Google Search Volatility - What Does my Law Firm Need to Know?

Google Search Volatility - What Does my Law Firm Need to Know?

View profile for Jamie Stevens
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May, and especially June, have been very volatile months in Google Search results, with a broad core update announced by Google on 25 May 2022, picked up by search volatility trackers as a huge spike on volatility on 26 May 2022.

The large spike in volatility shown on 26 May (data from RankRanger)

As if this wasn’t enough, it appears that there was another update towards the end of June, after the core update announced by Google had finished rolling out, with massive volatility shown between 20 June and 28 June.

The volatility shown throughout June, especially towards the end of June (data from RankRanger)

What does “broad core update” mean?

Broad core update essentially means that the update is not targeting anything specific. A new machine learning model or a tweak to the algorithm will have been applied, with the hope that over time search results will improve in quality.

However, when the new model is applied, there is a training period where you tend to see low quality sites ranking above high-quality sites, because not enough data has been gathered. Normally, this resolves itself in 1 – 3 months, but sometimes Google rolls back the update because the search results quality remains low.

If my traffic has decreased, does that mean that my website has been penalised by Google?

It is very unlikely that your website has been penalised if traffic has dropped. Google rarely directly penalises sites unless they are blatantly breaking rules using techniques like hacking and spam. Penalties were common in the past, but have been rare since, and we have not had any sites directly penalised by Google in the 8 years that I have been at Conscious.

On Google’s post announcing the update, they confirm this:

There's nothing wrong with pages that may perform less well in a core update. They haven't violated our webmaster guidelines nor been subjected to a manual or algorithmic action, as can happen to pages that do violate those guidelines. In fact, there's nothing in a core update that targets specific pages or sites.

Updates can sometimes result in long-term traffic loss as Google prioritises certain types of websites over others, though these updates are often named just “updates” rather than “broad core updates”. One example is the “medic” update, which was about Google prioritising authoritative and trusted sources for medical information such as medical journals and the NHS, over other sites. This caused sites talking about these topics, such as those promoting alternative medicine and even medical negligence law firms, with detailed content about certain conditions, to lose traffic.

Does my law firm need to do anything if my traffic has decreased?

At this point, there isn’t anything to do except monitor your traffic and rankings. As Google said, the update isn’t targeting anything specific, so the best thing to do is to see if traffic and rankings improve over the next month or two - as in our experience, they normally do.

All signs are pointing to traffic and ranking decreases being temporary. We’ve found that there tends to be an initial period after core updates where the results are lower quality for a while before they improve, these low-quality search results include:

  • Low authority sites, with shallow content ranking above high authority sites with great content.
  • Deleted pages with 404 (page not found) errors ranking on page one above good quality pages
  • Spammy sites ranking on page one

We are already seeing signs of the above and improvements in traffic and rankings compared to earlier in the month for some of our clients, and normally we would expect things to return to close to normal in 1 – 2 months, however, if Google has pushed a bad update and decides to roll back the update, it could take a little longer.