Google is constantly evolving, with minor updates to its core algorithm rolling out roughly 500 times each year. In addition to these smaller changes, Google implements major core updates several times a year, announcing it only after the update has been completed across the platform. The May 2020 core update happened between May 4–18 and the December 2020 core update happened between December 3–6, 2020. The effects of these updates are being felt by local businesses online today.
The May core update was the first major change to the Google search algorithm during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. What makes this update different from others is that it is focused more on the user experience while on a page rather than focusing on the text that makes up a page. It is more concentrated on load speed of both the page itself and any interactive elements, including animations, videos and images on a range of devices.
So why does this matter to your business?
Since the May update, a wide range of industries, including (but not limited to) healthcare, travel and real estate, have noticed volatility in their search results. Unpredictability for placement is up to 93% for the first page of search results, and up to 38% for the first three results, an increase in both metrics since the core update released in January 2020.
If your Google Analytics have indicated negative effects in organic traffic due to the updates, Google has provided a list of recommended questions for both you and your website administrator to answer to determine what changes are necessary to improve your site to meet the new ranking factors. Please note that websites that saw their traffic dip due to the update may not have noticed their traffic returning to normal or even going up until the December update. However, fluctuations present in top search results have doubled since the most recent rollout, according to digital marketing expert Neil Patel, meaning that websites commonly found at the top of the page were suddenly seeing their results plummet before rising and settling, often below where they started.
The December 2020 core update affected mostly larger domains, including websites reaching over one million users per month in primarily the business, telecom, beauty & health and fitness sectors. According to SEMRush, search engine results experienced a massive spike in volatility on December 4, with nearly one third of sites that reach over ten million monthly users experiencing fluctuations in their position.
Here are three things you should discuss with your web developer to ensure you’re maximizing your brand’s efforts to maintain high search engine results page (SERP) rankings and reap the benefits of related traffic and engagement.
1. Interactivity Features
Check each interactive component of your website and each page on desktop, tablet and mobile devices to see if there are improvements to be implemented. By running certain pages through free developer tools like Pingdom or Google Developer, you’ll be able to see tangible changes in page speed as you edit code or update plug-ins to decrease load time and increase user experience on your website. If your website uses features like pop-ups or contact forms that follow users as they scroll down the page, have your website manager check Google Analytics and conversion data to see if click-through rate has been affected due to the May update.
2. Reindexing Old Page Content
Perform a content audit to see if there is thin or underperforming content that could be affecting your search rankings. Many sites that have been refreshing older, out-of-date content with new information have been receiving spikes in traffic and search results. If your website has older blogs or pages that are still relevant to your business but have been on your site for several years, now is the best time to add them to your content schedule to be rewritten and reindexed by search engines to prove that you are still the expert in your field.
3. Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (EAT)
One of the biggest focuses that drives ranking factors is EAT. EAT is made up of millions of minor algorithms put together to form the ranking factor. Search engines are constantly on the lookout for fresh, original content that provides users and potential customers with an accurate description and experience of what your products or services can bring to the table. So when creating new content, you’ll want to highlight how your business is the local expert—not just copying what your competitors are writing and spinning it to be relevant to your company. The authoritativeness of the piece can help grow your domain authority, which is the measure of how relevant your content is to both the subject of the piece and the relevance of the page and your business. Both of these bond together to form trust: the measure Google uses to determine if your website is a good source of information about specific topics. Some industries require higher levels of EAT than others, including websites offering medical, legal or financial advice or news articles.
While some of the industry sectors most affected by the December core update are different from the May core update, the recommendations are the same for all businesses. Webmasters and developers should begin making edits to their websites in order to improve user experience and prepare for the launch of Core Web Vitals, an upcoming Google initiative set to take effect in 2021 to replace Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). Google has previously announced that they would provide webmasters and partners with at least six months’ notice to prepare for Core Web Vitals, which will lead to further major changes in the algorithm. While the exact launch date is still unknown, taking as much time to prepare as possible will give you a head start on limiting the impact on your business’s online presence.