On May 4, 2020, Google announced that they were rolling out a core algorithm update. This is important news for Search Engine Optimization experts and site owners who want to ensure their place in the rankings. With any new update, there are three main questions that need to be asked: what kind of update is it, how large is the impact, and what steps should be taken in response?
A core algorithm update is when Google makes a change to the central algorithms which control how sites are ranked on their search engine results pages (SERPs). While other updates may focus on specific areas such as local rankings or combating certain types of spam, a core algorithm update adjusts how the search engine weighs the various ranking factors that determine what is and is not valuable, high-quality content. Google typically rolls out several core algorithm updates per year; and unlike other updates, which usually aren’t confirmed through official statements, core algorithm updates are announced by the company in advance. This is because they tend to be large updates which produce significant changes in traffic to affected sites.
Core algorithm updates tend to impact most sites either positively or negatively – unlike more targeted updates, they affect all geographic regions, all languages, and all categories of sites. The May 4 update is no exception, with automated rank tracking tools showing massive volatility in the search rankings that exceeded January 2020’s core algorithm update. An analysis by SEMRush seems to indicate that the industries most affected by the update are travel, real estate, health, pets & animals, and people & society. A number of site owners also posted their observations of huge changes in traffic, with some stating that healthcare-related sites seemed the most affected, though this is only anecdotal.
Those negatively impacted by a Google update always want to know what can be done to recover. In the case of core algorithm updates, there is no simple and easy answer. Unlike targeted updates which inflict penalties for specific practices, these updates have to do with how Google evaluates the overall quality of pages. When a core algorithm update causes a site to fall in the rankings, it’s not because they’re being punished for doing something wrong. Instead, it’s because other sites which were previously unfairly overlooked are being recognized and elevated to higher positions. That said, while Google maintains that there is nothing specific for site owners to fix, they have offered general advice for people interested in increasing their site’s ranking. Because their algorithms are aimed at rewarding sites that offer the best possible content, they recommend ensuring that pages are of top quality. This is defined as providing original or unique information or analysis; providing a thorough description of the topic; having a headline or detail that is helpful and descriptive of the page’s content; providing clear sourcing and information about the publisher; providing content authored by an expert in the field or someone who knows the topic well; being free of factual errors; having a clear and elegant appearance that displays well on mobile devices and is not overly cluttered with ads; and serving the genuine interests of visitors to the site rather than trying to game the algorithm. A page made with these criteria in mind is more likely to be deemed high-quality by Google’s algorithm, and therefore benefit rather than suffer from an update.
May 4’s core algorithm update is one of several annual updates that change Google’s underlying ranking algorithm, and we’ve already seen its impact on nearly all searches. Unfortunately, there’s no quick-fix to recover from a drop in the SERPs, but following Google’s guidelines increases the odds of recovery. If you’ve seen large fluctuations in your site’s ranking, contact the Fruition team. Our SEO experts can analyze your site against the latest core update and formulate a strategy to win back traffic.
Ben Smith is a Researcher at Fruition, specializing in Google's Algorithm changes. Ben is a graduate of the University of Denver’s Mathematics program, and he enjoys learning about Google’s search algorithm updates. He's a vital asset of the Fruition team, and he one day hopes to publish a book. In his free time, you can find Ben enjoying the outdoors of Colorado.
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