SEO Historical Algorithm Analysis: Why it’s Essential in 2019

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By hana.omori

So you’ve seen a loss in Organic traffic and you’re not sure why or what to do. Maybe this was an overnight event, maybe you have just noticed a steady decline compared to previous years. With so many Google algorithm updates and industry changes constantly occurring, how do you identify what is causing the most trouble? 

Often times, even after the process of starting to review your Organic traffic and if you believe you know the cause of the SEO problems, there are ways to dig deeper and uncover much more specific findings for why a domain is being so negatively ranked. 

We recently worked with a site in which the webmaster believed its losses were being chiefly caused by the Medic update last fall, only for us to uncover that they were in fact hit first by the HTTPS update and then by PageSpeed in July 2018. These updates caused various rankings dips (and associated losses in Organic traffic) which were actually being compounded by multiple negative algorithmic factors, resulting in almost an 80% loss YoY by the time our team was brought in to try to find the fix. 

How do you do algorithmic analysis for the average website? 

The first step is knowing the history of when a website sees large decreases or increases in rankings/traffic. Our team personally, prefer using SEMRush for this process, since its historical database goes back pretty far (2012-2013 I think is the furthest accuracy). It is very easy to see long-term trends in the “All Time” or “2-Year” views, and you may even uncover that a drop you bounced back from can be a sign of what’s causing trouble now. 

For example, in November of 2016 Google tested the deployment of their Mobile First” index and then reverted it around the beginning of 2017. If you saw a significant drop in traffic in March of 2018 when the mobile index was fully released and saw a similar dip and recovery in late 2016/early 2017, there is a very strong likelihood Google is penalizing you for mobile algorithmic factors. 

Example 1: First Mobile Update November 2016

The decrease in Organic rankings correlates with the “Mobile First” test in which Google drastically reduced desktop indexable rankings either shifting them to the mobile index only, or dropping them from rankings entirely if they weren’t deemed friendly. Since Google was now regarding your mobile site as the “canonical” version of the domain, your desktop rankings would be equally affected by your mobile status. The differentiation is that this update was to be “mobile first” not “mobile only”, which many industry experts thought was more about splitting the index into separate rankings, instead of correlating rankings on all types of devices with prioritization on mobile.

Example 2: Second Mobile Index Release March 2018

Although the website appeared to bounce back from the previous decline in November 2016, when the Mobile First Index was officially released, the site saw a significant decline in Organic rankings – bigger than before.

Similarly, those who saw ranking drops in July of 2018 and have major pagespeed problems, can presume that improving pagespeed, especially for mobile, will have a positive impact on rankings. 

Example 3: PageSpeed Update, Medic, and Florida

Notice that the largest drop happened between July and August, whereas the site saw a partial recovery from Medic after the Florida update.

Importance of Technical SEO & Understanding Algorithm Updates

Technical SEO has become extremely important with real-time impacts in the last couple of years, which is evident in the way even small “blips” such as the June 2019 update can create drastic swings for Organic rankings. 

Once you’ve identified the timing of some ranking/traffic drops, it’s easy to cross-reference the dates with the Moz algorithm history resource

To put this into action, if you were to analyze how to build a strategy to recover from the Medic update, you might review all ranking keywords you had in the early summer of 2018 and then identify which types of sites are ranking now. You may notice that every top ranking site has a few aspects in common such as publisher profiles, authorship pages, editorial policy pages, “reviewed by” medical expert citations, etc. This helps guide a process for reforming your site to start to move up and to the right (towards organic growth). 

If you think your website was impacted by a Google algorithm update, let us know and we’ll conduct a free audit.