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Google's January core update: everything you need to know

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    Emma Roberts

    Emma Roberts UKBF Newcomer Free Member

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    Since it was founded back in 1998, Google search has changed our culture arguably just as much as the radio, television or the microwave. The verb “to google” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2006, and continues to be used in languages all over the world – showing just how embedded the search engine is in our internet experience.

    It has a huge effect on how our websites perform, and if you’ve ever wondered how to succeed in the algorithm, you're not alone. Google is mysterious and hushed about its processes, but every day, it improves and iterates its search engine results to show the most relevant content to the user.

    But on 13th January this year, they hit us with a broad core update, the effect of which didn’t go unnoticed by the search engine optimisation (SEO) community. 

    Controversial changes: snippets and ads

    When a core update is made, Google amends its core search ranking algorithm with the aim of providing the searcher with the most relevant and useful results. In core updates, all websites’ rankings are reevaluated, sometimes with volatile results. 

    In January’s update, the change that has caused the most controversy was a fresh look to the first page of results – particularly the featured snippets. Featured snippets are selected text featured at the top of Google search results, which aim to answer the searcher’s question immediately.

    Example: A featured snippet appearing on a search for ‘custom wordpress roles’.

    Web pages in a featured snippet position will no longer be repeated in regular organic listings, eliminating clutter on page one of Google search results. Previously, it was not uncommon for pages to feature twice, with many in the first and second position, potentially resulting in higher click-through rates.

    To find out whether this has affected your organic traffic, you can compare figures on your traffic from before and after the broad core update on January the 13th – but remember, there may be minor fluctuations that could affect your data.  

    Another visual change was the addition of favicons in the search results, first in mobile Google search results, then later added to the desktop version. 

    The favicons made it harder to distinguish between organic and paid ads, a move which critics have called deceptive. However, others argue that with time, users will quickly learn to ignore the ads. 

    Google has now removed favicon results for some users, and is still internally debating whether to proceed with them – highlighting Google’s desire to test and iterate across platforms, measure the success of what they’re testing, and implement changes in core updates.

    What can you do if the update affected your rankings?

    If you have noticed a drop in organic traffic following the Google core update, question your content – is it fulfilling its purpose and benefiting the user? 

    Audit the pages that have experienced the drop, to ensure they all meet the right standards. Be clear on the intent of the users you want to attract, and improve the content to focus on them. If you’re not sure what needs improving, you could ask a trusted friend to assess the content honestly.

    One of the biggest clues to what Google’s algorithm might be looking for is what’s known as expertise, authority and trust – or E-A-T, for short. These three key areas are set out in the guidelines Google provides to its quality raters.

    The expertise part of this refers to the creator of the main content. Are they an expert on the topic? Can they back up the information available on the website?

    Authority is three-fold. It refers to the main content creator, the content itself and the website it appears on, and whether all three have a generally recognised authority.

    Trustworthiness also refers to the main content creator, the content and the website, but this part is more about whether people believe you provide honest, true and accurate information.

    E-A-T is even more important for what Google calls ‘Your Money or Your Life’ (YMYL) content – information that, if misrepresented, could directly affect the user’s happiness, health, safety, or financial stability.

    Regardless of the type of website you have, E-A-T is essential. Google seeks to reward the best content, and this broad core update is no different. It might mean some websites see a drop in traffic, but it could also reward pages that were previously undervalued. 

    At the same time, Google’s core update guidance emphasises that “improvements made by site owners aren’t a guarantee of recovery”. Pages don’t have a static or guaranteed position in search results, but more deserving content will continue to work well. 

    This year, focus on content and serving your clients’ needs, but don’t chase the algorithm. A good marketing plan should tackle several angles such as social networks, email and referrals – and it shouldn’t rely too much on Google.

  2. GolHiii

    GolHiii UKBF Newcomer Free Member

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    thanks for the review, the changes really became noticeable and it seems to me fairly fair not to duplicate sites
    Posted: Feb 7, 2020 By: GolHiii Member since: Jan 10, 2020
  3. susiex

    susiex UKBF Newcomer Free Member

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    I do not agree with you. If you analyze 30 sites, their traffic dynamics, positions, you will see that there is no direct pattern. Some sites without mention of expertise during google update grew in traffic or remained stable, while good expert sites lost their positions. Perhaps this is the first wave of updating ...
    Posted: Feb 11, 2020 By: susiex Member since: Jan 25, 2020
  4. ValenDigital

    ValenDigital UKBF Contributor Full Member

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    New core update that hit on may the 4th has been rolling out. It looks to be a pretty big one impacting every type of website. Check your GA and search console to see how (if at all) it impacts you...
    Posted: May 8, 2020 By: ValenDigital Member since: Jan 14, 2019