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Across the internet, 53 percent of all website traffic is driven by organic search results, according to a 2019 BrightEdge report. Moreover, Google is the most trusted of all search engine platforms, which means most users access Google to find websites such as yours. To harness the full bandwidth of Google to increase visibility and direct your target audience to your website, you must understand Google algorithm updates.

But first a definition—an algorithm is a formulaic backend system that Google uses to retrieve data from its internet-wide search index so that it can yield the most relevant and useful content for a query.

This algorithm is not a fixed schema; however, it changes all the time. In fact, Moz tracked a massive 3,234 Google algorithm updates in 2018 alone. Most of these are small and undetectable to the average user, but periodically a Google algorithm update will impact your website. 

While this is something you need to be aware of, it’s typically not a cause for major concern. Google algorithm updates are normal and inevitable, so don’t stress about how they might influence your metrics—listen to these SEO experts break down some of the recent major updates, then adapt your website as necessary. (We’ve also included actionable tips on how you can adjust your SEO strategy to best leverage each update). 

Google Medic Update

One of the most impactful Google algorithm updates in the past several years was in 2018, called the “Medic Update” since it mostly affected health-related websites. Some other industries took a dive in search result visibility and organic traffic numbers, such as finance, entertainment, B2B, insurance, and e-commerce. The online health niche, however, saw the most downturn, confirms Barry Schwartz, founder of SEO Roundtable

Swartz’s research shows that out of 300 surveyed websites, 42 percent of those who noticed a loss in ranking from the Medic Update were in the medical, exercise, nutrition, lifestyle or wellness space. This was consistent across health websites in various countries, languages, and formats (business, advice column, blog, etc.).

How to adjust to this update: Make sure you don’t have low-value YMYL content (stands for your money, your life). Google didn’t want unqualified websites providing out-of-context, general advice to their searchers that could potentially impact their health or finances. SEOs advise to focus on your content E-A-T, (expertise, authority and trustworthiness) by providing background info on authors and supporting claims with high-quality sources. 

Learn more about the Medic Update and how businesses reacted in our in-depth blog post.

Google BERT Update

An acronym for “Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers,” the BERT Google algorithm update aimed to deliver results based on natural language in a search query. To illustrate how this works, entrepreneur Neil Patel used the following example:

Before the BERT update, search results for “2019 Brazil traveler to US need a Visa” explained how U.S. travelers could obtain a Visa to Brazil. After BERT, Google focused on small but meaningful words—such as “to” in this case—to clarify the user intent and produce accurate results. The search results after the update yield information on how Brazilian travelers can obtain a U.S. Visa.

BERT impacted website’s SEO because it focused less on short keywords and more on long-tail phrases that increase search results’ relevance. 

How to adjust to this update: Get specific with your content and keyword strategy. Since BERT focused on long-tail phrases, your content should answer those long, detailed questions, not just general inquiries. As with all updates, most of all, create valuable content that speaks to your target audience (see Google’s search liaison tweet below). 

Google algorithm tweet Danny Sullivanfrom

Image source: Neil Patel

May 2020 Core Update

The most recent of Google’s major algorithm updates also turned out to be one of the most controversial due to its release at the height of COVID-19. For many online business owners, the May 2020 Core Update was just one more obstacle in the fight to hold onto customers, clients and revenue. 

Despite the economic conditions, though, SEO analysts and marketers Niels Dahnke and Marcus Pentzeck do not think this update is an automatic loss for websites, but a chance to optimize their features and performance. The May 2020 Core Update specifically targeted E-A-T-related issues. 

How to adjust to this update: SEO experts say to maintain or even increase SEO ranking, websites need a high domain authority, quality content links, a cohesive brand identity and a strong, consistent click-through rate.

Easier said than done, right? Check out a few of our resources to help you on this path: 

Confirmed Index Glitch

Just this month, on August 10, 2020, many websites experienced a drop in traffic from organic search results that, at first glance, seemed to be an unannounced Google algorithm update. 

About 24 hours later, however, Google Webmasters released an official statement which confirmed this so-called update to actually be an index glitch, reports Search Engine Journal. Google operates with an index system known as Caffeine. This allows it to crawl, extract, and process data from around the internet in real-time, then convert accumulated data into search results. But when the glitch occurred, the crawl rate slowed. SEO rankings declined, which prevented website content from being indexed in searches.

Fortunately, Google rectified the glitch.

How to adjust to this update: There are no adjustments needed for business owners and website managers. But it’s always best to stay up-to-date on SEO trends and analysis so you can understand what’s going on. For the best industry news, follow these accounts on Twitter or sign up for their newsletters:

Work With, Not Against Google Algorithm Updates 

As an agile business owner, your job is not to stress about these Google algorithm updates. Instead, optimize your content, links, page layouts and other website features in response to each new update. 

To learn more about how you can increase user traffic from organic search results—even amid an algorithm update—contact us to receive an SEO audit and consultation.