10-things-i-learned-about-seo-in-2019

I publish three websites: JohnWDeFeo.com (my personal website), Always Bring Sunscreen (a family travel blog) and Good, Cheap and Fast (a product review website). 

Each site receives a significant portion of its traffic from search engines and each site saw a sizable change in search visibility this year. 

Even after 16 years of working in search marketing, I’m always discovering something new. This article is a summary of my recent findings and observations.

Here are 10 things that I’ve learned about search engine optimization (SEO) in 2019.

Google Doesn’t Tolerate Anonymous Websites

When I launched Good, Cheap and Fast, it was published anonymously. My goal wasn’t to be mysterious: I wanted the site to emphasize data, not the person who compiled it. 

Maybe this intrigue was the reason for the site’s PR success. Yet, despite earning links from sites like Fast Company, Esquire and Slate, Google slammed the website in successive algorithm updates on January 4th, 2019 and once again on March 22nd, 2019. I was losing faith.

Despite receiving 100,000 referrals and an influx of great, earned links, Google dinged Good, Cheap and Fast…hard.

Despite receiving 100,000 referrals and an influx of great, earned links, Google dinged Good, Cheap and Fast…hard.

Then, I remembered that my friends and family members suggested that I include my photo and biography on the website. I admitted my mistake, took their advice and traffic recovered.

“Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness” Might Be Detected Algorithmically

I added biographical information to each page on Good, Cheap and Fast in late March 2019.

The site’s search visibility climbed steadily within days of the change, achieving 200% growth only three weeks later. Unknown factors may have helped the site to recover, but the timing was spot on and I was able to repeat these results by adding “EAT” biographies on other websites.

Google Routinely Suffers Indexing Bugs

This article was dropped from Google’s index twice, possibly because Google was reading the timestamp incorrectly.

This article was dropped from Google’s index twice, possibly because Google was reading the timestamp incorrectly.

My top-performing article was dropped from Google’s index in March, and again in July.

Nevertheless, these drops occurred when the article was updated and improved. However, the drops did not coincide with the indexing bugs that Google admitted in April and August.

I believe that Google extracted a date from within the text of the article, assumed that it was the publish date, and determined that the article was too old to be relevant for a newsworthy topic.

Bing Filters E-Commerce Websites

The response I received from Bing. Click to expand.

The response I received from Bing. Click to expand.

Months after launching Good, Cheap and Fast, the site was still not indexed in Bing. I contacted Bing customer support to ask why. A representative told me that the site was blocked for reasons that he couldn’t disclose. He lifted the block, yet a year later, the site gets negligible traffic from Bing.

In the meantime, I’ve found other e-commerce websites that Bing entirely excludes from its index. For example, 10Beasts.com.

A Drop in Search Demand Can Look Like a Penalty

This looks like a clear example of algorithmic demotion, but in reality, it was merely a drop in search demand.

This looks like a clear example of algorithmic demotion, but in reality, it was merely a drop in search demand.

In June 2019, I published photos from the 2019 Coney Island Mermaid Parade. This website’s search visibility doubled, but then quickly fell by more than 60%. Was it a manual penalty? An algorithm change? Nope, it was a drop in people searching for “mermaid parade 2019 photos.”

Neither AMP nor Google News Are Prerequisites to Appear in Google Discover

I don’t use Google’s accelerated mobile pages (AMP) on my family’s travel blog, nor have I registered the site to be included in Google News. Nevertheless, the website’s articles appear in Google Discover (formerly known as Google Now and Google Feed). 

On the other hand, my product review website utilizes AMP and gets no traffic from Google Discover. I suspect that Discover emphasizes articles with a high dwell time.

Image Redirects Take a While to Process

Visits from Google Images hit rock bottom after my web host changed its content delivery network. Recovery was slow.

Visits from Google Images hit rock bottom after my web host changed its content delivery network. Recovery was slow.

Squarespace moved all of my websites’ images to a new content delivery network in the early fall. As a result, visits from Google Images briefly dropped to zero while Google processed the changes.

It took several months for these images to return to their prior rankings, despite the 301 redirects.

The Relative Importance of Links Is in Flux

My family travel blog has 50,000 words of unique content, hundreds of original photographs and very few backlinks. Nevertheless, the site’s search visibility grew steadily all year long…until recently.

The site was crushed by Google’s Nov. 7th algorithm update and it hasn’t recovered since. 

I’m not impartial, but I believe that my site’s travelogues are 10x better than the competition (e.g. Beaches Turks and Caicos, Dreams Punta Cana, and Eurodam Alaska). It kills me to see this content foundering, yet it may be a consequence of my failure to promote it.

Some algorithm Updates Adjust International Targeting (And It Can Look Like a Penalty)

Search visits to Good, Cheap and Fast fell off a cliff after Google’s Dec. 4, 2019 algorithm update, yet visits from the United States increased after that update. This makes sense because the site is only relevant to U.S. visitors. What seemed like a penalty was actually a reward!

Google Is Becoming a Pop Culture Engine

My name is shared with a victim of “The Amityville Horror” and Google doesn’t let me forget it. A Google search for “john defeo photographs” produces a list of crime scene photos and crackpot theories about ghosts. Meanwhile, both DuckDuckGo and Bing diversify their search results with respect to the fact that I was once a professional photographer.

Personal reasons aside, I find myself using DuckDuckGo more often because of its diverse search results. Click to expand.

Personal reasons aside, I find myself using DuckDuckGo more often because of its diverse search results. Click to expand.

The example above is a personal one, but certainly not an isolated one. Increasingly, I find that Google’s results are tailored to the wisdom of crowds, even when crowds are not so wise.

That’s all, folks. I’d love to hear what you’ve learned about SEO this year. You can find me on Twitter and LinkedIn. I hope you have a happy, healthy and prosperous 2020! -John

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