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This Week in SEO #112

Whew what a crazy few weeks it’s been. We’ve had update after update lately, and our team is just finishing up a few busy weeks visiting and speaking at a few conferences.

This past weekend Travis was honored to be able to speak to ~800 SEOs at the annual Chiang Mai SEO Conference, which is always packed full of great minds.

Chiang Mai SEO Conference

Travis Jamison


Nick, Tim, Karl and Travis from the annual DCBKK tournament in Bangkok.

Smash Digital team

Travis Jamison SEO


And before we hop into all the best new SEO articles, in case you haven’t visited us in a while we’ve now added in a pure backlink building service on top of our more established fully managed SEO service. The newer service is there for any sites who don’t need our full support, but just want access to our juicy outreach links.

Now, on to the updates!

Happy November Here’s Another Core Algo Update

Trying to dodge that core update like

Hey! How’s your traffic?

If this story is anything to go by, it’s probably a little shook-up, one way or the other.

There is substantial evidence that an unannounced Google Update is underway. This update has been affecting sites across a wide range of niches. Most of the feedback is negative although there are winners mixed in, including winners in the spam community.

My personal experience with this update saw a few sites taking a small dip in rankings, but more than made up for it in traffic due to winning a few featured snippets I was gunning for. In the post, the author calls out specifically the recipe niche and the travel niche as taking a particularly rough ride on the rankingcoaster.

And before you ask, no, I’m not talking about Bert (see below). That’s a whole other…

BERTon Down the Hatches!

Here’s a long-ass post on the new algorithm update called BERT, which stands for Bring Everyone… uh… Be Excellent Ris… No, wait: Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. I don’t know why I can never remember that…

Last week Google announced an imminent algorithmic update would be rolling out, impacting 10% of queries in search results, and also affect featured snippet results in countries where they were present; which is not trivial.

10%! Damn.

BTW, this is the truly hottest take on the whole BERT thing:

It’s funny because it’s true! I appreciate everyone trying to shine some light on this one, but it’s a pretty complex topic.

From the SE Land article:

BERT is described as a pre-trained deep learning natural language framework that has given state-of-the-art results on a wide variety of natural language processing tasks.  Whilst in the research stages, and prior to being added to production search systems, BERT achieved state-of-the-art results on 11 different natural language processing tasks.  These natural language processing tasks include, amongst others, sentiment analysis, named entity determination, textual entailment (aka next sentence prediction), semantic role labeling, text classification and coreference resolution.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff there–a complex topic with complex explanations and examples that this summary wouldn’t do justice. If you’re really interested in it, I suggest checking out the whole article, but the TL;DR is that Google has a natural language tool that does a better job at parsing search queries to deliver more relevant results to the user.

Here’s a quick example (from Google) of how BERT helps to better understand search intent:

It’s pretty cool–you can see how the search results now match the query. And this should also serve to reinforce the fact that paying attention to the intent of a query is table stakes in 2019.

Another BERT Analysis (With Examples)

Tired of BERT yet? Well suck it up, because you will be hearing about it for a long time, probably.

Can I Rank has a pretty good post with a lot of examples to better help you understand how BERT is changing things. I recommend it over the SE Land post.

Here’s an example:

Before BERT, Google got so excited about the concept of “small business blogging” in this query, that they completely ignored the “how many” and failed to return any results addressing the question.

After BERT, Google now understands the query intent is to find statistics about blogging, and they even identified several closely related questions like “How many businesses have a blog?” and “What percentage of small businesses have a website?”

As impressive as that improvement is, none of the results actually answer the question. Moreover, Google still seems a little uncertain about the intent here as a majority of the results give reasons to start a blog or tips on starting a small business blog rather than statistics.

Results #1, #3, and #8 come closest to addressing the true intent. It’s interesting to note that they contain a lot of questions and answers and are very quantitative, which may show BERT’s ability to connect the “how many” to statistics.

Good post. Definitely give this one a read.

Google, Not Millennials, Killing Businesses

This post contains nothing new for the paranoid Google pessimists among you, but it lays it all out in very stark, undeniable strokes.

Aaron Wall writes up the impact Google’s increasingly ad-filled, organic-results-so-far-below-the-fold-do-they-even-exist SERPs is having, not just on salty SEOs, but on billion dollar companies (which, inevitably, end up as Google’s losing competitors).

Wednesday both Expedia and TripAdvisor reported earnings after hours & both fell off a cliff: “Both Okerstrom and Kaufer complained that their organic, or free, links are ending up further down the page in Google search results as Google prioritizes its own travel businesses.”

Losing 20% to 25% of your market cap in a single day is an extreme move for a company worth billions of dollars.


The posts has several examples and outlines the conditions needed for Google to start doing the SERPs dirty by moving in with their own properties.

It’s like all they care about is money…

Google News Patent Nerdery

In addition to F-ing up the rest of the SERPs, Google has also been changing how Google news works, according to SEO by the Sea, which looks at the company’s search patents.

The most recent published version of this patent, filed in April 2015, and granted in October 2019 introduces some changes in how news articles may be ranked by Google. It tells us about how articles covering different topics are placed in clusters (which isn’t new in itself), and how those articles may rank higher than other articles by covering more entities that aren’t covered by articles in the same clusters

This post is filled with a lot of jargon, but there are some interesting tidbits, such as looking at the updates to Google’s news patent, to try and tease out what it takes to rank well there.

Side note, our investment arm of our company SmashVC just got some welcomed traction on Twitter:

Google algorithm updates
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Sean Markey

Sean Markey

Obsessive consumer of SEO news and strategies, writes the This Week in SEO column. Loves playing drums and writing fiction. Bets you he can throw a football over them mountains.
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