If you’ve spent any time browsing SEO topics on social media today, you’ve likely encountered ripples of Google’s latest December 2020 Core Update, such as algorithm trackers sharing graphs showing significant fluctuations or backlash against drastic changes in the SERPs from furious site owners.
If you still feel at a loss or lack confidence when confronted on the spot by your boss about what impact the update has had or how you’re “fixing it”, you’re not alone.
After being taught painful lessons from Pandas and Penguins, we’ve learned that Google rewards good SEO behaviour. That means easily accessible and well-organised websites with relevant and authoritative content are the best, if not the only, solution to feeding Google’s algorithms. However, getting results that blatantly reject your attempts to follow their guidelines can feel demotivating and disorientating!
But it’s important to remember: a core update is not an attack on your website or your individual actions.
December 2020 Update is a classic “broad core update” – a global update not specific to any region, language, or web site category. Not you specifically! The goal behind updates like these is that Google gets better at assessing content and determining what pages serve the best answers to searchers’ queries. These changes may result in boosting pages that were previously under-rewarded which means some websites may face drops, while other ones will experience gains in their traffic.
So let’s walk through these common gut reactions. This is one of the largest core updates in a long time and since they aren’t going away (not even during a global pandemic), here’s what you need to know to stay calm and collected in the face of all those invasive questions running through your mind.
Later today, we are releasing a broad core algorithm update, as we do several times per year. It is called the December 2020 Core Update. Our guidance about such updates remains as we’ve covered before. Please see this blog post for more about that:https://t.co/e5ZQUAlt0G
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) December 3, 2020
“What have I done wrong?”
In a word: nothing. We can’t stress this enough.
The reason for the decline in organic ranking is not because your website has serious SEO issues, but is simply the result of Google finding better results for the search query.
Google has an established recent history of rolling out broad core updates that affect factors like understanding user search intent, what web pages are about and how those pages are relevant to search queries. If Google determines that searchers want ideas and information on a topic then that’s going to negatively affect sites that only offer transactional pages with little information.
“Quick! How do I fix it before it gets worse?”
Avoid acting too quickly. During the initial days after the algorithm update, algorithm trackers may start showing significant fluctuations. This is an indication that a lot of websites are seeing huge increases and decreases in their organic ranking positions which often leads to marketing teams having panic attacks. However, rather than panic, it’s best to wait for the update to fully roll out across Google’s data centres and to settle. This usually takes between 10-14 days. What commonly happens is that after an update rolls out it is followed by a period of relative calm that is then interrupted when Google engineers make adjustments or reversals. This is why jumping to conclusions or making drastic changes is not recommended – anything can change. Wait until the full update is done rolling out before making any large decisions about changing your website – that is unless you are doing something that violates Google guidelines and you need to fix it. Just stay vigilant and monitor your rankings and organic traffic until the 17th December 2020 and go from there.
“For the love of link juice, how did that site get there?”
Monitor what is happening, keep an eye out for websites that are winning rankings and try to understand why those sites have succeeded. Look for patterns and compare this with those that have seen drops. Don’t always assume it is the most obvious reason though, it might be something else entirely.
“Has Covid-19 impacted the update?”
Covid-19 has changed what people need from Google’s search results and has caused a significant shift in users’ search behaviour. With December 2020’s Core update, Google is faced with the unique challenge of having to catch up in real-time and determine what it is that people want to see when they make a search query. Changes in search rankings are generally a reflection of content relevancy. There are many gaining relevancy that weren’t as relevant before meaning that if content has gained relevance since the last update it will be moved higher up in rankings.
In the last update, many categories’ volatility would come as no surprise, such as travel, tourism, real estate, live entertainment and events, health or places offering remote services.
“Is the site too slow? Is it not mobile-friendly enough?”
Sometimes, Google will make changes targeting specific tactics, such as to reward page speed and mobile-friendliness or fight webspam and low-quality content. With a broad update like the Decemeber 2020 Update it’s designed to ensure that overall, the search engine is delivering on their mission to present relevant and authoritative content to searchers.
“When will this happen again?”
Google is always working to improve the quality of their search results. In fact, they release one or more changes every day. However, those changes usually aren’t noticeable. The last core update was the May 2020 update, while the ones before that were in January 2020 and September 2019.
The latest Google Core Algo Update appears to be the most significant one in a while, based on early analysis. Don’t kneejerk. Nothing to do NOW but analyze. Neither you nor anyone you know understands what to do yet. Be patient. I know it’s hard.
— Tony N. Wright (@tonynwright) May 6, 2020
“Well, what should I be doing?”
Google doesn’t give out the details of its routine updates, merely advising content creators to focus on quality content. It is often recommended to step back from it all, take a wider view of your overall website and see what you can do to improve the site overall. It’s best to view the changes through the lens of how a site best addresses the search intent. Here are key activities you can do to help:
- Analyse Google Search console and site traffic in analytics over the following weeks to further see the impact of this core update.
- Improve the quality of the content and its authority. Google’s mantra has always been that there is not much you can do about an algorithm update and changes in rankings, except to keep improving your content quality.
- Evaluate whether or not your content is authoritative, helpful to users and formatted in a way to help search engines and users
- Make sure existing SEO mistakes are fixed and avoided.
- Provide original information, reporting, research, or analysis along with a comprehensive description on the topic.
- Strive to make your content the most holistic resource on the web for a user’s specific query.
You may have heard that there has been a lot of volatility in the local search results lately. I’ve been checking through some of my @whitespark Local Rank Tracker campaigns, and here’s a good visual that shows how the turbulence started on April 23rd: pic.twitter.com/dkCQ9IMkjE
— Darren Shaw (@DarrenShaw_) May 2, 2020
Following these answers, you should be on your way to silencing the panicked internal questioning that the update has brought. Be patient and focus on the quality of your content during this time and you’ll be well on your way to the top of the rankings, not to mention ready for any questions your boss might throw your way.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should we take immediate action?
We always recommend waiting for a core update to finish fully rolling out before reacting. However, if you have things that you can improve on your website then why wait? Especially if there is something bigger that you plan to improve across your website. There are always updates happening at some point.
We would recommend making those improvements or fixing issues, and keep track of them so that you know a little bit about what happened.
Do we need an SEO specialist to recover from a core update?
SEO specialists can’t pick up a magic ward and make your website magically reappear if you’ve lost rankings and traffic, especially when it comes to the core updates.
Core updates are about the relevance of the website overall. Anybody can take a website and rewrite the content to make it more relevant, therefore you don't need to be a professional SEO to recover.
With SEO experts, we often know what is happening, why that has happened and what search engines might be looking for. But essentially anybody can update a website and make it better.