Episode 13: Google core update and a silent Google Ads location update

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What's in this episode?

Mark Williams-Cook and Rob Lewis will be discussing the Google core update and a new, unannounced change to Google's location targeting that will be affecting your campaigns.

Google core update We'll be covering the data that's come in about the Google update and what we've seen so far.

PPC location update Google has quietly updated how location targeting works on all accounts, which may be affecting your campaign costs.

Podcast transcription:

Show note links:

Daily Mail SEO Director post on Google Help Forum:

MC: Welcome to episode 13 of the Search with Candour podcast recorded on Friday 7th of June 2019. My name is Mark Williams-Cook and I'm joined again by PPC hero Mr. Rob Lewis!

RL: Hello!

MC: In this episode we'll be talking about the announced core Google algorithm update and the data we've seen so far as, well as a smaller update that got pushed out yesterday which Google was kind enough to actually furnish us with some details for. Secondly, we'll be talking to Rob about an important change to Google Ads which actually seems to have not been announced!

So, we're going to start on the Google core update as it's called. It's quite a special one, in that as far as I know this is the first time Google has actually told the SEO community that they're going to be pushing a specific algorithm update ahead of time. Normally we just get told as these things are going out or sometimes it's left to the SEO community just to see that there's been big shifts which will confirm that for us. On the 2nd of June the Search Liaison account run by Danny Sullivan tweeted:

He's linked to an old tweet thread where he's just talked about Google updates in general. The most interesting tweet from that thread says:

I think what Google's trying to say there is that if for instance if you see a big loss in ranking, it's not necessarily anything you're doing wrong because that hopefully would have been picked up before if it was a technical SEO issue. What they're actually saying is that their algorithm now is rewarding other sites which previously were unrewarded. Now I disagree where it says “Google makes several of these broad core algorithm updates per year.”

In my experience we've only seen two or three sometimes a year where they're affecting the whole of Search. We know Google does make hundreds of small adjustments and these tend to go relatively unnoticed unless they're new features, but what they call core algorithm updates are particularly interesting because they tend to have a big impact. Normally I think it's worth noting it's big sites that see the effect of these algorithm updates first and that's down to a variety of reasons, just that they'll have bots visiting their site more regularly, they're a lot more substantial in terms of the link graph. So, as other sites get affected, the big sites see the impact a lot quicker than the small sites necessarily do. So, it's quite common for these core updates actually to take days and sometimes weeks to fully roll out. So we're only really a week on here and we've just seen the first wave of data coming back from a lot of the tool vendors that monitor Search, and it's still very early to try and draw any conclusions from what we're seeing.

I think the biggest talked about loss was, and I think many people were happy about it in some way, that the Daily Mail website saw a huge drop in traffic and that was tracked on the SISTRIX platform and funnily enough a thread has been highlighted on the Google support forums which is apparently posted by the SEO Director of the Daily Mail, but there's no way to actually confirm that it obviously could just be anyone that's used his name and it seems a really public place to ask for help. Apparently, what he's posted in the Google Search Console ‘Help’ forum says:

So either that is some kind of troll - maybe trying to pose as the SEO Director of Daily Mail or that's been a profound shock to them that they've decided they need to do everything possible to try and resolve that. There are some other data points out there; so the SEMrush Search Volatility sensor, so this is a tool that tries to monitor how much change has been in search result pages over different categories, is rating the news category and sports category as 7.1/10. Most of their other categories are sort of between 1-3/10 which means pretty much nothing happening there. So that data, at least on the news side, would coroborate the change we've seen with Daily Mail and SISTRIX has published a selection of “winners and losers domains” which are websites that have had significant increases in search visibility and the other side of the coin, the domains have had significant drops, so in their list of winners is:

Then there's a couple more news websites and actually some health/medical websites that have all gained around 1/3 in their Search traffic. That's interesting because that is essentially a mix of news websites, car/auto websites and medical sites. They've published the losers as well and we're seeing a really similar set of sites there and a similar distribution of traffic loss with the first few taking up to a 50% loss and then going down quickly to the 20-30% range and all of the sites they've listed as well such as Daily Mail, Nuffield Health,, are all sports, medical and news sites which corroborates with the data we've seen in SEMrush. There's been some analysis done by SearchMetrics as well on the changes in the SERPs. Marcus Tober from SearchMetrics has said

“my preliminary analysis is that parts of the core update for March were reverted”, and he said “not systematically. It seems though that Google changed some factors to brand/authority too much in March and this is what was reverted.”

So the March update was referred to as the ‘medic update’ because some people were claiming it particularly affected medical information sites or a site that falls into the category of ‘your money or your life’, which basically means they're monetised sites but they're providing very important information. If this information was wrong it could cause actual harm, so medical sites obviously falls into that category of ‘if you're if you've got a website ranking well in Google and it's got medical information Google has a either a motivation or responsibility to try and make sure that information is correct’. We did see quite a few medical sites change in the March update, so some people seem to be saying that maybe the update’s been adjusted. Dr. Pete Myers from Moz shared some early data as well that confirmed there were a lot of changes in the ‘your money with your life’/’medical space’. So, I think in summary nobody can yet really say exactly what's going on.

The points to note are that the core update seems to have affected a wider variety of sites than any of the updates we've seen before and it's definitely not finished yet, so we'll keep an eye on it and I imagine we'll be talking about it next week as we've got more data and maybe you can start to draw some conclusions on what's going on.

But wait there's more - there are more Google updates! Yesterday the Google Search Liaison started a tweet thread saying:

So to add some context to that I think what they're trying to say is for sites such as blogspot or WordPress where you have different users running what are essentially different websites just on subdomains, they will be treated as separate sites where Google can identify that trend. However generally subdomains on a normal website will be treated as part of the root domain. They add on finally:

The only important thing I can add to this is through some Q&A; we found out that this update is only affecting organic listings which means you've still got all of the extra real estate - special rich snippet results, kind of the AMP blocks at the top of Google that are up for grabs. So I tried a search for World War 3, as I know this triggers a particular kind of result and sure enough I found the three top news results were all from The Express, the first two organic listings were from The Express and that search result fits these new rules meaning that they've got a maximum of two organic listings but in reality the whole above-the-fold belongs to them on desktop and the same on mobile in that everything you see is from one site. So, there are still ways to secure a lot of real estate on the front page they're just trying to tune down when you get organic results and you get 4-6 from the same site.

Okay onto our section about PPC and this is something Rob and I were talking about last week. I mentioned it I think very briefly on the episode before last, we discovered what we believe to be, and confirmed with other people in the industry - they haven't heard anything about it, an unannounced update within Google Ads to location settings and I thought we'd give it another week just to see if it was maybe a test or if Google was going to actually announce something about it. I don't think anything has been said?

RL: I haven’t seen anything, no.

MC: Okay so nothing's been said so we'll introduce this to you if you haven't heard about it, so do you want to tell us a bit more about that Rob.

RL: Sure. Well I was optimising a client's account the other week and I noticed there was a change in the types of locations that were generating traffic and I suppose just to backtrack and give some background, when you set up a campaign in Google Ads you can choose to target a specific set of locations. You may target for example the whole of the UK but there are always three options that you can choose from when you set location targeting. The first one is where Google allows you to target people in or who show interest in your targeting locations and this is the broadest default setting that Google automatically opts you into when you create a campaign. it's often recommended not to use this option because Google will sometimes decide to show your adverts to users in irrelevant locations and in some cases other countries as well, even if you set your location just to target the UK or a specific town city or area. Google will make assumptions about the traffic and those assumptions might be that the person has previously shown an interest in that location so it's worthwhile showing adverts to people in that location. Sometimes it's worth choosing this option if you sometimes get big orders or leads from outside your target country or town and occasionally that's a good way of capturing those leads that you wouldn't normally have tried to capture.

So that's the first option and I generally don't recommend people choosing that option ever just because it's a bit too broad. Instead I recommend that people choose the second option which is to target people in your targeted locations and this is the safest recommended setting for most advertisers because it ensures that you only ever show your adverts to people who at the time of them in Googling your services they're physically located in that location. So, if you only want to service the United Kingdom, setting your location settings to that will ensure that you're only showing adverts to people in the United Kingdom. There's also a third option which allows you to target people who are searching for your services; so they might be based in Scotland for example but they're searching for a service that's based in London so the traffic might still be relevant to you. But in most cases I nearly always recommend the second option just because it gives you confidence that you're only showing adverts to people who are valuable to you, so even if you wanted to target users who are not physically in your location but they might be searching for services that are in your location. I still think it's worthwhile to choose option two.

Just to give you an example you might want to target the whole of the UK but choose to only show adverts when the user searches for your service near your location such as ‘fridge repair in Sheffield’ and that user might be in Cornwall for example, but for whatever reason they need their fridge repaired in Sheffield. It happens sometimes and when it does you want to capture them.

MC: So this is a way essentially we can we can have one campaign running where we are just targeting users in the physical location so we've got full control of that, and then a second campaign running where we have got a broader geographic catchment area but we're saying that people need to specifically search for the area we want them to.

RL: That's right.

MC: So, it might be good for instance if you're targeting perhaps a big company and they have a branch somewhere else, but it's the head office that's searching to fulfil their requirement. So, if they are maybe searching for ‘first-aid training London’ and it's a Norwich company and they have a branch in London and they just do that.

RL: Yes that's right. In all in all cases I will nearly always recommend is use option to only target people in your targeted locations just because it saves you having to invest money in people who are based in other countries, other towns, where it's not relevant. It gives you control over where you want to show your ads. All of this recently used to be very easy to control but I was optimising a campaign for one of my clients recently - it was a Display campaign which was supposed to just be showing adverts to people in Norfolk, but I noticed I was getting clicks and impressions from India, China and the USA and like I say this campaign was just supposed to target people in Norfolk in the United Kingdom. So I saw this and I was about to berate myself for making a rookie error because I thought I must have inadvertently left the location targeting to the default first option to target people who are in or who may show interest in my location, but when I looked at the location settings I noticed I had it selected to option number two. But they've removed that option and replaced it with something else.

So, whereas before it used to say ‘target people in your locations’ it now says ‘people in or who regularly are in your targeted locations’ so the new targeting algorithm considers whether the user regularly visits the target location regardless of where they're based and Google will make that decision for you. So presumably that's why some of my clients’ campaigns and presumably other advertisers have seen somewhat of a broadening up of traffic being generated in other areas where they wouldn't normally advertise.

MC: So this is going to affect actually all campaigns that have historically just selected and run with that option, right? so it's just going to have changed.

RL: Yep absolutely. At the moment I have one major question which is how regular is regular?

MC: Yeah right! So, there's a lot of people that commute to work, so take your fridge repair example. So. if I'm commuting to London everyday - for work you could argue I'm regularly in London, and then if I search when I'm at home for fridge repair normally I'd say it's going to be a local. I want someone in Norwich but potentially people in London - their ads could be shown to me because Google's determined I'm regularly in London.

RL: Absolutely. I probably head into London about five times a year and by no means will I say I'm a regular visitor to London, I travel for work or the odd trip so I don't really want to be shown adverts for a hairdresser’s in Soho when I live in Norwich. If I go on holiday to Thailand, I don't want to be shown adverts for a restaurant that's based in Bangkok when I return to the UK because it's just not relevant. So, I'm really curious as to how Google makes that determination of what ‘regular’ actually is and I mean I'm one of those people who always likes 100% control over all of my advertising. So in an ideal world, Google would allow us to set the criteria ourselves, if the user visits a location, let's just say 20 times per month, then tell Google to consider that as a regular user and you know maybe they'll give us that option in the future which would be a pretty cool feature actually.

But in my opinion it's a prime example of the advertiser being stripped of a little bit of control and just having to be a bit more vigilant about where the ads are showing.

MC: We've seen this as a trend though, I mean we've spoken about this before so I think we talked about the changes in the shopping campaign where they were shown and before that we were discussing about how Google have removed the exact match keyword matching and replaced it with close variants. So, this is all part of the model they're recommending of broad to narrow.

RL: Yeah absolutely.

MC: But it would be nice if they tell us when they change doings like this!

RL: Absolutely. Like I say I only noticed because one of my clients had accrued some costs in India and there's an argument that if the target market regularly visit India then we should show adverts to them when they're outside of the UK however for this particular client their service is only valuable or worthwhile to someone when they're in the UK at that time. So there are always reasons why businesses will only ever want to show adverts to people who are physically in that location at a time. So if I'm promoting a venue in London for example, I might only want that venue to be promoted during certain times and to certain people who are within a certain radius regardless of whether they're regularly in the location or not. Sometimes it only makes sense to show adverts to people when they're physically near your area of business.

MC: So, this change has obviously happened. I doubt Google is going to listen to us talk and change anything based on this, so I assume we have to start excluding locations or how best do you think to deal with this?

RL: So, I think it's all down to the individual advertiser. I think everyone should be regularly looking at their location data anyway, if you don't you can look at it really easily by clicking on the ‘Reports’ tab looking under ‘Geographic User Location reports’ and having a look to see which towns or countries have been generating traffic to your site and just use some common sense and decide whether or not you want your adverts to show in those areas. Perhaps compare the last couple of weeks worth of location data to the previous two weeks before they made the change now. If you do receive traffic from areas which are just not relevant to you then I recommend you just exclude them: go under your ‘location settings’ and exclude every location where you don't want to be shown and unfortunately that may mean excluding every single country other than the UK or other than your location/country that you're targeting.

Alternatively, if you're feeling brave you can trust in Google and see how each location performs. You don't know it might be that they know something that you don't, maybe people in other countries or in towns where you don't service are highly relevant to your business and you're going to get some revenue out of them you don't know!

So two options are: exclude them that's the safest option, or let it run for a while and see what happens.

MC: Excellent thank you rob that's all we have time for this week, it's really flown by this week!

RL: Yeah it's gone quick.

MC: As usual you can get all of the show notes at and we'll be back with another episode in one week’s time.

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