If you’ve noticed your website pages rise or fall in Google Search, it could be because Google released a Core Update. In a core update, Google makes significant changes to its search engine algorithms to improve the quality of search results. These changes can have a considerable effect on search engine results pages (SERPs), across different industries and languages.
Google rolled out its latest Core Update on 4th May 2020, called the May 2020 Core Update – their second one this year. The update was big and especially affected pages in the travel, real estate, health, pets & animals, and people & society industries.
What is a Core Update?
Entering a search query into Google brings up a set of instant results ranked in order of relevancy. To do this, Google uses a series of algorithms to retrieve information from its search index and put it in order of relevancy to the query.
Google continually strives to improve this system, which is why we see regular updates to the algorithms. In a core update, content relevancy is affected, and more relevant content moves up the search engine rankings, while less relevant content moves down.
Here is an example Google gives of how an update works: if you wrote a list of the top 100 movies in 2015 and then decided to refresh that list in 2019, you’ll likely want to add new movies to the list that didn’t exist before. And you may decide to move other movies up or down the list.
Core updates are different to other updates, which are either so small Google doesn’t announce them or they focus on something specific, for example, the BERT update focused on Natural Language Processing (NLP).
Typically, core updates tend to happen every few months or so. Google rolled out the previous three updates in January 2020, November 2019, and September 2019 (each two months apart).
How can a Core Update impact your site?
When a core update is released, you may notice some drops or gains in your search rankings.
You may be more concerned if you lose rankings than if you gain them. However, because of the broad nature of a core update, many sites can be affected. It doesn’t mean you’ve broken any of Google’s rules; it just means that more relevant content has moved up the search rankings.
What to do about Core Updates
Pinpointing why pages have dropped in Google search results can be tricky. Because a core update involves broad changes, and Google can potentially change many factors, the “fix” could be different for every site.
Also, Google likes to keep their algorithm ‘recipe’ a secret, so they don’t reveal the specifics of what changes they make in a core update. This can make pinpointing what to change a bit of a guessing game.
But that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do.
Focus on the quality of your content
Even if there aren’t any specific actions to take for the update, Google advises: “focusing on ensuring you’re offering the best content you can. That’s what our algorithms seek to reward.”
Where Google releases frequent updates, in their persistent efforts to improve search results, they say that “content might recover in the future, even if a content owner makes no changes.” However, take note that this is not guaranteed.
With the continued evolution of search engine algorithms, they’re getting better at recognising the most relevant content to a query. This is why focusing on the quality of your content and writing for humans first (i.e. writing with your customers in mind, not the search engine bots) is a good content strategy.
But what is quality content?
Quality content is relevant, meets the needs of your audience, and is consistent. In other words, it’s well thought out content that your audience wants or needs. Google has written a list of questions to ask yourself in checking the quality of your content.
Key questions to consider include:
- Does it meet the needs of your visitors? (I.e. is it relevant, engaging, entertaining?)
- Is it accurate and up to date?
- Does it demonstrate expertise?
- Is your content trustworthy?
Knowing your audience well will help you to deliver content that is relevant and of value to them. Find out what questions your customers are asking and then answer them in your content.
Ways to find out what your customers want to know can include:
- asking them directly
- looking on social media
- checking out websites like Answer the Public or Quora, which show what people are asking around given topics
Other things you could do, which are good SEO practice in general, include:
- Updating your old blog posts
- Addressing pages with ‘thin content’ (i.e. pages with a low word count that can benefit from more explanation)
- Doing an SEO audit
You could also look at sites that are performing well in Google Search. How are they meeting the needs of their audience, and are they doing something different to you? Could you do something similar, how can you make yourself stand out?
If delving into your SEO seems too daunting, and you need help optimising your website, our digital marketing experts can help. We offer a range of SEO services to help you rank higher in search results.