An SEO Guide to Google’s Core Updates

If you are seeing sudden changes in your search standings, this may be due to a recent Google Core Update. Learn more about these algorithm updates and what they mean for your SEO rankings here.

bySarah Holzer

When investing in SEO, the goal is to rank higher on search results while improving user experience. However, it can feel like the goal post is moving when your SEO performance takes a sudden hit. Drastic changes in ranking can usually be traced back to Google’s core updates. Google implemented a high-impact update at the end of this quarter, fittingly titled The December 2020 Core Update. Here is a closer look at Google core updates and how you can protect your search standings.

What is a Google Core Update?

A Google core update is a large amendment to the Google algorithm that can make waves across search performance. These updates occur multiple times each year—some with more subtle improvements and others with large, sweeping data overhauls. Google core updates are designed to implement new technology or methodology of content evaluation that will promote enhanced search results. 

Thankfully, Google’s algorithm updates are designed to identify and reward high-quality SEO efforts. However, these updates have a bad reputation for tanking search results. There are two reasons why you might see a dip in search performance following a Google core update: dated content and black hat SEO. 

Poor SEO Practices and Search Rankings

The users most often hurt by Google algorithm updates are those who invest in black hat SEO practices (also called Spamdexing and SEO abuse). Google’s updates are intended to improve user experience and bring the most relevant and high-quality content to the top of search results. If you are not working to meet these standards, then a Google core update will knock down your search standing time and time again. 

Dated Content and Google Core Updates

Unfortunately, high-quality content that meets SEO best practices may still be defenseless against the negative impacts of a core update. When addressing this issue, Google uses the analogy of a “top movie list”—if you make an annual list of top movies, you will see rankings change each year. Old movies will fall lower on the list to make room for new movies, even if your old favorites are still highly regarded. 

In this case, it is not the quality of your SEO leading to search decline, but rather the fact that Google is working to include newer information at the top of search results. This is why effective SEO requires ongoing effort. You have to continually produce high-quality content to stay on top. 

How to Dodge Core Update Issues

The trends consistent in the last few years of core algorithm updates have emphasized the importance of user-focused content on a healthy, optimized website. Google offers update insight, suggesting that you can self-assess your content for the following guidelines:

  • Valuable information: Content should be insightful, helpful, original, and comprehensive.
  • Expertise: Content should demonstrate trustworthy expertise that is grounded in verifiable facts and research.
  • Presentation and production: Content should be responsive, free of grammatical errors, and custom rather than mass-produced.
  • Comparison: Content should be providing value that exceeds that of similar pages.

Google does more than just scan your text for keywords and phrases. Primarily, Google measures your content quality by monitoring user engagement, including bounce rate, clicks, social media shares, backlinks, and more. Google also has Raters who review search results. They measure the quality of content by evaluating what Google calls E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness).

Was your site affected by the 2020 December Core Update?

Google announced the beginning of the December 2020 Core Update on December 3rd and followed up on December 16th to announce that this update was completely rolled out. Early insights from SEMRush showed that this update had its greatest effects in the Health, Real Estate, Law & Government, Travel, Finance, Jobs & Education, and Pets & Animals sectors. If you have seen a drastic change in rankings or traffic coming to your site in the last few weeks, the core algorithm update may be to blame. 

If you need help managing your SEO content, you can contact Saltbox Solutions for support.

Sarah Holzer

Head of SEO, Saltbox Solutions

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