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A Subtle Google Update last November?.
05 Jan 2011
Google has released several visual updates recently which have all caused a commotion, both within the SEO industry and beyond. Displaying results instantly as you type (Google Instant), displaying Google Places in a different fashion, and providing the ability to preview a webpage directly from search results pages (Google Preview) all come to mind. One more subtle Google change with just as much potential impact as any of the above has been relatively overshadowed by the above.
At the start of last November we (the SEO department at Epiphany) started to notice that SERPs listings were changing. SERPs listings previously dominated by homepages saw a large number of ranking pages replaced by internal pages from the same site. Rankings didn’t necessarily change, but the page being ranked did. As an example, prior to the update Insure and Go ranked 4th for “Travel Insurance” with http://www.insureandgo.com as the ranking page. Since the 4th of November, Insure and Go have retained the 4th place ranking but the listed page has changed to http://www.insureandgo.com/travel-insurance/travelhome.html. This trend seems to have happened across all verticals and even to the extent where in some instances the internal page that was rankings has been replaced by another internal page.
So what has happened?
Well it seems that Google has made an update to its algorithm for selecting which page of a domain should rank. Previously pages would rank solely on their link equity. We have all seen plenty of pages ranking that provide no information on the particular subject or a one liner about the particular subject along with one liners about 30 others. I’m speculating here, but now it seems as though Google looks to see what domain should rank for a given term based on its overall weight for that term. It then looks at all of the pages of that domain individually to work out which page it should list based on relevance with relevance seemingly being based on on-page factors such as textual content. The reason I have come to this conclusion is that from all the data I have crunched (hence the delay in this post), there seems to be no reasoning as to why a certain page now ranks in place of the other, apart from the fact that the newly ranking page nearly always has it’s on-page elements more directly targeted to the phrase. Links don’t seem to matter as plenty of pages rank with little to no link equity themselves. Their parent domains though have a reason to rank based on links.
Why would this happen?
Whenever I notice anything like this I always like to think why would Google do this (and remember I am speculating here)? Well traditional legacy SEO frequently involved powering up (not sure if that’s the right term) a sites homepage as this was deemed the most powerful page from the get go. From this we ended up with SERPs full of homepages that when you clicked through you were only just beginning your journey to find the information you actually required. So with Google’s desire to give users the information they require as quickly as possible, it makes perfect sense that they would want to shortcut the journey and provide the information directly from the SERPs.
If this is happening, what do we need to do to benefit from it?
Well obviously you need to ensure you monitor the pages that are being listed. If you have been creating pages solely to add content to your site and you haven’t given your pages much thought beyond this you may need to ensure you provide all of the necessary calls to action etc. to turn these pages into conversion drivers. Apart from this (taking for granted you are being intelligent with you SEO) you shouldn’t really need to change anything. Your overall efforts should put your domain in good light and Google should do the rest for the best (maybe a bit optimistic).
Something has changed and all the data I have looked at points toward what I have documented above. As to whether this change will last, well we never really know. It may be that Google is heavily monitoring the situation and might change things based on click through and bounce rates. Some sites have indeed been fluctuating between old pages and new. For now the best advice I can give is to ensure your on-page SEO efforts extend beyond your homepage, but surely you knew that anyway!