In case SEOs aren’t busy enough, Google is throwing a triple whammy our way for summer 2021: the long-awaited Core Web Vitals update, plus two core algorithm updates in June and July. In fact, by the time this blog is published, we’ll already be well into part one of our three-part Google update extravaganza.
The timing of these updates is likely to cause some confusion (and, for some, even panic). But while you may feel at the mercy of Google’s algorithm, your SEO strategy doesn’t have to be ill-informed.
To help you make sense of the potential volatility in organic traffic over the next few months, we’re sharing our approach to post-update SEO for our eCommerce clients, including:
- Why we’re not too worried about it (no, really)
- Which tools we use to evaluate post-update site performance
- Which contributing performance factors we watch for
- And what we recommend for eCommerce websites
An Unprecedented Google Update
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s recap the updates you can expect through July.
In a rare move, Google has split its summer 2021 broad core algorithm update into two parts. The first starts rolling out on June 2, with a second part expected to roll out in July. The reasoning: Google simply couldn’t fit everything in before their June 2 deadline, so the rest of the changes will come a month later. This is all in addition to Google’s Core Web Vitals update, which was pushed from its original May rollout date to mid-June.
Because of the update’s two-part nature, you may be unsure how to measure the effects on your site. But there’s no need to freak out yet — Google webmasters say it’s quite possible for some sites to experience performance changes in the first half of the rollout that get reversed during the second-half rollout in July.
We won’t be holding our breath on any site changes we see this month; we’ll be waiting until the end of July to report on the big-picture results for our clients.
To keep up with Google’s core update in real-time, check out the coverage from OnCrawl.com.
The Hard Truth: The Damage is Already Done
Here’s the bad news: There’s little you can do to prepare your website for core algorithm changes. Google is notoriously vague about which ranking factors are tweaked when each core update is released, meaning you can’t make last-minute changes to your site to avoid a hit to your organic traffic.
As we all know, SEO is a long game; the only way you can “take advantage of” a core update is to be already implementing a solid eCommerce search engine optimization strategy of quality content across your site.
There is one bright spot, though — and that’s the Core Web Vitals update. We’ve known about this page experience update (including metrics and benchmarks for success) since last year. Google has even released the helpful Page Speed Insights tool, which evaluates your website’s performance and provides recommendations for improving your scores and user experience.
If you haven’t already, check out our guide to Core Web Vitals now to get your eCommerce site in order ASAP.
eCom Business? No Need to Worry
Google claims most sites won’t see an effect from the double-edged algorithm update, and the implied severity of the Core Web Vitals update has decreased over the last few months, too. Of course, we have to wait until July to see whether these predictions hold true — but, if past core updates are any indication, eCommerce websites are likely in the clear.
We’ve been shepherding dozens of eCommerce brands through Google updates throughout the years, and the vast majority has avoided any intense dips in performance due to updates. In fact, most of their sites keep moving along like nothing has happened, even after this year’s product reviews update. (While the update wasn’t expected to impact eCommerce sites as an industry, we still monitored performance — just in case.)
If we were to take a guess at the effects of this summer’s core updates, we’d anticipate the same.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t care. Even if a core update doesn’t affect your site, it’s still a good indicator of how Google’s algorithm is evolving and good education for your ongoing SEO strategy. We recommend paying close attention to what digital marketing leaders are reporting, so you can adjust your long-term approach to what is (and isn’t) performing well for the SEO community.
How to Evaluate a Google Core Update’s Effects on Your Site
Admittedly, there’s a lot of mystery wrapped around Google’s core updates, but you don’t have to be in the dark about its effects on your site.
For this summer’s updates and future ones to come, identify any clear changes to your organic performance by following our approach:
Step 1: Monitor site performance during the rollout period.
Google will frequently announce upcoming core updates ahead of time, so you’ll know exactly when to start looking for traffic changes. Most updates take a few weeks to roll out completely; when evaluating site traffic, look at a time span of about a month for the most accurate picture.
If your site has felt an impact from the update, it will be easy to see.
Here are some examples of surges I’m seeing. Some of the sites seeing increases have been waiting a long time (and have worked very hard to improve). I hope this sticks for them. Remember, the July update could reverse some this… Time will tell. pic.twitter.com/PeG9DjZQSM— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) June 6, 2021
We initially use Google Analytics to evaluate any core update effects on our client’s sites. Our strategists typically check traffic reports every day (or every few days, depending on the size of the update) for a few weeks following the confirmed update. As mentioned, most of our eCommerce clients’ sites haven’t historically been impacted by recent updates — but, if they were, we’d see it in Google Analytics right away.
Step 2: Look for seasonality.
If a Google core update is rolled out during your business’s slow or busy season, you’ll need to rule out seasonality as a contributing effect.
Let’s say your online store sells school supplies. If you see a jump in traffic and revenue after this summer’s update, it may not be an effect of the update at all — just a normal increase in parents getting ready for the back-to-school season.
If your site sees a change in traffic after a Google core update, look at week-over-week, month-over-month, and year-over-year trends. Compare the results; if this traffic change is new to this summer, it could be an indication that the Google update has affected your site.
Another example: One of our former eCommerce clients (a seller of cigars and cigar products) was concerned about a drop in organic traffic following a Google update in winter of 2017. But, when we compared their January 2018 performance with that from a year before, we saw the same drop in traffic.
Don’t have accurate YOY data to mine? You can also compare your site with Google’s overall trends. Here, we see a steep drop in “cigar shop” interest around January, indicating our client’s drop in traffic was indeed due to seasonality, not that winter’s Google update.
Of course, remember that YOY comparisons may not be 100% accurate, depending on COVID-19’s effect on your industry in 2020. We recommend comparing multiple years, just in case. You can also look at competitors’ performance to confirm a seasonality drop.
Using these processes, we were able to eliminate the update as a contributing factor, understanding that this change was just a normal drop-off in cigar interest around the new year, perhaps due to New Year’s resolutions.
Step 3: Consider searcher intent.
Even if you see a drop in traffic to your site after a Google update, it may not necessarily be harmful. Google often uses core updates to clean up keyword search results, reducing the number of irrelevant web pages for search queries. If your site was inadvertently ranking for an unrelated keyword or topic, the core update may have fixed that mistake — or, in the case of our own site, introduced the mistake!
While unrelated to a core update, an unconfirmed change in Google’s algorithm caused Inflow’s organic clicks to spike on March 25, 2021. Just a few days later, they dropped back down to normal levels.
Upon further investigation, we found out that our guide to Majestic SEO had suddenly started ranking for the search phrase “explain the majestic benefits” — likely searched by students trying to avoid doing their homework for an unrelated topic. When it became clear that our guide was an irrelevant result, Google’s algorithm made the adjustment to the SERPs.
Ranking for irrelevant keywords isn’t an uncommon issue, especially in eCommerce sites with thousands of blog, product, and category pages. If you see similar fluctuations in sessions or keyword rankings over the next month, make sure to look at your revenue. If conversions and revenues are holding steady (or increasing!), there’s likely no reason to worry. This type of issue may have been the source of the traffic change, not a negative hit from the core update.
What to Do if Your Organic Performance Drops
If your website traffic takes a hit after a Google update, and it can’t be explained by seasonality, keyword cleanup, or another obvious reason, try to confirm the algorithm’s effects through additional tools, and then reevaluate your overall SEO strategy.
Step 1: Connect the free Panguin tool to Google Analytics.
The Panguin tool (not to be confused with the Penguin update!) is one of our favorites for evaluating the timelines of Google’s updates as they compare to our site’s performance. It’s easy; authorize Panguin to view your Google Analytics data, and the tool will overlay Google’s updates on your performance data.
You can use the Panguin tool to look at older Google core updates and their effects, too.
Step 2: Check for patterns with Google Search Console.
If your site sees an unexplainable drop or increase in traffic, identify exactly where those changes are coming from with Google Search Console.
We use Google Search Console to see if a pattern of page types or keyword buckets have dropped or increased in search traffic. See our example below.
Within a space of two months, this client saw a steep drop in clicks to a certain group of keywords. While this particular example was unrelated to a Google core update, if there had been an update around this time, this pattern would indicate we needed to look into the site performance a little closer.
By comparing this data with core update reporting from SEO experts, we can then determine whether those patterns are in line with the suspected algorithm changes. (Although Google typically doesn’t give details for which types of pages and industries are affected by a core update, digital marketers can often deduce what they are based on with a little detective work.)
If we see a similar pattern in page or keyword type, we automatically know what to focus on as we reevaluate our SEO strategy for that site. Often, the pages that take a hit are those we’re already aware of — with thin content, overly long content, or other low-quality SEO approaches — and give our clients even more motivation to tackle those issues.
Step 3: Reevaluate your SEO efforts.
Not all Google algorithm updates are obvious. Usually, it’s difficult to identify exactly which technical and content SEO strategies are being rewarded with core updates. We just see the final result in which kinds of industries and websites are most affected.
However, a core update can be the motivation your brand needs to reevaluate (or step up) your current SEO strategies. If you’ve got thin website content, now’s the time to beef up your SEO copywriting techniques; if your tech SEO setup leaves something to be desired, get a developer on the phone now.
Some of the biggest SEO offenses we see from eCommerce sites?
- Lack of content on product and category pages
- Poorly optimized content on product and category pages
- Extensive blog-like content on product and category pages
- Technical site speed and performance issues
While solving these issues won’t help before this summer’s update, it will put your site in a better shape for the Google core updates of the future.
The Best Core Update Defense: A Good SEO Offense
When it comes to Google’s core updates, the best use of your time isn’t trying to “game the system” with backlinks and other quick fixes; it’s creating a long-term, well-rounded SEO strategy that builds high-quality content based on proven strategies.
Need some help figuring those out? Our SEO strategists are always happy to help. (Contact us anytime for a free proposal.)
We also recommend digital marketers and eCommerce brands stay up to date on Google’s algorithm changes as they continue to roll out. For the best real-time coverage of this summer’s updates, check out reporting from: