SEOs around the world hold their breaths each time Google rolls out an algorithm update. Yet, the May 2020 Core Update was particularly ground-shaking. And not in the least because it got rolled out right in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic! Now that Google has officially finished rolling it out around the world, the SEO community has jumped on to see the results. And… they weren’t happy.
The May 2020 Core Update rollout is complete.— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) May 18, 2020
What are Google Core Updates?
Several times a year, Google makes significant, wide-ranging changes to their search algorithms. They call them core updates. As a result, SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) shift with some sites gaining new rankings and others losing their existing ones. The updates are traditionally announced on Twitter.
May 2020 Core Update - what has changed?
Here’s the twist: Google never reveals how its algorithms and systems work. All we know is that there’s been an update, and search results have adjusted because of it. SEOs can only make sophisticated guesses on what new preferences have caused the changes. According to Google, core algorithm updates are designed to ensure “we’re delivering on our mission to present relevant and authoritative content to searchers.”
What are the perceived problems with the Google May 2020 Core Update?
Social media SERP takeover
One of the main complaints is seeing niche specialist websites overtaken by social media giants. This has caused some people to suspect the May 2020 core update favours domain authority more than before. Pinterest was seen having multiple rankings on page 1, despite it not being the home of the content it presents. Facebook, Reddit, Quora and other social media websites also saw page 1 rankings.
So why would people use a search engine when they can directly visit Pinterest, Google books, Facebook , YouTube and directly search for what they want— Mack&Mac (@phillipwalu) May 18, 2020
Big brands taking up SERP real estate
Big brands such as Amazon won multiple rankings on page 1 for products. Here, most SEOs saw an issue with the limited real estate available on SERPs. With 10 organic spots on page 1, and most users never looking past it, the competition is intense. An international giant gaining double rankings is bound to hit a nerve.
Search for “fishing game” in uk. Amazon 3 listings, argos 2 listings. This can be new normal?— Roman Sadowski (@sadowski_roman) May 18, 2020
Etsy also got double listings
Many SEOs pointed out that Etsy, the American eCommerce website allowing people to sell handmade and vintage products, got double rankings in SERPs too. This caused speculation that Google seemed to associate Etsy with the word “handmade”. Etsy seemed to get significant real estate for searches including that keyword.
Hi. With many searches, you are now linking to Etsy twice, with the first two links. Both Etsy pages contain the same content. This is not ideal for google users:https://t.co/mI2WHRk88vhttps://t.co/BwAXsfDzpXhttps://t.co/bUcJdaGbDf— Jeff Benzenberg (@jeffbenzenberg) May 18, 2020
Etc Etc Etc
The timing. Oh, the timing...
The biggest criticism towards the update was its timing. Many businesses have suffered incredibly from the Covid-19 pandemic. Sales and traffic have dropped across industries, forcing businesses to close their doors. Some webmasters claimed to lose as much as 50% of their traffic due to lost rankings following the algorithm update.
Seriously I've seen webmasters on the verge of complete nervous breakdown. You could have waited after the #covid19 dust settles before you ruin everyone's side income.— Karl von Bahnhof (@_karlvonbahnhof) May 21, 2020
Yet, we know Google rolls out these core updates several times a year. It would have been in the works much before anyone realised the severity of the pandemic.
Has Covid-19 affected the Google algorithm?
It’s safe to say human behaviour changed drastically around the world due to social distancing and self-isolation. The MIT Technology Review wrote about how the sudden extreme change in buying habits has affected AI. This would have undoubtedly led to changed search behaviour, too. It’s possible that users were more interested than usual in large eCommerce platforms, such as Etsy and Amazon. They allowed people in quarantine to buy what they need and get it delivered to them fast.
So, who are the other winners and losers? The big winner of the May 2020 Core Update has been the news sector, as people seek out the most recent information on Covid-19. The arts and entertainment industry, on the other hand, took the biggest hit. Eventbrite, a platform for organising offline meetups, lost 190.1k of their rankings.
The travel and health industries also saw significant turmoil in their rankings. This led to suspicion that changed search behaviour caused the shift, as people stopped travelling and started looking for reliable health information.
The only thing we know for sure is that in search behaviour it's not business as usual, and that could be impacting search results.
What to do if your rankings have dropped
Google’s webmaster guidelines regarding core updates haven’t changed. So, there’s not much you can do about the changed rankings, apart from improving upon your content. Provided you already have strong SEO foundations, that is.
At its core (see what we did there), the Google core algorithm updates seek to reward the best content. To re-gain your old rankings or to get new ones, focus on creating better content than your industry standard!
Here are some questions to ask yourself if your content is not ranking:
- Is your content trustworthy, referencing relevant sources?
- Is it original?
- Do you offer added value compared to other sites?
- Does the content meet the expectations of users (i.e. their search intent)?
- Would you share it with your friends?
And now what?
Search results will fluctuate before stabilising after each core update. Google engineers will analyse the feedback, reviewing the search results and reeling back some of the changes. Don’t panic – SEO is a long-term game. Sometimes these losses are short term, and an abrupt reaction might just lead to fixing something that isn't broken. Just focus on delivering what visitors to your website are looking for.
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