Algorithm Updates

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Last Updated on September 29, 2020 by David Bryan

Which Google Algorithm Updates are Having the Most Influence on SEO in 2020?

Google algorithm updates are a red-letter day for anybody in the SEO industry. Algorithms can set a website’s traffic soaring – or see it tumble from a metaphorical cliff. There is little middle ground when Google update their algorithms, ensuring that such adjustments are awaited with a combination of anticipation and dread.

What is an algorithm update?

The dictionary describes an algorithm as, “a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.” The search rankings on Google – alongside the unending quest for that golden slot at the top of page one, and the traffic that invariably follows – are a result of regularly updated algorithms. Essentially, Google uses data to decide which websites, blogs and articles are most reverent for a user’s search term.

Google update their algorithms daily, which means there are regular changes to what qualifies a web page for high search results. Major updates typically shake out two or three times a year, though. It is during these major algorithm updates that a website can experience significant changes to its fortunes. It’s quite possible for Google to completely move the goalposts during an algorithm update.

Where a previous update may have promoted a site for the use of short, punchy and informal language, an update can send traffic plummeting as the algorithm searches for lengthy, authoritative content written in an authoritative tone. This is why makes it critical for anybody that uses an advertising-based financial model online to remain au fait with the ever-changing landscape of Google.

Google Search engine

Google is the go-to search engine for most users. Does your content outrank that of your competitors?

At the time of writing, 2020 has seen three significant algorithm updates from Google1. On January 13th, a core update was announced. This was followed on the 22nd of the same month by a Featured Snippet Deduplication. This meant that any URL with a text snippet as a featured search result would not be found elsewhere on page 1. Finally, May 4th saw a second – seismic – Google algorithm update.

Significant algorithm updates of the past

Google’s previous algorithm updates have a storied history. Oftentimes, these updates are provided with a name2. Significant examples of previous algorithm updates include:

Panda (2011)

Sites that plagiarise or duplicate other content from often successful sources and apply irrelevant keyword stuffing are penalised.

See here for more info.

Penguin
(2012)

Penalises sites that act as link farms and those which apply ‘black hat‘ or natural link building techniques.

See here for more info.

Hummingbird
(2013)

Related to Penguin is as far as this update is largely focussed around the use of content and keywords, providing improvements in semantic search and understanding search intent. Hummingbird relates to Topical Authority.

See here for more info.

Pigeon
(2014)

Boosts search results based on the unique geography of a user.

Mobile
(2015)

Codenamed “Mobilegeddon”, this was first of a series of “mobile” updates, prioritising sites that make content easily readable and accessible to smartphone and mobile users in search results.

RankBrain 
(2015)

Ensures that content only ranks highly if it focusses on the question asked by a user. Irrelevant, off-topic tangents are penalised.

Fred
(2017)

Designed to target black-hat tactics and overly aggressive monetization by targeting sites with excessive ads, low-value content or that offer very little user benefit.

Medic &
E-A-T
(2018)

This was a “broad core algorithm update” which had a significant impact across the Web, impacting sites primarily in the health and wellness sectors.

Do these still have an impact and how?

While Google regularly reviews their algorithms, these critical updates remain evergreen. Penguin, in particular, continues to work in real-time and penalise sites that flout its regulations.

Using an appropriate use of high-authority backlinks can make a big difference to SEO. However, these links must be surrounded by appropriate, original content. The Penguin algorithm can detect a link farm without difficulty, and Google will not hesitate to penalise a site for indulging in this questionable practice.

Keywords and backlinks influence on SEO

Backlinks, affiliate links and keywords can all have a powerful influence on SEO. Just use them wisely, avoiding saturation.

Be mindful of your use of keywords, too. The Hummingbird algorithm remains active in 2020 and will notice if you are using keywords inappropriately. These terms must be used correctly, as part of a standard, flowing sentence. Shoehorning keywords to the point that a sentence makes no sense is a fast-track to penalisation.

Mobile is also particularly important. It is believed that 40% of all online traffic now comes from mobile devices3. With the increased use of smartphones among younger generations, the number of people using mobile devices to surf the web is likely to increase over time, not reduce.

Which google updates have the most influence on SEO in 2020?

COVID-19 and the Coronavirus

It cannot have escaped your attention that the world changed almost beyond recognition in 2020. The onset of COVID-19 moved the goalposts in terms of web traffic. During the core update of January, Coronavirus was still a relatively niche search term. A conversation about the virus was centred almost exclusively on the impact in China, and while the outbreak was discussed in worldwide new reports, COVID-19 was not considered a domestic concern.

Naturally, by May, this was no longer the case. Google announced they had never received as many searches in a single day for just one topic as the entire world focussed its attention on the global pandemic.

COVID-19, while not an algorithm update, massively impacted search behaviour. Topics that were previously hugely popular, such as live events, restaurant recommendations and travel, were down significantly. Put simply, they were redundant. With the nation in lockdown, everything was closed, social gatherings were verboten, and planes were grounded.

Even previously evergreen topics for search traffic, such as pet health, were drastically impacted and pushed down the search rankings. Such topics were engulfed in a cloud of perceived irrelevance. It appears that people were less concerned by the finest cotton bedding for a hamster while their neighbours and friends were fighting over toilet roll in supermarket aisles.

Coronavirus impact on search

Coronavirus had a significant impact on the way we live and work, leading to some erratic behaviours.

In essence, there was nothing to search for but updates on the pandemic. The rising number of cases, updates on a potential vaccine, the ever-changing rules and regulations being laid down by the government, discussion of symptoms … these were the topics on everybody’s lips – and fingertips. As you can imagine, this had a significant impact on sites that discuss human health and lifestyle.

Google’s 2018 Medic update and E-A-T

The 2020 Google updates have come hot on the heels of 2018’s Medic update4. The Medic update had no relation to COVID but primarily directed toward human health sites. The impact of Medic was seismic in the third quarter of 2018, not least because many were left frustrated by the results. It was initially unclear by particular content was being penalised or pushed. Upon deeper study, it became clear that the Medic update could be considered an extension of RankBrain. The algorithm update promoted sites that worded headings almost to the letter to what a user was searching for – while also demonstrating expertise and trustworthy knowledge on the subject at hand. This worked in conjunction with the E-A-T update, which we will discuss shortly.

The Google algorithm updates of 2020 became a double-edged sword for those that conduct business online in 2020. While SEO traffic pertaining to COVID-19 shot through the roof, advertisers wanted nothing to do with the pandemic. This posed a challenge for content creators – especially those within the news industry. SEO web content pertaining to Coronavirus was certain to drive traffic during the peak of the crisis and will likely continue to do so. In an ideal world, traffic leads to advertising revenue. With advertisers pulling the plug and demonetising COVID-centric content, however, this was not always the case. It remains to be seen how many news and media outlets will survive the impending recession and inevitable cull that follows.

Outside of the Coronavirus pandemic, the May Google algorithm update had an additional impact on SEO traffic. It is worth noting that core web vitals5 were placed under greater scrutiny during this update. Google’s biggest priorities on this subject are the speed at which pages load, the option of interactivity for a visitor, and the structure of any content and copy. These factors all have a noteworthy influence on SEO.

Monitor core web vitals when there is a Google update

Monitor your website performance. If traffic has dropped sharply, you may have fallen foul to a Google algorithm update.

A statement from Google insists that priority will still be placed upon the excellence of content. If a site boasts relevant, high-quality copy and visuals, this should supersede any underperforming web vitals. All the same, it is advisable to check reports on your site’s performance. As we will discuss now, Google’s definition of excellence may rely upon user behaviour.

E-A-T – Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness6 – was another priority during the May 2020 algorithm update. On paper, this should not have had any significant impact on web traffic. E-A-T was first rolled out in 2018, causing significant rumblings throughout the blogosphere as a result. The truth remains, though; SEO is only impactful when paired with appropriately authoritative content. If you have enough time to do so, it is advisable to read Google’s guidelines on meeting E-A-T expectations7.

Do I need to be an SEO expert to deliver good SEO?

There is an elephant in the room when it comes to SEO. Google is a large search engine. No matter how many staff the corporation employs, they cannot possibly read every piece of content posted on the web, assess it for relevance, and cross-reference any claims found within for accuracy – although steps are being taken to combat so-called, “fake news.” Keyword identification is fine, but not infallible. This begs the question – just how does a Google judge E-A-T?

One suggestion is that Google algorithm updates will begin basing rankings upon visitor behaviour. Previously, common wisdom dictated that word counts were key to ascending the Google search ranks. The more content created, the more helpful information visitors would glean from a blog or article. This will be reflected in a website’s ranking following any Google updates.

Following the May 2020 update, this appears to be an outdated thought process. Content of 500 words that holds the attention of visitors will be ranked higher than a 3,000-word opus that drifts off-topic and experiences a high bounce rate. Thin content that holds limited value or relevance continues to be the biggest challenge facing many websites. It is critical that, to make the most of any SEO opportunities, priority is placed upon excellence in delivery.

Top Tip You don’t need to be an SEO expert to create interesting and engaging content! Dull or irrelevant copy will lead to disengaged users and a high bounce rate. This, in turn, will impact your Google ranking. So think outside-the-box and put yourself in your visitor’s shoes.

Conclusion: How to influence your SEO by understanding algorithm updates

This base understanding of SEO is essential to ranking highly in a Google algorithm update. However, the emphasis should always remain on delivering high-quality, relevant content. All the traffic in the world will mean nothing if visitors do not stick around to read what is found on your website. When it comes to copywriting, the old adage of, “buy cheap, pay twice” rings true. SEO can be learned and improved, especially if you follow the advice of professionals such as Opace. This will mean nothing without appropriate content, though. There may be a flood of low-cost content creators vying for business in 2020, but hiring such individuals can prove to be a false economy.

Ultimately, the May 2020 Google algorithm update provides a potential boon to SEO experts. Now, more than ever, it is critical to understand how Google operates – and how to scale the heights of page one during searches.

A Google algorithm update can make or break your advertising revenue. Do not take any chances, and always remains one step ahead of the game. Retaining the status quo and hoping for the best will eventually see your website’s stock plummet, potentially irrevocably.

COVID-19 has changed the way we all work, including Google. Now is the time to move with the times and adjust SEO practices to avoid being left behind in a world that is growing increasingly unrecognisable. Study up on previous and current Google algorithm updates and learn the patterns of when to expect a further amendment. This aid you in maintaining a healthy position within the search engine’s rankings.

Image Credits – Pixabay/FirmBee; Pixabay/FirmBee; Pixabay.com/Alexas_Fotos; Pixabay/PhotoMIX-Company; Pexels/AndreaPiacquadio

References and further reading

  1. searchenginejournal.com/google-confirms-may-2020-core-algorithm-update-rolling-out-today/365974
  2. searchengineland.com/8-major-google-algorithm-updates-explained-282627
  3. broadbandsearch.net/blog/mobile-desktop-internet-usage-statistics
  4. seroundtable.com/google-medic-update-26177.html
  5. blog.chromium.org/2020/05/introducing-web-vitals-essential-metrics.html
  6. mariehaynes.com/eat
  7. static.googleusercontent.com/media/guidelines.raterhub.com/en/searchqualityevaluatorguidelines.pdf

 

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