Google Core Updates and their effect on website performance!

Things to know about Google Core Updates
By: Nihar Khemani

If you noticed a recent drop in your website’s search visibility over the past two months, you weren’t alone! Ripples of a recent Google Core Update are being felt and observed across blogs, social media posts, and hours spent combing through SEO best practices. The two-part Google Core Update carried out in June and July of 2021 impacted not just several thin-content websites but also companies with content focused on car/automotive news, self-care, and other knowledge sites.

In this post, we will explore how Google Core Updates impact websites, with a focus on the recent update and what you can do to navigate through such updates in future. The team at UpOnline helps clients take an omnichannel approach to digital marketing which not only makes available a host of other services to attain your online marketing objectives but also helps to combat situations that arise out of such updates. Contact us today to learn more about the full suite of services offered. But for now, back to the Google Core Update - the turbulent waters which made many a ship halt/reroute over these past few months: 

What is a Google Core Update?

The recent Google Core Updates have been typical “broad core updates”, designed to ensure that the search engine delivers relevant and authoritative results to search queries.  An update such as this is not specific to a particular region, website category, or language. Essentially, these core updates are meant to enable Google to assess content better and determine which pages serve the best answers to users' search queries. The end result is a boost to pages that have been under-rewarded, thereby leading to significant gains in SEO ranks for some websites and drops for some others. 

Google explained in a blog post that core updates are needed to try to meet searchers’ expectations which are always changing. Imagine you have a list of favorite films in 2016. In 2019, you decide to update your list. Many items in the list would have naturally changed. You may want to add new films that you’ve discovered or realize that previous films deserve a higher place on the list. This is how Google is trying to sort through content to determine those that will benefit searchers the most.

In June 2021 we saw a series of posts on the Google SearchLiasion Twitter account informing users about:

The June Core Update: According to the Search Engine Roundtable, like most global core updates that preceded it, this update focused on quality and was released in two parts. Google did warn users that they may see some changes in June only to witness a reversal after the second part of the update planned for July. 

The July Core Update: The second part of the core update was rolled out in the month of July. Google's advice to users impacted by the update was to focus on quality as there is no absolute fix to remedy the impacts of the update. 

The impact!

Google is always working to improve the quality of search results. It has a history of rolling out core updates to help increase search results relevance - previous updates were in December 2020, May 2020, January 2020 and September 2019. Those updates dealt with signals and factors like search intent, web pages that get suggested as a result of the search intent and how are these pages relevant to the intent. You can also read our coverage on the June 2019 and January 2020 Google Core updates!

Impact of Google Core Updates on SEO

Marcus Tober from Searchmetrics observed that the June update was “an unusual update with a typical Core Update feel to it” and users may see a reversal of changes after the July update.

The June update affected 1900+ domains and 31 categories. Websites that focus on product reviews and affiliate space in technology and consumer electronics spaces, as well as dictionary sites, emerged as winners due to their authoritative content and relevance to search intent. On the other hand, sites that rely heavily on user-generated content saw a significant decline. 

‘Intent change’ was the common theme for the second part of the update. Google has shifted its understanding of user intent across a variety of user queries as a result. Following the July update, international versions of many sites suffered a decline and freed up space for local smaller ecommerce vendors to compete for keywords, Several sites saw their rankings change due to recalibrations that happened after the drastic differences noticed as a part of the June update.

A few days after the update, algorithm trackers typically start to show significant fluctuations. As a result, organic rankings may drop for some (long-tail keywords), and rise for others. The general recommendation across the board is to not act in a haste; let the update roll out and settle before reevaluating your website and its content.

About 15 days after the update rolled out is when you can look at your website from a wide lens and review it on the following parameters: Is it easily accessible? Is it well-organized? Does it have relevant and authoritative content?

What can we learn from this?

Key Learnings from Google Core Updates
As site owners and SEO specialists scrambled for advice on how to rebound from the Core Updates, Google’s answer remains the same: there is “nothing to fix.” Google recommends looking at your website from the following perspective:
  1. Expertise: How trustworthy is the content? Does the website have any errors? Would you trust the site if it came to you via Google?

  2. Content: Is the content original? How valuable is the information provided? Has the information been copied? Does the page title summarize what the page is about? Would you recommend this page to your friends?

  3. Presentation: Does the content seem researched well? Are there too many ads? Does the content seem like it is mass-produced? Is the content compatible with all devices?

  4. Comparison: As compared to competitors, does the page provide more or equivalent value? Does it meet the expectation of users? 

Danny Sullivan from Google suggested using Google’s Quality Raters Guidelines as a reference guide for creating quality content. However, SEO experts warn not to use this as a diagnostic tool of whether a website “passes” a quality test. It is important to note that perhaps your site and content have nothing to do with the drop in ranking; rather, the user search intent for your targeted queries might have changed and your content is no longer relevant or useful for the questions people are asking.

Experts suggest that “nothing to fix” can mean that:

  • Google is improving natural language processing tasks

  • Google is improving how it ranks links

  • Google is improving how it understands search queries

  • Google is improving how it understands a part of a web page that exists within a large part of a webpage

  • Google has improved the speed at which it identifies low-quality links and ignores them

Julia McCoy from Express Writers emphasizes a key strategy in evaluating your website’s SEO: think about your content in terms of user experience (UX). She states:

“You need to reframe your thinking about ranking and algorithm-obsessing. Your goal shouldn’t be to rank; it should be to provide users with the information and UX they need to fulfill their Google searches with the least amount of effort.”

In other words, rather than trying to figure out how to satisfy Google’s search algorithm, you should be focusing on how to satisfy the user’s search query. Your site should be delivering the best possible user experience with content that is reliable, trustworthy, and easily comprehensible. 

It is imperative to focus on the quality of content on your website to provide a seamless user experience. Depending on how much a site was affected by the core update, revisit your website and make improvements to ensure your content is relevant and authoritative.

For more information on SEO best practices, speak to an UpOnline representative today!