Latest Google SEO Algorithm Changes (Updated 2020)
From 2019 Core Updates to BERT, we discuss last year’s most impactful algorithm updates and how they affected site rankings across different industries.
Google Algorithm Updates and How They Affect Your Site
Google relies on a complex combination of algorithms and signals to display pages ranked according to relevance, quality, and trustworthiness on the search engine results pages (SERPs). When we talk about algorithm, we’re talking about a system that the search engine uses to retrieve data from its massive search index and generate the most relevant results for each query that gets typed into the search bar.
From time to time, Google shakes up its ranking techniques to ensure that users get the best experience and to stay ahead of content farms, thin content, dummy sites, and poor quality sites in general, that ruin search experience. These changes come in the form of Google algorithm updates.
The search engine is believed to roll out 500 to 600 core algorithm updates in a year along with broad core algorithm updates that take effect three to four times each year. However, search engine optimisation (SEO) experts reported a staggering 3,234 updates in 2018 alone.
In some cases, these updates are so subtle that SEO practitioners and site owners barely feel the effects. But every so often, Google rolls out a major update that creates a seismic shift in rankings, causing certain sites to slide down several notches or completely disappear from search results, while others see an increase in organic rankings and traffic.
Major updates in recent years include Panda (2011), Penguin (2012), Hummingbird (2014), Pigeon (2014), Pirate (2014), Mobile (2015), RankBrain (2015), and Fred (2017).
Keeping track of these updates and knowing how they work will help you (and your clients) understand how they impact your SEO strategy. It will also help explain any changes in rankings or traffic your sites might experience during a roll-out.
But more importantly, major updates will help you identify areas of your SEO strategy that need improvement.
This Year in Google Algorithm Updates
2019 was an eventful one for SEO experts, with Google rolling out a series of minor and major algorithm updates as early as January, with science, health, finance, law and government, and food and drink being some of the most affected sectors.
Several bug issues in April and May of last year prevented new content from being indexed and caused a mass deindexing of pages, but have since been resolved.
In recent years, the search engine has begun emphasising the importance of search user intent and context in SEO. Guidelines that place a premium on beneficial purpose and expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) and put Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) content pieces under harsh scrutiny are still in place.
These were the most significant confirmed algorithm updates in 2019:
October 2019: BERT Natural Language Processing Update
This algorithm update is widely regarded as the search engine’s biggest roll-out since RankBrain. The tech giant has announced that the Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) update will impact featured snippets and 1 in every 10 search queries in the English language. The rollout started in late October 2019 and will be expanded to other languages in the future.
The search engine relies on BERT to understand the context and nuances of longer tail queries written in natural language the way humans do. The update will help Google produce more relevant results as it helps the search engine understand the relationship between words in a query.
The company’s Public Search Liaison Officer, Danny Sullivan, has stated that SEO experts and site owners can’t optimise for BERT; however, Search Engine Land advises affected sites to continue producing content for users and reevaluate landing pages that have seen changes in terms of rankings, and for which search queries.
September 2019: Core Update
The roll-out began on September 24 and lasted about two days. SEO experts note that YMYL sites were greatly affected during this Core update, with finance sites experiencing the worst ranking losses. However, sites with strong link profiles saw improvements with search, while sites with weaker backlinks but superior content and keyword coverage entered the top 10 of the SERPs.
SEO insiders also suggested that the search engine placed more relevance on video content targeting informational keywords.
June 2019: Site Diversity Update
As the name suggests, this algorithm update was meant to improve the diversity of top search results. That means Google aims to show no more than two-page results from the same domain for a particular search query. This extends to sub-domains, which will be counted towards two pages. It only affects main listings and not other search displays like featured snippets, top stories, or image carousels.
However, the company has also stated that it will still show more than two pages from the same domain if it deems appropriate – SEO insiders speculate that this applies to branded queries.
Some experts also observed that health and eCommerce sites were the most affected.
The Site Diversity update was rolled out in response to users’ complaints that the search engine generated multiple listings within the top search results from the same domain name.
June 2019: Core Update
In the same month, Google rolled out an unrelated Core update. SEO toolset providers reported that YMYL, news, and retail sites were heavily impacted by the update, with publishers like The Mirror and Healthline gaining more visibility, and Mercola and Daily Mail suffering losses.
However, sites that were negatively affected during the March update, such as WebMD and Very Well Health, regained some visibility, indicating that the search engine reverted some of the results of the previous Core update with regard to brand and authority.
The gambling, health, and finance industries were also hit hard by the update.
March 2019: Core Update
Google slated its third major Core update for March 2019. As with previous Core updates, there were little site owners could do other than to produce quality content in order to reestablish their rankings if their pages had been affected negatively.
SEO insiders speculated on the basis for the ranking fluctuations during this update – some suggest that trust was a factor in the roll-out, while others theorised that it had more to do with how well certain sites satisfied the needs of users rather than brand authority.
Experts also encouraged site owners who experienced a drop in rankings during the March Core update to assess the following:
- How well their pages answered queries
- Whether their content deviated from the topic at hand
- Whether their content answered queries directly
What to Do If You See a Drop in Rankings
If you’ve been negatively affected by last year’s updates, here are several areas to look into:
Relevance. To strengthen your chances of ranking consistently within the top 10 results for a certain query, your site must be the best result for the user. This means producing content that offers genuine value and relevant information.
Major site changes. If you made major on-site changes at around the same time as an algorithm update, such as removing important navigational links, it may have affected Google’s ability to crawl your site.
Search elements. It’s possible that the introduction of new search elements, such as featured snippets, video content, and People Also Ask boxes, has pushed your site further down the SERPs. However, this doesn’t mean that Google has devalued your site.
Google Search Console. If there are any penalties against your site, you will receive a message notification on Google Search Console.
SEO strategy. As mentioned earlier, a drop in rankings during a major update necessitates a thorough evaluation of your SEO strategy.
How We Can Help
Working with an experienced SEO agency will help you maneuver Google’s algorithm updates. Contevo believes in “Continuous Evolution” – the ability to adapt to any changes in search engine guidelines, ranking factors, and changes in the industry. Get in touch with us today for an SEO audit.