Google Ranking Sub-Pages Above Homepage: New Algo Update Hits UK Shores

Google have rolled out a change to the algorithm which seems to be having quite broad effects. We’re seeing a number of fluctuations with client rankings, though in this case it is not always the position of the listing that is the change; but the the listing itself that is returned for the same search term. In many cases, where a site homepage previously ranked for a term, it has now been replaced by an explicit subpage.

Aaron Wall of SEOBook, a leading SEO resource based in the US, first reported this change in early November for the US market. In his post, Wall posits that for the set of sites that rank well for a term, rather than rank the page that might “traditionally” be the strongest (which is normally any sites’ homepage), Google is then applying “internal site searches & back in other relevancy factors to look for other popular & relevant pages on those sites“.

Looking at our client site rankings, and conferring with industry peers, it seems that this change hit UK shores around December 20th.

Here’s an example:

Simon owns one of the UK’s most established and authoritative sites retailing car parts www.potn.co.uk. The site retails products such as brake discs, alloy wheels, exhausts, high-performance tyres etc. Pretty much anything one may require in order to “pimp one’s ride”. Previously the site homepage has ranked in the top five for almost any term (product) that they retail. Post the 20th December update, Google now return the specific subpage listing for the term in question.

Search “alloy wheels” returns the following result, which was previously the homepage.

Google results for Alloy Wheels, Showing POTN' Alloy Wheel Sub-page

Although the listing has slipped a couple of places, one may imagine that the click-through rate on this listing may increase, as the URL shown is descriptive and entirely relevent to the user query. Plus, given the landing page is now the explicit alloy wheels page (on which conversion activity occurs), the revenue effect may be neutral to positive.

What is Happening Here?

Google are taking a further step in the persuit of relevancy and a better user experience, by applying site search (and other relevancy signals) to identify an even more suitable page from within the site; than the naturally more-authoritative homepage.

Who Should this Benefit?

Provided a site is well built, and contains good quality original content, any site can benefit; though in particular this could be useful for ecommerce websites, such as the POTN example above. Ecommerce retailers with multiple products, may now find that the specific product page now ranks where the homepage did previously – which should be great for both user experience and conversions.

Who Are the Losers?

Sites with poor information architecture and little, (or poor quality) content will fail to capitalise on this change. Sites that have failed to invest in content and infrastructure, but have instead chosen to game the algorithm by agressive link-building tactics will also find their poor strategy may no longer pay.

What if Google Are Showing the “Wrong” Page?

In most cases, this change should be quite positive for most quality websites. In some cases however, you may find that a sites blog (by its’ very nature more dynamic and containing more written content than a homepage) usurps a sites’ homepage. We have a client site, with very little written content on the homepage where the blog has usurped the homepage result for the sites core term. In this case, this is not a desirable effect; however we suspect from experience, that the user interaction (as fed back in the search metrics), will prompt the listing to revert to the homepage soon. In the meantime we’re making a couple of on-page changes to the blog, to de-prioritise the site’ core terms.

Future Considerations

This latest change to the Google algorithm makes an even stronger case for the necessity of good quality original content. Site architecture is pushed higher up the agenda. Best-practise in site artchitecture being to establish a flat and wide structure; that is, where content is divided up into as many channels as possible (without comprimising on what makes sense), where each channel is as close as possible to the homepage. That said; if applying site search is indeed the method Google are using to qualify sub-pages, perhaps there is a risk we may see the re-emergence of “SEO landing pages” and low quality keyword-stuffed content again.

About the author

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Nichola Stott

Nichola is Founder and Director of theMediaFlow; with over 10 years experience in online marketing, over six of which in search. Nichola learned all about search at Yahoo! as head of UK search partners.

8 Comments

  1. Good overview of the change Nichola. I haven’t seen any dramatic effects on any client sites as we tend to go for longer tail search terms. That said, I agree that with the overall content of a site is becoming more and more important.

    It will also be interesting to see if Google can distinguish between quality content pages and Blog pages, more-so for the company / organisation whose website it is. I guess a good internal linking structure can overcome this?

  2. Dan Bell says:

    Really in-depth write up on a subject I have been looking into for a number of clients, all who have been ‘affected’ by this change.

    In the first client, they rank on the first page for a competitive term and their homepage has been replaced with the relevant sub-page which is fantastic for conversions or at least appears so with the little data available.

    However, they are the only site on the 1st page where Google is listing the sub-page as opposed to the homepage which seems strange as many of the other sites are totally themed around this specific keyword.

    Any thoughts ??

    In the second client, an inner page had replaced the homepage for their main keyword, however it was not the ideal landing page as the site structure meant that Google had picked a specific product, rather than say a category landing page which in theory is ‘more’ relevant’ to the user.

    A few changes to the optimisation have been made with the intention of trying to steer Google to the page we would ideally like to see appear in the Google. In a short space of time, Google has already recognised the changes and the client now has the ‘correct’ page ranking.

  3. Nichola says:

    @Craig – although quite informal, the research I’ve done thus far and the conversations I’ve had with others since this morning, seem to conclude that internal linking is little to no factor in this. It seems entirely dependent on site search. Therefore presence of KW in content.

    @Dan – it seems as if this update applies to sites that are in certain sectors where a certain quality can be inferred, and that the change applies an appended search after-the-fact, using site search. In which case it doesn’t seem that the URL is causal, but correlative i.e. the page on the site that contains most content about “product x” happens to be site.com/product-x

    As mentioned above, informal conversations and intelligence swapping with others – tends to conclude that this seems to be very crude, and largely attributable to greatest number of mentions of KW per page [when site quality is already established.]

    Can you share with me “a few changes to the optimisation have been made”… etc. If not here then perhaps by DM and let’s see what we can put together.
    It would be my guess that you changed the on-page content quite heavily, possibly using synonyms/antonyms as opposed to exact KW on the usurping page???

  4. Nichola

    I agree completely – this drives home the now critical importance of quality content on deeper pages, and improved site architecture. Topical focus separation, sub-navigation, breadcrumbs will all directly impact the results more than ever. And personally, I’m glad for it.

  5. James Lees says:

    I must say I did start noticing these changes a good few weeks before December 20th.

    Especially for one word phrases such as beds.

    But everything you have said I agree with totally.

  6. Nichola says:

    Hi James,

    This post sparked a few conversations with industry friends and many also reported seeing the changes pre-December 20th. Piecing it together is seems to have been something of a phased roll-out (as many are), by sector. Interesting that you noticed a difference with single token keywords. In fact that’s really interesting… do you happen to recall any of the other single token queries?

    One other point – this hasn’t rolled out in all sectors. Gaming serps don’t seem to have changed.

  7. Dan Bell says:

    Not sure whether it is a small change in SERPs and will confirm as I check more sites. But the main site that I had seen a change to inner-page has now reverted back to homepage, in line with the rest of the sites on the 1st page of listings.

    Will be interesting to see the impact (presumably negative) on conversions if the homepage continues to be listed in place of the relevant inner page.

    Is anyone else seeing a change in the listings ??

  8. Interesting observation and one that makes sense from both Google’s and the user experience point of view. But I would also point out that homepages still outperform inner pages for just about any competitive search term you can think of, including the alloy wheels example cited. In those cases, it’s a better strategy to try (if possible) to include your target term in your homepage optimisation. You can still have the specialised inner page, but the homepage will outrank it 9 times out of 10, providing its been optimised for that phrase. Just my tuppence.

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