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SEO Mud Season: Google’s 3/7 Core Update Affects Rankings and Traffic

March in Vermont is known as “mud season.”

The sun is out, and our three feet of formerly pristine snow is melting into lakes and rivers of squishy, squelchy, messy mud.

Cars, boots and houses are all covered in miserable splashes of brown.

I’m already not happy about my increasingly wet, brown backyard—now SEO appears to be having a “mud season” all of its own.

Yup, this March has been a mess for webmasters and SEOs.

google-core-update-march-2018-rankings-traffic-suits

Many of us experienced a major, unexpected shift up or down in Google’s results pages, watching our keyword rankings skyrocket or plummet.

The reason: Google has made a big core algorithm update. And we’re all feeling it.

Word on the street is it began as early as March 7th. For us, the actual effects materialized around March 12th and just kept coming throughout the week.

Now, over a week later, these changes are starting to slow down, but the update has undoubtedly left its footprint on our rankings and traffic.

It’s even being referred to as “tremors” and “March Madness.” Whether you’ve benefited or been struck down, we can acknowledge the mess such a big change makes.

It’s time to take action, and do some spring cleaning if your rankings have suffered.

As a Vermonter and SEO, I’m no stranger to this kind of muddled mess.

Let me walk you through the Monitor Backlinks team’s experience with Google’s 3/7 update, and how we plan on cleaning things up!

How the March 7th Update Affected Our Rankings and Traffic

Website A (Monitor Backlinks)

First, here’s what happened to our very own Monitor Backlinks website:

march-7-google-algorithm-update

We were seeing an uptick in keyword rankings throughout February and early March—right up until the fateful day of March 12th, when we saw a dramatic plunge in rankings, and a corresponding decline in organic traffic from search engines.

Even though the downward trend has tapered off at this point, our organic traffic has taken a big hit.

google-core-update-march-2018-rankings-traffic-keywords

Looking specifically at which content dropped in the rankings, we noticed that they’re mainly old posts which we inherited from the previous Monitor Backlinks blogging team, and share several issues:

  • Thin content — Blog posts with lower word count, less than 1000 words, but as little as 300 words in some cases.
  • Less info-rich content — Blog posts that contain a lot of “fluff,” run-on sentences saying nothing, mostly common knowledge.
  • Poor quality — Poor grammar, incorrect spelling, typos, awkward syntax and unnatural language usage can be found in these older posts.
  • Weak on-page SEO — Lacking H1 headings, internal linking, keyword optimization and other key on-page SEO.
  • Content that doesn’t answer queries — These posts were not strongly targeted to any keywords, but nevertheless ended up ranking in the SERPs for a particular query. It’s possible that Google realized our content didn’t quite answer the questions searchers were asking—or at least not as well as competing blog posts written and optimized with those specific keywords, and the search intent behind them, in mind.
  • Outdated content — Blog posts about Google algorithm updates from 2013 clearly aren’t providing the right information to searchers in 2018, for example, so it’s only natural that outdated content like this dropped significantly in the rankings.

There weren’t any blog posts that went up significantly in the SERP rankings during this period—while usually we do see plenty of content on the rise—so there are possibly other sitewide quality issues that we’ll need to identify and address.

Website B (Niche Site)

Now, compare that to another site we manage. It’s a seasonal affiliate blog (with the months of April to September seeing peak activity each year) which experienced a major spike in its keyword rankings.

Holy cow!

march-9-google-algorithm-update-bb

The Effects of Google’s Core Algorithm Update on March 7th

It all began with us SEOs waking up and checking out our keyword rankings over coffee.

Then noticing something was up. So, the tweeting began.

These days, Google no longer gives pet names and makes announcements about updates. It’s up to us SEOs to smell that something’s up, investigate and commiserate.

After sufficient chatter was out there about a possible update, Google released this statement on Twitter:

Each day, Google usually releases one or more changes designed to improve our results. Some are focused around specific improvements. Some are broad changes. Last week, we released a broad core algorithm update. We do these routinely several times per year.

As with any update, some sites may note drops or gains. There’s nothing wrong with pages that may now perform less well. Instead, it’s that changes to our systems are benefiting pages that were previously under-rewarded.

There’s no “fix” for pages that may perform less well other than to remain focused on building great content. Over time, it may be that your content may rise relative to other pages.

The takeaways:

  • It’s a quality update — The goal, as with most algorithm updates, is to get higher-quality content to the top spots in the SERP.
  • Not a penalty — This update doesn’t penalize sites with lower rankings for lower-quality content. If you’ve dropped in rankings, your competitors have just gained the upper hand.
  • Gives a boost to under-rewarded sites — Rather than bringing poor content down, it’s acting on rewarding high-quality content. It’s boosting good sites up in the rankings, not knocking anyone down.

Action Plan: What to Do If You’ve Lost Rankings and Traffic

You might be relieved to hear that it’s not a penalty, but in a way this may be more challenging to overcome.

The way to restore any lost rankings, traffic and rich snippets? (Yup, rich snippets, which are directly tied to Google’s measures of content quality, have been disappearing on negatively affected sites too.)

Publish better content.

So simple and straightforward, yet so difficult to achieve.

There’s no way around it—you’ll need to do plenty of hard work to improve the overall quality of your site and content.

Here’s the game plan we’re planning on following for the Monitor Backlinks blog:

  • Look for sitewide UX issues/errors — Look for pop-ups, aggressive advertising, distracting extra content that’s cluttering up your site, poor internal linking and site crawl errors.
  • Pay attention to which keywords and content were most affected — Is there a pattern to which topics, blog posts or pages were affected? Which ones improved in SERP rankings during this algorithm change? Which ones dropped most dramatically? What do they have in common? Target any recurring problems and fix them. When you see strong strategies that were rewarded by Google, implement these throughout your site.
  • Focus on the long term — There’s no short-term fix. Buckle up and plan your work out over the next couple of months.
  • Focus on quality content — Don’t settle for blog posts with low word count, thin content, outdated information, poor spelling/grammar or minimal keyword optimization. Vow to only allow quality content to hit your site’s pages.
  • Score quality backlinks — Backlinks from authoritative sites can make all the difference here. If Google sees that your content is being linked to by sites with high Domain Authority, Trust Flow and Citation Flow, it’ll sense that it’s high-quality stuff.
  • Hang in there! — It will take time, but if you’re truly dedicated to quality, this should resolve itself in the next few months.

Our first step is to go through all of our older blog content and improve the lower-quality stuff. Stay tuned for our updates over the coming months!

Did your content experience a major shift up or down in the SERPs? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter. We’d love to hear what you’ve gone through, and chat about how you plan to come back if you’ve been negatively affected.

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