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Like many, globally, you may have taken to Googling and checking social media for the most recent updates on the Coronavirus.
Finding legitimate information has become difficult, with conspiracy theories and fake news ranking highly in the search results, a confusing picture of the current outbreak has been painted.
Mark Zuckerburg recently confirmed that Facebook are increasing their vigilance against fake news, and as a result, the plight for their fact-finders now encompasses removing news concerning COVID-19.
One such unfounded story suggested that the quinine in tonic water fought the virus, leading to stockpiling of tonic up and down the country. The fall out of this is relatively harmless, and actually financially beneficial to tonic producers. However, other articles are promising cures and panic inducing figures surrounding infection rates and fatality percentages, could prove to do more damage.
Social platforms clearly have a responsibility to police the information that is being spread across their channels and fake news has been a hot topic long before the arrival of Coronavirus.
In so many ways, since its arrival, social media has revolutionised news and the pace at which facts can be relayed to a huge audience. Informing users of imminent danger quickly and aiding the police force in the prevention of crime, and in some cases solving investigations. It also has a nasty habit of getting out of control quickly and rapidly filling newsfeeds with misleading information, labelled by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as an infodemic.
This week, Google has collaborated with the UK government to adapt their UK search results to only show those created by WHO, the NHS or the .GOV information pages. Ensuring the general public are kept up to date with legitimate information that has been vetted by the governing bodies coping with this challenge.
The aim of course is to filter nonsense and non-regulated information from the SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages) to try and maintain calm and normality, as much as possible, across the nation. Most importantly, ensuring that everyone is following the same advice, as supplied by the government – rather that drinking tonic by the gallon or purchasing products that promise to offer a miracle cure to this virus.
But, whilst on the surface this seems like sensible and vital action, does it damage the trust users have in Google?
Could Google showing its hand, with regards to how much control they have over the information that is readily available on our smartphones and speakers, be detrimental in the long run?
Updates to how Google determines the quality of a site is nothing new, in fact, it’s something our SEO experts have been working with (and against) for over 10 years.
Google regularly rolls out updates and adjusts its algorithms on a daily basis. These are tiny changes that likely go unnoticed by users and webmasters alike.
Nonetheless, although less frequently, they do roll out significant changes which don’t go unnoticed. These are called Core Updates.
These core updates focus on different elements for improvement, ultimately to make the users experience better.
Google states that these core updates are “designed to ensure that overall, we’re delivering on our mission to present relevant and authoritative content to searchers.”
The aim is to improve the users journey, from search to result. Google maintains that these core updates are solely to match search intent with results, ensuring that the results are filtered and delivered to the user as they had hoped. After all, with ‘Google it’ having become a go to phrase around the word, no one would want to then spend undue amounts of time sifting through irrelevant search terms to find the answer to a query.
The issue comes, and the challenge for us in the world of search rankings, when a core update or algorithm change impacts a page’s visibility in the rankings.
The 2018 Medic update left many affected by the changes. Web pages that had always ranked well were dropped from the Google SERPs overnight, and of course when your business depends on being found in Google by potential clients, this can in turn lead to an immediate drop in your revenue.
Google often announces core updates before carrying them out, and the Medic update was no exception.
As a team we were fairly prepared for some disruption in our results, but until the update is complete, there is little you can do to preempt exactly how a core update will affect your website(s). Generally, providing you are not using black hat techniques or trying to catch Google out, the impact to your rankings should be minimal.
For those industries affected from each core update, rankings tend to fluctuate a lot in the days following its implementation. Once the dust has settled, if you are negatively affected by the update, there are certainly ways in which you can help regain your place in the rankings.
That said, it isn’t alway possible to regain places in a like for like manner, so a quick but effective change in strategy may be called for instead. We have been dancing to Google’s tune for many years now, and luckily relish the challenge!
Google ultimately holds the strings when it comes to exactly what is presented to users following a search, but with the knowledge we have at the moment it would be right to assume that the full extent of this power is only utilised upon government involvement and necessity for our safety.
With regards to day to day rankings, such as local business listings, there is a direct correlation in most cases, between the time taken to create and publish worthwhile and readable content vs. rankings.
Over the years, we have learnt that there are lots of other factors that impact on your position too. Providing you have a well thought out, structured web build to begin with, these techniques are the supporting act for amazing content.
As with Google’s intentions with the blanket ban on featuring fake content surrounding the Coronavirus, the core updates strive to achieve clarity and user satisfaction following a search.
Whilst this certainly proves an ongoing challenge for those focussed on climbing the rankings and these who’s businesses rely heavily on appearing on the first page of Google, the importance of relevant content has never been clearer.
Long gone are the days of keyword stuffing and cross referencing other trending subjects in the hope of getting traffic to your site, Google is too smart to fall for such cheap parlour tricks!
Google state that the key to successfully ranking for relevant search terms is valuable, relevant content. This article from Google indicated what is reviewed by their bots when deciding on a page’s relevance and subsequent position for different search terms:
This is a tricky one. On one hand, Google has us all in their pockets, conspiracists would have us believing that we are only shown the information they want us to see, a theory that of course may be completely viable. As displayed with the Coronavirus blanket, the guys at Google are clearly able to only feed the information to the results based on very strict parameters.
That considered, from our point of view, we love that content and relevance is the most important factor in climbing the rankings. After all, you are the expert in your business so providing you are displaying your knowledge and in turn benefiting your users by offering useful information to answer their query, you can expect to see this reflected in your positioning. It also makes it more achievable to compete in your local area.
Not only this, but once you have a user on your site, it is far more likely that they will convert (call you, buy your product or book your services) if the information they find is relevant and interesting.
We’ve all clicked through to a site from Google, not felt it matched our search and left immediately, right? It’s annoying isn’t it.
So, to summarise, providing we have full awareness that Google ultimately calls the shots and that in order to prosper you need to play by the rules, you can still find great success in organic rankings this year – just don’t mention the Coronavirus in your content. Oh wait.