For those who are closely involved in the organic search engine marketing industry, it has become obvious that over the past few years Google has been rapidly accelerating the pace at which it releases major updates to its search algorithm. For the first time ever, Google has even began pre-emptively warning of and even naming a major update, which has traditionally been the responsibility of the wider SEO community at large.
2019 core updates
There were broad core updates that occurred in March, June and September. The March update was large enough that most SEO professionals reported negative results at least during the roll-out but it was difficult to deduce any obvious patterns to the penalties. The June update was large enough that Google even pre-announced the rollout, possibly because it happened at the same time as another type of lesser update which has since been dubbed the “Diversity” update which was aimed at eliminating more than two results for the same website on a single SERPS page. The June updates took almost a week to fully roll out.
The September 2019 core update was the update that most targeted the legal industry due to its focus on ‘Your Money or Your Life’ type pages (YMYL). It targeted sites delivering important life-changing information, such as financial, legal or medical advice. It has since become essential for sites delivering this type of information to demonstrate their authority and expertise in these matters. According to Google: “As such, where our algorithms detect that a user’s query relates to a ‘YMYL’ topic, we will give more weight in our ranking systems to factors like our understanding of the authoritativeness, expertise, or trustworthiness of the pages we present in response.” We saw a lot of fluctuations in rankings at the time but in almost every case these fluctuations settled down eventually.
The BERT update
Released in October this update was touted by Google as the biggest change to the search rankings algorithm since it announced that its A.I. Rank Brain would furthermore be involved in generating search results. BERT is a neural linguistic program that aims to better understand user intent from search queries. Over time it will improve its ability to understand the meaning and placement of every single word within the context of a query to better deliver results. Ultimately this update is aimed at conversational queries and may very well have an effect on how webmasters treat content on their site and how they use it to improve relevancy as regards a search query.
According to Google themselves, they release several algorithm updates in any given week. The vast majority of these little bubbles of chaos go unnamed by either Google or the wider SEO community at large. In the legal sector we noticed extreme rankings fluctuation in November and the event was discussed at length within the community. This update looks to have targeted very specific sectors with up to 50% improvements or drops in rankings while leaving other industry types unaffected.
There has been an undeniable effort by Google to capture control of the flow of news and information around algorithm updates throughout 2019. In September they even announced a new policy to give precedence to original reporting over syndicated content distribution networks.
How to respond to an update?
The best way to respond to any Google update is first to wait and see how the dust settles. Provided you are following 100% white hat best-practice rules of conduct you will most likely recover from most negative impacts over time. It’s always a good idea to give things a month to settle down on their own as some rollouts take a week to roll out and then require several tweaks and modifications to correct inadvertently “broken” elements of the update.
Included below is a typical rankings fluctuation graph showing a single keyword for a single client, but it does show how large a fluctuation can be. If your rankings drop and stay low then it’s time to worry.
Looking ahead to 2020
Based upon our experience of the past few years we do not expect the pace of algorithm updates to decrease substantially. We will continue to monitor and report on these changes and adapt accordingly based upon results and data collected from our large pool of clients. Access to this in-house stream of data means that we can spot trends and solutions in real-time as they happen, enabling us to continue to deliver the kinds of results our clients have come to expect from us.