Reviewing Google’s January 2020 Core Update

By: Dahlia Farhat

A core update is a change to the main search algorithm. Core updates modify the importance, order, weights, or values of ranking factors. On January 13th, 2020, Google launched its latest score update. This core update impacted all search results on a worldwide scale.

Dealing with the effects

Noticeable effects, drops, or gains in search rankings were expected to occur. It’s important to note that if your website has fallen in rankings immediately after an update, it doesn’t mean that you have violated Google’s webmaster guidelines or been subjected to a manual or algorithmic action. There is nothing wrong with your web pages falling in rankings after a core update. It just means that changes were made in order to focus on improving content evaluation. The goal of a core update is often to address websites that may previously have been unfairly looked upon or were not given the credit that they deserve will now perform better and vice versa.

If you have been suffering from a drop in rankings due to the update, Google recommends that you focus on providing the best content that you possibly can, rather than worry about the drop. This is because if you do offer the best content on a specific topic, you will find yourself hitting top ranks on SERPS. If you take this as an opportunity to conduct a website audit, consider the following questions regarding the content, quality expertise, presentation, production, and competitive analysis provided in this article :

Content & Quality:
  • Does the website present original, high-quality content that isn't copied from somewhere?
  • Are the page’s titles and descriptions attractive for engaging and do they reflect the content of the page?
  • If you were a user would you go about sharing the content with your friends?

  • Is the content trustworthy?
  • Does the content or page have any errors?
  • As a webmaster, if you were directed to this page from conducting a Google search, would you trust the website?

Presentation & Production:
  • Does the content seem to be researched and produced well or does it seem more like it was a mass-produced be mass-produced fodder?
  • Are there too many ads (everywhere or pop-ups)?
  • Does the page load fast on any device used?

Competitive comparison:
  • Does the website provide more added value when compared to its competitors?
  • Does the content fulfill the expectations of users?

The best thing you can do as a webmaster is to start by going through the questions provided above and actually answer them truthfully and honestly. As you answer the questions also keep in mind how your website compares with your competition, while focusing on the difference in quality of content you and your competitors are providing. Make sure to meet the needs of your visitors. Ensure that everything is accurate, up to date, and written in a way that indicates expertise.

How it Compares to the Previous Updates

Even though the January update was not on the same level as the August 2018 “Medic” update, it still tracks closely to the amount of change shown in the March 2019, June 2019, and September 2019 updates. It’s important to note that all these updates are far beyond the MozCast average of 68-70°F. (see what MozCast is in the next section) Additionally, there were updates in both October and November of 2019, where the November update seemed to have downgraded a lot of the health and medical websites. But as of now, with the January 2020 update, the health and medical sites seem to be getting a boost.

Verticals that got Hit the Hardest

MozCast is an experiment used to track the weather patterns of the Google algorithm. It is designed to help keep track of the day-to-day changes in the Google algorithm and represent changes in terms of temperature. Simply put, the hotter the temperature, the larger the change in Google rankings was in the last 24 hours. MozCast is split into 20 verticals to match the categories of Google Ads. Interpreting single day movement across the categories can be hard, since they naturally vary. Below is a table of data for the range of the update between January 14-16 only for the categories that topped 100°F, on January 14.

Top Categories by Temperature (Jan14-16)

One apparent finding is that the sites that are strongly affected by one core update, seem likely to be affected by subsequent core updates.

The Winners and the Losers

The “Your Money, Your Life” sectors got hit very hard. On the flip side, there was a massive movement at the top of search engine results pages for both the health and finance sectors. In addition, the health category has topped the list against other categories. Due to the health sector being hit the hardest by the November 2019 core update, we can expect that the health sector will be getting major improvements with his core update.

Final Thoughts

Google usually rolls out a new algorithmic update every few months, so keep your eyes open and prepare to ride a potentially turbulent wave. After a core update, it is important to pay attention to your ranking for the next couple of days and weeks. If your rankings do drop, one thing you can do is to look at what kind of content is now ranking ahead of yours and examine how you can provide searchers a more complete solution. Tracking when Google performs core updates will help to differentiate whether a rank change was something you caused on your own website or if it was due to a change in a search algorithm. Also, core updates give us clues as to what Google’s broder intent is and how we can better align with that intent. Also don’t forget to check in on incremental improvements in the reporting and tools available in Google Search Console that can help you prepare for, detect, and track SEO issues with your website.