Quick Recap: May the Fourth Be with You
On May 4, Google announced the rollout of the May 2020 Core Update, which shook up organic search keyword rankings and traffic across industries.
Google releases broad core algorithm updates only a few times a year in order to reassess and surface high-quality content in search results — and the latest one was big. Like the August 2018 Core Update (aka Medic), this update caused massive changes in rankings as early as one day after the announcement. According to the SEMrush Sensor, SERP volatility skyrocketed between 5/5 and 5/7.
Suffice to say, we saw major changes across many different types of websites with keyword rankings and traffic fluctuating immediately.
It is unclear whether this algorithm update has any direct connection with the coronavirus pandemic. However, we do know that Google is constantly striving to rank trustworthy and authoritative content published by experts to stop the spread of misinformation, and that goal is particularly relevant under the current circumstances.
Most people in the SEO industry have reached the consensus that the update is targeting a vast range of quality issues from content to off-page to technical. Some of the usual suspects include:
Early findings showed that websites with thin content were hit the hardest. For example, Spotify.com — which has a ton of thin open.spotify.com URLs indexed in search — was significantly impacted.
Since the BERT update, Google is getting better and better at natural language processing and understanding the user intent of search queries, which leads to a shift in rankings.
The update also appears to be looking at E-A-T factors to assess if your content is authoritative and backed by expertise. This is especially relevant for financial and healthcare sites that fall under Your Money, Your Life (YMYL) category.
One of our clients, a financial company in that YMYL category, experienced significant gains in keyword rankings and visibility beginning the day after the update. The website offers a significant amount of content with citations to highly authoritative sources, such as government links and resources.
Another client, a rapidly growing app development company, saw significant increases in clicks and impressions following the update. Although the website is smaller, it publishes a vast array of original, shareable content that exemplifies their real-world expertise.
This client also has many brand mentions across the web and highly authoritative backlinks from relevant editorial and industry websites, essentially vouching for their expertise.
On 5/18, Google announced that the rollout was finally complete, leaving some site owners faced with a tough road ahead.
If your site experienced a drop in performance and still hasn’t recovered traffic and keyword rankings, it’s time to self-diagnose potential issues.
Google provides questions to ask yourself when reviewing the quality of your website. Some include:
- Does the content provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
- Does the content present information in a way that makes you want to trust it, such as clear sourcing, evidence of the expertise involved, background about the author or the site that publishes it, such as through links to an author page or a site’s About page?
- If you researched the site producing the content, would you come away with an impression that it is well-trusted or widely-recognized as an authority on its topic?
- Is this content written by an expert or enthusiast who demonstrably knows the topic well?
- Is the content free from easily-verified factual errors?
- Would you feel comfortable trusting this content for issues relating to your money or your life?
At Rebel, we recommend taking a holistic approach and look out for any of the following red flags:
- Thin, low-quality pages on your website. If they are valuable, build them out by adding more high-quality and relevant content. If they are not, simply noindex or unpublish them.
- Unnatural links pointing to your website. If you have them, disavow them – it’s about quality, not quantity!
- Outdated or shallow content. Prioritize building high-quality backlinks and mentions, keeping content up-to-date, including bylines, citing external sources, and fact-checking.
Remember, it is important to segment out different keyword groups and page types so you can pinpoint the root cause. Also, take a look at the SERP landscape to see what types of websites are now ranking for your most valuable keywords and ask yourself, “what are they doing differently?”
Finally, don’t forget, if you implement SEO-related changes to improve your website, focus on long-term results rather than short-term gains, as it can take time to recover.