How Does the Google Core Update Affect You?
Google regularly rolls out updates that significantly affect its users, and this May was no exception. On May 4, 2020, Google began to roll out an update that would come to be known as an “absolute monster.”
May Google Core Update
The May 2020 core update was the second core update of 2020, the first being in January. Google generally performs a core update to their algorithm every few months, and this one changed some of the most basic operating features of the popular search engine.
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. Please see this blog post for more about that: https://t.co/e5ZQUAlt0G
– Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) May 4, 2020
It usually takes about one to two weeks for the update to fully integrate. This update was global, which wasn’t specific to any region.
Historically, each core update impacts users and marketers differently. The previous core updates in 2019 were regionally focused and felt relatively weak across the board for users. This May 2020 core update, however, was massive and negatively impacted many users.
When the update finished rolling out and search results stabilized, the analytics began to show marketers worldwide what was left to manage. They were not very happy.
Let’s take a look at what happened with the May 2020 Google core update and what the most prevalent complaints were among SEO strategists and marketers.
- Social Media Results Replaced SERPs
Many expressed negative sentiments about the update, stating that social media results now take precedence over previously highly ranked organic results in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP). SEO strategists and marketers took to Twitter to show results from various countries where Pinterest entirely dominated the first page of Google results.
Many were calling this a failed update.
When social media results rank higher than websites from reputable brands who have worked hard to achieve that ranking, it can be very frustrating. This odd behavior is precisely what many brands are feeling after this recent update that has, in some countries and industries, totally wiped out the previous rankings and SEO efforts for some companies.
- Big Brand Dominance
In addition to social media dominating top rankings in searches post the Google May 2020 core update, we are also seeing goliath brands like Amazon and eBay at top ranking for something as simple as “fishing game” in some countries.
There is a significant problem with this as these brands barely need to advertise as it is. eMarketer reported, “Nearly half (46.7%) of US internet users started product searches on Amazon compared with 34.6% who went to Google first, according to a May 2018 Adeptmind survey.”
With this considerable move to brands like Amazon to conduct an initial search, they are taking a near majority of the market. Still, they are also now raking in the top placements on Google searches. This behavior from google borders on monopolistic.
And with there only being eight traditional organic listings on the first page of Google searches, which many users don’t go beyond, this places smaller businesses far from their original rankings.
- Etsy Keyword Dominance
With this recent rollout, it seems that Google associates the keyword “handmade” with the popular marketplace Etsy. Users see multiple results rank for Etsy in unrelated searches. These various rankings are also saturating the top listings on the first page, pushing others further down and onto the second page, as we see with Amazon and eBay.
For example, SearchEngineLand reported, “Handmade Bongos is a keyword phrase that is dominated with two results from Etsy, two results from eBay, and one each from Pinterest and Amazon.”
Again, the problem with this ties in with the second point about significant brand dominance. Still, it is also an issue within Google’s algorithm, and with this rollout, that deeply associates keywords with specific platforms and brands.
The Question of Quarantine
Because of the shelter-in-place and self-quarantine during the second quarter of 2020, these brands have higher usage for that period while online shopping has been the norm. Perhaps this is what Google’s new algorithm has surfaced.
Google uses machine learning to write its algorithm, which models human behavior. If you’re ordering everything from groceries to camping gear to dog food on Amazon, then Google will learn this behavior and rewrite its algorithm to cater to that popular search.
We need to ask, Could Google be rewarding Etsy or Amazon with top SERP positions because it’s what users tend to be satisfied with while in quarantine?
While this is absolutely a possibility, it’s also important to consider if Google adjusted their algorithm for quarantine and peaks of traffic to specific sites because everywhere was shut down, including some small online businesses.
If algorithms are machine learners from human behavior, and human behavior has been unusual in relation to the past, isn’t there a need to make adjustments that reflect the change in behavior? For Google to keep the playing field fair, it seems that this is a logical step to include in a massive global rollout, like what we saw in May 2020.
The pandemic has disrupted Google’s algorithm model, and that’s something that Google itself needs to address at the source. TechnologyReview.com, MIT’s magazine, discusses the truth of the pandemic disrupting AI.
“The ripple effects have…also affected artificial intelligence, causing hiccups for the algorithms that run behind the scenes in inventory management, fraud detection, marketing, and more.
Machine-learning models trained on normal human behavior are now finding that normal has changed, and some are no longer working as they should.
Machine-learning models are designed to respond to changes. But most are also fragile; they perform badly when input data differs too much from the data they were trained on. It is a mistake to assume you can set up an AI system and walk away…”
The drastic drop in organic traffic and rankings has many companies very disappointed with Google.
So, what do you do if you’ve been a drastic drop or you’ve lost your rankings? If your rankings dropped, or you cannot find the keywords driving traffic to your pages in Google Analytics, here’s what you can try.
How to Recover Your Lost SEO Keywords and Organic Traffic
Google published a blanket statement in 2019 in regards to queries from users about core updates:
“In fact, there’s nothing in a core update that targets specific pages or sites. Instead, the changes are about improving how our systems assess content overall. These changes may cause some pages that were previously under-rewarded to do better.”
It goes on to read: “…pages that drop after a core update don’t have anything wrong to fix. This said, we understand those who do less well after a core update change may still feel they need to do something. We suggest focusing on ensuring you’re offering the best content you can. That’s what our algorithms seek to reward.”
The statement, written for webmasters, then lists a series of questions you can ask internally to assess your content, the value it delivers, and how to improve it.
However, the fact that Google states specifically that there is nothing wrong to fix, then that can be incredibly frustrating to SEO analysts and marketers.
Determining how substantial a reduction in traffic from specific keywords is the right place to start, but even then, it can be very much a guessing game. Many want an update roll out to come from Google in June, but there hasn’t been any response to that from the search engine giant.
Use the following steps to improve your traffic and ranking after an update like the one this May.
- Identify the specific keywords that lost traffic.
If you’re running paid searches, this will be relatively easy to figure out. Google Analytics and Google Adwords track statistics relating to all this data to easily monitor and view specific details.
Many factors affect traffic. It could be page views, conversions, new traffic from new keywords, or any other KPI. It could also be a big keyword dropping from a single page, with that entire page coming down.
Opening up Google Analytics will tell you all you need to know. Just navigate to Acquisition. From there, go to Overview > Organic Search. Select the Landing Page in the center of your screen. Set the Secondary Dimension to Acquisition > Source.
From here, you’ll be able to select Google and set the date range you want to search within. You can find the same page in Google Search Console and then use that same date range to compare the two results and identify the keywords that have dropped.
- Assess the Problem
Once you identify the pages and keywords, the real work starts: assessing and diagnosing the problem of lost traffic. Missing traffic can be due to any number of things that are unique and specific to individual websites.
Without specific information, it can be challenging to diagnose. However, there are some general things to look for that will lead you in the right direction. Use some probing questions of you and your team to generate more information.
Google’s update statement includes some of the questions to ask:
- Does the content provide original information, reporting, research, or analysis?
- Does the content provide a substantial, complete, or comprehensive description of the topic?
- Does the content provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
- Does the content present information in a way that makes you want to trust it, such as clear sourcing, evidence of the expertise involved, background about the author, or the site that publishes it, such as through links to an author page or a site’s About page?
- Does the content have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
- Does content display well for mobile devices when viewed on them?
- Does the content provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many avenues you can explore in terms of your traffic and content, but this will give you a solid foundation to continue looking into the issue.
While Google’s most recent update is receiving a lot of push back, we may just need to give it more time to work itself out. With the pandemic still very much alive, especially in the US, it may be months before we see traffic level out and redistribute to smaller businesses and away from Amazon, eBay, and Etsy.
Managing your SEO efforts with a professional and thorough agency is your best bet to truly take advantage of the available traffic and assess, at the core, from where your issues may reside. An agency will also help you chart a course for the future, and to put in place an SEO strategy that can take your company to new heights.
Regardless of how you were affected by this newest Google core update, there will always be changes with this platform that we’ll have to adapt to and from which we can learn.
Get in touch with our team to discuss your SEO strategy or to determine the best path forward for your company.