In my 26 years of business and my 10+ years in SEO, I’ve learned that the following adage is true:

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

There’s a distinct reason why you buy Toyotas, Hondas and now Hyundais.  Do you think Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu obtained their market capitalization by sheer innovation?  (By the way, this isn’t a political piece – so if there are any thoughts about the right/wrong of companies from certain countries or parts of the world, please feel free to go rant on reddit or otherwise)

Last (Wo)Man (or Website) Standing

Another postulation I’ve seen prove itself true time and time again is:

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Google decided to do another “core update” to its search algorithm recently – last month, to be specific.  It was called the “January 2020 Core Update.”

Google announces Jan 2020 Core Update on Twitter

Source

While it didn’t shake up the results as much as the one in August 2018 (aka “Medic”), it did some substantial changes to the SERPs (search engine results pages).  You can see from the following, websites were affected more significantly than the previous two:

Core Updates Comparison by Moz

The question always becomes, “What happened?” or “What was the actual change?” and “How can we be better prepared for the next core update (or proceeding ones thereafter)?”  Well, as you can see from the many previous updates, very few of the top “experts” confidently defined what were applied in the updates.  The majority end up pointing to what they theorized in August 2018 (or the months after) like EAT and other conservative theories that you can pull from Google’s search engine guidelines for its internal raters. Like Brittany would tell you:

A lot of people feel E-A-T is a huge factor moving forward. Just for the case of this post, it’s always been a factor. It’s been that way for the last ten-plus years, and we need to continue doing that stuff despite these various updates.

However, we recommend a different approach.  We didn’t spend as much time monitoring Moz’s blog in September 2019 or during the previous core updates, but we recommend doing so moving forward.  In it, Dr. Peter J. Meyers shared his thoughts almost 3 weeks after the update occurred.  In particular he showed the winners and losers.

Top 10 Websites to Copy in February 2020

We say “copy,” but we mean emulate.  We just hate using the same lexicon repeatedly in our posts.  Nevertheless, you should examine the many practices these sites are implementing to obtain their significant benefits they are receiving from these updates.  First off, let’s list off the top ten:

top 10 websites to learn from for SEO after (2020) Jan's Core Update

Landing Page Best Practices?  Homepage Meta description models?

The next question by anyone who has a clue about SEO becomes, what do we copy from these sites?

We could write a tome about what you should emulate from all our 20+ years of being exposed to SEO and our 10+ years of practicing it and following our founder.  He would tell you that you should literally practice what timely enough was explained by Brittany Muller recently:

  • Foundational SEO: Titles, metas, headers, alt text, site speed, robots.txt, site maps, UX, CRO, Analytics, etc.
  • Schema markup: FAQ, Breadcrumbs, News, Business Info, etc.
  • Research what matters for your industry! (take a strategic stance on your industry and what’s important in your space)
  • Focus on Local; National SERPs are less reliable
  • Write good and useful content for people: While you can’t optimize for BERT, you can write better for NLP.
  • Understand and fulfill searcher intent, and keep in mind that there’s oftentimes multi-intent
  • Entity and topical integration baked into your IA (Info Architec): Have a rich understanding of your audience and what they’re seeking.
  • Optimize for featured snippets (kind of like ones we have with “most popular topics on the internet” or “average ssat score for phillips andover”)
  • Invest in visuals
  • Cultivate engagement
  • Repurpose your content: Blog post → slides → audio → video
  • Prune or improve thin or low-quality
  • pages (Neil Patel and his sidekick on his podcast say it all the time)
  • Get customer insights!
  • Find keyword opportunities in Google Search Console (again Neil says this all the time)
  • Target link-intent keywords
  • Podcasts
  • Provide unique research with visuals

Thank you again Brittany.  Honestly, this was a Godsend.  Oh, and if a SEO star you reads this, please let us know if you want us to omit some of the verbatim we shared b/c these were mostly your words.  We adjusted a few of them, but you deserve credit.  Thus, the 2 mentions and linkbacks.

Interestingly, the verticals these top 10 sites occupy are:

  • (3.5) Finance (finance.yahoo, marketwatch, mortgagecalculator, HSH [mortgage editorial])
  • (2) Medical (VeryWellHealth, VeryWellFamily)
  • (3) Social/Trendy/Fashion/Hobby (AKC [dogs], Instagram, vogue)
  • (1.5) Reference (finance.yahoo, dictionary)

So, the update may point to which verticals the Core Updates impacts the most.

Top 10 Websites to Evaluate (+4 others losing -28%)

The owners of these 10 probably wish Billy Ocean’s hit song wasn’t right.

Top 10 losers after the Jan 2020 Google Core Update

Now you see we say “evaluate” instead of “avoid” or “do everything you can NOT to copy their practices.”  We intentionally write “evaluate” because we believe you should not only do this with the top 10 sites above, but you should potentially be even more critical with these sites to understand what may have caused their precipitous drops.  You should probably evaluate the same areas that we talk about above:

  • The whole slew of items Brittany shared in Feb 2020 (above)

However, we believe you should go two steps deeper.  We believe you should even evaluate other factors beyond traditional SEO elements like:

  • HR trends by the company behind the website
  • The Value their ELT places in Digital (SEO in particular)

SEO Seriousness Based on HR Signals

As we preached to Costco’s upper management, there are many companies that truly need to “up the ante” when it comes to SEO.  In our piece titled, “Dear Costco – Your SEO Needs Help”, we attempt to show why it’s important to  take their SEO more seriously so they can reap the rewards their westside neighbors have and helped its leader become the richest in the world.  However, two secrets we didn’t highlight as significantly as we should have are: 2 of the largest employers in the Puget Sound fail to hire more than 2 actual SEOs in their entire company.  Costco has 214,000 employees (according to Google).  Only 2 of them are SEOs.  The other organization we won’t name here has 100,000 employees and again, only 2 of them are SEOs; supposedly this latter organization also impacts $15.7 billion of our state’s economy.  Now, let’s look at the company that probably takes it the most seriously on the commercial side of things: Amazon.  While we can’t tell you the exact number, we can see from a Glassdoor entry for searches related to it that Amazon was looking for as many as 85 SEO Managers.

We probably don’t need to do the math for you, but in case you want it, that’s 42,500% more in just SEOs they are hiring — we have NO idea if the current staff would double or triple this number.

It’s no wonder why Amazon holds the #3 spot for most SEO’d site in the world.

SEO Seriousness based on the ELT

Now, let’s define what ELT is for the many who probably don’t care.  ELT stands for the Executive Leadership Team which includes the CEO, the COO and CFO for starters.  These 3 are usually the most powerful in most corporate structures with the CEO and the Chairman of the Board being usually the person who has the most pull.  Now, the person the SEOs usually report to is usually the CMO.  The Chief Marketing Officer, if it even exists, typically is NOT an expert in SEO.  I say “if it even exists” because not all organizations take marketing seriously.

Many CEOs feel it’s not important enough to even have someone who heads up potentially the most important function in maintaining and expanding a business.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t blame some CEOs because frankly, many CMOs can’t prove their net worth to the CEOs and that’s why in many cases the CEOs end up not taking them seriously (and even including them on their ELTs).  At my short time at Amazon, I saw the CMO receive this sort of treatment despite the fact that Jeff Bezos actually believes significantly in marketing.  So much so, I cite him almost every time I talk about who believes in SEO the most in our capitalistic society.  Nevertheless, since CMOs fail to even communicate what the value of SEO is, I’ve seen SEO as one of the lowest priorities for a majority of the companies I’ve worked in – the interesting thing is that for all savvy CEOs/owners that I’ve worked for, they’ve ALWAYS had some pulse on what SEO is because they knew it was what I originally preached in 2010: Super Efficient Opportunity.

Sadly, today in 2020, we might have to call it the “silent, (but) efficient opportunity” since many of the ELTs still undervalue the incredible opportunity.

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