This is a transcript of SEMrush’s webinar with Nik Ranger, Peter Mead and Lily Ray.
Welcome to Australian Search Marketing Academy, it’s Peter Mead. And today we have a special kind of topic. We’re all affected by COVID-19, how it affects SEO, how does it affect our EAT?
What’s going on with the algo updates in the age of coronavirus? It’s bewildering but we have with us Lily Ray who has focused on this and really worked a lot of this stuff out. This is going to be a fascinating and informative webinar today. But firstly, let me introduce Nik Ranger, who’s an SEO specialist at StudioHawk. She’s big on strategy, big on data analysis.
Lily Ray, welcome Lilly, we’re so excited for you to be here. Lily Ray is the SEO director at Path Interactive and she began her journey in SEO in 2010 working in a startup, moved into the agency world but since then has been working with fortune 500 companies.
Before, we used to be able to see an algo update and we could figure out what was going on but now the search habits are changing, all kinds of things are changing. What’s going on?
Well, a lot is going on. I’ll talk about it in my presentation, but you’re absolutely right. There’s been a combination of Google’s results changing as a result of changes in search intent and search behavior, as well as algorithm updates and other updates they’ve made related to coronavirus.
Yeah. How do you feel Nik with the things that you’re seeing changing, especially on some of those larger sites that you’re working on?
Yeah. Well, I have the benefit of working with small SMBs new kind of like mom and dad pop shops, all the way to some of the biggest retailers and I guess, space industries in Australia. Like Lily said, the search content has been very, very different to keep track of over the past few months with COVID affecting a lot of Australia, especially here in Melbourne.
It’s been definitely a little bit of a different dialogue with a lot of our clients. I think that they’re having to work a lot harder and have to grapple with some of the concepts. One, because it’s an exceptionally emotional time for a lot of people and two, because I think with the amount of uncertainty, you have to be the guiding light a little bit.
Lily, you’ve got a presentation for us. Shall we jump into that? Are you ready to start explaining that to us?
Yeah, let’s do it. I’m going to share my screen. Awesome. We’re going to be talking about being able to win in SEO with EAT and algorithm updates in the age of coronavirus.
A Brief Synopsis of Google in 2020
Diving right in, I wanted to go through a brief synopsis of what’s happened in Google in 2020. As far as core updates go and some other major updates that we’ve seen on Google, we have the January 2020 core update on January 13th.
January 22nd we had the featured snippet de-duping core update so that resulted in the same URL not ranking in the featured snippet as well as the top result. That caused some big fluctuations. February 7th, we had an unconfirmed Google update and then really March and as well as April we had a lot of changes happening in the search results as a result of coronavirus.
Here on the right, this was an article that I put together where I was analyzing visibility across various categories during April or between maybe February and April. And you’re going to see a lot of changes in visibility to certain categories as a result of coronavirus and people’s changing behaviors.
Then we had the infamous May core update, which rolled out on May 4th through about the 17th of May and that caused some pretty extreme fluctuations as well. June 22nd, which I like to informally label the “wear a mask update”, and we’ll talk about why that’s the case. And then July 5th, we seem to have another unconfirmed update by Google.
There’s things that are happening naturally as a result of changes in search intent. And then we do have Google simultaneously rolling out a lot of updates at the same time.
There’s been a lot of discussion this year as brands have to close their doors or cut budgets about the importance of SEO in search marketing in their marketing strategy. And one thing that I think is really important to think about is that these updates are communicated from Google to search marketers, right?
The brands don’t usually know about these things, they don’t really necessarily understand how to use things like structured data or Google My Business announcements, but that’s where SEO expertise comes into play and in many cases, this is the official way that you communicate with your audience.
This is one of the many reasons why I think it’s so important to continue to engage in SEO because if you don’t have someone translating what Google’s recommending that you do from a communication standpoint, it’s going to be really hard to get that message across to your audience.
A lot of updates have taken place this year. And in conjunction with that, we have drastic changes to the search results. You’ve probably noticed that when you search for, of course, the exact match word coronavirus but also really any query that contains the word coronavirus or COVID-19 or anything that’s related to people’s safety or their health around coronavirus topics.
Google has essentially created a different type of search result or first page of the search results than we’ve ever seen before. Now we’re seeing these left-hand sidebars where we’re seeing options to look at statistics or health info. We have top stories as well as local news, as well as videos. We also get this map of cases and some other statistics around coronavirus where you live that Google is pulling in directly from websites like the World Health Organization as well as the CDC.
But that’s not it, we have a lot of different features that they’ve rolled out. They have COVID-19 announcements, which result in something that looks a little bit like FAQ schema, but for eligible websites, you get to add specific questions people might be asking or announcements related to coronavirus. You have these local and national resources, which have to do with coronavirus news in your region.
Really if you’re trying to rank for queries containing the word coronavirus, it’s not going to be very easy for you. And also if you have content that gets into that your money, your life category, where coronavirus is involved, it’s going to be very hard to compete with companies and organizations that really have strong expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness in those categories.
We also had something that I thought was really interesting here in the US, which is that the White House, really our president and his people are recommending that companies leverage schema.org and those new COVID-19 announcements. That’s the first time in my memory that the government has encouraged using schema.org. I thought that was very interesting.
Why do you think the government’s getting involved in this level of technical website? Clearly schema.org is more in the SEO realm of things. What’s happening there?
I mean, it’s the bonafide way of communicating with your customers at this point. People are searching for things on Google and the COVID-19 announcement schema is the, from my opinion, the most official way to convey to your customers what’s happening.
That’s why the cdc.org has that markup on their page and other really prominent health organizations are using that type of markup to tell people, what are the rules around quarantining? What are the hours of operation at government agencies and things like that. Without that markup, it’s not easy to transmit that information to users in the place where they’re looking for it, which is predominantly Google.
The Growing Importance of E-A-T
EAT was already very important leading up to 2020, but from my perspective, it just got even more important. For anybody who doesn’t know what is EAT, EAT stands for expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. This comes from Google search quality guidelines. It’s been around for a number of years, but if you’ve been paying attention, they’ve been focusing on it more and more, especially as it relates to recent core algorithm updates.
Pretty much every time Google launches a big core algorithm update in the past couple of years, they link back to a document that says how important EAT is. They also recommend that you read the search quality guidelines, which mentioned EAT like 160 plus times or something. It’s something to pay attention to if you work in SEO.
Google also published a white paper last year called How Google Fights Disinformation. Marie Haynes is the person that made this connection, but it was a really, really great observation. There’s a specific sentence in here where they basically talk about when something is happening, like breaking news or a crisis or something that’s creating a lot of potential for disinformation, Google’s going to surface results that have the strongest possible authoritativeness.
When they have a crisis happening, they’re going to prefer authority over factors like recency or exact word matches while that crisis is developing. This is a way that they fight disinformation, which has obviously been a big problem during coronavirus. I think that with some of the recent updates that we’ve seen on Google, we’re seeing this actually play out in the search results.
Some examples of that would be, a lot of these are different hospitals around the US. We have Broward county, which is in Florida, which is one of the states in the US that’s really suffering from coronavirus lately. The Australian government department of health and some other official health organizations and websites saw a huge uptick in visibility. We’re seeing like 120%, 170% visibility increase on Google compared to the prior week.
Here in the US what we saw on June 22nd was the center for disease control, the CDC, as well as the food and drug administration, the FDA. Beginning around June 22nd, if you look here at the end of this chart, you saw these huge spikes and visibility compared to anything that we’ve seen pretty much, since this chart goes back to 2011.
What was interesting was that before June 22nd, henryford.com was one of the websites that published a study that talked about the fact that hydroxychloroquine can help reduce deaths related to coronavirus. And then after that update was rolled out, you’re going to see this study move down to position eight from position two.
And then the CDC and the FDA and WebMD take the top three positions and those pages have different content than what you would see on the Henry Ford page. Almost like debunking what was presented in that article. I thought that was a really interesting development.
From Google’s perspective, what they appear to be doing is really prioritizing content from the CDC, the FDA, and the World Health Organization above almost any other site on the internet on topics related to coronavirus.
Interesting that Henry Ford article is still on the first page, theoretically.
Yeah, I think they make it very clear that they try to present both sides of an argument and I think a lot of people do consider that a highly reputable article. I think they’re just trying to show both sides, but I thought it was very interesting that they basically just replaced that with the CDC.
And so this is true for many different queries. Here we have the query hand sanitizer. There’s been a lot of changes on this query this year obviously, but if you look before the June 22nd update, you’re going to see Amazon, Walgreens, CVS, Office Depot. These are four different companies that sell hand sanitizer, so they’re transactional pages.
After that update, you’re going to see the FDA ranking number one, Google’s “People also ask” ranking number two, and then the FDA also ranking number three. And then you start to get into a little bit more transactional queries, but it’s interesting because it was like, it went from a transactional query to a query that Google considered almost controversial and that they want official information to be prioritized.
This really has a ripple effect throughout what we’re seeing in SEO this year. It’s not only health sites who are affected. These are just a few examples, but you have to imagine this is happening on a very large scale across trillions of keywords.
If you’ve seen major fluctuations in your performance this year, that’s one thing to keep in mind is, sometimes someone who Google just deems is more relevant for people’s current situation is going to outperform your content. We’ll talk about how we can actually adapt to that.
How to Prove Your E-A-T to Google
Okay, next slide. From my perspective, SEO is getting increasingly competitive. This is true year after year. But I do believe that EAT is more important than ever. I also think that especially when it comes to coronavirus, you can’t fake good EAT, you can’t pretend to be an authority on something that you’re not.
Google’s pretty good at determining that, but you can identify where your site is a true expert and authority, and you can choose to focus your SEO efforts there. A good place to start is to really do some soul searching and ask yourself, which topics is my brand an actual authority on?
If you do want to dig into the details about how Google actually determines authority, I’m going to talk about some really boiled down oversimplified ways of identifying that, but Bill Slawski has a much more robust in-depth article about how Google might do this.
I do think that looking at your backlink profile is going to be a really good strategy. The reason for that is because Google has confirmed various times that EAT is driven by links to some capacity. The people that link to your website, how authoritative they are in certain topics, what language and anchor texts are they using to link to you? What pages are they linking to most or sub-folders or things like that?
What you can do using SEMrush is you can look at your referring domains, there’s this great new authority score that you can look at. Maybe you want to filter by something like 50 to a hundred, as far as authoritativeness goes.
Then you can really dig into which companies with high authority scores are linking to my site? What pages are they linking to? What anchor text are they using? And what themes emerge from this analysis in terms of what my website is perceived to be an authority on.
You can also export your inbound anchor text from the links that are pointing to your website, you can remove the branded keywords, there’s these awesome word cloud generators online, or phrase cloud generators if you want to put it into a deck and send it to a client, make it look pretty.
This is an example from healthline.com. What are the trends or the consistent keywords and trends that I’m seeing in this word cloud? Things like healthy, health benefits, foods, blood, you can start to see the common patterns and how people are referencing your website, and that’s somewhere that you could start from when it comes to thinking about keyword research and content ideation.
Updating Your SEO Strategy in 2020
I think it’s really important to note that as far as SEO strategy goes, I believe that 2020 is a different animal than anything that we’ve seen in the past. A lot of the processes that I’ve personally used and my team has used have changed this year. It’s really important to think about how to update your SEO strategy for 2020 and potentially the years to come, just because consumer behavior and the way that people are searching has also drastically changed.
Let’s run through an example of what that looks like. Let’s pretend that we have a blog in which we discuss childhood education. Well, fortunately, we all have access to this free tool, which is Google Trends.
I’ve been saying throughout the year, Google Trends is your friend right now. If you haven’t been using it, I do recommend using it a lot more intensively these days. And the reason for that is because there’s somewhat of a lag with a lot of the standard keyword research tools when it comes to emerging topics and breakout topics. Google is going to be your best source of information as far as topics that are trending in the last day or even the last four hours.
Let’s say for this example of the childhood education blog, we know that homeschooling is something that’s relevant to our company, we have authoritativeness on this, we can see that it’s definitely a growing trend in 2020. You’ll enter that into Google Trends.
One way that I like to use it is I like to export the related topics as well as the related queries, because that’s going to give you that full list of 25 different topics and queries that you could potentially write about.
Once you’ve exported that, you’ll have your topics as well as your rising topics and you’re going to see a lot of different topics here, but what I really like to focus on is rising topics, just because things are changing so quickly these days that if something’s a breakout topic, you know that you have the potential to compete for that keyword because it’s something that it’s breakout; it’s something that people are searching for right now.
Let’s take the example of homeschooling schedule because I feel like that’s on-brand for the example company that we’re writing for. One thing you can do is you can use SEMrush, I love the Keyword Magic tool. You can enter in that keyword homeschooling schedule, and then you can click on questions.
This is a good place to start when it comes to content and keyword ideation for writing a new article. And I think it’s really important to get away from the thinking that we need to pick the highest possible search volume. I think that’s the way that SEOs have thought for a very long time.
I like to focus these days more on-trend, because if we see something like this, where something’s spiking, I’m not necessarily as concerned about the monthly search volume, I’m concerned about the fact that this is something that people are extremely focused on right now. There’s probably a lot of content ideas where that came from.
We want to start by entering in that query into Google and assessing what the competitive landscape looks like. I chose the keyword, how to plan a homeschool schedule. I am seeing that people already wrote about this, but what I thought was interesting is that aside from this one right here, which has March 18th, 2020, I don’t see that any of these other competing sites are necessarily speaking to the searchers right now.
And you can dig deeper with the SEMrush Keyword Magic Tool. Let’s say we took the query homeschooling cost because we’re seeing a lot of interest on that topic. You can enter that in and then you can hit questions again and you can look for common themes.
If you assess the competition, you’ll see, I typed, how much does it cost to homeschool in California? There is a featured snippet, there are some URLs that appear to be somewhat speaking about that, but I’m not necessarily seeing people talk about California specifically.
Even the featured snippet doesn’t mention the word California. Maybe there’s an opportunity to get in here and really talk specifically about what that looks like in California and outperform the 2018 article in terms of relevance because I’m really speaking to what that looks like in 2020.
BuzzSumo is another great tool that I like to use for content ideation. You can enter homeschooling into BuzzSumo or other similar tools that talk about trending articles. You can filter by past month and then you can see what’s the most engaging content on social media as far as homeschooling goes.
Diagnosing Core Update SERP Movements
Another thing to note is that it seems like sometimes Google gets a little bit confused about EAT particularly with the May core update, I think there was a lot of confusion there. If you do get affected by a core update, I think it’s really important to stay the course, keep working on your site and hopefully you’ll see an improvement as the next update rolls out.
If you want to get into specific tactics around EAT, I have so much information online, just Google my name in quotes and then EAT and you’ll find dozens of resources out there.
I do want to mention that as far as core updates go, it’s very important to remember that EAT is not the only thing that causes websites to get hit by core algorithm updates. I like to quote my friend, the amazing Glenn Gabe who says, “With core updates, there’s never one smoking gun, there’s typically a battery of them.”
I have to remind my clients of this all the time. It’s always like, why did we get hit? Oh, it must be this one page or it must be this one problem. It’s never that, it’s always a lot of different things. That’s important to keep in mind.
This is kind of like the five pillars of what we focus on when we’re addressing core updates. We have content relevance as well as quality, technical issues, of course, EAT. And even your backlink profile especially as it relates to whether your competitors have a stronger or more robust, more authoritative backlink profile than you do.
Don’t Neglect “People Also Ask” Content
Now, something else to consider. A quick pop quiz here. Think to yourselves, what do these keywords all have in common. Kind of a trick question. If you’ve guessed that they all have monthly search volumes of over 250,000 searches per month, and the fact that Google’s “People also ask” boxes now rank number one for literally all of them on mobile devices, you’d be correct. It’s a little bit scary.
There’s a new competitor in town and that’s “People also ask” especially on mobile. They’re not the most sophisticated search results, in my humble opinion. Sometimes I’m not impressed with “People also ask” like, here we have, “what are grocery items?” “Why are groceries called groceries?” Really? This should be outranking my content. I don’t know about that, but pay attention to it.
When you see those kinds of results, it’s difficult because you’re churning up inside thinking, “Oh, I’ve done better than that or my client should be there.”
Yeah, exactly. My famous philosophy is if you can’t beat Google then join them. This is a great tool by Mark Williams-cook called alsoasked.com. It’s free, it allows you to scrape “People also ask” queries and to export them, so very quick and easy way to start to optimize for that content.
COVID Content Pivots and Google My Business Changes
And then real quick, because we’re getting short on time. I just don’t want to talk about a few sites that have done amazing examples of content pivots in 2020 to account for coronavirus.
Number one, we have this website called The Points Guy. This is a travel blog that previously talked about travel deals and the best credit cards for travel and things like that. This year they’ve completely pivoted to talking about all the different updates related to travel and coronavirus. And I’ve noticed them throughout the year as someone that’s been really dominating the conversation as far as travel goes.
This is a finance website called Fundera. They’ve built a whole coronavirus section into the navigation. It’s the first thing on the navigation. When you click on it, it’s updates related to your finances and coronavirus. And it’s also a curated list of their articles that they didn’t necessarily write this year, but they’re relevant for people as they go through this coronavirus situation.
And then the last topic real quick is Google My Business. I mean, Google has been doing a great job as it relates to coronavirus and offering a lot of solutions for website owners. But I do think that’s especially true for Google My Business.
They’ve been doing a lot of new features that allow small businesses to communicate with their customers and to provide updates. If you log in there, you’ll see, stay connected during COVID-19, ways for you to update your business hours, COVID-19 updates, which is basically just a new type of post that’ll get pinned to the top of your GMB profile.
And I did want to shout out a new tool called Postamatic by Noah and the Two Octobers and AgencyAutomators team. It’s an amazing new tool, it’s completely free, Google Sheets add-on, and it allows you to schedule and automate Google My Business posts at scale across a variety of different Google My Business locations. And you can actually do that for COVID-19 updates.
I had no idea that exists. That’s amazing.
Yeah, it’s amazing. I know it’s a game-changer. The URL, it’s a Google Sheets add-on, so I don’t know off the top of my head, but you can just google Postamatic.
I’m already onto it. I’ve already got it.
Awesome. Yeah. Last slide, just to summarize. Keep an eye on the search trends that are happening in your industry. There’s been a lot of fluctuations, a lot of new search features, make sure you’re paying attention to what’s happening on the SERPs. Stay on your toes as it relates to your content strategy.
Pivot your content to address your customer’s needs. Not necessarily just about coronavirus, but about the unique situation that they’re in with quarantining and everything like that.
Don’t just focus on monthly search volume, look at trends and breakout topics, and then really keep an eye on what Google’s doing with new COVID features. Thank you. And I guess we’ll move on to questions.
That’s very much.
That was amazing. That was so good.
Trends Data Accuracy and Search Volume Importance
Maybe we’ve got a few questions here in the chat here. We’ll just start at the top. Noah Learner. Lily, are you pulling Trends data multiple times, or once? I’ve heard about the impact of sampling on the accuracy of the data that you normalize by pulling the data multiple times. What’s that about? Do you think that makes a difference to what you’re doing?
Not necessarily. I mean, usually what I’m doing with Trends data is working really quickly especially with websites that have Google News eligibility. We actually work with a few clients where we wake up in the morning and we use Google Trends to see what people need to write about that day and we send them what the breakout topics are.
We’re not as focused on the hard numbers to the point where sampling would cause a big problem. We’re more focused on, what are the specific questions that people are asking in the last 24 hours? And let’s try to write about that. I haven’t really thought about sampling too much with that.
Well, that I guess follows on a little bit to the next question. I always had in my mind about just, I mean, how do you show the data to the clients the search volume or the keyword difficulty? Do you just say, “Look, take this with a grain of salt.” Now?
Yeah, what’s been interesting is with publisher clients, especially we’ve had a few examples where there was no data, there was no search volume data, there was almost no trend data, but we knew people were going to be searching this next month. And that’s just based on your gut.
I mean, in 2020 things are completely unprecedented, so you don’t always need to say this keyword has 4,000 searches a month, so we can expect to get this much traffic. Everyone’s talking about this topic and we know that it’s on-brand for us, we know we’re authoritative on it. We should have some content on that.
Tools to Find Trending Keywords
Great. Nik, what other questions do we have?
My question was, what tools do you use to check trending keywords, and maybe is there anything that you check that maybe will trigger keywords that increase X percent over some time? Basically, is there any way you can automate this stuff rather than manual check?
Yeah. There’s a couple of different tools that I use. Google Trends is the first one, obviously. I like keywordtool.io, it’s a relatively inexpensive tool that has a couple of different search engines on it. It’s not just Google. It has YouTube, Amazon, Instagram, Pinterest I think, and Twitter, which is really helpful because when you’re doing this type of research, don’t just want to stick to Google’s search volume data.
You really want to look at trends and social media is a great place to look for that. I think it’s helpful to look at how people are searching across social media.
Is EAT Applicable for Service-Based Businesses?
Awesome. Thank you so much. Daniel Cheung question is, how is EAT applicable to a service-based small business where the owner has very little online presence and will probably not have much?
Yeah. EAT is increasingly important the more that you get into your money, your life topic. If you talk about cancer treatment, or you talk about coronavirus, you have the highest level of expectations as far as EAT goes.
Beyond that, it’s not the most important SEO strategy. If you’re truly a small business and you have a name, address, and phone number and you have some good reviews on Google My Business, you don’t need to be the best bonafide expert in that category, assuming that you’re not doing heart surgery or something, that’s really life or death.
But I do recommend that people that don’t have any online presence start working on it. Now’s the time, especially if you have authors that a lot of people say, “Hey, we have an author that they don’t have any online presence, but they write for us.” I say, “Cool, make an author bio for them. Talk about how long they’ve been writing for you, talk about why you hired them, and what makes them special, maybe link that to the LinkedIn page.”
What SEO Looks Like After Coronavirus
Hey Lily Ray, I have one more question for you. Now, I’m very interested because what I’m really interested in is this whole thing with coronavirus. Now, it’s a pandemic theoretically, this is all going to be over at some point, all right? I’m really interested in knowing where’s your crystal ball? What do you see in the future for us? What happens when it does all go back to normal?
That’s a big question, but as it relates to SEO specifically, I think that these processes that we’ve talked about today should be done for as long as things are in somewhat of an unstable place where people’s behaviors and attitudes and questions are rapidly changing. Even if it stops being around coronavirus, I imagine there’s going to be a lot of questions about health in the future and transportation and traveling and everything like that. So it’s really important to stay on top of the trends.
I don’t think it’s going to be a situation where you have to undo a lot of things. Maybe if you’ve built coronavirus into your main navigation, that takes a little bit of legwork to move it away eventually, but I think it’s important to stay on top of breakout trends. And one step ahead of what your customer is searching for pretty much indefinitely, regardless of what happens with coronavirus.
Wow. Well, that’s some great questions and thanks everybody for tuning in and joining in with the webinar. Thanks so much Nik Ranger for co-hosting in this fascinating topic. This is something, I think this topic and everything you presented Lily Ray, we can really pivot off these topics and this can become a real central piece of how we can go forward. Thank you so much for presenting this for us.
No problem. Thank you so much for having me.
It’s been an absolute honor.
Check out the slides from the presentation here: