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Is it a search engine pandemic, or just a bit of a cold?


In the days of uncertainty, those of us who work on the task of achieving high ranking for our client’s websites have been experiencing a form of a ‘pandemic’ of our own. OK, it isn’t life threatening but it certainly is unsettling, and unstable.

Instability is a prerequisite to rumour and fake news. Social media is certainly full of political rumour and fake news, but rumours around the instability of Google’s search engine have also prevailed. It was and is still being attacked by the conspiracy theorists amongst the SEO fraternity. Corporate protection, protecting the advertisers are just a few of the comments I have witnessed on social threads. So, what is really happening and why has it been hard work being an SEO expert over the past six months?

In the last quarter of 2019, some of the corporate powers were experiencing the effects of the BERT update, and stating 10-20% drop off in ranking whilst this new artificial intelligence and game changing update was finally being rolled out. Remnants of BERT instability was still evident early this year. It was also noticeable that existing high-ranking websites were in the main relatively stable, but achieving high ranking for new websites, or websites that hadn’t experienced page one ranking but getting close, were proving to be impossible where tangible and quantifiable results were concerned. Movement was erratic and sometimes unprecedented. That word again!

In early May this instability was confounded by the dreaded bug. We all thought it was another algorithm update, but it was soon confirmed by Google to be a nasty little bug that was infecting search results. The effect was to see unquantifiable, or illogical fluctuations and volatility on local search results, both in Google Search and Google Maps. This then led to those with very clever tools publishing graphs to demonstrate those fluctuations. The unstable nature was being proven by some of the brightest minds in the SEO world, and it really demonstrated just how unsettling it was for SEO specialists, and their clients.

SEO can be as rewarding as it is thankless and explaining to a client that we aren’t seeing typical results we would expect to see, could be quite a difficult conversation. We were confused and ‘WTF’ was a common acronym to replace our equally confusing technical acronyms.

As we all know, everyone wants a new domain to rank high by the end of play tomorrow, and very often the battle is to manage expectations. Personally, I found demonstrating the same effects to a competitor website provided justification to their own website inadequate and erratic response. This was a useful way of demonstrating all is not right and good in the Google house, but we know it will be business as usual soon, we hope. It made the job of justifying the instability that much easier, albeit not a conversation I enjoyed having.

So, what is happening now?

Well, the bug has gone, and now we start to see the return of something looking like tangible search engine activity and results. A cold beer and the usual Friday check is now the new normal, the old didn’t involve a cold beer. We have the addition of BERT which is changing the methods and strategy, but in the main it is business as usual.

I find it quite ironic that the amazing Google machine that can fix any bug that’s thrown at it, is now working on the app to trace and help fix another yet another bug which has also had an ‘unprecedented’ effect on businesses. Perhaps we should leave running the world to the tech giants.

What strange times we live in, and the algorithm of life and SEO have far too many analogies to mention. If I did, it would just be far too annoying!

In conclusion, it was just a cold!

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