How to understand and react to “March Madness”: Google’s most recent broad-core update

What’s happened to my rankings?

Google’s latest algorithm looks to be presenting quite the quandary for SEOs and webmasters across the globe. On the one hand, people are reporting alpine-gradient drops in rankings and subsequent commercial headaches. But on the other, Google are yet to give anything but the broadest information.

Danny Sullivan – Google’s recently appointed envoy – had this to say on Twitter.

“Each day, Google usually releases one or more changes designed to improve our results. Some are focused around specific improvements. Some are broad changes. Last week, we released a broad core algorithm update. We do these 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. Instead, it’s that changes to our systems are benefiting pages that were previously under-rewarded”

“There’s no “fix” for pages that may perform less well other than to remain focused on building great content. Over time, it may be that your content may rise relative to other pages”

This, understandably, stuck in a lot of people’s craws. While we’re sure the folks at Google do 99% of what they do for the betterment of the world-wide web and big wide world, the statement “There is nothing wrong with pages that perform less well” is not easily parsed from a business perspective.

One might just as well say “your boat’s not sinking, it’s just that the water around your boat is being raised”

So, what to do?

Know what you’re dealing with

The first thing to understand is the focus of the update. This, however, is not a clear-cut issue. A broad-core update typically means a broad set of adjustments to multiple factorings.

So if you think of the Google search algorithm as the level-adjustment panel on a stereo…

…then a broad-core update is someone twiddling each knob, as opposed to pushing the bass way up.

What we do think we know, however, is that this set of adjustments were mostly limited to page quality. This means you can back-seat links somewhat in connection with this issue.

As one of the foremost SEO consultants has pointed out, this is a pro-motion, and not a de-motion update; while all link-based updates thus far have been characterised by demotion – though it pays not to rule anything out totally.

Our own research, and that of others, seems to indicate that the watch words for this update are UX, page quality (as defined by Google) and on-page technical issues – particularly those that affect the user’s journey.

We’ve compiled a check-list of fixes around these issues and are carrying out this work on the – if we do say so ourselves – small number of clients whose sites and/or pages have been affected. Obviously, we can’t share that checklist – but we wouldn’t have been able to put it together without the efforts of other industry leaders – so we’d like to give something back…


  • Digest Google’s 160-page Quality Rating Guideline – it’s written for human raters, but it’s a safe bet that the same standards are applied algorithmically. I won’t try and headline this because it’s a pretty mammoth read, but I will say that comparing your client’s site to Google’s gold-standard examples is a great way to generate solutions.
  • Go through the affected pages with a fine-tooth comb, technically. Look for speed and re-direction issues. Particularly look for things which are getting in the user’s way.
  • Really consider UX (that’s the user’s experience of the site). The QRG can help with this from a conceptual perspective. Briefly, I’d say you want to be optimising experience for intent.

Closing thoughts

An update really means Google thinks it’s become better at understanding the web – and is ready to apply that learning to the SERPs. As SEOs, our task has always been to second guess Google, but increasingly I’m wondering if this is the right way to think about it.

Granted, we’re sometimes told things which simply aren’t backed-up by the data. And Google have a tendency (and motive) to overstate their algorithm’s capabilities.

But it feels increasingly – especially with the advent of RankBrain – as if second guessing is somewhat old hat. If you peruse the info on this topic, you’ll find a few people touting the QRG. Think about that. That’s pretty much game, set and match.

Google’s managed to make its own quality guidelines the most useful SEO resource, at present.

Maybe the age of creative SEO is drawing to an end. Long live compliance.

This entry was posted in Digital Marketing

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