463 | EDGEFlash: November Google Core & Knowledge Graph Updates
Jason Barnard and Lily Ray join Erin Sparks on an EDGEFlash – a breaking digital marketing news episode. When it happens, we will get it to you as soon as possible! We uncovered a relationship of factors that lead us to believe that this is not just another core update! Breaking news, here on the EDGE!
[00:00:00] Erin Sparks: Welcome back to the EDGE. This is an EDGE of the Web news flash. Headlines, there’s no headlines this week. We’re jumping into Google core algorithm updates and Brand SERP updates. We’re experiencing right now, November 23, 2021, here on EDGE of the Web Radio.
[00:00:17] Music: Here’s a quick news break from EDGE of the Web Radio.
[00:00:25] Erin Sparks: It’s official. Honestly, it’s official. That’s our news break audio and video. So, it’s a wonderful thing. This is EDGE of the Web Radio. I’m your host, Erin Sparks, from Site Strategics. Thanks for joining us as we roll out a new format for the EDGE. Should we call it the EDGE Flash? Will that take? #EDGEFlash? Probably not. There’s too many sh in there. All right. Maybe we’ll call it that. Maybe we’ll just try to get to the news as quickly as possible. When we see something happening, we want to jump in on it immediately with the top authorities to be able to help us out and make sense of everything that’s happening here. So, check out everything over at edgeofthewebradio.com. That’s edgeofthewebradio.com.
Introducing the Guests: Lily Ray of Amsive Digital and Jason Barnard (The Brand SERP Guy) of Kalicube
[00:01:01] Erin Sparks: But let’s jump into the EDGE Flash here. Yeah, I’m going to keep on trying this as much as possible. Joining us on this EDGE Flash out of New York is Lily Ray, Senior Director, SEO, and Head of Organic Research at Amsive Digital, as well as out of Paris, France, Jason Barnard, The Brand SERP Guy. He’s also the founder and CEO at Kalicube. Thanks for joining us, both of you. Look at that.
[00:01:25] Jason Barnard (The Brand SERP Guy): Thank you for having me.
[00:01:28] Erin Sparks: It’s very nice of you to jump in almost at moment’s notice. You both have been on the show for a bit here. And I really do appreciate you jumping on and helping us explain what’s really going on in this core algorithm plus Brand SERP, a series of changes here.
Google’s Announcement of a Core Algorithm Update Right Before the Holiday Shopping Season
[00:01:43] Erin Sparks: First and foremost, Google’s actually always rolling through core algorithm changes. We’ve seen that. We’ve seen a lot more volatility this year than many years passed. In fact, it was definitive that from, I think, Mordy from Semrush actually showed how volatile this year has been, but they just rolled out on the 18th and announced it, a November core algorithm update right before the big online holiday shopping season.
[00:02:10] Erin Sparks: The update seems to stirred up a lot of conversations on multiple forums and discussion panels with worried websites, especially the ones that are ready for the holiday season. So, some of them are actually calling it a deal breaker. Check this out. Let’s go over to the Twitter feed there. Barry Schwartz jumped in on the 17th and said, hey, John Mueller and Danny Sullivan, I got to ask, why during the busiest holiday shopping season? The rollout seems like it will happen during and right before. Previously, you guys have actually said you limit these updates before and during the season.
[00:02:41] Erin Sparks: And there’s a series of responses there. And John Mueller actually jumped in and said, well, I’m curious, would you prefer we just mentioned them afterwards or not at all? I realise there’s an aspect of, quote unquote, never change anything, but good things go up with updates too. Not being snarky, honestly, wondering what your thoughts are. Feel free to DM if you prefer. He’s literally, would you think about it, just thinking about John Mueller’s tone. He’s so nice, but saying would you rather us not tell you what’s going on? We want to know about it. We want to know why.
According to Lily Ray, There’s Never Really a Great Time to Launch Core Updates
[00:03:15] Erin Sparks: So, Lily, first off back here, what are your thoughts about this rollout? Is this something to be watching even more closely compared to other algorithm rollouts? I know it’s way too early to tell. It just came out this weekend, but what are your thoughts about what’s happening right now?
[00:03:31] Lily Ray: I think it’s tricky with the holiday season in general, because there’s never really a great time to launch core updates. For some clients and sites that we work on, it’s like we’re all waiting every day for the next core update, because in many cases you can’t see big recoveries with traffic and visibility until another update rolls out for certain affected clients. So, for some of our clients, it’s actually really exciting, but I totally get the hesitation in the SEO industry because, of course, we’re heading into black Friday and cyber Monday and everything. So, it’s just another curve ball to deal with.
[00:04:04] Erin Sparks: No, it absolutely is. And we’ve had actually learned from these core updates over time. We really can’t do much with them. You can’t be hyper reactive because you literally don’t know what’s happening. And on top of that, what the reversals are going to be two weeks later. But the timing is truly concerning as people have been investing in their SEO for three to six months prior for holiday season. And we’re seeing some radical changes, some major volatility.
Looking at the Volatility of Some SEO Tools and Companies and Explaining What They Mean
[00:04:33] Erin Sparks: Before I get to Brand SERP here, Jason, let’s throw a few volatility screens up on the screen. So, for example, you got Rank Ranger there. You can see high mark of volatility with several days of normality here. That was a big change in Rank Ranger’s SERP fluctuations. If you go to another one there, obviously, Semrush, 9.3 on the 10 point scale of volatility. This is one of the highest we’ve seen this year. And subsequently, also looking at Cognitive, they’re also showing a huge spike in volatility, what’s that, 76 out of 100.
[00:05:08] Erin Sparks: So, with all these volatility tools show, what do they show whenever we’re seeing this type of reaction in these tools? We’re seeing industries being represented with a good deal of fluctuation in not only the top 10, not only the top 20, but their collective rankings shifting, correct?
[00:05:28] Lily Ray: The way that these tools work is they’re just tracking against whatever index of keywords they check rankings for every day. So, when you see huge volatility, it’s just that there’s been a shake-up in terms of who’s holding top positions for the keywords that they monitor.
[00:05:42] Lily Ray: What I’m doing right now and what I do every time a core update rolls out is that I try to pull from a batch of domains that tend to see a lot of fluctuations during these core updates, just to see if we can see anything on the category level or trends that are affecting, for example, with this update, I’m seeing a lot of dictionary sites that have gained a lot of visibility.
[00:06:00] Lily Ray: And when you see those types of categorical shifts in visibility, I like to think sometimes, okay, Google just decided that for this batch of keywords, dictionary results are maybe the better result than what they were showing before, which was maybe news or something like that. So that could signal a shift in Google’s understanding of intent, for example, for certain terms.
Jason Barnard (The Brand SERP Guy) on Using Kalicube to Track Knowledge Graph Updates
[00:06:21] Erin Sparks: Absolutely. And this is why I also wanted to bring Jason on the show here, because as Lily is demonstrating literally these competitive domains in particular category, so we can get an idea of is this a particular vertical. Jason is in the Knowledge Graph space more than anybody on the bloody planet, I think.
[00:06:39] Erin Sparks: And whenever we’re looking at verticals inside of understanding of Knowledge Graph and entities for the dictionary websites about understanding topics and concepts, all of a sudden all of them are actually starting to pop right now. We actually were talking about this beforehand, Jason. Let’s go ahead and show your screen as it’s in parallel to the volatility of Knowledge Graph changes. And we’ll let you tee this up for us.
[00:07:08] Jason Barnard (The Brand SERP Guy): Right. Yeah. I hadn’t heard that comment about dictionaries, but that is incredibly interesting. It does make sense, as you just said, with the topicality and entities. But what we’ve been doing at Kalicube is tracking Knowledge Graph updates. And you can see here at the bottom, we’ve got the updates that we see. And with the Knowledge Graph, it’s incredibly clear when it updates because there’s massive shifts. It’s 80% of all entities within our data set, which is about four and a half thousand. 80% of them will change on a given day when there’s an update.
Looking at Knowledge Graph Updates From October to November That Involve Some Unusual and Some Significant Updates
[00:07:39] Jason Barnard (The Brand SERP Guy): And you can see here, we have an update towards the end of October during the calm period on the main core algorithm. And then the second one seems to precede that 2nd peak and then the 17th and 18th. And it might be different in the time zone that makes this is that we had a normal, in inverted commas, Knowledge Graph update on the same day as the Google core algorithm update, which has not happened before to such an extent, i.e. the last one and the only one I’ve found so far that really matches was in May, but it wasn’t an announced core update. It was just volatility, according to tools like Semrush.
[00:08:19] Jason Barnard (The Brand SERP Guy): And the really strange thing this time is four days later, we get another big update in the Knowledge Graph that we don’t see in the core, which is incredibly curious. Because generally speaking, the Knowledge Graph will update every couple of weeks. And it won’t update very quickly, one after the other, like that. So, I’m incredibly curious.
[00:08:38] Jason Barnard (The Brand SERP Guy): And the other thing is during this one in the middle around November the 12th, we’ve got a tiny update that we don’t usually see a tiny update like that on its own. And the green line is the depth of the Knowledge Graph, which is the number of entities the Knowledge Graph API returns. And we’ve gone from 18 to 19. Now that doesn’t seem like much, but the depth of 18 has been static for about two years. And so, that increase is actually, in my opinion, pretty significant from at least that perspective. So, seeing the core algorithm update and announcement from Google Map perfectly to a Knowledge Graph update is incredibly intriguing and completely new.
Seeing Lots of Volatility in Knowledge Panels and Lots of Subtitle Changes of People and Related Entities
[00:09:18] Jason Barnard (The Brand SERP Guy): And then if we look here over a longer period of time, you can see how stable that green line is with the number of entities. This is the Kalicube platform, and we track each and every one of the updates to the Knowledge Graph. And so if you are doing entity optimisation of any type, it’s really good to know that because that will tend to lead to volatility, especially in Knowledge Panels.
[00:09:37] Jason Barnard (The Brand SERP Guy): And we have seen a lot of volatility in Knowledge Panels since that November the 18th update, lots of subtitle changes. Bill Slawski’s subtitles changed. A friend of mine called Yaag, his subtitle changed, Matt Artz, Andrea Volpini from WordLift as well. We’ve seen a lot of these changes, and we saw also related entities changing that People Also Search For. So, basically, that’s a lot of categorisation and entity relationships and the depth of the Knowledge Graph that all appeared to have changed all at the same time with this core update.
Tracking Brand SERPs Using Kalicube and Seeing a Rise in the Number of Rich Elements
[00:10:12] Jason Barnard (The Brand SERP Guy): And within Kalicube, just really quickly, we’ve got all of these different tools. And I dig through them all the time trying to figure out what is going on, because we track not only the Knowledge Graph and multiple Knowledge Graph verticals, including Books and Scholar and so on and so forth, but we also track Brand SERPs, which is what you were talking about earlier on.
[00:10:32] Erin Sparks: Yeah.
[00:10:32] Jason Barnard (The Brand SERP Guy): Which is this idea of across different industries what’s happening. And we’re tracking industries in terms of how does Google perceive the brand as an entity and how does it represent the brand to that brand’s audience when they google the brand name. And that’s incredibly insightful.
[00:10:48] Jason Barnard (The Brand SERP Guy): One thing we’ve seen that I don’t actually have any screenshots to show you is there was an 8% rise in the number of what I call Rich Elements, which is SERP features basically. I’m calling them Rich Elements because it gives me more breadth of a definition so I can include anything I want in there. But an 8% jump after this update in terms of the number of Rich Elements in Brand SERPs is pretty major as well. So, what I’m seeing is a richer SERP with a shake-up of entities. And I would suspect that the richer SERP is actually more full of entities.
There Is More Visibility of Knowledge Panels and People Also Search For in the SERPs
[00:11:19] Erin Sparks: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I appreciate that unpacking because there’s the linkage right there, I think, Lily, with understanding how lift is actually being applied to these dictionaries and encyclopedias and these vast points of knowledge. And seeing that entities are also being understood to a much greater degree.
[00:11:38] Erin Sparks: I’ll put one more screenshot on screen, if you can go to that Rank Ranger Brand SERP. I selected a couple key features from that. And this is from the Knowledge Panel pack here. And we’re seeing Knowledge Panel percentage visibility, as well as People Also Ask and info. People Also Ask, if you see that jump right on the 18th, there is more visibility and more People Also Ask attributes now visible in SERPs to a sizeable degree. Again, this is always a smart scale but for a couple elements that are somewhat static.
[00:12:13] Erin Sparks: And the Knowledge Panels, not the exact factors that you are actually looking at, Jason. This is more of does the Knowledge Panel exist, but you’re actually showing many more entities being visible. We’re also seeing these entities come through the People Also Ask visibility as well. So, I just wanted to throw that one into the ring that Google’s sharing more of what it understands people are wanting to know. And it’s also giving lift to a huge amount of dictionaries and sources of entity knowledge. I’ll put that summation together. So, final words on what we’re looking at here.
[00:12:50] Jason Barnard (The Brand SERP Guy): Could I just come in? On the last screenshot you showed, it was People Also Search For rather than People Also Ask. And People Also Search For is the entity boxes underneath the Knowledge Panel.
[00:12:59] Erin Sparks: You’re absolutely right. I thought this was People Also Ask. This is People Also Search For. You’re absolutely right.
“It’s not only understanding the entities. It’s having confidence in that understanding.” – Jason Barnard (The Brand SERP Guy)
[00:13:04] Jason Barnard (The Brand SERP Guy): But that is clearly, as I said with the depth of the Knowledge Graph, that’s clearly more entities being understood, but more importantly more confidence. The thing about Google, with entities at least, you have to remember is that it’s not only understanding the entities. It’s having confidence in that understanding. And when it’s not confident, like a child in a playground, it won’t shout the information out. It’ll be a little bit nervous about it. And when it understands, it really wants to shove it in your face.
[00:13:32] Jason Barnard (The Brand SERP Guy): So, that particular graphic with that rise, I’ll need to track that against my own Kalicube Pro database, but that’s phenomenal. That’s a major thing that I hadn’t seen. And I’m suddenly terribly excited, and I want to get digging into the database.
[00:13:46] Erin Sparks: All right.
[00:13:47] Jason Barnard (The Brand SERP Guy): What a geek.
Intent Shifts Can Change Because of Current Events and Google is Adjusting Its Algorithms to Meet What Users Are Looking For at That Moment
[00:13:48] Erin Sparks: Hey, we’re all geeks here. We love the data. And now we have these tools that can actually be so granular we can now understand intent to a particular degree of these algorithm changes. Is this really, it’s not a rank change. It’s not a categorical change in any particular industry. This is Google saying it knows more about what you’re searching for. It knows more about the entities that it’s trying to learn about more and more. Yeah.
[00:14:13] Lily Ray: Yeah. That’s like what I hope to look at when I’m analysing the domain visibility changes at scale and category changes at scale. Because a lot of the times, people take things out of context when they say, oh, this website gained or lost visibility. They did something wrong. Maybe it’s their Core Web Vitals or whatever things SEOs like to focus on.
[00:14:33] Lily Ray: But what I think people lose the bigger picture of is that maybe even going into the holiday season, Google determined that for many keywords that generally return informational results, people want more transactional results because they’re shopping. So, you might see an increase in e-commerce sites ranking better for certain ambiguous queries that sometimes generate information results, sometimes generate transactional.
[00:14:57] Lily Ray: So, it’s like those intent shifts can change because of current events or because of what’s happening in the world. I’ve seen .gov sites that skyrocketed invisibility during some of the worst moments of COVID that have move down as actually a result of this update, like the FDA and the CDC seem to be going down a little bit. Maybe that’s because when you google hand sanitiser now, Amazon shows up number one instead of the FDA, something like that.
[00:15:23] Lily Ray: So, those types of things can change as well. It doesn’t mean that a site did anything right or wrong. It’s just that Google’s adjusting its algorithms to meet what users are looking for at that moment.
Jason Barnard (The Brand SERP Guy) Noticed That the Knowledge Graph Doesn’t Update During December and January
[00:15:31] Erin Sparks: So, it’s very topical in nature. Yeah, you’re absolutely right. We talked about that during COVID. And it also impacted a lot of additional features in the SERP panel as well to be able to help individuals during that period of time. So, it’s finding its space based on timing. That’s incredibly needed right now. Is that right?
[00:15:51] Jason Barnard (The Brand SERP Guy): No, I love that analysis. It’s absolutely perfect. I wish I thought of that. But from the timing point of view, one thing that I wanted to say that I noticed last year and the year before, but last year was really obvious. The Knowledge Graph did not update at all in December and January. The last update was November, and the next one was in the middle of February. And the year before, it was very similar behaviour.
[00:16:16] Jason Barnard (The Brand SERP Guy): And obviously, the Knowledge Graph team takes a big long holiday, December and January. So from that perspective, if they were marrying the Knowledge Graph into the core algorithm much more closely with this update, they wouldn’t wanted to have done it during December and January when the Knowledge Graph traditionally sleeps.
You Can’t Always Tell if the Updates on Your Site Is the Result of Your Work or of Google’s Change in Its Understanding
[00:16:34] Erin Sparks: Last point, Glenn Gabe posted in LinkedIn. He’s seen a lot of reversals and corrections based on the June and July updates as well. So, keep that in mind as we’re talking about this. It’s not only topical. We’re seeing a reveal of a deeper understanding of entities and more entities, but we’re also seeing, if you want to click on that graphic real quick while you’re in LinkedIn, pop that one up.
[00:17:00] Erin Sparks: You can see that what was sometimes cataclysmic to some of these sites are getting a bit of a reprieve in the reversals, which we would expect around two to three weeks. There’s some things happening right now that are coming through due to this algorithm change. Lily, have you seen any reversals happening?
[00:17:19] Lily Ray: Yeah. When I look at these many domains, you can see all kinds of different patterns. And one thing that makes it difficult is some of these sites are working really hard on recovering. Some of them haven’t done anything. Some have broken things. You can’t always tell if it’s the result of the work that you’ve done or if it’s just something, again, like maybe Google changed its understanding of entities or intent or something.
[00:17:42] Lily Ray: So, there’s so many different variables. It makes it very hard to understand exactly what happened. But as long as you’re chipping away at the right things, then you should generally see positive impacts.
Final Words of Advice for Listeners Who Have a Website or an Agency
[00:17:51] Erin Sparks: Absolutely. Absolutely. I thank you both for coming on here. I got to catch you guys loose. You have a very busy schedule today. Any final words for the listener audience that have maybe one website or an agency. What should we caution them not to do right now?
[00:18:07] Jason Barnard (The Brand SERP Guy): Yeah. From my perspective, it’s always the same advice. Start thinking about your brand and building your brand. And don’t freak out, I think, today, because perhaps Google has shifted, as Lily said, with its understanding of intent. It’s shifted as far as we can see in its understanding and its depth of understanding of entities. You obviously want to be understood as an entity, and that’s the way you’re going to need to go, but don’t panic. It takes time to educate this child that is Google that wants to understand. Start now. And if SEO seems slow before, this is likely to be a little bit slower still, so don’t get frustrated.
[00:18:42] Erin Sparks: Very good. Any final words of wisdom, Lily?
[00:18:44] Lily Ray: No, I’m still pulling all my data, and I am hoping to publish something this week. So, stay tuned on the Amsive Digital blog. I’ll hopefully have some winners, losers, and analysis out later this week.
Watch Out for Jason’s Blog Posts About Knowledge Graph Verticals and the Sources Google Is Looking At
[00:18:55] Erin Sparks: Fantastic. Thank you both for coming on, again, at such short notice. And we’ll certainly look at, I think, Jason, you’re going to be coming up with something soon as well, blog post. Yeah. I’m putting the pressure on now.
[00:19:08] Jason Barnard (The Brand SERP Guy): Yeah, no, definitely. I’ve got a couple of blog posts I need to write. One of which is Knowledge Graph verticals. Another of which is the sources that Google is looking at, how it’s pulling information from the web, which sources it’s using, human curated or automatically generated unstructured data pulled by algorithms, phenomenally interesting.
[00:19:25] Jason Barnard (The Brand SERP Guy): The unstructured data drawn by algorithms and this child making up its own mind is growing and we can see it growing and if you want to educate this child. I love this stuff, and I’m just having so much fun. And I would love to have more time to write articles. And I don’t know how you’d do it, Lily, because you just write articles all the time. You must not sleep.
[00:19:47] Lily Ray: All the time. Not a lot, not enough.
[00:19:50] Erin Sparks: Not enough, but hey, it is great to be able to get together and be able to have some talks like this as well. Thank you both so much. We absolutely know that child just learned a heck of a lot evidently from this update. So, we will be watching it.
Check Out Jason’s Work at Kalicube and Lily’s Work at Amsive Digital
[00:20:04] Erin Sparks: And again, we want to make sure that you check out. If you’re interested in Kalicube, it’s Kalicube.com. And if you’re interested in what Lily does, she’s the senior director over at Amsive Digital. They’re great at what they do. And if you want to have some additional help in understanding what’s going on with a potential hot mess that you may be experiencing, go contact these guys. They’re fantastic. Thanks so much guys. And I do appreciate it.
[00:20:34] Erin Sparks: All right. That’s it for our EDGE Flash. Hopefully, you like what we’re doing here. And we’ll be dropping these every once in a while. Be sure to like, comment, and subscribe to our YouTube channel as it gets updated regularly and when we go live next. From all of us over at EDGE, stay safe, stay well, and do not be a piece of cyber driftwood. We’ll talk to you later. Bye bye.