TopHatRank Publisher SEO November 2019 Google Update; Food Blogger Study

November 2019 Google Update; Food Blogger Study

In November of 2019, Google released an update to its algorithm. This update was very detrimental, site owners reported losses in organic traffic referrals of up to 60%. Since Google didn’t provide much detail as to which changes were made during this update, we decided to conduct a study of affected recipe/food blogs to see if there were any commonalities that can be identified.

So grab a cup of coffee, find a comfortable place to sit and download this 290-page study.

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{TL;DR}?
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While we cannot with certainty pinpoint the exact causes of the November 2019 drops, during the analysis we observed a few common patterns and SEO issues the food blogs are facing.

The examined food blogs proved to be prone to traffic and rankings fluctuations around the time of Google algorithm updates. Most of those domains were negatively affected by at least one of the discussed pre-November updates, and by at least one post-November Update.

On average, the sites had 33% fewer organic sessions after the November 2019 Update, and most did not regain them after the following algorithm modifications. 75% of blogs had decreasing trends in January 2020.

The most dependent on those changes were the top-performing landing pages that drove a significant number of impressions to each domain. Each blog lost impressions for at least 65% of its top-performing keywords from October 2019. Almost all blogs participating in the study had considerably fewer keywords ranking in the top three of SERPs after the changes rolled out in November.

Some of the rankings changes though, may not be connected to the overall condition of the sites and are a result of Google adjusting the video carousels position in SERP.

Additionally, no significant error peaks in structured data implementation, mobile optimization, as well as a low number of error pages reported by GSC around the November update, suggest that those technical optimization aspects weren’t the main factors behind the drops. We also didn’t observe any signs of Google having trouble reading the pages’ content.

Moreover, we didn’t notice any clear winners with similar site sizes or traffic potential that would outrank most of the analyzed domains for several queries. Domains that weren’t as impacted as the blogs participating in the study are aggregator websites with huge site structures and rank for millions of organic keywords. Besides short information-focused content that answers user queries, these pages seem to have fewer and less overwhelming ads than examined blogs.

Based on our findings, we outlined some insights and main action points that could be taken to minimize the risks of visibility and organic traffic losses during the next updates and to improve the overall SEO performance of those sites. Remember that while implementing any changes, it’s crucial to test new solutions first and see how they impact your traffic and rankings.

Were You Affected By This Update?

We’ve been optimizing food blogs for years now, it’s one of our many specialties. So if you were affected by this update, have us look at your food blog and see how we can help you recover!

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Main Takeaways

As expected there was no one specific reason for the drops, but all sites in the study need to keep this in mind:

Be Prepared

If your site starts ranking for broad, generic keywords, you should be prepared for reverse trending during the Update. We can clearly see that the recent updates are focused on adjusting results to user queries. Broad queries are tricky ones and Google has some difficulties with matching them to landing pages. Learn more about fluctuations in rankings.

Big Players Will Win

Generic and broad keywords/queries seem to be reserved for big players, massive sites with significant authority. Do your best to focus on queries that are longer and more refined, answering questions will always win. Learn more about the impact of focusing on broad vs. long queries.

Focus on Easy wins

Since the aggregators such as AllRecipes, FoodNetwork or Delish.com would be hard to outrank, focus on less competitive keywords. These should be easier to rank for on Page 1.

Prioritize Relevant Content

Make the recipe instructions the main focus of your content. Limit additional copy such as personal information and stories, and ensure that the posts deliver as much valuable information regarding the dish as possible. You could dive more into the history of the dish itself and it’s tradition or serving ideas rather than your history with the dish. Learn more about getting to the point with your content.

Focus on the "Why"

While preparing the article, always think about the users’ intent. Why are they searching for this, what are they looking for, how can I structure my content to accommodate their needs?

Stop Over Optimizing

Don’t over-optimize your posts with keywords by repeating the same words or phrases in every two sentences. Stop chasing the green light inside of Yoast. Write naturally, as if you’re explaining the recipe to your friend. Learn more about how to stop over-optimizing. 

Stop Empty Meta Descriptions

Optimize your meta tags with proper keywords: while the meta descriptions aren’t used in rankings, they can inform both your users and search engines about the content of the page.

More Ads ≠ More Money

Limit the number of advertisements on your pages. Pages that weren’t negatively affected after the November Update, have fewer and less intrusive ads. First, focus on reducing the video and animated ads as these are the ones that are the most harmful for the performance of your pages. Learn more about the impact of ads.

Clean Up Your Plugins

Third-party code may significantly impact your page load time. Remove redundant third-party plugins if possible and ensure that the remaining are loaded only after the page has finished loading. Learn more about cleaning up plugins.

Exclude Low-Value Pages

Develop an indexing strategy for your websites that will allow you to keep only valuable pages in your index: comment pages, pagination may cause duplication and thin content issues. Learn more about removing low-value pages.

Be Clear About Affiliate Links

Make it clear for your users which links on your pages are, in fact, sponsored. The note about affiliate links at the beginning of your posts is not enough to distinguish the regular links from the paid ones. For example, encourage your users to try your favorite cooking accessories from Amazon, that way they’ll know the link will direct them to an external sales page. Learn more about denoting affiliate links.

Review Your Backlinks Frequently

Perform a full link review to find potential issues in your backlink profile: any unnatural links and/or sketchy, spammy domains linking to your site that can hinder your SEO optimization attempts. Learn more about reviewing your backlinks.

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Dive In!

2020 Study

Before you dive in to the study, I want to address a few things. This was a correlative analysis; this means that we were looking to identify commonalities between sites that were affected in the November update. And we did find a lot of these commonalities. It is also important to keep in mind that correlation does not equal causation, so our recommendations should be taken as suggestions to improve the overall optimization of your website and not as specific fixes to address the November Update’ losses.

Arsen Rabinovich Founder @ TopHatRank
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