Google announces December 2020 Core Update

On Thursday 3rd December, Google announced that it is releasing a ‘broad core algorithm update’, which will be the third Google core update of 2020.

Our CTO Jon Earnshaw covers everything you need to know about the latest algorithm update in a quick overview. Download the slides to find out more.

December Core update

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According to Google, the December 2020 Core Update will take one or two weeks to fully roll out, meaning that the nature of the update and any impact will take time to become visible.

What is a Google Core update?

A Core update (Broad Core to be precise) is a significant change to Google’s algorithm, as they are constantly trying to improve the quality and relevancy of their results. While Google makes multiple algorithm updates every week, most of these go unnoticed. Core updates on the other hand tend to be announced, normally a week in advance but in this case we had less than 24 hours notice from Google.

According to Google, there’s nothing wrong with pages that suffer as a result of a core update (and they tend to be felt site wide) and while these updates are not supposed to target individual sites – the data often suggests otherwise.

What has this got to do with E-A-T?

One thing we are pretty sure of is that there is a relationship between Core updates and E-A-T SEO (Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness). E-A-T, according to Google, is measured by thousands of ‘baby algorithms. These algorithms are looking for evidence of quality in everything from the expertise of the authors of your content, to the amount of content you serve all the way through to the authority of your domain measured through both on and off page signals.

What we know so far:

  • Less of an impact on the traditionally hard impacted high YMYL sites
  • Despite this some health websites including healthline and Webmd did see noticeable improvements
  • Ecomm including high street fashion was hit hard
  • A large proportion of sites saw a reversal of fortunes gained from the May 04 Update
  • Impacts were felt domain wide and in many instances drops from page one occurred in isolation
  • Most websites are seeing a levelling off after four days

When was the last Google core update?

Google core updates tend to arrive two or three times a year, so this one is slightly overdue, with the last one rolled out on May 4. The last few updates have arrived at regular intervals, but there’s just over 200 days between this and the previous core update.

Previous Google Core Updates

Google Core update December 2020Image source: Pi Datametrics SEO Platform Visibility Index

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This delay may be an indication that this Google core update is more significant, possibly even a shift away from keywords, towards passages and user intent – the recent announcements around passage indexing provide a hint in this direction.

The mention of a Google core update will naturally strike fear into the hearts of many search marketers, fearing their hard work will be undone, though the truth is that updates can go either way.

The timing of the update, when the Christmas shopping season is well underway will of course be of concern though, as any drop in search visibility at a time when so many are shopping for gifts can be costly.

The Covid-19 pandemic, with lockdowns, restrictions on retailers and consumer concerns about shopping, has driven more people than ever online, with search volumes in many product areas hitting record levels (as shown in our recent Year in Retail report).

How did electrical searches differ from peak in Q4 2019 to lockdown months 2020?

Screenshot 2020-12-07 at 10.40.57

The combination of the traditionally busy shopping season and the pandemic driving more people online may mean there’s a lot at stake in this latest Google core update.

Back in May, we did notice some relatively quick movement in terms of search visibility. Looking at fashion for example, sites like ASOS and Debenhams benefited from the update, while PrettyLittleThing didn’t fare so well.

Google core update Image source: Pi Datametrics SEO Platform Visibility Index

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What to do following a Google core algorithm update

Google offers some general advice for webmasters experiencing any drops in rankings after core updates. One thing is that a drop in rankings doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything wrong with your pages, it may simply be that another site or page is providing what Google sees as a more relevant result.

The advice given is to focus on content, and ask whether your content is relevant, informative, is presented well, and whether it provides value compared to other pages in the search results. Indeed, it can be very useful to look around at pages which outrank yours to see what they might be doing more effectively.

It also pays to take note of the general direction Google is heading in. For example, Google’s increased use of SERP features means sites using structured data to optimise for results like answer cards and featured snippets, they may be better prepared for algorithm updates.

Google updates may cause stress for some, but they don’t necessarily bring bad news. A Google core update like this may help your rankings, and deliver improved search visibility.

If you’ve been busy improving your on-site experience and making your content as useful and relevant as possible for searchers, then Google’s update may reward your efforts.

As usual after Google core updates, it pays to keep an eye on your search rankings so you can become aware of any negative impacts and begin the process of fixing any issues as early as possible.

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Top tips:

  • If you think you have been negatively impacted – don’t rush in and start making changes. That might make things worse. Core updates take a while to bed in and the algorithm will be looking for feedback for some time before any readjustments can be made
  • The only thing you should be attempting to fix now are acknowledged webmaster violations
  • The best thing you can do is keep an eye on your performance over the next few days

We’ve been keeping an eye on our data, and have the below commentary from Jon Earnshaw following the first few days of the update:

 

Once all the data is in we can start to look at the elements in common with those sites that have done well versus those that have not.

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