A summary of the most interesting questions and answers from the Google SEO Office Hours with John Mueller on December 18th, 2020.

This was the last office-hours hangout of the year. I hope these summaries are useful to you, and I’ll continue to write them up in the future.

Merry Christmas, and see you in 2021!

Core Web Vitals influenced by internet connection

5:49 – What is the rationale behind using web performance metrics that are dependent on internet speed for ranking? Aren’t these scores heavily influenced by the location of the users of a website?

John replied: “That could happen. For speed, the internet connection is one thing, but the way that the pages are built up isn’t purely tied to the internet connection speed.” 

John’s answer was interrupted by what seemed to be a heckler trying to disrupt the meeting. However, what I think he was trying to say is, Core Web Vitals are designed to reflect the user’s experience, and while some sites might feel penalized in a way when they have users from less-developed countries lowering their Web Vitals score, this information is still useful to Google for ranking purposes.

How long does it take to reprocess a website after significant changes?

26:35 – After you make significant changes to your website, like changing the structure, how long does it take until Google can pick up on the changes and reevaluate all the signals coming from the website?

John said that a large part of the reprocessing would often take 2-3 weeks. 

He added: “In general we try to recrawl all pages within 6 months. The long tail will take a bit of time to be updated, but the pages that we crawl the most – that we think are the most important for your site – they should be updated within a couple of weeks.”

Category page after all products are removed

27:41 – Which method is the best to use when you have a category page that ranks well, but all the products from that category were removed (they won’t be sold for several months)?

John said that he would just make the page 404. Even if you redirect it to a different category page, Google will treat it as a soft 404.

Mobile-first indexing and rankings

38:55 – If a website currently ranks well for mobile search results, can those rankings be affected when Google switches over to Mobile-first indexing in March 2021?

John said that if your site was already shifted over to the mobile-first indexing, you won’t see any changes in March. 

He added that if your site wasn’t shifted to mobile-first indexing, it means that Google’s systems aren’t sure if your site will work well with mobile-first indexing.

Splitting a website for a better User Experience

41:52 – What to do from an SEO point of view when you want to split a website into two websites? The split is to have two separate websites that are topically consistent.

John said the following: “The redirects are really the primary thing that you should focus on. But any time that you split or merge websites the end result is really hard to determine ahead of time (…).It can happen that all of those pieces individually are just okay from a quality point of view, but not good enough to compete in a competitive environment.”

He also said that while it might make sense to split websites if you expect it to have a big impact on your users, but if you’re just doing this to tweak things, you might be in a worse situation by splitting them.