Google just announced a core update of their internal algorithm as of August 1st. As per usual with such updates, many search engine optimization (SEO) experts are scratching their heads. Industry professionals wonder what changed, how it has affected their rankings, and how will this effect their efforts moving forward?
The Word from Google
The official announcement from Google about the update, made via Twitter, read as follows:
“This week we released a broad core algorithm update, as we do several times per year. Our guidance about such updates remains the same as in March…”
The March tweet they referenced in the above text states:
“Each day, Google usually released one or more changes designed to improve our results…. Last week, we released a broad core algorithm update. We do this routinely several times per year. As with any update, some sites may note drops or gains. There’s nothing wrong with pages that may now perform less well…. There’s no ‘fix’ for pages that may perform less well other than to remain focused on building great content…”
The “Named” Updates
Many may be wondering why a core update is so important. The public hears about named updates all the time, and (as mentioned in the tweet above) Google releases at least one change per day.
Before we tackle how a core update is different, lets talk about what a named update is so we can offer an accurate comparison of the two.
A named Google algorithm update is designed to address one or more specific faults in the system. This presents little to no issue with SERP (search engine ranking page) results because it is only one or two of 200+ varied factors being altered.
A few of the most prevalent algorithm changes and what they were meant to fix include:
- Penguin – lessen the prevalence of link spam
- Pigeon – decrease local SEO spam
- Panda – decrease results with low readability
- Hummingbird – better understand search queries based on intent
What Is A Core Update?
Knowing what your typical named algorithm update is, the questions because what is a core update and how is it different.
The answer? A core update is not a minor tweak to fix a minor issue. Instead, it is a change to the main search algorithm itself, which is based on 200+ ranking factors or signals. The exact number varies based on who you are asking, because nobody honestly knows them all.
The Core Update Problem
The problem with a core update lies in the way it can affect search engine rankings. High rankings – especially on the first SERP – is the goal of all SEO professionals. It is what they are hired to do. High rankings produce results for their companies.
A core update shifts the entire algorithm so that what was once valued highly could now be valued much less, thus bringing results down. The shift can be minor or major. It can also shift SERP rankings up, but even that becomes an issue when you don’t know the way behind it.
Here’s an example on how this works:
Let’s say you have a list with 200 items on it. Those items rank in order of importance, with the top item being the most important. Millions of projects are designed to place the most importance on those key values.
Now imagine you altered the position of 50 of those items, which of course will shift the position of the full list by the time you finish. All the projects designed for what was once important are now altered.
Although it isn’t quite as simple as that, this is a general example on how a core update works and the effect it has on websites.
Why Doesn’t Google Just Announce the Changes?
If Google were to simply tell the world what changed it would make life significantly simpler for the digital marketing industry. Unfortunately, the exact algorithm google uses for it’s SERP results is a close kept secret. Nobody knows the exact formula.
Even if someone did know the exact formula, it wouldn’t matter. Remember those little daily changes Google makes? It would be impossible to stay on top of them while simultaneously remembering how over 200 items ranked daily.
Recovering from A Core Update
If your page rankings went down the big question is how to fix it. But Google stated above that there is no “fix” for lower search rankings. The sad truth is that they are right.
You could spend days trolling the new highest-ranking pages to compare it to yours. Differences in what they did versus what you do could be a deciding factor in how the results were rearranged. Did they use H2 tags and you didn’t? Include a longtail keyword in their H1 header?
Unfortunately, this time would be wasted because it only shows you one or two things were altered and it may not have even been the issue which lowered your ranking. So much questioning could drive even the most professional person insane.
What you should do instead is continue focusing on the fundamental elements that make up all good search engine optimization, regardless of how they might rank.
Best SEO Practices
While nobody knows exactly how Google ranks certain attributes or all the items they rank on, there are some best practices all professionals know work. Here are a few of those things to keep striving towards excellence in:
- The intent of your user
- Informative, high-quality content
- Clean site architecture designed to be present the best user experience
- Staying up to date on Google’s basic guidelines
- Clear, concise article structure with short sentences
- Continuous marketing efforts via outside platforms like social media
- Constant refinement of your strategy
- Sticking to your buyer persona or target audience’s wants, needs, and problems
If you are an SEO professional you’re already doing these things as part of your work. Just continue to do them and you will continue to bounce back after each algorithm shift, whether major or minor.