Google rolled out the second major algorithm update of the year earlier this month, and inevitably there have been big winners and losers in search engine page rankings as the tech giant’s latest tweaks take effect.
There is always the sense of the unknown after Google releases a core update as webmasters are never entirely sure how the performance of pages will change. Some companies will see websites drop and not know exactly why, while others will benefit from better rankings and a spike in traffic.
Gauging the impact and how to respond is made more challenging by the fact that Google offers vague general advice about how to proceed.
There is never usually anything specific that brands can do to gain lost ground if they have fallen down the ranking pecking order or want to hold on to new gains.
Google generally recommends focusing on the quality and relevance of content as in the long term, this will win out. Trying to implement short-term fixes can backfire.
However, it has now been a couple of weeks since the new algorithm went live and SEO experts have been able to double down on a few observations that explain what has happened this time around.
SERPs have been a bit more volatile lately due to the pandemic, but there are several trends that have emerged since 4th May when Google revealed that it had started rolling out a ‘May 2020 Core Update’ and pointed webmasters to its “guidance about such updates”.
The first is that landing pages with “thin content” are struggling to hold on to higher rankings due to a combination of internal link and off-page factors.
Thin content is defined as any content that lacks quality and provides relatively little value to the reader. It is often auto-generated, copy-pasted from elsewhere, or just plain duplicated content.
This sort of content just does not align with Google’s own drive for relevance and added value, so it’s no surprise to see these landing pages falling.
The second takeaway is that local search is in a major flux due to sites with an abundance of link acquisitions soaring higher.
Research by MarketMuse found that sites with these link acquisitions have been big winners, even if the rate of acquisitions appears unnaturally high. The same is happening even for lower-quality sites with links.
It said: “Our data skews against high lead cost (legal, medical, insurance, financial, high-ticket services) arenas.
“But two phenomena we’re analyzing are cases where sites with wildly high link acquisition velocity (unnatural, odd) were rewarded in the updates, especially in the May 7-9 time frame.”
High off-page growth has helped some lower-quality sites to move higher in search rankings since the update. This has been particularly prevalent in the US where aggregator sites have enjoyed a major boost during the last week or so.
However, MarketMuse’s Jeff Coyle believes that this could just be a “short term thing” and tipped sites that have lost out to make a rebound later in the year.
He pointed to the fact that Google must be viewing some low-quality pages as more authoritative based just on homepage content, even if they don’t serve a particular area or region. This suggests that SERPs could correct themselves sometime in the future.
The third takeaway relates directly to aggregators and directories, both of which have been big winners. MarketMuse urged webmasters to take a look at landing pages for big regional providers to see if their company’s local market or area has seen more volatility than normal during May.
Rather than offering broad winners and losers, software company SISTRIX has pinpointed a handful of sites that have made the most gains and losses since the algorithm went live.
NYPost.com and Last.fm have both slumped, by 36.21% and 38.03% respectively. WordPress.org, Huffpost.com and Allmusic.com have seen similar levels of decline.
One reason why Last.fm has suffered is related to the pandemic and changing consumer habits. Research shows that people are streaming less music due to them being confined in their own homes. Spotify, for example, has logged a 13.72% decrease in visibility.
In contrast to those sites, Carbuyer.co.uk is among the big winners, with a 90.09% increase in visibility. News-medical.net (+116.27%), Topgear.com (+85.59%) and People.com (+75.64%) have also benefited from the recent changes.
Search marketing agency Path Interactive conducted its own research to identify patterns where there have been the most changes and the findings are interesting.
The areas with the most volatility include ‘music and entertainment’, ‘banking and finance’, ‘science and medical news’, ‘fitness’ and ‘nutrition and recipes’.
While COVID-19 increased the consumption of news during the spring, the update has not helped some news publishers, including the aforementioned NYPost.com, as well as Mediaite.com (-32.83%), Newsweek.com (-18.34%) and FoxBusiness.com (-20.32%).
This does not mean that news sites have dropped across the board. On the contrary, experts believe that Google is now merely viewing other publishers as more credible and accurate. This also does not mean that the losers have become less relevant either, just that others may be offering better content in some areas.
Again, content is the key to sustainable SEO success and a content audit should always be the first port of call if you have recently seen a drop in rankings. With so much competition, more accurate content can help you to overtake other companies that stand still.
Similarly, any changes for health sites are likely to be due to Google better serving user intent, something that it has focused on in recent months.
The final takeaway is that SERP Features have also been in flux since the update. Features are results that are not traditional or organic. These include Rich Snippets and other features that take their place on the first page of Google Search.
MarketMuse recommended reviewing any potential changes in SERP Features if you have seen a decline in traffic since the update. This is good advice to follow for most outcomes. Reviewing content and webpages and aiming to improve relevance and authority should be the priority after core algorithm changes.