Google is always tweaking and updating its algorithm to provide the best possible search experience. These improvements are a constant, ongoing process, and business owners and webmasters should expect to see some gentle fluctuation in the ranking and performance of their websites from one day to the next. This is perfectly normal - no cause for alarm.
On occasion, though, you might notice a particularly pronounced change in your website's rankings - even though you haven't made any changes to the site itself. This may be a sign that Google has released a more significant algorithm update.
It's important to keep an eye out for big Google updates, understand what impact they can have, and monitor the performance of your websites for any significant shifts. In 2020 so far, Google has released two core algorithm updates and two stand-alone updates: one that prevents featured snippet URLs from appearing in the organic SERPs, and one that changes the way Googlebot views nofollow links.
In this blog, we're going to take a look at these recent updates and the impact they've had, so you know what to look out for on your own website. Let's dive right in!
Core Algorithm Updates
Of all Google's updates, core updates make the broadest changes and happen most frequently. They're designed to improve search results pages so that Google can deliver the most authoritative and relevant content to its users. This year, we've already seen Google roll out two core algorithm updates: one on the 13th of January, and one on the 4th of May.
It's common for Google's core updates to have a drastic impact on your website's keyword rankings. Some sites experience severe ranking drops, others will see an impressive ranking boost - it's hard to predict!
Why does this happen? Well, Google's Webmaster Central Blog gives us a great way of looking at the situation:
"One way to think of how a core update operates is to imagine you made a list of the top 100 movies in 2015. A few years later in 2019, you refresh the list. It's going to naturally change. Some new and wonderful movies that never existed before will now be candidates for inclusion. You might also reassess some films and realise they deserved a higher place on the list than they had before. The list will change, and films previously higher on the list that move down aren't bad. There are simply more deserving films that are coming before them."
What should you do if you notice a drop?
If you notice that your website is ranking much higher than it did before the update, bravo! Google thinks your content is highly relevant for its users.
However, if you notice that a particular page, an old blog post, or your website as a whole has slipped down the rankings following a core update, then the first thing to remember is that it doesn't mean your content is 'bad'.
What it does mean is that, if you want to reclaim those top positions in the SERP, you might want to revisit the content on these pages and make them better.
- Start by looking at the pages that now rank above you. What do those pages have that might make them more authoritative/relevant for a user?
- Re-assess your own content through a critical lens.
- Can you provide a more substantial description of the topic?
- Can you add links to authoritative sources?
- Could you re-write the content to make it clearer/more concise?
- Can you provide a more suitable heading?
By building better and more relevant web pages, you should start to see your website moving steadily up the rankings following a core update. Get in touch with our SEO specialists if you have any further questions about recovering dropped rankings.
Featured Snippet Duplication Update
On January 22nd, Google implemented an update that changed the way featured snippets appeared in the search results pages. Prior to the update, URLs that appeared in the featured snippet could also appear high up in the rankings, essentially giving that website twice as much exposure.
Post-update, you won't see duplicate URLs in the SERPs. If your webpage claims the elusive 'position 0' and is featured in Google's snippet, then it won't appear anywhere else in the rankings.
What impact will this have on your website?
Google has advised that the featured snippet position (or position zero) and position 1 are usually considered as the same position in most rank tracking tools, so you shouldn't see any dramatic drops in ranking.
In terms of your click-through rate, there are a few theories. Our own research suggests that holding the featured snippet is valuable for your website because it's the first port of call if a user wants to find out more information on a certain topic. Even on occasions when a user doesn't click through to your website, they're still being exposed to your brand and your featured content - so it's a win-win situation!
Sceptics argue that some users might choose to skip past all the on-page features like knowledge panels, featured snippets etc and head straight to the organic results. If this is the case, then this featured snippet update could be detrimental, but we're yet to see such an impact on our clients' websites.
Our advice? Keep an eye on your rankings and your inbound traffic. While it's unlikely that you'll see a drop as a result of this update, you can always re-work your content to gain a more beneficial ranking if you see that certain pages have been affected.
We've known that Google was changing the way it treats nofollow links since the end of 2019, but it wasn't until the 1st of March this year that the update actually went live.
Following this update, nofollow links will be treated as a 'hint' when Google is crawling and indexing your site, and might even affect your ranking.
Previously, nofollow links could be used to tell Google to disregard a certain outbound link. Essentially, you could tell Google "Hey, I don't want to endorse this website even though this link is relevant to my users". That's no longer the case.
When announcing this update, Google said, "Links contain valuable information that helps us improve search, such as how the words within links describe the content they point at. Looking at every link we encounter can help us understand unnatural linking patterns".
Generally, nofollow links will be treated as they were before, so the impact on your website should be minimal. As far as actions you should take, Google recommends using one of two new link attributes to identify the purpose of your nofollow links. For example:
- rel="sponsored" to identify links that have been paid for, e.g. adverts and sponsored articles.
- rel="UGC" to identify links in user-generated content, e.g. blog comments.
Google has said that they might still use these "sponsored" and "UGC" links as 'hints' when crawling your website, but using the correct identifications increases the likelihood that Google will understand why you've used a nofollow link, and they will assess the link accordingly.
Google updates happen all the time - it's part of an ongoing effort to perfect their search engine experience. On the whole, Google updates are nothing to be worried about, but having an awareness of them can help you identify the cause of traffic and ranking fluctuations. Contact us for more information about our search engine optimisation services.