The world’s most powerful search engine began rolling out its 2020 Core Algorithm update earlier this month. A core algorithm update means that Google has changed or recalculated its algorithm in some meaningful way. It had been seven months since Google had released the new core update that was announced on Twitter on Dec. 3. While we are still waiting to understand the full breadth of this update, we are starting to identify some industries and domains that have so far been affected.
“Later today, we are releasing a broad core algorithm update, as we do several times per year,” Google said. “It is called the December 2020 Core Update. Our guidance about such updates remains as we’ve covered before...As is typical with these updates, it will typically take about one to two weeks to fully roll out.” -Google Search Liaison
When the December Core Algorithm Update was first announced, it looked to many SEO experts to be much different than previous updates during the 48 hours that immediately followed the announcement. However, by Dec. 10, tracking tools like Rank Ranger and SEMrush were highlighting significant movement in search engine page volatility that seemed to contradict that initial assumption — or initial changes in organic ranks that happened quicker than usual over the first two days.
Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable explains:
“Yesterday I reported that this Google December Core Update was a really unusual core update because it seemed like the rollout happened over a 48-hour period and was not a slow two-week rollout. Well, I talked too soon - there may have been a second wave (is it bad to use that term because of COVID?) where a spike of volatility happened yesterday, December 10th.
If you now look at the tracking tools, they all generally show big movement again after four to five days of very low volatility after December 4th, we are seeing a spike again after December 10th.
Many are saying they are seeing reversals from what rolled out on December 3rd and December 4th. Some are saying they saw deeper hits or better gains. So I guess this does feel like the second wave of this December 2020 core update.”
According to SEMrush — one of those primary tracking tools that Schwartz and other SEO experts are closely monitoring right now — the indications so far are that the December 2020 core update looks like it could have an even bigger impact than the most recent core update in May.
“In general, sectors affected the most across both desktop and mobile are Health, Real Estate, and Law & Government,” SEMrush said. “On desktop search, the Travel and Finance categories were also seeing high volatility rates in the first days of this roll-out; on mobile, Jobs & Education and Pets & Animals sector sites.
“It seems that larger domains are so far seriously affected. Almost 50% of the biggest winners and losers so far are domains with traffic surpassing 1 million monthly visitors. One in three domains experiencing visibility drops are sites with over 10 million visitors per month.”
Whether or not your website fits this criteria, it’s an important time to be monitoring organic traffic and keyword rankings. Despite the fact that we don’t exactly know what changed so far, we do know something did. So any irregularities in your rankings could be an indication that you were impacted one way or another by the change in the way the search engine algorithm is being calculated. That impact may require sweeping changes or minor tweaks to your website content as a result.
The very next step to take after learning about an algorithm update is to review your organic traffic metrics. How much traffic did your website generate last month? How much traffic are you on pace to generate this month? Do you see any dramatic changes? If so, the next step is to review your keyword rankings. Do you see any keywords or search queries moving dramatically from where they ranked before the update as compared to where they rank now? Don’t wait until June to realize your site has been impacted adversely by an algorithm update. Keep your KPIs close and be ready to act as new information related to this update and the best practices they now require to continue to be reported.