As if we didn’t have enough going on with Covid-19. Roughly one month ago, Google updated its organic ranking algorithm.
Google does roll out updates to the algorithm frequently; smaller updates are often daily and core updates, that tend to have bigger effects & purposes, are released every few months. We don’t normally get a heads up of when changes are going to happen, but Google very recently decided to postpone another big update due to Covid-19. We have a spoiler at the end of this article so keep reading!
So, what was the Google May 2020 Core Update about?
Later today, we are releasing a broad core algorithm update, as we do several times per year. It is called the May 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) May 4, 2020
As always, we won’t get the ingredients to the secret ranking recipe but the speculation began with Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) commentators pointing out that Pinterest & other social channels where appearing many times and high up in the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages).
Seems like Google has some unethical affair with Pinterest and Reddit. Highly researched and nicely optimized contents are outranked by 100-200 words of gibberish. I have seen sites ranking without even a full paragraph in the page. Unbelievably rubbish update.
— Tareq Mazumdar (@TareqMazumdar) May 18, 2020
It wasn’t just social channels featuring more in the SERPs, eBay, Amazon & the eCommerce site Etsy were appearing higher than other store entries. Multiple entries from these stores had bumped out many traditional listings that come from stores & smaller online shops that had worked hard to the higher ranking positions. This has angered many marketeers, even pointing at Google for creating a profit ring that makes sure other tech giants succeed over ‘the little guys’. But all is not quite as it may have seemed, which is why it’s best to let the dust settle with updates as the results are clearer after a few weeks, hence we wanted a month before writing this article!
Was it a lockdown related update?
Our digital behaviour has dramatically changed since mid-March. For example, analysing the home improvements sector we can see that search trends reflect Christmas like drops in demand during the initial lockdown period and have since recovered to record levels for many phrases such as; “conservatory”, “garden room” and “patio doors”.
The question being did Google give social channels & e-commerce sites priority because people were looking for news & products online more than ever? They have to be sensitive to what people need & offer the best-suited results, maybe this was deemed to be them. Search engines Artificial Intelligence (AI) thrives to quantify behaviours and understand what people want & serve the best results based on data, but Covid-19 has spiked & sustained traffic for products like face masks, hand sanitiser & Covid-19 searches. Google Search Liasion (who announce updates) tweeted “Google Search has never seen as many searches for a single topic continue over a sustained period as is happening now with COVID-19.“All these peaks in panic behaviours are surely skewing AI from understanding normal behaviour. In an article from Technology Review about AI & machine learning during lockdown, they simply say “In general, if a machine-learning system doesn’t see what it’s expecting to see then you will have problems”. We assume Google would also have had to review what it’s serving to match what is currently desired, but how much of the change was AI or human-influenced? A simple example of the change in searches, face masks, pre-Covid, were moisturising sheets that you put on your face, now in the present, face masks are the products that cover your nose & mouth.
It’s not just Google changing its algorithm during these times. Amazon algorithms now use the speed of delivery as a ranking metric for those bidding for sponsored product ads. This means third-party sellers who can’t keep up with demand & deliveries are backing out of spending on certain ad campaigns.
What does Google say about the update?
Core updates typically just come as a wave of changes to better results for the visitor. In the blog released with the update (that is the blog from the 2019 E-A-T update may we add), they mention “We suggest focusing on ensuring you’re offering the best content you can. That’s what our algorithms seek to reward.“ Was it another E-A-T (expertise, authority, trust) update then? Looks like it may have been, in Google’s eyes at least. They do offer some useful tips in the blog, but nothing any credible marketers won’t already be doing already.
What changes have we seen in the home improvement sector?
Seeing peaks & troughs in keyword rankings & visibility is always expected. In the ‘Home & Garden’ sector, we’ve seen certain search features appear more or less than others during the 30 days after the algorithm update. With indications that search features centered around customers at the research stage, further up the buying funnel, are appearing more and those centered around shopping results and stores/showroom locations (local pack) have declined slightly. Of course, this would also be tied into the effect of the lockdown and businesses marking their physical stores closed on their Google My Business pages for example.
We can see that Featured Snippets, which appear at the top of Google search results providing an answer to a specific question have appeared more often. An example of a featured snippet we’ve achieved for one of our clients is illustrated below. As part of an ongoing SEO strategy, featured snippets are important as they represent an additional SERP feature that can be secured for your brand. Typically located at the very top of the results page, featured snippets give your brand greater visibility to searchers and can boost brand recognition.
Knowledge panels have also appeared more often these are similar information boxes to Featured Snippets and provide users with snapshots of information about people, places, organisations or things (as defined by Google).
By contrast, we’ve seen a decline in search features for the home and garden sector around Google Shopping results and less Google Ads competition as some businesses cut back on online advertising budgets and Google adjusts to suit this change. Notably, we’ve seen some of the best results ever for clients who’ve held their nerve and continued to invest in Google Ads and Shopping adverts during May, with less competition the cost per click has dropped and conversions have dramatically increased.
We’ve seen that the most impacted sectors from this update were travel, real estate, health and people & society. Clearly these are the areas most impacted by Covid-19, so it makes sense that updates have changed for the most current searches.
What’s next? Another update is on route!
So here’s the spoiler, the next update was going to be released around this time but has been postponed to next year due to Covid-19. It’s going to be an update all about page experience.
“We’re combining the signals derived from Core Web Vitals with our existing Search signals for page experience, including mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS-security, and intrusive interstitial guidelines, to provide a holistic picture of page experience. Because we continue to work on identifying and measuring aspects of page experience, we plan to incorporate more page experience signals on a yearly basis to both further align with evolving user expectations and increase the aspects of user experience that we can measure.”
Staying ahead of the curve with a best practice SEO is something our team at Purplex is passionate about. Having prior knowledge of the upcoming Google core update is very useful, although we’re pleased to report that we’re already ahead of the curve. The upcoming core update will focus heavily on mobile experience, load speed and security which require strong web development skillsets. As a full-service agency with our own experienced web development team this plays to our strengths with our SEO team already working closely with the web team to ensure our client websites are safe, secure and mobile-friendly.
Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed this piece about the Google latest algorithm changes, here are some of our other related blogs:
- Our top 3 Google organic trends in home improvements during Covid-19
- More Bang For Your Buck? 5 Big Industry Trends On Google Ads PPC
- What is Ecosia and the future of search engines?
If you are looking for more advice on your marketing strategy, get in touch with us – call Purplex on 01934 808132 or email firstname.lastname@example.org