Making Sense of Google’s November 8 Update: Theories, Speculation & What to Do

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Slayers, if you’ve been hit by the recent November 8 Google Update, please, let me get you a sympathy bowl of soup and an attractive shoulder to cry on.

… Because WOW – what a doozy of an update, slashing organic traffic like we’re in a bad blog-themed reboot of Scream.

I was personally only hit 20%, which is on the lower end of this range of misery, but nonetheless an impact big enough for me to start worrying. … Big time. So I did what I do anytime I’m sad: I sob-wrote a blog post while listening to James Blunt.

Today, I want to talk about this mysterious Google November update which hit many publishers hard, certainly in the travel space. Truthfully, if you’ve been paying attention to it, this is a topic that has been discussed to death, and if you’re following the topic closely, this article might repeat a lot of what you already know.

BUT I promise it’s sprinkled with some signature Christina cringe humour and maniacal sleepless investigation, so if that sounds like your fun idea of a Tuesday read, then keep scrolling.

See, when I haven’t been mindlessly refreshing my GA Real Time statistics while clutching my heart in agony, I’ve been reading every bit of info I’ve been able to find about this mysterious update, from Facebook group hysteria and Twitter rage to explanations by respected SEO experts in the industry. To date, there has not been one thing I’ve read that has completely aligned with the drops I’ve seen personally on my own site, or sites of fellow blogger-friends who saw similar dips.

So after a lot of research, a lot of reading, and a lot of speculation, I think I’ve nailed down a few theories that explain the steep drops, certainly for my own site, and more promisingly, some action items that might be able to help. In this post, I’ll be quickly summarizing what happened with this mysterious Google November update, the facts that we know are 100% confirmed, as well as my theory on why certain sites dropped while others didn’t.

Actual footage of me trying to understand this update… via GIPHY

First: a Joke to Break the Ice (and Sadness)

If you’re reading this, odds are you are desperately trying to find an explanation for your traffic dip, or are otherwise a snarky winner from this update who wants to gloat over the misery of others who lost traffic.

Regardless of which camp you fall into, I feel like this is an apt time to bust out one of my favourite (and nerdiest) pieces of SEO humour.

So, an SEO specialist walks into a bar, bars, pub, public house, club, Irish pub, drinking hole…

*chuckles until sobbing*

Honestly though, as in any grieving process, I want you to start by allowing yourself to be angry/sad. I personally was trying the whole “keep calm and carry on” thing for a week but it all culminated into an emotional sob-fest on Saturday where my wails of despair were likely heard across the globe. So really… let it out. Give yourself time to vent those frustrations, get a lil hysterical, make your own way to some bar, bars, pub, public house, club, Irish pub, drinking hole to drown your misery in happy hour margaritas (because those are all you can afford right now).

Hahahahahahah…. ha. Too real? Sorry.

Anyways – Here’s What Has Happened with the Google Update

In case you’ve magically missed the memo, or have escaped from this apocalypse unscathed, here is a quick recap of the Google drama that began on November 8.

  • Since November 8, many publishers across multiple niches are reporting organic traffic losses from 10-70%, some even seeing 90% dropoff for certain articles
  • Since November 8, many publishers are reporting decreased traffic despite no change in rankings, or even higher average rankings than before
  • That said, not ALL publishers have seen decreases. Actually, some do report no change or actual traffic increases

As you can imagine for those of us who lost out in this update, this is very very terrifying news, especially when the change came with no grand announcement, no explanation, or really any helpful patterns.

What we 100% Know to Be True About the Mysterious November Update

In a sea of speculation masquerading as fact, it’s helpful to at least establish what we know to be true, based on word from the Googlemonster itself, or based on concrete evidence. So, here’s what we do know for sure:

An update did occur the week of November 8

I mean, of course, Google rolls out tiny updates multiple times a week, so it’s not surprising to hear that Google has (at the very least) nonchalantly confirmed that updates did happen in this time period. Nope, we’re not imagining it.

There appears to be few distinguishable patterns or rhyme/reason as to who lost traffic in this update

BUT, while we are certain some updates did happen, we don’t have clearcut explanations as to why.

In fact, one of the most frustrating things about about this update is that nobody knows what has caused so many of us to have our traffic drop off a cliff pretty much overnight. There have been no confirmed answers (and I doubt there ever will be), plus zero consistency among the sites who were hit. Based on anecdotal chatter around Facebook groups and forums, sites impacted by the November 8 update include…

  • Sites across various niches, but especially travel and food
  • Sites that actively link build and sites that do not actively link build
  • Sites that are on Mediavine and are not on Mediavine
  • Sites that have been hit by Google updates before, and those that have never been affected
  • Sites that are general travel blogs, and sites that are more destination-specific
  • Sites that have seen average rankings go up, but clicks down, impressions up, but clicks down, and every combination in between

So yes, before you try to find clearcut patterns or cling to generalizations “i.e. those who link swap were hit, those who are on Mediavine were hit, etc. etc.” – know that these statements are most likely false and oversimplified.

Relevance is Google’s buzzword of the day for this update

If there’s one shred of explanation we’ve been given about this Google update, it’s the word relevance unhelpfully repeated over and over.

A little side story before we dig into what this means: One fun revelation that has emerged from this update misery is I learned that there is a guy whose literal job it is to liaise between the public and Google’s search team… and man is he not having a fun time right now. His name is Danny Sullivan, his Twitter is here, and it’s fun to see him bounce between replying to angry queries and live tweeting about TV shows he likes. Danny does it all!

Anyways, while maniacally re-reading Danny Sullivan’s tweets for some kind of secret coded message, I realized one word he kept using in his replies: relevant.

To one disgruntled webmaster, he said “you could move back up a bit as our systems improve, if they decide you are more relevant”. To another he contended that their wonky search results aren’t wonky because they are indeed “relevant recipes”. In response to why they were getting search results for TWEETS, he replied “Sometimes we think it’s relevant to show tweet[s].”

This relevance message was hammered home by a live Google hangout with John Mueller, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst. In this hangout, he responds to a webmaster question about why he saw a 40% drop in traffic since November 8, in spite of excellent content and low page speed. Mueller’s response was simply that this would be due to a relevance update, rather than BERT. So, yes, at the very least, no matter how vague, we know what shook things up as an update re: relevance.

You can see his full response here:

There are a LOT of kinks, bugs and weird results… but Google wants to know about them

Of course, even if Google’s true intention was to tweak results for relevance, it is very clear that they haven’t done an amazing job.

A quick glance at this Twitter thread here will reveal many, many, many examples of search results gone awry.

One of the most frustrating things about this update is that many publishers which have long held #1 spots have seen them overtaken by seemingly outdated, thin and irrelevant pages e.g. old forum posts. On the more extreme end of things, some publishers report seeing results that are 100% irrelevant, like seeing cupcakes for meatball recipes, which is an example I love and will keep referencing over and over because it’s great.

But, not all hope is lost. As with any update or anything in life, there will be kinks and errors to iron out, and (again, in this thread) Danny Sullivan and co. want to see specific examples so they’re able to presumably fix things, or perhaps just share a laugh at our expense.

I mean, these could very well be empty promises… For all we know, Danny “passing this on to the team” is just him throwing up a bunch of middle fingers at the screen to his Twitter h8rs BUT I am a bit more optimistic than that and do truly believe at the end of the day that these very strange anomalies (getting cupcake results for meatball searches) are mistakes that will be fixed.

I personally see these anomalies as growing pains of the update, and do not see them lasting long term. Google (whether they succeed or not) is ultimately still trying to provide users with the most relevant search results they can, so it makes zero sense for their reputation or business to spit out irrelevant garbage… which is what we are seeing for many, many search terms.

Like, what is this nonsense……..

“Things to do at Christmas market?” “Christmas tourist attractions”? SO MANY OF THESE AREN’T EVEN IN GERMANY.

There is a known bug causing snippet photos to not show up

Another important fact to note is that there is a well-known issue right now with Google snippet photos inexplicably not showing up.

Considering the importance of visuals in niches like food and travel, it’s highly likely that those of us who previously benefitted from pretty snippet/carousels next to our posts are now suffering decreased clickability because of this error. Unfortunately I don’t have screenshots, but I can confirm that some posts of mine which previously had enticing photo carousels attached to them no longer do when searching on desktop.

This is a known bug though according to D-Suvz himself, and there’s not much we can do about it besides wait:

There has been a lot of volatility in snippet results

This is one very very very key observation that I feel is missing from a lot of discussions about this Google update, maybe because snippets are so notoriously difficult to track and steeped in mystery.

I have done enough test searches to notice that the infamous Google snippet (AKA position 0, AKA the thing that appears at the top of search results above all else) has changed a LOT for certain terms I used to rank very well for… but not only that, there is now a startling amount of ridiculous garbage that appears before even the first search result. In some cases, Google assaults you with so much random information that the #1 search result can’t even be seen before the fold.

When you type in Munich to Neuschwanstein for example, rather than getting served a helpful guide to help you plan that day trip, you are instead given 1) a giant Google map showing you how to DRIVE that distance, 2) a long list of “People Always Ask” that just farms top sites for content, 3) a list of videos (???) and theeeen you can see the 1st search result… which really doesn’t make ranking #1 as powerful as it once was.

Lastly: Danny Sullivan does not understand that oatmeal is not a beverage

Okay, a final fact for comic relief… one of the best tweets I saw from Danny Sullivan was in response to a food blogger’s query about why she was seeing oatmeal recipes when Googling “pressure cooker vanilla latte”. His response was “Those are drinks”. And when she questioned him about it, he blamed things on “poor connectivity”. Smooth……. like a vanilla latte.

So, What Does Evidence Suggest Happened?

So those are the facts that we can confirm. Now what else does this evidence tell us?

See, the problem with times like this when emotions run high is that people cling onto any proof they can find that confirms what they already believe, or what might explain their losses. This is confirmation bias at its finest, and we really need to zoom out a bit and look at things with a more critical lens.

Given the huge variety across the board of different sites who were hit, huge blanket theories (even ones from highly respected SEOs) misrepresent the problem and cloud up the big picture. For instance, one popular theory asserts that sites that fell have shady link profiles, or engage in sketchy link building tactics. I’m not convinced this is true, since many sites who report losses claim to use purely white hat tactics, and many people who actively link swap and engage in so-called grey hat techniques have actually seen traffic rise.

Other theories have stated that this update has to do with BERT, site speed, locality, etc.

I hate to sound like a 12th grade statistics teacher here, but correlation does not equal causation. Just because you disavowed some spam links last month and your traffic went up a bit does not necessarily mean your traffic rise was caused by disavowing those links. Similarly, just because you’ve never link swapped and your traffic went up, doesn’t mean your traffic went up because you’re an angel who has never link swapped.

I know it’s tempting to draw sweeping conclusions and find answers in a time like this that’s SO full of uncertainty, but many of those ‘theories’ I discussed above are inconsistent with actual webmaster experiences.

So what the heck actually happened…?

I’ve been working on this post actually since last Sunday, nervously assembling a theory. And, for what it’s worth, as new articles, theories and literal New York Times exposés have emerged, I’ve only found evidence that seems to support what I think happened.

So, allow me to summarize my speculations below…

1. The changes in traffic/rankings are all linked to Google’s perception of relevance

As has been heavily implied/confirmed by John Mueller, around November 8, Google released a core update that changed the way they determine relevance in dishing out search rankings… This we know to be true.

What’s behind this relevance update is a little more debatable. After looking at group discussions, my own stats, and speaking to several publishers, it seems likely the factors that rose in prominence include…

  • Site/Brand Authority – In both the travel and food space, there is a lot of chatter about ‘big name’ sites overtaking #1 positions previously held by bloggers. In travel, this means sites like TripAdvisor, Tripsavvy, Wikipedia, and old media like Travel + Leisure have seen boosts. In food, recipe aggregators like AllRecipes have usurped #1 positions previously held by (more detailed) recipe posts by bloggers. Based on the consistency of this complaint, it seems clear to me that big sites won in this update, which is congruent with the allegations in this controversial NYT article about Google favouring big business. Note that these sites have higher ‘authority’ in the sense that they’re well-known brands but not necessarily authority in terms of niche expertise
  • Recency – After speaking to blogger friends who saw increased traffic, one common thread between them I noticed was that they take care to regularly update their content. For example, Carryn from Torn Tackies, who has multiple clients for which she updates posts, reported that none of her clients saw significant decreases. I found this intriguing, and after digging in my search console, I noticed that most of my posts that lost traffic WERE published prior to this year, and (truthfully) hadn’t been updated in a while. So, while this might not necessarily be THE cause of some sites losing traffic vs. others not, it is still a helpful reminder to keep old content fresh and relevant.

Anyways, I get that “relevance” is a pretty nothing term when the factors going behind determining this relevance are hidden away behind a gold curtain, locked away in an iron box, thrown in the depths of the ocean, and like, buried by a family of very protective whales.

BUT it seems abundantly clear to me that this relevance update involves the two factors above, sometimes one more than the other (e.g. TripAdvisor forums from 2007 ranking, showing maybe perceived authority > recency in this case).

And I get it – for creators, hearing the whole “relevance” and “creating great content” bit can feel like a slap in the face. After all, even if great, relevant content wins in theory, in practice this is often not the case. In fact, the most common response I see to the whole relevance/great content excuse is “well MY amazing, thorough post has been knocked off by a coupon from 1999 that’s like 104 words and spits a 404 error”.

Okay, that was a bit of an exaggeration, but there are still loads of people wondering how outdated forum posts and Wikipedia can possibly be deemed more relevant than thorough, well-researched blog posts…

Well, the key thing to remember here is that there is a difference between what Google perceives as relevant, and what is actually relevant.

… and Google uses a combination of hundreds of factors to decide. That’s what the algorithm is all about. Every time a user searches something, Google spins into a whirlwind inner monologue debating keyword density, domain maturity, inbound/outbound links, etc. to ultimately decide what fits the viewer’s query best.

Straight from the Googlemonster itself, on this official site they state:

“It’s also important to understand that search engines like Google do not understand content the way human beings do. Instead, we look for signals we can gather about content and understand how those correlate with how humans assess relevance. How pages link to each other is one well-known signal that we use. But we use many more, which we don’t disclose to help protect the integrity of our results.”

And as you can imagine, depending on “signals” alone, there are HUGE margins for error.

Optimistically, I choose to believe that results which are 100% irrelevant (e.g. like the getting cupcakes while searching fot meatballs) will be corrected in time. I also choose to optimistically believe that good, relevant content will eventually move their way back to the top thanks to other ranking factors like audience retention for instance. In fact, one theory floating around is that this update wiped out crucial ranking factors like audience retention, on-page time, etc., which would certainly explain these strange anomalies, but is nonetheless still just speculative, with no concrete proof.

But regardless, based on this relevance theory then it is likely you would have seen decreased traffic/rankings for:

  • Posts about reviews (e.g. Pug Transporter Review) – for me personally, I saw my #1 review spots taken by sites like Trustpilot and Tripadvisor
  • Posts about events or festivities which have an official website/official tourism boards that write about them (e.g. the Ultimate Guide to Pugtoberfest)
  • Post about singular places or attractions that might have an official website (e.g. Pug Park Guide)

2. Snippet shifts account for huge losses

Further explaining the volatility are snippets. Snippets are a wildcard that I haven’t seen a ton of discussion about, but I think they’re worth investigating because many of the posts where I lost traffic are also ones where I no longer hold the snippet position, and where new people have come in and taken a snippet, or where snippets have appeared and didn’t exist before.

I noticed that many of the snippet AKA Position 0s that I had were now allocated to someone else who ranked below me on the front page….. often (annoyingly) with my photo attributed! I confirmed this theory with a few blogger friends, who also reported having lost snippets after the November 8 update.

So, if you were a publisher who previously benefitted from having a featured snippet for certain high traffic posts, it’s possible that your consequent decrease in traffic might be related to the loss of a snippet. The same can be said for those who saw sharp gains in traffic – it could have been that you gained a snippet.

… and on that note, I’ve officially typed snippet so many times that it no longer sounds like a word to me.

3. Changing SERPs are massively reducing clickthroughs

SERPs, AKA Search Engine Results Pages, are basically a jargony term for the page that Google shows you when you enter any search term.

NOTE: If you need a quick crash course on SERPs, this article from Backlinko is very helpful.

Anyways, one very important point I see missing from a lot of discussions on Facebook is that SERPs look VERY different these days than they used to. Whereas once upon a time, most searches would have yielded a page one with about 10 text links, maybe a few sponsored rankings, but that’s it, these days a simple query will often yield a million featured snippets, including snippets from top-ranking sites, Google Maps, suggested videos, suggested tweets, etc. etc., often making a #1 ranking pretty much useless.

So because of featured snippets, it is highly likely you would see reduced clickthroughs if you were previously ranking for…

  • Information that Google can easily scrape and put in a snippet (e.g. quick facts like “what year was Pugs McGee born”)
  • Posts with content that Google can easily serve up automatically (e.g. Things to do in Pugland)
  • Posts about getting from Point A to Point B (e.g. How to get from Pug Airport to Pugland)
  • Posts that lend themselves well to video content (e.g. How to leash up your pug with optimal efficiency)
  • Product guides (e.g. The best pug collars for cute puggos)

The newest and peskiest of these Featured Snippets snow showing up on SERPs are huge stacks of questions nested under the heading “People also ask”. These blocks take up a lot of space, and not only that, they provide quick answers scraped from OUR websites and give them to users, abolishing the need for them to click through onto our sites. It’s frustrating to say the least. I hope these snippets for “German Christmas Markets” (ft. Wikipedia!) will enrage you as much as they enraged me:

So What Did I Do Wrong?

I get it – you want answers. Maybe you read that list above and still don’t see why you were impacted…

The unfortunate truth is that Google isn’t perfect (and that’s an understatement!). There are a million and one reasons why you might have lost your #1 ranking, while another blog with content (that you think is worse) skyrocketed to the top. If you’ve been outranked by someone whose content is clearly worse, more outdated than yours, not a higher perceived “authority”, and your traffic loss can’t be traced at all to snippets or changes to SERPs, I’m sorry this article didn’t give you the answers you wanted.

But, I do strongly believe that as publishers, it’s very important to shift our perspective from “this shouldn’t have happened. WTF DANNY” to “this has happened, what can I do now to recover?”

Traffic ebbs and flows, and while I wouldn’t advise panicking and changing everything about your site in response to the drop, I do think there are certain things you can do that will always benefit your site…

What to do if Your Google Traffic Has Taken a Hit from this Update

Now onto action items then… if you are hoping to swap your grief with productivity, here are a few quick things to add to your to-do list:

Dig into Google Search Console to Identify Which Posts Actually Took a Hit

This is a basic first step but a necessary one, because how you deal with a traffic dip will depend wildly on which posts were hit, whether it was a big dip across the board, across certain articles only, etc. It might also be a nice ego boost to see (in some cases) that certain articles saw a boost that you just hadn’t noticed.

I would recommend starting with your highest traffic posts. It’s not an exact science, but if you head into your Google Search Console and Performance > Search Results then head down to Pages tab, you will see your top posts ranked by organic traffic. I would click on each one individually to get a feel for which posts saw a drastic dip on November 8 (usually it’s quite obvious) and prioritize those for assessment.

Check for broken links and update content that has taken a hit

I strongly believe that recency/”up-to-dateness” (not a technical term, but you know what I mean) was one of the factors that gained importance in the algorithm during this update.

… and really, replacing broken links and updating posts would just be good SEO practice anyway, which is why I would recommend doing the following:

  • Find any seasonal posts that might reference previous years (e.g. The Best Gifts for Pugs 2018) and make sure they are updated for this year/the next and all the info is current
  • Run a broken link checker. There are plugins but also websites that do it for free like this one and replacing broken links with fresh ones
  • Identify any posts in Google Search Console that especially took a big traffic hit and make sure all the links/info are up-to-date, even beef up the content with more info if needed

I know that I previously said correlation does not equal causation, but I spent this weekend removing broken links on my site, updating annual posts that might have had a year attached to them with new info, etc. and re-indexing them with Google Search Console. This resulted in one post gaining a featured snippet, and another skyrocketing to page one for a competitive search term, just below official sites [both in incognito mode]. This then correlated with my highest traffic day since the update. I realize this is far from a scientific test, and that SERPs vary widely based on location and a bunch of other factors, but updating my posts certainly would not have hurt me, so I recommend if you have content that needs updating that you do the same.

Re-evaluate your email marketing strategy

So if you SHOULDN’T be hacking away at your blog with a virtual chainsaw, trying to resurrect your traffic, then what should you do with your free time?

In trying times like this, it’s helpful to revisit what building your own platform means.

See, there’s this weird misconception out there among bloggers that SEO is THE way to go to protect yourself against moody and inconsistent algorithms.

The irony here is we forget that Google is literally run by a mega-complex and mysterious algorithm, one that’s SO mysterious that it ranks among the world’s top trade secrets, next to the recipe for Coca Cola and all the spices that go into KFC (apparently hidden in a safe somewhere in Kentucky).

Sure SEO is more stable and consistent than the algorithms of ye old Facebook or ye old Instagram, but as many of us have seen this week, good SEO doesn’t make us immune to the whims of a mysterious outside force that could ruin our businesses in an instant. So it’s very important to (at the very least) build up an email list of subscribers who love you and will consume your content regardless of algorithms. Click here to read our massive guide on email marketing for travel bloggers.

Look into alternative sources of traffic

While I’ve always been a huge advocate of chasing organic traffic, this update was a wake up call (and dark scary warning) against putting all my eggs in one basket.

The sad truth is you never think you’ll get hit, until you do, and your traffic is in free fall, and you’re sobbing into a blanket burrito puddle in a corner of your sofa. (True story) I once arrogantly thought “if you do everything right, you won’t get hit”. I have learned the tough way this is not always the case, and I have heard horror stories from very talented, high-traffic, and respected bloggers losing huge chunks of traffic for seemingly no reason.

This is why it is SO important to diversify your traffic sources beyond organic traffic. The pain from my recent traffic dips  have (in part) been mitigated by a healthy stream of Facebook traffic, Pinterest traffic, and even the revival of my email list! I can’t help but think of how much better my stats would be if I hadn’t experienced this organic traffic dip of 20%, but it could certainly have been worse.

Your options for diversification are endless, but here are some guides that might help start you off on the right foot:

Look into alternative streams of monetization

In a similar way, it’s important to also diversify your streams of monetization beyond those that are directly tied to traffic, like ads for instance.

After all, the real reason why Google updates and traffic dips scare the heck out of us is because for the majority of us, traffic = money, and money = donuts, and donuts = the sole reason I get out of bed in the morning.

No traffic, no donuts. And that’s scary, because Christina needs them donuts.

I have to admit in the past year I’ve really thrown all my eggs into the passive income basket and pretty much scrapped campaigns/sponsored trips altogether. Why? I can do all my work from the comfort of my pyjamas without needing to talk to ANYONE or send a million “apologies for the late reply!” emails. It was bliss. A bliss that provided stable income no matter where I was, a bliss that wasn’t dependent on sketchy social media algorithms, and a bliss that, most importantly, seemed predictable and consistent.

But, as I’ve learned the hard way, all good things come to an end, and even the (seemingly stable) world of passive income is at the mercy of Google’s almighty algorithm.

So I will seriously consider diversifying my income streams in the future. If you’re curious what that might look like, Lia wrote an amazing guide on monetization strategies which you can read here.

Conclusion: Keep Calm and Trudge On

If you’ve been hit by this update, I feel your pain.

As with any Google update, there have been winners and losers, but it seems like the losers got hit especially hard by this update, some (like me) for the first time.

And I get it: it hurts! So much! Especially when traffic drops are this steep and this directly connected to your sources of income.

But I hope understanding the root causes of this update (no matter how unfair, unjustified or poorly implemented) will be helpful to you, or at least provide some explanations as to the anomalies and weirdness you’re seeing.

Moving forward, I think the most important thing is to not take these changes personally, even if it feels so deeply personal. I’ve seen every response under the sun to this update, from calling to boycott Google, to point-blank asking Danny Sullivan to just “reverse the update”, etc. etc. The thing we need to remember is that Google does not owe us anything as publishers, nor are we the ones they care about. In theory at least, their goal is to serve users, not us. Whether they’re doing a great job at that is a different story… but it’s important to realize that whether we like it or not, Google is still a big part of our businesses, and we do have to put up with their crap, and play by their rules… unless Ecosia swoops in for the kill at some point, but I’m not holding my breath.

So, in the vaguest, most annoying sendoff ever, I implore you all to keep chipping away at that “great content” ; ) And on a more serious note, be sure to add diversification to your future to-do lists…

Now let me go get you another comforting bowl of sympathy soup.

Were you impacted by the Google November update?

My theories are still just theories, and I would love to hear if my ramblings are consistent with your traffic patterns or not. Feel free to chime in the comments with your thoughts – I’d love to hear them!

15 thoughts on “Making Sense of Google’s November 8 Update: Theories, Speculation & What to Do”

  1. Thanks for doing all the *figuring crap out* that I’ve been too exhausted/frustrated to do, LOL. I, too, have seen (just as a casual Googler) all kinds of irrelevant search results which makes me feel just like somebody dun’ messed up, mm-hmm. I’m going to keep on keepin’ on and make whatever changes I can. I’m with you girl!

  2. Thanks for putting this post together, lots of interesting theories and helpful suggestions.

    My site has been hit by a 35% decrease in traffic since the update, prior to that it was on a hot streak of over 35% growth in a short period of time following a complete overhaul of all of virtually all of my top performing posts.

    So while all of that work has really only virtually gotten me back to where I started originally, I’m pretty thankful that I had already started to do it beforehand.

    Anyway, one of your examples got me thinking on relevancy – a lot of it is in the eye of the beholder. With regards to the German markets, there are German markets literally all over the world, yet you questioned why the search returned results that weren’t in Germany. This could literally be a little insight into what’s going on/wrong and the complexity of relevancy. Just a thought.

    • Hey James, that’s a very very good point! I did also wonder how much locality plays into results as well. For example, would I (a user in Germany) get very different results from someone else googling “German Christmas Markets”?

      On the topic of locality, another weird GA anomaly I’ve noticed is that when I look at my daily stats per hour, my traffic during a certain time period (2-4am PST, which is when all of North America is asleep pretty much) is SUPER down, even lower than that same time period last year, despite the fact that my traffic compared to last year is still 40-60% higher overall. It makes me wonder if somehow my rankings have especially decreased for North American users…. really tough to prove or check though, but it does seem a bit weird that traffic would dip specifically during a certain time frame! I wonder if anyone else is seeing something similar?

  3. Hi Christina,

    This post is very insightful. Thanks for the huge effort you put in towards this article.

    I am actually one of the bloggers that didn’t get affected by this. I didn’t even know Google had an update… If anything, I now have 4 posts in position 0 and 2 more on page 1. But here’s the catch, I don’t really know exactly what I’m doing right. I just write and try to be as informative as I can…

    A few facts:
    – I’m a new blogger and my site went live in June of this year (5 months)
    – I have a lifestyle niche but focus mainly on personal finance
    – My organic traffic is over 50%
    – I have no ads on my site
    – I have only ever guest posted for another site once
    – I suck at social media
    – I love your site

    Not really sure if this will be beneficial to your research but here’s someone who doesn’t even think too much about about ranking because she doesn’t even really know how to.

    In any case, I’m glad you redeemed a couple of your posts and I hope your organic traffic recovers soon.


  4. Great article Christina! 🙂 I personally wasn’t hit by the November updates, but indeed – I have to agree with some points.
    I update my posts on a regular basis, in fact, I update my site daily.
    I make sure I don’t mention any previous years in my content.
    I disavow links once a month.
    Recently, Google started cropping titles – they recommend us to use titles with 50 characters – and I’m almost done updating titles on over 300 posts.

    I’d like to add that snippets change on a daily basis. I have different sites with different niches, and after researching snippets for a while, it comes and goes, so you must enjoy it while it lasts. 🙂

  5. My traffic did freefall bit it’s slowing down. Anyway, it sucks to lose the rankings and the traffic but we need to look on the bright side.

    Thanks for the detailed post and yes I need those donuts.

  6. Hi Christina,

    Great summary post.

    We are facing similar organic search drop of around 40 to 50% since Nov 8.

    Site traffic has been up for the month prior to the heavy drop. Thus, it was a huge shock with the drop.

    Our top ranking article on taiwan skincare has dropped to 4th / 5th position from no 1 for most search terms, overtaken by bigger publishers.

    Our top ranking article on Fengjia Night Market things to eat however remains no 1 or 2 despite the update. Maybe no big publisher on this content?

    We did experienced similar drop for visits on certain specific time periods that you have highlighted.

    Hopefully, Google might do a slight roll back to refine the search algorithm.

  7. I seriously appreciate you taking time to dig into this – I’m really frustrated by this update, but it’s nice to hear from others that got hit and are trying to figure it out!

  8. I am a food blogger who spent most of 2019 updating old content, getting rid of broken links, and creating new content. November 9th: 30% traffic hit. 9 months of growth gone overnight. I haven’t seen any improvement since then. It really hurts, especially since this is the time of year when food bloggers get most of our ad revenue. In all of my 10 years of blogging, this is one of a handful’s of time that I’ve wanted to quit.

  9. I have had a food blog for 11 years and I took a 30% hit, although some days of the week are worst than others. Posts that were new and updated got hit, and I’m not the only one I know who had similar results as me. Some #1 posts dropped to page 2 and then returned. Some are playing peek-a-boo and changing daily/weekly from #1 to page 2 after being in the top 1-3 positions for months and years. I totally believe the big sites won in this update because they are the ones now in the top position – and their recipes/posts suck and offer no real information except for a recipe. I know I will climb back to where I was before because my content is excellent and yes, relevant. But when a pin from pinterest gets top billing and not an actual post/article, there is something wrong. But despite all of this, you gave a great explanation of what happened, so thank you for your humor and honesty.

  10. Thanks for the post.
    I found it most helpful as I’m in the travel niche and I’m learning that this google update has affected a wide range of sites just as Medic did so all of us need to be especially diligent about providing fresh, relevant, authoritative, content.
    I’ve just begun my journey with my new website and so haven’t been affected by this new google update but it did re-affirm my belief in not depending upon google for the majority of my traffic and therefore my income.
    We all need to definitely diversify our monetization strategies. You’re right. It’s definitely a wake up call. It wouldn’t hurt us to start thinking of an offline income source as well. Not only have we become google dependent but many are too “online” income dependent these days. It wouldn’t hurt to have a mix.
    Thanks again for sharing your insightful information.

  11. Interesting stuff. I was lucky to get a 20% increase. My leading theory is that two things happened:
    1) Freshness was made a bit less of a factor than relevance, since many people have seen older posts resurface.
    2) Post length was made less of a factor than relevance. The latest update seems to have put more prominence, in some cases, on shorter-but-sweeter articles vs. overly long ones expanded for SEO purposes.

    As a negative consequence this may have also unfairly rewarded old forum posts, thin articles on certain sites, etc. But I have an inkling Google is trying to pivot away a bit from listing over-SEO-ed jumbo posts. Of course, maybe this is just another case of confirmation bias 🙂


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