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You’re investing in SEO for your business’s website but traffic has taken a turn for the worse – could Google be to blame? This is when having faith in your SEO agency becomes vital.

Google carries out several major updates to its search algorithm each year. When it does, SEO experts get nervous as the updates often result in a significant change in their clients’ organic rankings. Two of the recent algorithm updates illustrate the big impact it can have and the importance of holding your nerve.

Back at the start of August 2018, a major algorithm update nicknamed the ‘Medic Update’ caused a stir. It was called the Medic Update as many of the websites that exhibited a big shift in their organic rankings for their high traffic keywords were health-related sites. Some experts believed it was a drive from Google to ensure that searchers are shown websites with a high level of trustworthiness as a priority. Google has always given the E-A-T of a website – Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness – a high ranking factor, but this update appeared to increase this weighting.

This is clearly a good thing, and especially for industries like health, trust is especially important. However, sometimes these updates can over-correct or have unintended consequences.

From a pest control point of view this update had a significant overnight impact on the organic rankings (Figure 1, first oval). In a number of markets, Rentokil got an overnight boost, to the detriment of leading local companies. We are not sure why pest control companies would have been caught up in this update if it really was a ‘medic’ update, but it could be because words like ‘treatment’ and ‘control’ are medical keywords, which are also closely associated with pest control.

Figure 1: Website visibility to tracked pest control keywords (Rentokil in orange, leading local competitor in blue)

Why did Rentokil get a boost? Global brands, simply because they are global and therefore have authority and longevity, provide a strong trustworthiness cue.

However, the negative consequence for strong, local pest control companies was that many slipped down the organic rankings with a corresponding adverse impact on their website traffic. Many of these companies have excellent websites and are carrying out best practice SEO (we know as we were managing some of them!). However, other than compensating for lost organic traffic with paid advertising, there was very little that could be done.

Obviously in such situations, business owners are not happy and get nervous, putting the pressure on their SEO agencies. But this is the time for business owners and SEO experts to hold their nerve. It’s important for business owners to trust their SEO support and for the SEO experts to trust their skills and process.

As is often the case, when Google realises an update may have had adverse effects, it either reverses the update or carries out a further modification to redress the situation. It may take a week or two, it may take months, but most of the time it does happen. In this case it took over seven months – a long time to hold your nerve!

In the middle of March, Google carried out a core update. It will take time for the experts to fully map its impacts (and give it a name!), but for a number of websites it appeared to reverse the impacts of the August 2018 update.

In pest control, the impacts had an immediate effect with the strong, local websites following best practice SEO rebounding overnight (Figure 1, second oval).

So the message of the story is that changes in the algorithm are beyond your control. So if you trust in your SEO (whether you manage it internally or use an agency), then there is very little you can do. Just hold your nerve, keep the faith and ‘enjoy’ the ride!

Phil Ridley, Director, Bug Doctor Media