Huge Ranking Algorithm Change - Jan 10, 2016

Linda Buquet

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Joshua I have a hunch, could you provide the URLs? Via PM is fine if you don't want to post here. If it's the issue I think I'll explain without revealing the clients.

I have Dr appts all afternoon so could be tomorrow before I can check and reply.
 

Coloradoug

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Jan 15, 2016
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THE BAD: Wild ride today. After ranking #1 in local and organic for all our high value search terms for nearly two years, we saw huge drops in our organic rankings. Our index page was outranked by our internal pages for most terms, and both were at the bottom of 1st page at best. Local listings fell anywhere from 2 to 15 positions.

THE GOOD: Our index page is #1 again in organic rankings for our high value search terms. Back to #1 in local results also. All is right with the world.

We didn't make any changes since we didn't have enough information to draw any reasonable conclusions.

Here's hoping our experience gives everyone else here who has seen the same gut wrenching drops after this update reason to be optimistic.
 

Linda Buquet

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Hi Doug,

Welcome and thanks for sharing that.

So are you saying this all happened today? The big down then back up?

Did you know that any time you do a search you are seeing as many at 30 search experiments at the same time? Some are so subtle you don't even notice them.

But for the wild differences you were seeing sounds like an algo change and then it was reversed. Or maybe later when you saw you were back at #1 you had hit a different data center that was running a diff algo???
 

Coloradoug

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Jan 15, 2016
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All fluctuations were today. First noticed rankings drop early a.m. and swings got more significant throughout the day until late afternoon when rankings returned to normal. Normal being #1 in both local and organic. We hadn't seen any change in our rankings since this update started rolling out last weekend... until today.

The interesting thing I wanted to share with the SEO's here is that at first our index page had dropped significantly in the organic listings. Google seemed to be favoring interior pages for specific search terms. (We're in the home services industry)

By end of the day our index page was ranking #1 in organic listings again for all of our most valued search terms.

Yes, I'm aware of ongoing experimentation in serp's, but our rankings have literally never fluctuated in the last 18 months, so no updates have affected us until this one. Hoping the insights from what we saw in our vertical gives you guys some clues to sort out what's going on with fluctuations in your clients' rankings.

I confirmed the ranking recovery here locally with 3 employees in various parts of town, as well as several friends located in other cities outside of Colorado. All have seen our results fluctuate wildly throughout the day, and all are seeing us back at #1 for both local and organic results now.
 

Linda Buquet

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Thanks for the extra detail Doug. The index vs internal pages jives with some of the reports above.

Hey Josh can you doublecheck your clients today and see if they maybe bounced back like Doug's rankings did?

When I get a chance I'll share what I discovered with Joshua's clients yesterday. Not sure it's the problem, but worth knowing about and checking in case it's part of the issue.
 

Coloradoug

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Jan 15, 2016
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I forgot to mention that we've seen geo-modifiers ignored in the local rankings on and off over the last week. Mostly on mobile devices. Local results being shown are companies located near the user's physical location despite having the word Denver included in the search term. Been seeing this intermittently over the last week.
 
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Question for those that are seeing ranking drops - did you submit disavow files or do any kind of link cleanup work? I am speculating that Google may be processing disavow files en masse (in preparation for a Penguin update). So the end result here would be losses in visibility (most likely minor) as Google adds nofollow to a whole new set of backlinks.

Now a backlink audit shouldn't really impact visibility since you should be trimming bad links, but undoubtedly, Google was passing some link equity through what would be deemed "questionable" links. Ranking dips might be a precursor to a full fledged Penguin update.

I am also seeing some pretty dramatic localized results for sites that have been negatively affected by the algo update. 1st page results when my location is set to CITY A and not in the top 100 when my location is set to CITY B and CITY A & CITY B are less than 20 miles away from each other.

This may be temporary, however, as the results are in pretty dramatic flux. Seem to be different on a daily basis. I saw some chatter about Google rolling the update back. Not sure if that is accurate or not.

I do think all of this is in prep for the Penguin update. Time will tell.
 

Linda Buquet

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Thanks so much for the insights Robert! That would account for why the packs I check have not moved. Maybe they just don't have link issues. (I only keep track of a handful of packs.)

I know you have a lot of data to look at over at Bruce Clay, so your feedback is always valued!
 

JoshuaMackens

Local Search Expert
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Sep 12, 2012
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Thanks for the extra detail Doug. The index vs internal pages jives with some of the reports above.

Hey Josh can you doublecheck your clients today and see if they maybe bounced back like Doug's rankings did?

When I get a chance I'll share what I discovered with Joshua's clients yesterday. Not sure it's the problem, but worth knowing about and checking in case it's part of the issue.
Actually, Joy looked at it for me and somehow my client's homepage was deindexed completely. I posted in the webmaster forums for help and we'll see what comes of it.

As for the competitor I mentioned above, his rankings seem to be back to normal, from what I know of them. His homepage is ranking again.
 

Marie Haynes

LocalU Faculty
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Aug 7, 2012
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132
Question for those that are seeing ranking drops - did you submit disavow files or do any kind of link cleanup work? I am speculating that Google may be processing disavow files en masse (in preparation for a Penguin update).
If this were the case then I would probably be seeing more ranking changes in my clients than anyone else. But in reality, the opposite is true. I'm seeing very little in the way of changes.

It seems to me that the sites that are seeing link based changes are ones in more spammy verticals. But, I can't say that with certainty. It could also be that sites that have spammy links also tend to have lower quality content and the drops that were attributed to link equity actually were because Google is recognizing that the site quality is not good.

It's still really hard to say what is going on though.
 
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If this were the case then I would probably be seeing more ranking changes in my clients than anyone else. But in reality, the opposite is true. I'm seeing very little in the way of changes.

It seems to me that the sites that are seeing link based changes are ones in more spammy verticals. But, I can't say that with certainty. It could also be that sites that have spammy links also tend to have lower quality content and the drops that were attributed to link equity actually were because Google is recognizing that the site quality is not good.

It's still really hard to say what is going on though.
I totally agree Marie. Changes we saw rolling out over the weekend have reverted back to their original results, so there is clearly a lot of testing going on. We also have Penguin affected sites that are not budging one way or the other.

I can't help but think that these changes are necessary for Google to execute the Penguin refresh. I have no proof of this, but it just seems odd that Google would roll out such large algorithmic changes (well at least they seem large when you look at the SERP tracking tools) right at the start of the new year, when they had indicated that they were pushing Penguin live after the holidays.

I do think you may be on to something with the spammy vertical angle Marie. I wonder if this is Google refreshing their payday loan algo (Google Launching Payday Loan Algorithm 3.0 Targeting Spammy Queries This Week). The sites I am seeing most impacted do live in traditionally spammy verticals. Going to see if I can dig up some more data on this.
 

Coloradoug

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Jan 15, 2016
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We're seeing turmoil in the local pack rankings again for certain search terms. Should be temporary as the companies rank 1-3 have no business being in the top 10, and Google still ignoring the inclusion of Denver in the search term when searcher is physically located in the suburbs. Organic rankings unchanged.
 

theitsage

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Jun 18, 2015
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I'm seeing lots of movements in the local pack during the past week. Organic results are stable however.
 

Laustin1878

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Sep 27, 2012
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I have observed fairly radical serp changes (to the tune of 20-40 positions) for both local and organic, only to see the results return to their original positions. This has been a week to week fluctuation.

I have not dove in depth yet to see if home pages were removed but it's odd as I've purposely left certain sites alone to not further impede on ranking fluctuations.

I've been checking rankings via Moz and see things all over the place. I usually don't get excited as things return to normal but this has been going on continuously. I'll dive deeper into this over the weekend and if I find anything significant, I'll post back.
 
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So it's not the payday loan algo, John Mueller and Gary Illyes confirmed this via tweet:

https://twitter.com/ramirez_robert/status/689583084765708288

I am also seeing some pretty dramatic fluctuations this week. It appears that whatever Google rolled out this past weekend, they've (partially?) rolled back. The changes that happened the weekend of 1/9 have stuck, but most changes from 1/16 are returning back to normal.

This is really still a moving target. I'll certainly share more as I learn it. I am definitely seeing dramatic differences for traditionally spammy queries, however. Even if this isn't payday loan algo - I am positive it targeted spammy head terms.
 

Coloradoug

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Jan 15, 2016
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We're seeing volatility in our local rankings again today. Home page still ranking #1 organically for our top search terms, but local rankings have fallen from #1 to anywhere from #5 to #15. We haven't made any changes in response to the update because all of our rankings had returned to #1 previously.
 

Linda Buquet

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Jun 28, 2012
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13,313
Thanks for reporting in Doug!

Joy just mentioned wild fluctuations in another thread, but the packs I track have not budged.
 

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