Instabilities in Google?

by Paul Carpenter
See Dave Speak SMX London

Since Vince was rolled out to the UK we’re seeing instabilities in some of Google’s SERPs like we haven’t seen for years. Now: I can’t say for sure that the two are connected, but there’s a gut feeling around that Google are either doing testing on a much more obvious scale than we’re used to or that Vince itself has some instabilities which remain to be ironed out.

The first thing to note is it seems to be restricted to certain verticals so unless you’re affected you won’t be seeing this at all; we’re seeing it first hand in certain travel sectors but have reports of similar behaviour in mobiles and TV – both here and in the US – suggesting a definite pattern. In these verticals, Vince has clearly pushed leading names to the top of certain categories as you’d expect.

What you perhaps wouldn’t expect is the zany yo-yo in the rankings where other results can go top 10 for 3 hours, drop 30 places and then come back the following morning for another shellacking and further hair-loss in the SEO team*. Wash and repeat. This has been rumbling on for a few weeks now so we’re ruling out common-or-garden rollbacks and looking for something bigger in the background.

Characteristics

  • Rapid changes in rankings for some verticals – literally every few hours seeing a major shift in the results for some competitive terms where Vince would apply
  • Multiple internal pages ranking ahead of home – the homepage, optimised and link-built for the same target term, might be literally nowhere inside the top 1000
  • Continued presence of non-brands in verticals where brands should be strong

The overall effect feels like some massive test of two different data sets. It’s probably pushing the thought too far, but it’s almost as if in the morning Vince applies and in the afternoon everything falls back onto backlinks and other traditional algorithmic factors. Oh – and in case you’re wondering, the site we’re tracking is most definitely not under any kind of penalty, you cynical little scamps ;)

Just testing?

We know that Google test their results a lot – using near instantaneous feedback from millions of searches and dragging in data from their own networks to determine what results people respond best to. So it may be that Google are testing Vince against old algos. Vince is a big step change for the way the SERPs are compiled, as it has given authority through non-algorithmical factors so it could be that Google are running tests in certain verticals. Or that some verticals have uncertainties inherent in them that Vince hasn’t quite addressed.

Whatcha gonna do about it?

TBH at the moment we’re not really seeing a clear enough pattern to formulate much of an answer. We’ve got notorious linkbuyers out there with colossal footprints – mentioning no names, but you probably know a few yourself  - still showing up for Vince terms… and good sites coming and going from the top 10 willy nilly. In the long run, the age old truth of building authority (online and now offline, lest we forget) will see you good, but it’s a choppy sea out there at the moment for some people.

We’d be interested to see if anyone else is seeing similar behaviour out there in the wild…

*mainly applies to me

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