A few times each year, Google releases a ‘broad core algorithm update’, which rolls through the search results leaving a string of changes in its wake. Domains affected by these core updates typically lose or gain visibility in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
On September 24th, Google released one such global core update. Much like June’s update, the search engine giant again announced its plans via Twitter, confirming that the algorithm update would begin to roll out over the coming hours. Ranking volatility trackers such as Mozcast also recorded a high level of turnover at the time of the update.
Later today, we are releasing a broad core algorithm update, as we do several times per year. It is called the September 2019 Core Update. Our guidance about such updates remains as we’ve covered before. Please see this blog for more about that: https://t.co/e5ZQUAlt0G
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) September 24, 2019
Now we’re a few weeks into the core update, we can begin to analyse the results in the SERPs.
In this article, we delve a little deeper into the biggest winners and losers as a result of September’s update and provide some tips on what you can do to protect yourself from further updates in the future.
As ever, at the time of the update, Google informed the industry that it did not need to do anything as a result and that there would likely be some further fluctuations in rankings over the coming days and weeks. Despite this vague statement, Google did recommend following the EAT guidelines to ensure site content continues to perform.
It has been several weeks since the update, and data shows that the September core update was nowhere near as impactful as the changes to rankings seen in June and March, across a broad range of sectors and industries – a wide range of both healthcare and financial services sites have been affected.
Reaction to Google’s update has generally been positive. The few websites that were hit were deemed to have low quality, thin content.
However, the core algorithm update was preceded by a string of smaller Google updates on 5th, 13th and 16th September. While these weren’t officially confirmed by Google themselves, some erratic fluctuations in the SERPs suggested some significant changes:
This change relates to the way Google plans to attribute links from early next year. This change is designed to combat spammy content, to provide users with the most relevant and useful content in relation to their search query.
Around the time of the core update, Google announced that breadcrumb structured data reports would soon be available in Google Search Console (GSC).
Breadcrumbs are important for your website’s position in SERPs, as they leave a ‘trail’ indicating the landing page’s hierarchy among the architecture of your site. This is beneficial for both the user and for Google’s crawlers to navigate their way around your website.
One positive change we did notice was a boost for video content. Since the core update, Google appears to have increased the relevance it assigns to video, particularly in relation to informational keywords.
As a result, leading websites that had enjoyed position 1 for a while were dropped down to position 4, 5 and 6 following September’s updates, as they now fall below three video results displayed in a carousel. Position 4 is still the traditional organic result, however, it now appears below the video carousel, and in some cases, below the direct answer or featured snippet – almost below the fold.
This is fantastic news for sites that have already invested in quality video content. However, websites yet to invest in video, will no doubt have suffered from a drop in traffic.
One thing to note – Google may look to roll back its preferential treatment of YouTube (which occupies upwards of 90% of all video carousels). This particular boost to video seen in September’s update had such a monumental impact to YouTube’s rankings it surpassed Wikipedia!
While the response to the core update was positive overall, some sites were negatively affected.
A broad algorithm update typically focusses on a wide range of changes, in order to improve relevance for the user. Although those affected noticed changes to links, it is likely that links are simply a factor in a whole host of changes that came into effect.
As we previously mentioned, sites with thin, duplicate or poor quality content will have likely seen a drop in traffic. Similarly, sites with limited video content may have also been penalised.
More aggressive SEO tactics have also been targeted. For example, SEOs employing the 301 redirect trick with irrelevant domain redirects in place noticed a drop in ranking, whereas sites with relevant redirects were left unaffected.
It’s important to remember that if your site has been negatively affected by the core update, you haven’t violated Google’s webmaster guidelines. Changes are focused on improving the evaluation of digital content, and while you may have been hit, there are certain things you can do to improve the performance of your site and regain lost traffic.
Google’s overarching advice for those affected is to focus on the quality and quantity of your on-site content. When auditing your website, Google suggests you consider the following areas:
While these tips are certainly going to help your website’s performance, it’s wise to remember that there are no hard-and-fast rules provided by Google themselves. While Google does now confirm when a core update has taken place, there are no clear-cut, universally applicable guidelines to help you navigate potential drops in traffic. However, good practice for both SEOs and webmasters alike is to regularly review onsite content, and give it the focus it deserves.
If you’ve been affected by Google’s September update, get in touch. Our team of friendly SEO experts are on-hand to provide information and analysis based on your requirements and can work with you to improve your website’s performance today.
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