Earlier this year, Google announced their 2019 core update. Pages around the world reacted to the update in different ways. While many blogs and directories reportedly gained ranks, many SEO projects crashed. This is the report on my personal experience. The review revolves around my own business page www.germancontentwriter.com.
After the update, widely known as “Florida 2”, I experienced a significant loss in ranking and dropped about 40 ranks. Since this business is my main source of income, I had to do something about it. In this article, I wanna share what I did to regain my former ranking. Ultimately, these changes helped me to get back to page #1 after the Google core update.
Why Google needs updates
Google updates are nothing new. With every step, Google is working on their old plan – to show relevant content to their users. There is nothing wrong with it, and from the perspective of a SEO professional, I even have to appreciate it. Without their constant changes, there would probably be a lot less demand for my services. There already was a Google core update and the mobile first indexing update last year. Not to forget the infamous Panda and Penguin updates from back in the days. After all, this is the fourth major update, alongside many smaller updates. For a full list, including the latest core update, check out this list on MOZ.
Generally said, Google is trying to become more user-friendly and that means showing less irrelevant content in their search results. In return, it also means that content-heavy pages have a lot better chances to show up. Those that only try to sell their product are automatically less relevant. If you offer a product, you also have to give your visitors added value. That can be conclusive descriptions or additional content in form of blogs or knowledge pages. Added information, guides or lengthy how-to articles are important. It makes your users stay on your pages longer. And they get every bit of information they need on your site. That results in a better outcome for two of our key metrics: Session time and bounce rate.
Changes with the core update
This update affected many sites negatively, that relied on their SEO strategy. Backlinks are almost worthless now, if you don’t manage to provide the necessary content. Same goes for page structure, meta content and social media funnels. If you want to show up on google page #1, relevance is the most important factor. It outweighs any other possible optimization by a long shot.
The effect of the core update on my page
To be completely fair, the devastating crash in my rankings wasn’t all Googles fault. Due to a little SEO hack from last year, I had to clean up my server. I had to make sure my affiliate blogs are back online and malware free. But I simply didn’t have the time to check on my business page. These days I have a full schedule most of the times anyway. I didn’t really mind, to have some downtime. I have to decline so many requests anyway, so why bother, right?
Wrong! With the new year, one of my most important clients cut my workload in half. That left me with huge gaps in my schedule. This was never the case since I first launched my page in 2013. As a result, I had to look for new clients, which costed a lot of time and was quite stressful. So getting my page rank back up to page #1 became a priority.
From rank #1 to #43 and back to #4
My page has always been a good source of work. I’m lucky enough to own the best possible keyword domain for my service. Since I am running this page, there was never any shortage of clients. I held rank #1 on Google for years with my top query “German Content Writer”. So I wasn’t concerned at all, that any update could affect me negatively. But after I took it back online, I realized, I was in trouble.
I restored my page from a backup, so everything was entirely the same. At least I thought so. Checking the first signals in Google Search Console left me shocked. Instead of my desired rank #1, I only scored rank #43. In terms of SEO, that is non-existent. If you want to make business, you have to hit page #1. And it has to be one of your primary keywords. Or you will have to rely on ads/paid traffic/CPC.
In this Google Analytics graph you can see how my page impressions started climbing, after I implemented my changes.
What I did to climb back to the first page
A good SERP is the dream of every webmaster. Hitting page on Google is essential to gain clients with your website. To be completely honest, you should even hit rank 1-5 to have any chance. At least if you rely on getting requests on a regular basis. I am lucky enough to have registered the perfect domain years ago. That makes SEO a lot easier. However, I ignored some simple technical details. Today we want to focus on the most important measures to react to the latest Google core update.
Most importantly, there is a strong focus on security, speed and mobile compatibility. Even though, your content is already optimized, you have to sort these things out. In my case, the whole process took me less than 2 days of work. Local SEO is another key improvement that I won’t discuss today. My business is focused on attracting international clients. The impact of local SEO on my page is just not relevant enough.
A connection secured with an SSL certificate should be standard in 2019, even if a secure connection might not be as important for most business pages as for shops. In terms of security you basically only need SSL, if users enter their data or make payments. And on business pages, that’s rarely the case.
Google has confirmed, that it prefers the SSL version of your page over your non-secure http site. And that suggests, that this would also be the case for any comparison with competing pages. In other words: Imagine there is a page secured by SSL and just as relevant as yours without SSL. The algorithm will prefer the one that is potentially more secure. In addition, many users by now have developed a liking in the small green SSL sign in their browser. Added trust will make them like your page better, and they will spend more time scrolling your content. Some people don’t even click on search results anymore, if the preview doesn’t show the https prefix.
Fortunately, getting a free SSL certificate is no big deal anymore. Every hoster has options to install SSL certificates and everybody can get them for free at Let’s Encrypt. I even had a certificate installed, but still struggled with mixed content. Mixed content means, you still have elements on your page, that are linked with http instead of https. That can be pictures, links, libraries and everything else. Since my blog runs on WordPress, this was an easy task. I installed better search replace and within minutes, all the links showed up as desired. Make sure to first search and replace from http → https. After you did that, I also highly recommend to search and replace from httpss → https. This will fix all the links that already were https and now got an additional letter “s” in the ending.
2. Optimized Meta Content
Yoast SEO has been the most successful WordPress SEO plugin for a long time. It’s by far my favorite tool for quick article analysis and easy integration of meta content. While I had installed Yoast together with the backup, I simply forgot to activate it. When Google re-indexed my page after the 3-month-downtime, it couldn’t fetch my Yoast meta titles and descriptions. I only saw the mistake, once the page was indexed. I did a quick search, that showed me the broken preview. As a result my click-through-rate after the relaunch was subpar and my ranking understandably suffered.
Relevance is the name of the game. In the past, I could always rely on traffic through long tail keywords and rare phrases. But it was time to sort them out. I got rid of some services and descriptions that weren’t specifically related to what I do. “Growth hacking” for example is sometimes connected to content production. But usually it includes a wider mix of marketing actions. The same thing is true about translations or domain services. I had all these services listed, while they were not really relevant for my key-business: Content. I realized that mistake, when I saw that Google indexed my page for the term “Growth Hacking”. It really doesn’t have much to do with German content production. So I removed the term from my page entirely.
4. Page weight
Speed is crucial! We are living in times of growing mobility and high importance of fast and easily accessible content. For me that meant getting rid of my big header picture and several smaller pictures on the page. Even with reduced size, they were still by far the heaviest part of my front page. I removed the header completely and replaced the png pics with svg icons. That made the page load faster and more reliable in all the different browsers.
The importance of backlinks has never been lower than today. But some fresh signals always help, to get a newly indexed page off the ground. I don’t recommend doing big backlink campaigns anymore. They not only tend to be spammy, they are also expensive, compared to more effective SEO strategies. While your focus should be on content marketing, you should still work on your backlink profile from time to time. Regular businesses often have trouble to find mentions on blogs and other pages. So it’s a legitimate way to create some yourself. In my case, that wasn’t very hard. I listed my page in some directories, created a few profiles and commented in a couple of blogs. All in all, it was less than ten links I built over the course of two weeks. And in complete disregard of domain authority or similar metric. It still worked.
After I took care of these points, my ranking quickly jumped from rank #43 to rank #25. From there it was a slow but steady climb and only 3 months later, I am comfortably sitting at rank #4 and I’m confident I will be competing for rank #1 very soon again. In a few countries like Denmark, South Africa or France I am already back to rank #1 on the first page on Google.
Takeaways for the future
- One thing I learned from this, is to only take content online, once it’s 100% ready to be released. You want your first indexing after the relaunch to be as perfect as it gets. Especially in terms of meta content, entry content and keyword selection! Before you think about the length of the copy, make absolutely sure, that you focus on your main keyword phrase. If you’re done with that, start building relevant information around that specific term. Cut out any irrelevant keywords.
- Secondly: Mobile and page speed issues need to be addressed. Use Search Console to check on indexing issues and mobile first compatibility. Your page must be fast and properly displayed on mobile devices. Or you will hurt your SEO performance significantly.
- Last but not least, it’s all about relevance and usefulness for your visitors. Make sure, you don’t advertise services, which are not very closely related to your business. It’s probably better to write five pages on the same topic (as long as it’s not duplicate content). Instead of trying to lure users into visiting your page with a wide keyword spread. If the users don’t find the information they are looking for, it will dramatically reduce their session time. The only thing that will grow is your bounce rate. Both of these metrics will make your page perform worse overall. Don’t try to be something that you are not! Google will punish you, if you don’t please your users.
That’s it for today. Don’t forget to comment and subscribe. I also appreciate, if you have any questions on how to improve your rankings or you want to add some important information that I forgot.