The words “core algorithm update” generally strike terror into the hearts of SEOs and sitemasters everywhere. Releasing one hot on the heels of Black Friday means that terror can descend into full-blown panic.

And yet, that’s exactly what Google did late last week. It announced its core algorithm update would begin rolling out on 3 December, and some sites are already beginning to feel the pain. But what does the update actually mean, and what metrics should you be tracking to gauge its impact?

What impact will the update have?

Well, as ever, Google is pretty impenetrable when it comes to actually telling us what the update affects. However, we can draw some conclusions based on early signals and the impact of the last core update Google released back in May.

First, Google is trying to prioritise helpful content over backlinks. That doesn’t mean backlinks are obsolete, mind you. Backlinks still play an important role in sending Google a signal that the content they point to is valuable. But thin, poor quality content that has a strong backlink profile is going to be knocked off its perch by robust content that addresses topics in depth. In other words, backlinks are a tool to support good content rather than a shortcut to prop up bad content.

Second, Google is trying to promote content that meets its E-A-T (expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness) benchmark. That means it wants to rank content that genuinely answers readers’ questions and matches their search intent. It wants content that is well researched, well written, reliable and helpful. That means you can expect to see thin content take a hit from the update, and you may see your site lose rankings on pages where the content doesn’t really match the search intent.

Finally, the impact of the update is likely to vary across industries. In the May update, travel and leisure sites seemed to take a disproportionate hit compared to other industries. Now, COVID may have played a huge role in this, but expect the December update to impact some industries more than others.

Early data sent to Yoghurt Digital by RankRanger already shows this to be the case. In the top 10 results, 99% of the search engine results showed changes in the health, finance and retail industries, while 97% in the travel industry showed changes.

How should you respond to the algorithm update?

So, what can you do to respond? First, keep an eye on metrics that matter. That means:

  • Monitor rankings
  • Keep an eye on Sessions / New Users / Bounce Rate/ Time on Page in Google Analytics
  • Investigate landing pages to see which pages have seen the largest drops
  • Look at Impressions / Clicks / Average CTR / Average position in Google Search Console 

Second, don’t panic. You may see some significant initial swings in the metrics above, but a core algorithm update has a tendency to even out over time. While some sites take a big hit initially, the SERPs tend to find an equilibrium after an update.

Per the data sent to Yoghurt Digital by RankRanger, we’re already seeing this volatility play out. The average position change following May’s core algorithm update was 1.53, while the December update has already resulted in an average position change of 3.45.

The difference between the impact of May’s update and December’s update is particularly pronounced if you look at the top 3 results. Following May’s update, 38% of the top 3 results saw changes, while 55% saw changes following the December update.

Moreover, it’s going to take some time for ecommerce sites to accurately gauge how the update has impacted their traffic. This is because, as we mentioned, Google oh-so-helpfully rolled the update out right after Black Friday. As such, comparing week-on-week traffic before and after the update probably won’t give a very clear picture of its impact. You’ll need to wait a few weeks before you can see the full impact. In other words, don’t rush to be reactionary with a slew of site changes until you have a clearer picture from the data.

Third, identify opportunities where they exist. Google’s goal with all its core algorithm updates of late has been to quantify and reward its E-A-T metric (expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness). It likes sites that provide high quality, valuable content. 

If you see significant drops on some landing pages, investigate the pages to see if there’s a way they can be improved. Is the content too thin? Does it adequately address the topic? Is there anything you can add to better answer user queries and deliver value to readers? Ultimately, that’s what Google is looking for when it ranks search results.

And finally, keep creating high quality content. No matter what industry you’re in, creating content that benefits readers is the single most important action you can take to improve your rankings. Any time you create a piece of content, ask yourself if it’s legitimately the best piece of content on the web for that topic. If it’s not, why should Google give it a number one ranking? 

Now, all of this can be a bit overwhelming. Running your business and your website while trying to keep abreast of all Google’s idiosyncrasies and responding to updates can be exhausting. That’s why we’re here to help. We meticulously track all the metrics that make for SEO success, and help businesses put together a strategy that produces top quality, SEO friendly content. If you need to get your SEO house in order, give us a call and see how we can help.

Algorithm updates can be stressful. But remember, Google is working towards becoming a true meritocracy that promotes the best content to the top of the pile. While you may see some worrying fluctuations in the days ahead, if you stay focused on creating high quality, relevant content that answers questions and solves problems, you’ll be rewarded in the end.

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