How Google’s Quality Algorithm Affects VRMs
- December 6, 2019|
- Mike Archer|
Google’s Latest Algorithm Updates Can Affect VRM Sites — Here’s What You Can Do About It
In June, Google released the first of another series of broad quality updates to its search algorithm, known as Core Updates. Since then, it’s been rolling out additional changes, the latest of which dropped in September and November.
These updates include an increased focus on its EAT (Expertise, Authority, & Trust) guidelines, as well as a better understanding of more nuanced queries.
We’ve seen evidence that this update especially affects Travel and Hospitality verticals as well as longer tail search queries.
In addition to travel and tourism, sites in a variety of verticals have noticed the update impact as Google continues to refine how it evaluates content quality.
No longer will it be sufficient to have a few paragraphs of surface-level content regarding your industry or offering. Rather, sites without expertise-based and authoritative content have already, and will likely continue to see drop offs in organic traffic as a result of these updates.
In this post we’ll go over:
- The basics of the most recent Google core algorithm updates
- Sites that stand to be affected the most
- Key takeaways for vacation rental managers
- Strategies to position your web properties for the best chance of success for this, and future, updates
Google’s Core Updates
Unlike specific algorithm updates like we’ve seen in the past with the Panda and Penguin updates, core updates from Google like September’s tend to have a more subtle and far-reaching impact.
As a result, they tend to affect more websites and more industries than a targeted update like Panda.
Some of these broad changes included in the updates are improvements to:
E.A.T. evaluations based on Google’s QRG (Quality Ratings Guidelines)
BERT and NLP
BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers)
NLP (Natural Language Processing)
Something else to keep in mind -- BERT may impact 10% of the searches that humans run, but it's unlikely to have that impact on keywords you track. Most of us still don't track long-form, natural-language searches. So, the impact may be masked.
Dr. Pete Meyers, Marketing Scientist at Moz
Link ranking and quality
The November 8 update was a big one for many sites. After a few days of analysis, our initial hypothesis is that this update (or at least a component of it) was primarily about link quality.
Marie Haynes, Google Penalty Recovery & Algorithm Consultant
General understanding of search queries, specifically longer tail search queries
Interstitial page/popover ad evaluation
The Impact on Vacation Rental Websites
VRMs are especially susceptible to core updates because they fall into Google’s YMYL (Your Money, Your Life) category and therefore generally face greater scrutiny in the algorithm since users tend to be making major purchase or life decisions based on the results.
The QRG even references these categories of sites directly, recommending:
High quality content should allow users to find the products they want and to purchase the products easily.
Though there is no shortage of speculation and testing going on around how the core update has been impacting certain websites and industries, there are a few consistent clues we see when it comes to how this update is affecting VRM sites in the wild.
So, what can we count on?
The focus on useful, authoritative content & other considerations for Natural Language Processing
As it so often circles back to, one of the standbys of creating content on VRM sites is staying focused on searcher intent and satisfaction.
Especially with the increased emphasis on NLP, longer tail query results will likely become more nuanced as Google attempts to help users answer very specific questions.
BERT especially, according to Marie Haynes, is “really good for helping Google understand more queries. For example, many queries using "for" or "to" used to confuse Google,” but it’ll become more and more sophisticated at deciphering what the user intent behind a natural language query really is.
The importance of everyday experience.
Emphasizing the “Experience,” component of the EAT formula is a great starting point for short term rental websites, and often something that can be an easy action item.
How would this look on your site?
Rather than relying on a few paragraphs of high level content about a property or location, or brushing over subject matter with a birds-eye approach, VRMs should invest in more experienced and authoritative content from subject-matter experts.
These can be hobby-level experts, so long as they demonstrate relevant, verifiable experience to the topic.
Next Steps for Vacation Rental Managers
While there may be more learning to be done about how the update is affecting VRM sites, there are some broad takeaways from the core updates that we can confidently start to use right away:
- Consider the searcher intent related to those queries, and create content that helps searchers meet their goals, quickly and easily.
In addition to applying these general content guidelines, you can also invest in a few specific areas of your site to better meet the EAT requirements of the QRG:
Leverage your About Page
The ‘about’ section of your site can provide a quick win for this round of updates by giving you a natural place to include the general authority and expertise you likely have in the area.
This might look like:
- Adding how many years you’ve been in business
- How many experienced employees work for you
- Your current business endorsements, memberships (VRMA, BBB, etc.) certifications, awards, or other qualifications.
- If you have positive press or third-party media coverage, adding these to a press page can also enhance your trustworthiness in the Google algorithm.
A great example of this is SouthernComfortCabinRentals.com. They include their industry affiliations and memberships on the About Us page. They go into more detail on the Team page discussing the founders and core employees and their experience in the vacation rental industry.
These changes can pull double duty for you, especially if you include relevant links and those links direct to other authoritative, high-quality sites.
This is also a great place to brag - about your business and your employees.
Think about including as many relevant details for your employees as possible, so if you feature them you can discuss their credentials, how many years they’ve worked in vacation rental management, or how much time they’ve spent working with a particular destination or property area.
It’s worth noting that simply listing off their published blog posts or articles in a blog author bio won’t do much to help you here.
In a nutshell, if there’s information that can help tell the story of your expertise (either at the business or individual level) it should be included on your site.
Put Your Contact Information Front and Center
Especially for transactional vacation rental and shopping sites, including the contact phone number above the navigation if you can, and certainly above the fold, can improve your trustworthiness within the update.
In addition, outlining basic retail policies like:
- Exchange or cancellation policy for rentals
- Contact information
- Hours of operation and customer service hours
- And how to use customer service functionality (whether that’s a live chat feature or a form submission, etc.) should be clear and as straightforward as possible.
There’s evidence to suggest that adding a paragraph or snippet to your home page including the details about why you would be considered an expert in your field can help maintain and increase your visibility.
Practically, this might take shape as static content that reads something like ‘serving the [insert relevant geographic area here] for over 20 years (or however long you’ve been in business) and ‘over 20 years experience in…).
Have another claim to fame?
Maybe you employ a certain number of destination experts or highly-certified rental managers?
Feature that information on the homepage.
Chances are, you won’t have to look very far for some authoritative tidbits to add.
Clean Up Your Link Profile
Many sites have seen traffic drop offs after the November update, which seems to be indicating that Google is focusing on unnatural links.
Take this as your motivation to dig into your link profile and think critically about how it might look to an outsider.
Some additional guidance:
Don't assume that links are the problem. Lots of sites have older, crufty links. Weird doesn't equal bad. But, if you find a clear pattern of significant unnatural links, you should clean them up.
John Mueller, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst
Looking for help to insulate your site from the impacts of Google updates?
Reach out today for answers and ideas to better position your site according to Google’s QRG (Quality Raters Guidelines).
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