5 min read

SEO in a Post-COVID World – Part 1

What’s changed in SEO since the global pandemic?

2020 has been one hell of a year. So many unexpected events, rules and restrictions – which is no different for the SEO world. If you haven’t been paying attention, there have been a lot of Google and SEO news updates since COVID-19 started impacting our lives.

We had initially planned on writing one massive blog on this, but because of how many impactful SEO updates have been made and the potential impact they could have, we will be writing these blog posts in parts, focusing on 3–5 issues per post, so we can explore the potential impact and possible actions you can take to ensure strong SEO performance as we approach the start of 2021.

The impact of COVID-19 on organic traffic

The truth is, some websites (and even whole industries) benefited from COVID-19. Others were unsurprisingly negatively impacted in a major way.

Some industries/business sectors that did well include:

  • Large Grocery Retailers (some seeing a rise of over 400%)
  • Larger Online Household Retailers (a rise of over 50%)

Examples of retailers that didn’t do so well include:

  • Hotels (a drop of 49% on average)
  • Chain restaurants (a drop of 29% on average)

For a detailed report on how industries were impacted, see the following report from Search Engine Land or for a more detailed look at websites that were winners and losers check out Path Interactive’s Report.

Keeping SEO marketing at the forefront, even if negatively impacted

After the first month of COVID-19, a survey found that 60% of SEO professionals would prefer if there was a pause in Google Algorithm updates. This is unsurprising as for a majority of sites there were some negative impacts caused by the corona virus epidemic. Throw in the unpredictability of an Algorithm update and this can create a volatile situation.

Although it’s hard not to get disheartened if you’re in an industry that has seen a downturn in organic performance, remember that as quickly as things changed with COVID-19 it can also swing the other way. Take action to keep improving your SEO and digital marketing and you’ll find you reap the benefits before and definitely after things return to normal.

With that having been said, below are the first 5 SEO updates that have happened since COVID-19 and some actions you can take to ensure you are on the right side of these changes.

1. Google confirms switch to mobile-first indexing by September 2020

This is one Google has been warning us about for a few years now. If the quality of your mobile site isn’t, at the very least, as good as your desktop site then urgently fix this.

But Kapwom, what if most of my web visitors come from desktop computers?

It doesn’t matter if you care about getting a larger share of that valuable Google traffic. The mobile version of your website will now be the primary version Google crawls and indexes, so make sure your mobile site is not only mobile friendly but actually optimised for web visitors.

An important factor in having a website that is mobile optimised is having quick loading times. Mobile visitors tend to have less patience than desktop visitors, and with an estimated 53% of online ecommerce purchases now happening via mobile devices, getting this right is no longer an option but a must.

At Honchō, having a well optimised mobile site is a key recommendation we make to clients.

2. Google Shopping including organic listings

If you’re an eCommerce retailer then this one is a game changer. Some SEO’ers believe that a major driver of this is so Google can compete with Amazon in product search.

OK, so it’s great news that Google is offering Google Shopping listings for free. What do you need to do to take advantage of this is the obvious question.

  1. First of all, if you don’t have a Google Merchant Centre (GMC) account then go and sign up for one now
  2. You’ll then need to set up your store and upload your product information
  3. You’ll need to claim your website which will involve a verification process – typically adding some kind of code to the header section of your website, although Google tends to offer a number of options for verification
  4. You’ll need to upload your product feed with all the information on your products that Google needs, including a GTIN number. The paid team here at Honchō have a lot of experience with this, as getting this right and automating it will make your life easier while ensuring you get the results you want

3. May 2020 algorithm update

One of the major core updates from Google is what has now ended up with the name “May 2020 Update” (I know, not very original but hey, the name “Caffeine Algorithm Update” was already taken).

Let’s start with what we do know about the May 2020 algorithm update.

Google confirmed on their blog that there are web vital metrics they will be using moving forwards. These metrics will help provide guidance on what constitutes a healthy website. The listed values were:

  • LCP (Largest Contentful Paint): measures when a page’s content has been fully loaded
  • FID (First Input Delay): measures responsiveness and how users interact with the page
  • CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift): measures visual stability and amount of changes once content has loaded

The following message from Google confirms how serious a role page speed and ultimately user experience will play in the SEO game: Looking ahead towards 2021, we are investing in building better understanding and ability to measure page speed, and other critical user experience characteristics.”

If point one hasn’t already got you focused on fully optimising page speed and the mobile user experience, hopefully this update has.

Aside from this, the May 2020 update also included what appears to be a stronger weighting for websites that have proven EAT (Expertise, Authority and Trust). We were already aware of the need to do this in YMYL (Your Money, Your Life) niches like fitness, health, money advice websites.

The importance of EAT now appears to have a wider and deeper reach.

ACTION:

If you have any qualifications, business awards or any actions your business takes that would build trust and confidence with web visitors, consider creating web pages to showcase this.

Also, if your content writers are specialists, find a way to show this through their author boxes and even consider creating pages showcasing their expertise.

One of the elements of the May core update that there seems to be no full agreement on is the update to how links are weighed. “Nofollow” backlinks now seem to have more weighting, especially where the relevancy score to your site is considerable.

We’ve never been of the opinion that “Nofollow” links are valueless, but from some of the tests we’ve run we can see where internal pages have relevant links (even where they are “nofollow”), there is clear value in helping with rankings and ultimately organic performance.

4. The impending search engine from Apple

In August of this year (2020), Apple announced plans to launch a new search engine. If they do proceed with this it could be a real game changer for the SEO space.

Think about it: Apple has a ready made market of millions of iPhone and Mac users, a large percentage of whom will, at the very least, be willing to trial the new search engine if it is the default search engine for their system.

If the algorithms for how websites are ranked are fairly different it could raise a legitimate question for SEO’ers on which search engine to go after. Granted, a quality website is a quality website, so many of the top results will likely be the same, but differences will always be there.

ACTION:

Keep providing a great user experience for your visitors while creating great content, and keep your ear to the ground because this one could make the SEO game really interesting.

5. Google confirms passages to be indexed

The indexation of passages by Google is an update that seems to be slightly overlooked in terms of potential impact on interaction by web users. Put into perspective, it was estimated that around 3.1% of English search enquiries were impacted by the initial Penguin update. With an estimate of 7-10% of searches being impacted by the “passage index” update, expect some noise to be raised when this kicks into gear.

There is definitely an opportunity with this update for the “little guys” to compete for high volume questions that everyone is answering.

On the other hand, if the perfect answer is provided on SERPs then how many people will actually visit the page?

ACTION:

If you’re not already creating content that “educates” and provides answers for your target audience then do so ASAP.

At Honchō we’ve come across retail and e-commerce platforms who have performed extremely well doing this and, with the updates to indexation of passages and increase in “sub-topics” to broader search terms, strategically creating content is a must.

There is a lot more to come on updates that have impacted SEO and will continue to impact SEO post-COVID, so pay attention to this space for part two… and beyond.

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