I am no stranger to the wide sweeping impact of Google’s decisions on algorithms. I’ve seen dozens of brands losing hundreds of thousands of revenue once their Google ranking started slowly but surely losing rankings.
For years Google has been introducing many changes that have been set to reduce fraud and shift how ranking is determined. These vary from huge changes to tiny changes but both had huge effect on individual sites.
We are all familiar with Panda, Penguin and Pigeon updates. But what are core updates?
From Google’s explanation, it looks like a core update is a tweak to the algorithm itself. Probably, it’s a change to how they collect and/or interpret and/or measure one or more of the signals that help them rank web pages.
Unlike their “punishing” updates (see the animals listed above), core algorithm update isn’t meant to fight any spammy signals or manipulation. It’s rather an improvement than a penalty.
|Broad core algorithm update||Penguin, Panda, Pigeon, etc.|
|Targets a spammy tactic|
|Penalizes certain domains/pages|
|Have clear recovery recommendations|
Therefore there’s no real recovery, because there’s no one penalized.
But you can still take some measures to stay safe and improve your positions.
There have been a few core algorithm updates confirmed by Google so far:
It is worth noting that Google updates its algorithm on a daily basis but the above are “broad” updates as they put it, meaning the latter are more noticeable in terms of the impact.
But what about the latest update?
What Exactly Did They Change Back in August?
In August of this year, Google announced that they would be releasing a “broad core algorithm” update that would roll out within a day of their tweet. The details were vague, as they usually are when one of these changes are made and it left webmasters and content creators on the edge of their seats as they waited to find out what lay ahead.
Most of all, we worried about who would be affected.
Almost right away we saw that the majority of sites that were impacted had to do with the health, wellness and medical niches. However, it specifically went after what has come to be known in recent years as YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) websites.
For those who are unfamiliar with the acronym, it refers to the value that Google places on both the information provided by content and by the sources backing it.
There are some pages for which PQ [page quality] is particularly important. We call these pages Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) pages. They are pages that can have an impact on your current or future well being (physical, financial, safety, etc.). YMYL pages should come from reputable websites and the content should be created with a high level of expertise and authority.
For example, WebMD is a highly accredited site with authoritative writers working from the medical field. Therefore, it would be an EAT-focused site (Expert, Authoritative and Trustworthiness). Â
The quality and amount of main content, website information, and website reputation all inform the E-A-T of a website.
- Is the author of the page an Expert of what he is talking about? (i.e. the topic of the query)
- Is the web page Authoritative
- Can you Trust it? (Especially important for YMYL sites, i.e. medical, financial, ecommerce niches)
If you were to search for a random blog that had the same information, but it was not affiliated with any credible sources, it wouldn’t be well-trusted. Sure, it might have the same info as WebMD. But without sources, the reader can’t tell if the details are reliable.
Why All The Fuss?
Ideally, this update would mean that consumers/net users are being protected from bad information that could lose them money, negatively impact their life or hurt their health. In theory, it is a positive that we can all get behind.
The problems begin with the way these sweeping algorithm updates are enacted. Google is not manually searching through every site on the web to discover the value of the content. The process is automated through that algorithm.
While many of the sites that were impacted were, indeed, worthless or even potentially dangerous, there were other sites that were not. Once again, innocent sites with information from credible people, or who offered personal opinions and not advice, lost their organic search and local search results.
Health and wellness websites were also not the only ones hit. There was a fair amount of search de-ranking across the board. The categories that seemed to be hit the hardest, however, were diet/nutrition and medical accessories/equipment.
Possibly the biggest threat about this update is the same that has come with several others. The idea of YMYL versus EAT can be rather subjective. Fairly unknown authors can be still real expert in their narrow niches.
Looking back at the two categories that this update hit the most, you can see where this might cause an issue. Patients will frequently write about their experiences using certain medical products first hand (such as someone comparing different insulin pumps). Likewise, people who have worked toward weight loss using a particular nutritional method may write about their journey.
In both cases, there is no doctor at the helm to offer credentials behind the information. But that doesn’t mean their perspective doesn’t hold direct value or that they are presenting a threat to the reader.
The most important takeaway from this update is that Google is taking serious steps to learning to understand “trusted” and “authoritative” content.
The key is to try and reverse-engineer those steps and learn with them
This whole change is presenting a nightmare for content creators who are uncertain of the future of their own sites in the wake of this update. How can they protect themselves?
How to Keep Yourself (and Your Brand) Safe From Disruption
Like with all changes Google makes, adaption is critical to survive. Unfortunately, there is no 100% foolproof method of making sure your search results aren’t impacted. But there are some ways you can reduce the risk.
Use the Checklist
- Do you see your article title and intro immediately after the page loads?
- Is your article long enough to cover the topic in much detail?
- Does your article mention related entities (Names, authors, events, etc.)?
- Does your article cite its sources? Does it include a good number of reference links providing further information on the mentioned concepts and entities?
- Is the author information (name, bio indicating areas
of expertise, link to a more detailed bio, etc) visible on the page?
- Do your ads and calls-to-action distract a user from your article?
- Do your ads show adult or misleading content. (Happens too often these days!)
- Do your page ads slow down the page?
- Is it hard to tell adds from other (navigational) links on your page?
- Are your ads clearly labeled as sponsored links / ads?
- Do you have clearly visible links to your “Contact us” page, “About us” page?
- Are your page user comments well-moderated?
Get Rid of Thin and Stale Content
One of the big flags for this update seems to be too much content that doesn’t offer enough value. You can probably think of at least a handful of pieces that weren’t your best, or just don’t apply anymore. Delete those and redirect the URL.
Spruce Up Old Content
If that old content is still good, it is worth it to make it amazing. Go back and update it with a new, better fitting tone to your brand, new details and something special that will wow the people who read it.
List Authors With Proper Bios
So many of the sites hit had no official author pages, no information on the writers and sometimes not even full names (or any names at all). That doesn’t instill confidence in the source. Make each bio complete with credentials or background to lend some credibility to the contributors.
Publish On Authoritative Sites
Find authoritative sites to publish under your name in order to build up your own reputation and your brand. This is also a good opportunity to introduce a new audience to your own website.
This will grow your name recognition and authority.
Do a Site Audit
Broken links, grammatical issues, odd design flaws, coding problems… these all contribute to making your website look unprofessional and low-quality.
This update is a bit of a headache and may cause some confusion and problems going forward. But we in the SEO business have overcome such changes before and we will again.
Besides if you start implementing measure above today, you’ll grow your site trustworthiness and authority which will keep you safe from any updates, animal-like or core ones.