update:
This is where E-A-T comes back into play.
Regarding medical sites, Google states in its previously linked guidelines that:
“High E-A-T medical advice should be written or produced by people or organizations with appropriate medical expertise or accreditation.”
This means a few things:
eCommerce websites should be including author information on blog posts.
Sites should be producing content that solves problems – first and foremost.
Content should be in-depth and comprehensively address what people are searching for online.
Generating high-quality content will help sites to exceed consumer expectations, produce greater time-on-site, lend credence and authority to a brand, result in more sharing and build more links.
Additionally, remember that content extends to a site’s copy, product information and videos, landing pages and more.
However, these two aspects aren’t the only factors that merchants should analyze. It is necessary to dig deep into the website’s technical elements, conduct a site crawl and establish on-site SEO elements that can be remedied, enhanced or altogether fixed to effectively gain a more comprehensive understanding of how to improve a site’s rankings.
August’s broad core algorithm update had a massive impact on a wide variety of websites – many of which were eCommerce destinations.
When a site loses a substantial chunk of its traffic, it can be tempting to seek a singular “cure” to restore site rankings. However, this approach often leaves many problems or areas of improvement on the table.
If Google’s recent broad core update has impacted your site, you may want to consider reaching out to an eCommerce SEO agency to look under the hood and develop a plan of action for bringing you back to the top of the SERPs.
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Ronald Dod is the Chief Marketing Officer and Co-founder of Visiture, an end-to-end eCommerce marketing agency focused on helping online merchants acquire more customers through the use of search engines, social media platforms, marketplaces, and their online storefronts. His passion is helping leading brands use data to make more effective decisions in order to drive new traffic and conversions.
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