#115 – The August Algorithm Update

5 min read
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What You Will Learn

  • How the same content both lost and gained traffic for Health Ambition
  • Why you should be wary of news that someone has already figured out how the update works
  • Steps you could take if you’ve been hit
  • How Google aims to measure complex metrics like “trust,” and what this means for your site

On August 1st, 2018 Google released a broad core algorithm update. By August 3rd, the Semrush SERP volatility sensor peaked at 9.4/10, suggesting “constant and massive tremors on Google search results.”

Sites started losing or gaining massive amounts of traffic in a matter of days. We’re talking a 30, 40, even 50 percent change. We haven’t seen anything like this since Panda and Penguin first came out.

Then the horror stories started pouring in. Many in the Authority Hacker community also got hit, so we decided to do an episode on the update and our analysis of the aftermath.

Wha​​​​t We Know

The update concerns the core algorithm, however it didn’t add any new features. It only rebalanced how existing factors are calculated and how much they matter.

The update affected every niche and market, but it seems like YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) sites like Dr.Axe received the biggest hit.

How the Update Affected Us

  • Health Ambition: Down 15%
  • Authority Hacker: Nothing
  • The TASS site : -10%
  • New site: Nothing

At Health Ambition, for every 2.25 pages that dropped 1 actually went up (some significantly so). This implies a degree of page level analysis OR competitors shifting around us.

Even very similar keywords had opposite reactions:

  • best probiotics for women – down 6%
  • best probiotics for men – up 65%

Be Careful with SEO Analysis

One person calls a factor out without much evidence then everyone follows and repeats it and it becomes accepted.

It’s hard to tell what can “fix” you until full recovery stories, and those usually appear up to 6 months later.

There’s rarely just 1 factor being rebalanced. Often competitors moving up or down can shift your rankings a lot without Google seeing your site differently.

With AI and machine learning being so important, the factors are a lot “deeper” than simple observable metrics. Google’s AI is developing critical sense and could soon debunk fake BSinside content.

Speculation…Lots of Speculation

Google probably wants high EAT (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trust) for YMYL sites.

Questions people asked when Panda came out seem relevant to winners and losers:

  • Is the article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well or is it more shallow in nature?
  • Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  • Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
  • Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
  • For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
  • Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?

While we can’t say exactly what Google changed, it seems clear that sites that go the extra mile win while those that don’t lose.

Half-assing your niche is becoming less and less of an option.

It’s very likely that the EAT stuff AND original content not written by generic writers will become what gives you an edge.

You will have to learn your niche and actually become somewhat of an expert at it. Many topics have no degrees, so you can become an expert by being called an expert by other big sites in your industry.

The new TASS site will show easy ways to start seeding real authority that everyone can do. One of them is to just go to local stores, buy items, test them, take photos, sometimes bring back, sometimes sell etc. Show real life experience.

What You Should Do

Fix obvious broken stuff – we should all be doing this anyway though. With the old updates, it was possible to identify a problem and fix it. For example with Penguin, bad links penalized you. Therefore removing them and disavowing them fixed it.

But what people forget is that they fundamentally changed their business model after that with regards to link building.

Improve your content quality. A lot of people don’t have an eye for quality. They focus too much on measurables – length, readability, cost, etc.

The “immeasurables” are becoming measureable by Google:

  • Truth
  • Trust
  • Engagement
  • Attitude and approach

You have to constantly be pushing quality. The attitude of “good enough content and just lots of links” isn’t going to cut it.

Ask yourself some questions:

  • How can I be the best?
  • And how are my competitors trying to be the best?
  • How can I out best them at that even?

Take your site far more seriously:

  • Use data
  • Get better experts – like Healthline does
  • If you are pushing scammy products with invalid health claims, you might be in for a hard time.

In reviews:

  • Go deeper in your winner/loser calculations
  • You could buy product, but that alone doesn’t make you better. It’s all about how good your review really is
  • You can learn from some of these guys like the wirecutter


It’s not the end of the world!

Most AH PRO members did ok, those who didn’t will have to work for it, but they can bounce back.

Google is probably not turning back on this approach. You will have to become a real expert at your niche.


about the author
Hey I'm Gael, one of the guys behind Authority Hacker. I make a living working from my laptop in various places in the world and I will use this website to teach you how you could do the same.

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