Google took everyone by surprise in the middle of the corona-virus pandemic – the online giant launched a new controversial update. What’s more, it happened on International Star Wars Day…
The update came as a shock for many, but Google updates are nothing new. They are launched regularly, at least several times a year. They are designed to improve Google’s search engine and, obviously, they can be launched even during the pandemic.
For instance, last year’s major update happened in June and was commonly known as the “Diversity Update”. The update was appreciated by the industry – mainly because it prevented the same domain appearing multiple times at the top of the results page. Simply put, it’s time to relax, as not all updates are designed to wreak havoc in the online world. Some of them fix issues that annoy us constantly, we just don’t realize it until they’re gone.
So what’s this new update all about? Let’s take a closer look at the most important aspects:
Core updates – what are they?
Google has released core updates regularly for the last few years. According to their official blog:
“Several times a year, we make significant, broad changes to our search algorithms and systems. We refer to these as “core updates.” They’re designed to ensure that overall, we’re delivering on our mission to present relevant and authoritative content to searchers.” Google
So what is the new update all about?
As you probably already know, Google announced the new update on May 4, 2020. The new algorithm is simply called “May 2020 Core Update”. The message from Google reads:
“Later today, we are releasing a broad core algorithm update, as we do several times per year. It is called the May 2020 Core Update. Our guidance about such updates remains as we’ve covered before.” Google
What are the effects of the update?
Early observers of the update noticed that the update increased the SERP volatility when compared to previous versions of the algorithm. According to RankRanger, the impact of the new update is greater than the previous one, released in January.
- the volatility for the top 3 results went up from 35 percent to 38 percent;
- the volatility for the top 5 results went up from 55 to 63 percent;
- for the top 10 results it went up from 88 to 93 percent.
What’s more, certain niches experienced even higher volatility:
- travel niche – volatility varied from 31 percent (top 3 results), to 56 percent (top 5 results), to 91 percent (top 10 results)
- retail niche – volatility varied from 37 percent (top 3 results), to 61 percent (top 5 results), to 88 percent (top 10 results)
- finance niche – volatility varied from 47 percent (top 3 results), to 72 percent (top 5 results), to 97 percent (top 10 results)
- health niche – volatility varied from 38 percent (top 3 results), to 63 percent (top 5 results), to 94 percent (top 10 results)
- other niches have shown high volatility, such as real estate, pets & animals, and people & society
- the average volatility for both retail and travel increased from 1.9 points in April to more than 9.3 on May 6, just after the update’s launch
Unfortunately, the reason behind the increased volatility is unclear, as Google provides limited information. Some experts suggest that the volatility may be caused by the shift in consumer interest during the quarantine. These industries are also some of the hardest hit during the pandemic, so this theory seems reasonable.
The winners of the SERP battle after the update
SEMRush has provided information on the winners of the SERP battle during the pandemic and after the update. For instance, news websites and aggregators have seen better SERP positions, followed closely by online communities and business & industrial websites.
So, your website was hit – what should you do?
If your website was hit by the update, don’t panic! According to Google, the updates are not designed to penalize websites or webmasters. They are designed to fix flaws and improve user experience.
Essentially, there’s nothing wrong if pages perform worse after the core update. They definitely didn’t violate webmaster guidelines and have not been manually reviewed by Google’s team, as it usually happens to the pages that violate the guidelines. What’s more, core updates don’t target specific websites or inner pages. They are designed to improve how Google assesses content as a whole. The changes may cause some websites to do better.
What should do you if there is nothing to fix?
There are multiple answers to this question. In some cases, getting less traffic isn’t quite a bad thing. The most obvious reason is a user’s “search intent”.
Let’s say you are getting a lot of traffic – a lot of people who search for various phrases which are not related to your website or your keywords. Yes, you get that traffic, and it looks good on paper, but there’s a catch. These people are not interested in your website, they accidentally landed on your website, and they bounce off your website quickly.
In this particular case, you must get the right traffic, not a lot of traffic. It’s about quality, not quantity.
So what’s Google’s advice when it comes to the recent core update?
Google is notoriously vague about their updates, no matter their impact. The team has a social media presence, but communication is poor. For instance, they direct all Twitter questions to a blog post from August 2019, “What webmasters should know about Google’s core updates”.
Google always reminds webmasters about the importance of high-quality content. Simply put, they confirm that quality is the most important measure for content. Google also provides a set of questions that you should ask yourself when it comes to content. Here are a few of them:
- Is my content substantial and original?
- Is my content trustworthy and well-researched?
- Does my content provide good analysis, preferably beyond what’s expected?
- Is the content referenced by authority websites?
- Is the content free of errors, clear and well-produced?
- Is the content interesting for readers? Does it provide value for readers?
Google suggests asking colleagues, friends, or anyone with some experience to review the website’s content. Also, you should pay attention to Google’s E-A-T standards (an acronym for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness)