Handling a big Google Algorithm Update

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This article reflects on how the 2018 August Google algorithm update affected one of our e-commerce websites, and we take a look back at the steps we took to tackle this update.

For most of our websites, we do not worry too much about Google algorithm updates, because we always try to follow the basic Google Webmaster Guidelines & create well structured, original content.

But in August 2018 Google released a massive core update that focused far more on User Experience & not simply on SEO techniques. It has been dubbed the ‘Medic Update’ but it can affect websites in any area.
 
Google-SERPS
 
One e-commerce website that we manage was hit fairly hard by this update, but only for a certain category of products, which made it quite interesting. And after a bit of detective work, looking at why one category of products was different to other categories, we were eventually able to determine what the main problem was.
 


 

The specific problem

The e-commerce website in question is a very busy Glitter Tattoos website that sells tattoo stencils, face paint stencils, face paints & glitter. And only the Glitter products were affected. All other products remained in the top 10 on Google, but during September 2018, the glitter products had completely vanished from Google search results.

Before August / September 2018, this website was in the top 10 for all major keywords & products, so we were certain that it was affected by the Google algorithm update… we just had to find out what the specific problem was.

It was important to handle our website updates carefully, so we didn’t affect the rankings for the other products. And it can be a lengthy process, because after each major website update, we needed to wait for 3 to 4 weeks to see how our latest update had affected our rankings.

 


 

The steps we took:

 

Checked Google Search Console / Webmaster Tools

Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) is the first place you should look. It will tell you if there are any major issues on your website – such as duplicate page titles, or duplicate META Descriptions.

On a large e-commerce website it is very easy to neglect the page titles, creating a unique title for every product. There were one or two issues that we needed to fix, which were mainly caused by Tags… which we discuss further down.

 

Created unique product descriptions

Many of the Glitter products had pretty bare product descriptions… some were completely identical, except for the product titles. So we created a more detailed, unique description for each glitter product, describing the colours in each glitter more accurately.

This is obviously a positive change that will help the website in the long run, but after 3 to 4 weeks it didn’t improve our rankings at all. So we had to investigate further.

 

Removed unnecessary TAGS

Using Tags can be very useful & good for SEO. But when we looked at the Tags that had accumulated over the previous 2 or 3 years, we saw many Tags that were actually conflicting with product categories. For example, we had a product category called ‘Cosmetic Glitter’ and we also used a Tag called ‘Cosmetic Glitter’ on a number of products, which created duplicate page titles on the Archive pages.

So we removed all unnecessary Tags, only leaving Tags that were completely unique & provided an actual function… by grouping together similar products.

Again, this didn’t really make a dent in our Google rankings, so we had to look again.

 

Updated product category structure

Because it was only the single category of products that was dipping on Google, we looked at what was different about how they were set up on the website. We noticed that all products had a top-level category, but the Glitter products were a sub-category of Glitter Tattoos. So the URLs were like this:

…/glitter-tattoos/glitter/Cosmetic-Glitter-Product/

So we updated the category structure, giving the Glitter products their own top-level category. So the URLs now looked like this:

…/glitter/Cosmetic-Glitter-Product/

We also created 301 redirects for the old URLs, pointing them to the new URLs, so we wouldn’t cause too much disruption or lose any value from external links.

This update brought us back onto Google, but nowhere near the top 10. The product pages hovered around pages 6 to 8 on Google… so we needed to look further.

 

Removed Out of Stock products

On further investigation, we realised that there were 94 ‘out of stock’ products, 80 to 90 of which were Glitter products. The website was set up to hide ‘out of stock’ products from the front-end catalogue, but the URLs were still live & visible to Google. And as the August Google algorithm update was reportedly about User Experience, we figured that this could be the main issue.

We removed all ‘out of stock’ products from the website by un-publishing them / changing them to Draft products. We could still bring these products back in the future, but we took them off the website completely, hiding them from Google.

We believe that Google saw these ‘out of stock’ products as bad for User Experience – like in the real world, if you went into a shop & there were lots of empty shelves, it leaves a bad impression!

After removing these products, the Glitter pages started to come back after 3 to 4 weeks. And along with the previous improvements we had already made, the glitter products climbed up to higher than they were before the August update.

 


 

Conclusion

It took about five months to fix theses issues, after each update we had to wait 3 to 4 weeks to see if it had brought us back onto Google. This is normal, and unavoidable really. So don’t panic! You need to do each update methodically, then wait to see what happens.

Each website will be an individual case, so don’t just copy what someone else has done, you need to examine your website & think… what could possibly be a ‘user experience’ issue?

You should also search Google for the term ‘Google August algorithm update’ and read a number of articles about the topic. We found that if you get an overview of the problem from a number of different sources, you get a good idea of what needs to be done to tackle the problem.

We found this article very informative & accurate:
https://www.gsqi.com/marketing-blog/august-1-google-algorithm-update-analysis-and-findings/
 

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