To kick things off, the SEO 101 hosts get a good laugh over the stupidity of The Daily Mail’s ignorant lawsuit against Google over its low organic rankings. They follow that with insights into managing traffic drops (when necessary), improving search result clickthrough rates, news on the Page Experience update, and much more.



Noteworthy links from this episode:


Transcription of Episode 405

Ross: Hello, and welcome to SEO 101 on episode 405. This is Ross Dunn, CEO of StepForth Web Marketing, and my co-host is my company’s Senior SEO, Scott Van Achte. How’s it going, bud?

Scott: It’s going wonderful on this glorious sunny day, even though I can only look at it through my window.

Ross: Yes. We’re outside for a bit of sun, lunch, and it was hard to come back in but at least I didn’t burn my lovely white ass.

Scott: It’s too hot. I got a bit of a burn on the weekend and I don’t feel guilty about it.

Ross: No.

Scott: I need to spend the weekend in the sun. It’s just what happens sometimes, so I’ll take it after the winter we’ve had.

Ross: Which is pretty sweet. Supposed to go to hell, but oh well. You know what we just did though? We broke one of the number one rules of SEO 101; we talked about the weather.

Scott: Oh, well. Sorry.

Ross: Oh, dear.

Scott: That’s my bad.

Ross: It’s all good. It’s just something we’ve been doing for a long time. I forgot about it, too. Anyway, let’s jump into this. This is fun, just to start us off with a bit of humor. The Daily Mail, that’s a UK newspaper, is attempting—I’ll put it that way—to sue Google over it’s organic rankings. Their claim is that because they’re not advertising, Google dropped their rankings.

Anyone who’s been following—being in SEO—paid AdRoll for any number of times, even a year, I’m sure you’ve already heard that officially, any ads you do have no impact on rankings organically. Google does not connect the two. If we don’t do ads, you’ll still have the same chances at good organic rankings. 

And that’s just true form. We haven’t seen anything to really contradict that. I’ve had a few clients say they’ve seen it but I haven’t seen it. As far as I’m concerned, that’s it. It’s just the way it is. Well, that’s not according to them. Scott, why don’t share what you saw there? You’re reading it, too.

Scott: The funniest part is how their paid ad and traffic drop just happens to correlate exactly with Core Updates. It’s funny, right? Their big traffic drop hit in the June Core Update of 2019 and their traffic recovered in the September Core Update of 2019.

Ross: They’re back, but no.

Scott: You know what’s funny? What’s really funny is if you look at their traffic before and after those two Core Updates, pre-June and post-September, the traffic is way up after the September Core Update. They won. They came out ahead. They had a couple of months of uh-oh, but even their uh-oh, it looks like their traffic was still three million a month or something. It’s not that bad, but I guess compared to the five they were getting, and then they have six or seven million if I’m looking at this chart correctly.

Ross: They’re stating that they should be much higher and they’re also stating that, yes, during that time they dropped, it was because they weren’t doing ads. Anyways, a bunch of bull, I give. What’s really fun is how the SEO industry jumped in on this. I didn’t see it in time, but I would have loved to pipe in, too, but people were saying, come on. You’re site’s garbage. You don’t even do the basic level of SEO. I think John Mueller even said that. Maybe missaying that. Someone from Google or someone of a higher level said that.

This is an article on Search Engine Roundtables, If you go there and check it out, you’ll see what Scott was talking about. You’ll see the dips in traffic and stuff, but then you’ll also see some of the quotes from people and one of them shows a screenshot of their page, one of their example stories. The story is what, maybe 20%, not even, of the page? The rest of it’s ads and garbage.

Scott: I’d say less than 20%. It’s all ads. It’s super ad-heavy.

Ross: It’s amazing they get into rankings at all. The only reason they do is because people still want to go there and read it, and Google has to still deliver what people want.

Scott: I’m sure that what rankings they do have were all from external factors like links and all that stuff.

Ross: Anyway, it’s pretty humorous. Google, of course, is taking it seriously. They have to, and I’m sure their lawyers are like, woo-hoo! Got to earn our pay.

Scott: That’s not always the case.

Ross: Yup. I’m sure it’s pretty easy though, for them to battle this one, and it should be funny to see how it goes. They really don’t have a foot to stand on. Maybe they’ll put it once they hear the feedback. Again, some basic SEO stuff isn’t being done. Their amount of ads above the poll and the minimal content that’s unique, it’s just a mess.

Another article, this is on, is Diagnosing a traffic drop? Just breathe! I believe this one is by Smart.

Scott: Ann Smarty.

Ross: Yeah, Ann Smarty. This is a common question. We get contacted occasionally, we lost all our traffic. How can you help us? Doesn’t happen as often anymore because the Google Dance isn’t the same. Back in the days when we had Google Dance happening all of time and people, they just plummet out of nowhere. It was pretty severe and they’d be freaking out. Nowadays, it happens but people are more aware that they can take steps to bring themselves back into the rankings again.

If you do lose a lot of visibility from a core update, which don’t happen that often, you could be waiting a long time until the next update comes through and you have a chance to redeem yourself with the changes you’ve made. At any rate, if it does happen, don’t freak out and make too many changes at once. This is one of our things. I’m not saying this is from Ann’s article. She’s got a great article there, but we’ve got our own two bits about how to handle it.

The one thing that’s really important is not to go in and just start making changes. You really need to think this through. Talk it through with an SEO if you can. Talk it through with other people in your business and really look at very critically why does this happen. If you figure out something and you think, oh, this must be it, the smoking gun, get another opinion. It’s very easy to go and make a change. Then if you do wait for the next Core Update and you’re wrong, you’re going to be sitting in the same dumpster.

Scott: Maybe even a worse dumpster because now you’ve changed everything and you don’t know where to look anymore.

Ross: Conversely, don’t make too many changes. How will you know what worked and what doesn’t? Maybe that you did fix it but then you added a whole bunch of stuff that made it worse. Or removed stuff.

Scott: A really key first step though, too, is to make sure that it isn’t something that you’ve done. If your traffic drops drastically, have you made any significant changes to your website in the past few days to weeks that might account for it, and that could be the answer right there in some cases.

Ross: I’ll go through her 30-second summary. First of all, “A traffic drop doesn’t necessarily mean something’s wrong,” and that’s true. In some cases it’s just a natural fluctuation.That doesn’t mean you want to settle down and let your business go to hell, though. You need to rethink how you’re doing your marketing or actually do some marketing. A lot of people are just sitting on their websites thinking they’re going to stay at the top. It does not work that way—very rarely.

Next, “All sites have experienced a decline in traffic throughout their lifetime which can be explained by seasonality, loss of PPC budget, and many other factors.” That’s part two of her summary. 

Part three is, “When it comes to organic search traffic decline, it is often caused by stagnant content, the emergence of new competitors, or loss of backlinks.” That comes to what I just mentioned which is just sitting doing nothing. You’ve got to keep up. You’ve got to maintain your relevance, maintain that clear factor of earning the right to rank.

Competitors are a big thing, too. I had a call the other day and someone was saying, I just don’t understand why you’re not getting me to where I was before. I’m like, Well, nothing stays static. You’ve got the visibility. We’ve got you there. You just don’t have that number one rank because frankly, there’s a new competitor who’s doing this and doing that and stuff that you’re not doing. It’s not the same landscape. It’s constantly changing and what you had before, you don’t own it.

Next, “To diagnose a traffic drop, identify which traffic source is declining, then find which pages have lost the traffic.” Good point. Look at your Google Analytics. Look at whatever tracking solution you’re doing, determine what has dropped, and then you can start to diagnose why. You can’t just jump into this and just guess. It’s going to hurt you more often than not.

Here she is, she talks about what we talked about at the beginning here, “It is important to avoid hasty decisions, take your time exploring whether you lost any positions and which pages replaced yours.” Finally, “Try to evaluate why this shift has happened and how you may fix it.” What other things can you think of, Scott, that we should mention?

Scott: I’m going to throw in something that’s definitely less common but does happen, and we actually had a client that came to us one time after a traffic drop, and this turned out to be the case. They didn’t have a traffic drop but they thought they did because they were getting spam traffic to their site. The numbers after the traffic drop sales didn’t change. Nothing else changed, just the numbers displayed in Google Analytics changed, and it was traced back to—I can’t remember what it was—some kind of bot traffic.

They say it’s a referral from such and such a site to try to get you to click the link and blah-blah-blah, that kind of stuff. But it was delivering a high amount of what appeared to be organic traffic when you look at the general overview of the reports. Then you dig down deeper and realize you didn’t actually lose, it just looks like you had more than you did before. 

Ross: Referral spam perhaps, self-referrals.

Scott: It just comes down to before you act on any of this, make sure you know where the loss of traffic comes from because if that’s the case, you don’t have to do anything. If it’s organic traffic and it’s from Google Search and you can see that it is real organic or referral or whatever the case may be, then you can act appropriately.

Ross: Traffic drop means nothing if it’s not impacting your bottomline. For example, we lost a bunch of traffic a while ago, but our business is the same and that’s because one of our pages which was doing really well—not really, it simply didn’t drive any business—dropped. I guess someone else got a better ranking for it. It was like it’s a 301 redirect article.

Scott: Okay, whatever.

Ross: It was really just so overinflating our number and it wasn’t realistic, so it’s not a big deal.

Scott: That reminds me of StepForth as well—this must have been at least a decade ago, maybe more—where we suddenly had a surge of traffic from Buydo for an mp3 file or something.

Ross: Yes.

Scott: I was like, woah, look at all this traffic we’re getting. I don’t remember what it was, tens of thousands of visitors a day or something insane. You get so excited, but yet, the phone’s not ringing anymore. What the heck is going on? Then you investigate where it’s coming from. It’s useless, nothing traffic.

Ross: It was for an interview Jim did with the BBC.

Scott: Oh that’s what it was.

Ross: And then, you could also get some really scary traffic. That was horrifying, when Jim—Jim Hedger, we’re talking about here; he was working with us—did an article about a teenager who faked that he worked for Google. I can’t remember the whole story, but somehow managed to get past the recruiter and was going to be interviewed and stuff. It gives me cringes, but we started getting a ton of traffic for teenage boys. Come on. There’s some scary stuff out there. Anyway, all that stuff completely messes with your data. Take it all with a grain of salt. Okie dokie.

How to Maximize your Pages Click-Through Rate in Search Result Besides Improving your Rankings. This is an article by Aleyda Solis. Aleyda’s a powerhouse in our industry. She’s a brilliant lady. If she writes it, I follow it, I read it. It’s never anything but great. I liken this to when you’re running a business, it’s always a lot easier to sell to your existing clients than trying to get new clients or customers.

In her case, she’s talking about search results. It’s a lot easier to improve the click-through rate on your existing search results versus trying to build new ones and try to improve rankings on other ones. I’m summarizing this drastically. It’s a very long article. It’s on You’ll find this in our show notes if you’d like to see that on

In this case, just summarizing it, first, use your Google Search Console to evaluate the top pages that are showing up there and highlight the ones with high impressions but low click-through rate. Google Search Console shows this to you. 

By the way, anyone who doesn’t know what Google Search Console is, you have a right to access this. It’s yours. It’s Google’s portal. They’re showing you a bit of a behind-the-curtain view of what they see on your website and what issues they may have with it and such. Anyway, it’s very helpful and you can register to access it. Google Search Console, just type it in in Google and you’ll find it.

Scott: What’s Google?

Ross: Exactly. If you look at the pages with high impressions—what that means is it’s showing up a lot in search results but is getting few click-throughs—that’s obviously a bad thing. Well, try to improve that click-through rate. You can look at titles and meta descriptions for those pages that are ranking. Look at the ones around them that are obviously doing better than you because they couldn’t be doing worse. You’re not getting much click-through.

Look at what they’re saying. Hopefully, you know your buyer personas very well and you can say, I know what they want to hear. I’ve done more improvement on this. I know better. I’m going to rewrite this. The meta description has no relevance on whether or not you are going to rank but when you do rank, it helps get that click-through.

Next, take advantage of the additional SERP features like FAQs. There is structured data, essentially. Structured data, you’re going to add to your website to improve the chances that your FAQs will show up in search results. You’re doing this all the time, Scott. What other areas could we improve from SERP?

Scott: Definitely, the FAQ stuff has been bigger lately. We’re seeing a lot of questions from pages and not only in People Also Ask boxes—that’s when we would’ve done site links—but within the actual listing for an individual site, including questions on a page and then marking that up with a JSON-LD code with the FAQ page. You can learn all about that at

Ross: Yup.

Scott: I’m drawing a blank.

Ross: Then there’s rich snippets, There are different things you can do to a page to increase the chances you’re going to get this showing up. Why not? If you can get that, you’re certainly going to get more exposure. Also, look at non-relevant pages. These may be ranking and they are getting the click-through because they’re not relevant to the search. However, they’re ranking because they’re similar to another page.

We call that content cannibalization. There’s some conflict there. It’s getting the visibility whereas the page that’s really relevant isn’t. Consider merging them. You could just do a canonical. There’s a whole number of things you can do but merging them would be the ideal. Or if that non-relevant page is ranking somewhere else and you don’t want to mess with that, just improve the relevance of the one that isn’t showing. 

It’s a really, really low-hanging fruit. This sounds technical, and I get that, but it’s really not. It just takes a little bit of sweat, figure it out, and you could improve drastically the business you’re getting from your existing rankings. You’ve already done the hard work.

Scott: Especially if you can capitalize in getting some site links happening. That can be huge as well, but that’s not always easy to get.

Ross: No, it isn’t. Let’s take a quick break. When we come back, we’re going to talk about the Page Experience Update. 

Welcome back to SEO 101 on hosted by myself, Ross Dunn, CEO of StepForth Web Marketing and my company’s Senior SEO, Scott Van Achte. What is going on with the Page Experience Update?

Scott: For a little over a year now, we’ve been told that the big Page Experience Update was going to happen a couple of weeks from now, actually, in May of this year. We’re now finding out that it has been delayed. Google will be pushing it off until, it looks like, around mid-June, give or take, with a full rollout expected by, I believe, the end of August is what they’re calling for.

Now, of course, I know I’ve spoken about it on SEO 101. I’m sure you and John and various guests have as well. The Page Experience Update is not looking like it’s going to be as dramatic as we expected about a year ago. I don’t think it’s really going to stir things up too much, but if you can improve your Core Vitals and other factors, you’ve got a bit more time and you may still benefit from that.

You might be wondering, why don’t they just launch it in the middle of June and be done with that? Google really wants a little bit of extra time to monitor for unexpected and unattended issues so that if they roll it out, that gives them a bit of a chance to react. I believe it was Barry Schwartz who wrote one of the articles I read on Search Engine Land. He expects, along with the Page Experience Update, that there’ll be more increases to important things like HTTPS, mobile-friendly safe browsing, and not having intrusive interstitials on your website. If you have any of that going on or need some attention there, now would be a good time to address that.

Ross: The intrusive interstitials are pretty big these days. Those are ones that pop up in the middle of your experience while you’re going through a page and it just wrecks your entire web browsing experience. I hate them passionately and I will leave the site.

Scott: The best part is the “X” to close it on mobile is usually really tiny and not where you expect it to be.

Ross: Yeah, and when you click it, you end up clicking the ad. Oh, I hate that.

Scott: Oh, all the time.

Ross: That will impress upon me to another whole new level and to never go back to that site again. Some of them feel like you’re caught. You can’t do anything. You just won’t be able to close it, and then you’ve got to click the ad or something. It’s just the worst.

Core Web Vitals, we’ve talked about them before. I won’t get into the details. Just know that it’s about improving the experience users have when they visit your website. It’s very important and it is key. One of the articles—I didn’t actually put it in our notes here—John Mueller was saying this is the time to up your game as an SEO. It’s a really good time because you can perhaps edge out other SEOs by becoming experienced and knowledgeable about Core Web Vital upgrades.

I know we are doing that. We’re definitely taking this seriously and making sure that we have the talent in-house to make sure this works for our clients. Now, it’s going to be minor, the amount of benefit you have in terms of visibility. It is going to be a ranking factor, but it’s going to be so tiny that it’s not the end of the world. It was always shown that they make these things more important as time goes on.

Scott: For sure. Remember when having a secure website first was a thing. It was on the radar a decade ago. Everyone’s like, oh, critically, you have to switch over today. It’s super important. A lot of people did, and it actually hurt them because some people didn’t redirect properly and all that kind of stuff, and they end up not mattering for years. It didn’t really matter. Nobody could see a measurable difference, and that’s not the case today.

Ross: I wouldn’t say that if you don’t have one you can’t rank, but it’s certainly an important feature. It doesn’t look good if you don’t have it, that’s for darn sure.

Scott: Now, it’s free and simple. It used to be maybe complicated and expensive to have a secure site. It’s not like that anymore.

Ross: No, although I still get clients coming to me who are paying $80, $90, over $100 a year for their secure certificate. Not to say that’s not always useful. If they have a shopping, an ecommerce system, and they want the badges, they want to show that they have a secure system and maybe they want some of the better ones, yeah, you’ve got to pay for that, but a standard SSL certificate, free. There’s no cost. You might have to pay someone to install it for you if you don’t know how but that’s it. 

Okay, now, the Google Search Console has added the Page Experience Report  and filters for the Search Performance Report. I just glossed over this but didn’t read it. Tell me more.

Scott: There’s a new report if you’re logged into Google Search Console on the left-hand side under Experience. There’s a new report called Page Experience. Essentially, what that report does is summarize your experience signals, things like Core Web Vitals, mobile usability, security issues, and if you have any HTTPS issues. It sounds a lot like the Page Experience Update which is basically what it is. It’s to help you get ready for the Page Experience Update and afterwards, of course, as well.

One thing, again, is apparently, it will inform you of issues with interstitials, but I have not seen that, actually, in Search Console. I’m not sure if that’s a feature that will be coming or maybe we just can’t see it because we’re in Canada. Sometimes that’s just the way it rolls. If you’re logging into your Search Console account on a regular basis, which you probably should be, that’s a good page to check out, a good report to look at really quick, and if you have any failing URLs or any new issues, it’ll be quick and easy to spot and then you can investigate further.

Ross: If you want a third-party view of your Core Web Vitals—I find third-parties sometimes do a better job of outlining this stuff—I do recommend GTMetrix. It’s a fantastic tool. I was using it today in a client call. It’s just so nice to have the detail it provides. Google stuff is decent but it’s always changing and you really can’t rely it on to be very user-friendly, in terms of verbiage. You can tell programmers have written it half of the time. Do keep that in mind. GTMetrix is a great tool for that.

The Mueller Files. Is speed linking bad? Just a couple snippets here of news. Someone was asking, we call this link velocity in the SEO marketplace but essentially, if you build a lot of links really quickly to a page, is that going to hurt you? John says, “No, we don’t count links like that.” He didn’t say no, as typical as Google. He says, “We don’t count links like that,” but he was concerned about why he was bringing it up. What are you doing that you need to worry about this? Personally, I think link velocity is important. It comes down to it. If you’re doing it ethically, you don’t have to worry about it at all. If you get a whole bunch of links because people are talking about you, big deal. Good job.

Scott: Those are natural. That’s beautiful.

Ross: It’s when you are doing link building but often cheap, crap link building that is giving you tons of links really quickly. We’ll give you 1000 links for $10. You get 1000 links once and you’ve had none for the last year and they all come from garbage websites, that’s not going to look good. That’s why I cancelled the fact or stated that John didn’t say no. It’s a matter of the circumstances. If you have none, you go to a ton but it looks like garbage, that’s probably going to reflect poorly upon you.

Scott: I think it would be pretty easy for Google to identify. If you have a surge in links, say you did get 1000 links overnight or 10,000 links overnight, pretty easy for them to see if they were a result of blackhat link building because if they’re all, like you said, crap links, it’s super clear. But if you’ve got high authority links in that grouping of links, it’s a variety of types of links and quality and authority, it’s supernatural and it’s obvious and especially if they’re linking to new content. I think it can be pretty clear. I think their algorithms can figure that out pretty accurately.

Ross: They’re certainly on the lookout for anything that looks like spam, and that’s pretty clearly an issue with spam. Unnatural link report is a thing. It’s something you can get at Google Search Console as a warning. It can become a penalty, and Google says, hey, there are a lot of unnatural links pointing to you. These do not look right. What are you up to? Beware. You’re on notice. Things might be going to hell. Anyway, take what he says with a grain of salt. It’s very true. Typically, they don’t look at it in that way. It’s just a matter of the quality of the links.

Google seems to have fixed the soft 404 bug. This is from Search Engine Roundtable. A while ago, perfectly fine pagees were being noted as having soft 404s and were being removed from search results. So if you’ve seen some oddities, we’ve talked about this on a prior episode, but it appears to have been fixed. There’s not much more to say about that, just it’s good news for anyone who might have been affected by this.

In most cases, people won’t even realize that that was the issue unless they’re monitoring all the news that we live and breathe. Hopefully, you’ll see a little bit of a bump up on a few pages that you lost rankings for appearing again, and that’s always a good thing to see. 

Tell me, Scotty, what have you been working on lately that we can share? We’ve got a few SEO contracts as of late. Anything interesting, like schema, perhaps, you’ve had to work through?

Scott: I don’t know that I’ve really spotted anything that’s super of interest to anybody. We even talked about a little bit of the FAQ stuff today with the JSON-LD markup, and that’s something I’ve been seeing a lot more of. We’re pushing a bit more to make sure that any of that FAQ stuff is marked up and including things like questions on core service pages and FAQ block in there. Sometimes those questions are showing up in search, and that’s a good thing, for sure. That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve noticed very recently about what’s changing or growing.

Ross: A lot of it’s some writ. You’re used to this; been a few years now. I had a call today with a client I was mentioning earlier, but it’s about Shopify. We’re doing a bunch of Shopify assistance and stuff. It’s become such a mainstay of businesses these days, so we were discussing ways to improve the site’s speed and talking about returns, how to improve the return systems because they’re going so heavily online now that they are finding it difficult to manage returns manually, so they’re looking at different solutions.

It’s been eye-opening for me. I’ve never been a Shopify Guru by any stretch. Obviously, I’m getting a pretty quick lesson on it these days. I find it interesting that it’s very similar to WordPress. We’re using experts so I’m learning from them. The more apps you have, the slower it runs. Specific apps are worse than others. There are better reporting systems than the ones that are built into Shopify. It’s been a fascinating experience, learning more about it.

If anyone out there using the Shopify realm is looking for some help, again, I don’t sound very confident but that’s because I’m still learning, but I’m never afraid of hiring experts. We’ve got some good people on hand to help with it and the SEO is pretty straightforward. That part, we have down.

Anyway, just a thought there to add at the end of the episode. I hope you all enjoyed the show. I’m sorry again, John Carcutt’s not around. He’s just been too busy. I do hope he’s going to reappear again at some point but at this point, I’m going to have guests on the show and Scott to back me up.

Remember, we have a show notes useletter you can sign up for at where you don’t have to miss a single link and where you can refresh your memory of past shows at any time. I’m going to be posting the video of my interview with Joost de Valk a couple of weeks ago, now, our episode 404. All the show notes are there, though. You can check it out and see new links and such.

Also, our Facebook page has been a little quiet lately. We need some questions. If you have any questions you’d like to share with us, please feel free to post them on that Facebook group, easily found by searching SEO 101 Podcast on Facebook. We’d love to hear from you. Have a great week and remember to tune in to future episodes which air every week on

Scott: Great. Thanks for listening, everyone.


Mueller Files

Search Engine Roundtable – Is Speed Link Building Bad? Google Says It Doesn’t Count Links Like That But

Search Engine Roundtable – Google Seems To Have Fixed The Soft 404 Bug