by Joe Borders,
Marriage and Family Therapist
December 18, 2020
Your Therapy Website and Google December 2020 Core Update
So you’ve got a website for your therapy practice and you’ve noticed your search engine rankings have dropped (or improved) all of a sudden. Google made some changes this month that might explain this.
TLDR: Google rolled out a new update this month that may suck for your search engine rankings. It’s not clear yet exactly what changes they made, but I’m thinking its their new quality metrics: “core web vitals”. I’m an SEO nerd and I’m in the middle of fixing my own core web vitals. This article is here mostly because I did a bunch of research and need to write it down to solidify it for myself and to hopefully ease some of my colleague’s anxiety about this subject….. or at the least explain why they’re experiencing a drop in rankings.
Google typically makes a couple of major core updates every year. They are constantly fine tuning their algorithms to deliver the best experience and most relevant results to their users. Sometimes this means major changes in the ways they rank pages in search results.
If you’re like me and you work on your site’s SEO and track your search engine rankings, you may have noticed some changes in your rankings this month. On December 3rd I saw a significant drop in my rankings. I spent a good amount of time scrambling around trying to figure out what I did wrong and fixing any minor issues I could find, but sometimes its not that you messed up anything, Google just changed the rules.
Googles December 2020 Core Update
Earlier in the month Google rolled out a core update on December 3rd. I woke up to another significant drop in my search results today and after some googling around it appears that they made another adjustment today (December 18th). Google’s primary aim is to make their users happy by delivering the most relevant and useful results. The way they determine what is useful and relevant changes over time. The big problem is that they very rarely tell us how exactly they come to this determination. Because of this, it takes a while for the dust to settle before people start coming to educated guesses on what is affecting the changes we’re seeing in this update. As such, its really hard to say what Google changed, but my bet is on their new(ish) “Core Web Vitals” Metrics.
Core Web Vitals
Navigating to this area of your Google search console will give you information about how your website performs when loaded on mobile and desktop devices. …….and that’s about as far as I’m going to go here because
Google Algorithm Changes Are Frustrating!
Sometimes when Google changes things its a simple matter of adding text descriptions to images or adding keywords or something….but other times it is horribly confusing and you can pretty much only fix it by hiring someone to do it for you. Unfortunately this time its the later. If you have a very simple site and are familiar with the backend workings of it then you might be able to figure this out….but I haven’t been able to and my developers are struggling with it too.
So here’s the deal: The core web vitals are supposed to be a measurement of how well your site loads and how fast it loads…..that sounds badly written, but that’s actually the deal. Google’s official explanation is that they want your website to be “delightful”. The following is a screenshot from the actual description given by google for what it means for a page to be “delightful”….can anyone tell me what “jank is?….is that the noun form of Janky???? Next time I come home and my wife asks me how my day was I’m going to tell her it was delightful because it was free of jank.:
So essentially what’s going on here is that they want you to make sure that your pages load quickly and all at once. No images loading after any other part of your page. You can read more specifics about all of this in this Moz article.
Google said that all of this was going to eventually affect rankings, but they had told us this would likely begin in 2021. I’m in the middle of some major updates to my site, but right after that, my developers and I are going to work on tackling this new issue. When this happens I will update you with what I find and how we figure this out.
What To Do About This
As with all Google algorithm changes, there will be winners and losers in this. If your rankings went down, first of all, don’t panic. You don’t want to run around spending a bunch of time on this and clicking random buttons that might hurt you in the end. If you can get into Google Search Console and the backend of your website check out these things:
- do you have any manual actions or security issues on your site? You can find these on the left hand side of your Google Search Console. If you have any issues here be sure to address these first.
- do you have any broken links on your site? If so fix them or redirect them to an updated link if one exists. To find broken links and pages that need redirects:
- Visit your Google Search Console
- Click “coverage” on the left
- On the right hand screen click the box that says “excluded”. This will load all of the pages on your site that have been excluded from Google indexing for some reason. You may see a lot of links here. This is not cause for immediate concern. I’ve got well over 1,000 pages here that are rightly there and are not negatively affecting my rankings. You should look over all of these but mainly you want to:
- scroll down and click on “crawled – currently not indexed” – look through these and see if there are any links that can be fixed or redirected.
- scroll down to “crawl anomaly” and do the same.
- Scroll down to “not found (404).” These are links that Google can’t find. Maybe you deleted them or accidentally changed their names. Set up redirects (301) for any of these that you can redirect to the correct page or a relevant page that you would like users to go to instead of the one they’re looking for.
- run your site through gtmetrix.com. This will give you a general idea of your site speed. Google uses different parameters, so gtmetrix is not going to 100% tell you if Google thinks your site is slow, but if you’re getting below a C you should probably consult your host or web developer about this.
You may be able to speed up your site by doing some simple things like reducing image sizes. I’ve had a good number of people try to upload 4mb images to my site. A simple fix to this is to open your images in paint, resize them to a size you’ll actually use and save them. Simply opening an image in paint, making a small edit, and saving it can reduce the image size. Historically its been said that the only thing google cares about is your “time to first bite” and time to fully loaded (You can find these on your gtmetrix report). But there’s lots of new stuff here too and we don’t fully know yet how Google is considering them.
- Be patient. Often times when Google makes changes like this you’ll see a regression towards the mean over time and if you’re doing everything you can you’re likely to see some improvement over time.
- If you’re pretty sure you’re seeing a significant drop in your rankings and don’t know what to do, consult an SEO expert. I typically refer therapists to Becky DeGrossa at counselingwise.com
*update 12/19/20* All my losses from 12/18 have recovered today ^_^. See tip # 4 above.
About the Author
Joe Borders is a marriage and family therapist located in Roseville and Sacramento. He is primarily a sex positive gender therapist, but also specializes in working with couples, teens, addiction, and the LGBTQ community. Joe is also the owner and founder of SacWellness. You can find out more about him by visiting his sacwellness listing or by visiting his website: therapy and counseling in Roseville and Sacramento