Insights from Google’s 2023 Updates [Correlation Analysis]

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In our last post, we deep dove the 7 winning sites that Authority Hacker shared. For this post, lets deep dive the analysis performed by Cyrus Shepard. It has some amazing takeaways.

If you missed it, we’re talking about the fascinating study by Cyrus Shepard on the impact of last year’s Google updates on websites. This comprehensive analysis of 50 sites, both winners and losers, post-update is really insightful. And while we’re in the middle of this March Core Update (and hopefully NOT making any major changes yet), this study can show us a lot about where Google is headed.

Read it. But, here are my highlights.

Understanding What Matters to Google

The study sheds light on several on-page factors correlated with sites that either gained or lost significant traffic due to Google’s updates throughout 2023. Here are the critical takeaways:

  • The Impact of Ads: Sites specifically with fixed footer ads and intrusive video ads tended to lose traffic. We’ve known that user experience (particularly how ads are displayed) plays a significant role in how Google assesses our sites. The specific data around ad types is very interesting info from Cyrus.
  • Originality in Imagery: Using stock images is negatively correlated with site performance. A push towards more original and authentic visual content should be something to keep in mind as you update your articles. The ROI is insanely high, meaning that it is not that hard to take good pictures for your website (I show you exactly how here).
  • The Value of Personal Touch: The presence of first-person pronouns in content shows a positive correlation with site performance. It highlights the importance of adding personal experiences and viewpoints to your content, making it more relatable and valuable to our audience.
  • Simplicity in Navigation: Overly complex navigational structures, like mega menus, seem to hinder site performance. A cleaner, more straightforward navigation could improve user experience and, by extension, site visibility on Google.
  • Transparency and Accessibility: Sites that make their contact information easily accessible tend to perform better. This aligns with the broader theme of building trust and credibility with our audience.

There are many other points Cyrus found, so I encourage you to read the entire study. If you’re a nerd like me, you’ll enjoy seeing WHICH factors had the highest correlation.

In honor of Cyrus’s findings, through Thursday, you can get my Website Photography Made Easy course for 50% off. Just use code “march”. Ends Thursday end of day PST!

Bonus Analyzation

Micah Fisher-Kirshner took the study a step further, and calculated how various *combinations* of website features correlated with Google traffic loss. What were the biggest combo negative correlators?

  1. Having a MegaMenu Header + using Stock Photography
  2. Having a MegaMenu Header + no About section in Header
  3. Any MegaMenu + no About section in Header

Basically, any megamenu was a dominant negative correlator. Something to keep in mind. You can see all of the top combinations here.

Practical Steps Forward

Based on these insights, here are some actionable steps I would consider:

  • Evaluate and Optimize Ad Placement: Look at how ads are integrated into your site and work towards a balance that doesn’t compromise user experience. This study only added more data to a trending observation from the HCU.
  • Invest in Original Visual Content: I’ve been banging this drum for awhile, and not just because I used to be a photographer. It’s just a pretty darn easy signal to give to Google and your users. Where possible, replace stock images with original photos or graphics to enhance authenticity.
  • Incorporate Personal Experiences: Sharing your own stories or insights can add depth and relatability to your content, potentially boosting its appeal to both users and search engines. Cyrus literally found that changing to first person had an impact (something we’ve been recommending to clients for a while now).
  • Streamline Site Navigation: Consider simplifying your site’s navigation to improve ease of use and help visitors find what they’re looking for more efficiently. Make the good stuff more prominent.
  • Highlight Contact Information: Ensure that your contact details, cookie consents, etc are easily found, reinforcing transparency and openness with your visitors.

If you’re a bit tired of all this Google Search info, maybe now is a good time to try the Amazon Influencer Program! I uploaded less than 10 videos in 2024, and I’m still making almost $1k per week! Learn more about how to get started, and don’t forget the discount (JARED) I got you on a fast-track course!

Looking Ahead

While the study doesn’t offer a magic formula for instant recovery from Google’s updates, it does provide a clearer direction for refining our SEO approaches. The emphasis on user experience, authenticity, and transparency is something we can all integrate into our ongoing strategies.

Between our previous post where we featured 7 sites that Authority Hacker found doing well, to this week’s study from Cyrus on Google Update factors, we have quite a bit of compelling factors that we can focus on.

Remember, correlation does not equal causation. Carefully evaluate all of this against your own website and competitors. Also, consider getting a second opinion. Every use case has nuance.

And no, this study does not have anything to do with the current March 2024 Core Update. But we’ll evaluate that once its done in early April!

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Jared Bauman

Jared Bauman is the Co-Founder of 201 Creative, and is a 20+ year entrepreneur who has started and sold several companies. He is the host of the popular Niche Pursuits podcast and a contributing author to Search Engine Land.

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