The pandemic situation has left us all in a state of dismay and panic. But even when coronavirus was busy psyching people out, Google was busy working on a new algorithm update. The pandemic peaked in May and that’s when (seriously!) Google released a major second Core Update of 2020.
Thankfully, webmasters and search marketers are getting used to Google releasing core algorithm updates every few months. So, this update wasn’t a complete shocker. Yet, a ‘Core’ update means that it involves a significant change in the algorithm, affecting several websites. Therefore, it’s important to understand what this new update is about and how it will affect our lives.
So, let’s dive in!
What’s Just Happened? A Closer Look at the May 2020 Update
What has Google changed with it’s May 2020 core update? Which industries is it expected to impact the most? Well, Google hasn’t clearly shared information on this matter. When asked, here’s what John Mueller tweeted.
Meanwhile, webmasters and SEO experts continue to rack their brains to understand this update better.
Mordy Oberstein of RankRanger called Google’s May update an ‘absolute monster.’ That’s because the update is bigger and broader than the January one and had impacted affected several industries. The hardest-hit areas are travel, real estate, health sectors, and people and society.
Check out this chart by SEMRush that gives a breakdown of rank volatility by industry.
Oberstein compared the effect of the two core updates – January and May 2020. As you can see here, the May 2020 update saw a higher rank volatility than the previous one.
Another in-depth analysis done by Marie Haynes shares that this update is a part of Google’s continued efforts to gain a better understanding of user intent and then present them with the most relevant results. According to her analysis, the core update seems to be focusing on the following objectives –
1. Getting a Better Understanding of the Searcher Intent
As we are aware, the new generation of searchers are using innovative ways to look for information online. For instance, nearly 38 percent of search queries on Google are phrased as questions. And this trend seems to be increasing with the growth in voice search.
Keeping such changing search behavior in mind, Google introduced the BERT update last year which uses NLP to analyze searches of a conversational nature. The May 2020 update seems to be an advanced step towards understanding such complex searches.
2. Evaluating How Trustworthy Your Website Is
Remember Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines that used humans to evaluate a site’s E-A-T rating? Well, it appears that the core update relates back to this strong ranking signal.
3. Understanding Your Site’s Backlink Profile (Authority)
A website’s inbound link profile has always been a clear signal of a site’s authority. The recent Core update may be designed to ignore self-made links and give credence to genuine links from authoritative sites.
So, what can you do to rank better in such a scenario? Here are a few points worth considering.
1. Objectively Analyze Your Website
Remember what Google’s Gary Illyes said about the core algorithm at the Pubcon 2019? The Core algorithm is made of several baby algorithms that work together to rank a page. Hence, instead of looking at one issue, it’s wise to analyze your website to surface all the potential issues.
Study your website through the lens of the core update and identify all the issues ranging from content and link profile to technical SEO and UX.
2. Pay Attention to the E-A-T Ranking Factor
Google recommends that webmasters impacted by the May 2020 update consider addressing three areas – Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness or their E-A-T rating. This is especially important for YMYL (Your Money Your Life) segments like healthcare, nutrition, education, finance, and legal that affect the searcher’s health, happiness, safety, and financial state.
In order to improve your site’s E-A-T rating, offer good-quality content written by experts in the field. Remember to share the author’s credentials and accomplishments. A dedicated ‘Author Page’ is a great way to draw attention to the author’s professional background and expertise on a subject.
Secondly, have a robust link-building strategy in place to procure authoritative links and mentions, thus improving your site’s authority. Unnatural and affiliate links may be seen as a grey-hat SEO effort, thus impacting your site’s ranking. Focus on earning authentic links as they, in a way, recommend or vouch for your content.
Finally, prioritize website security to improve your trustworthiness.
For detailed tips, I would recommend you read our post on improving your E-A-T rating.
3. Focus on the Content You Offer
Content has always been at the center of all our online strategies. However, the fact that several websites saw their ranking dip after the May 2020 update is enough indication that they aren’t offering content that’s worth being rewarded by Google.
a) Analyze Your Content on a Regular Basis
Google has shared a list of questions that can be useful for analyzing a site’s content quality and expertise. Use it as a guide to improve your site’s UX and content quality and boost your online reputation.
Here are the screenshots of these questions.
Also, determine the pages that once ranked well but have declined post the update. Check who is ranking for your keywords and assess their content.
b) Refresh Old Content
Review old posts (especially the evergreen ones) and keep them updated with data that’s relevant and recent. If a competitor is ranking better for your keyword, find out what they are doing differently. Check out forums like Quora or social media communities in your niche and listen to what people are looking for or saying. Touch upon these points in your post.
Is there scope to get rid of the fluff and irrelevant data? Do you have a recent infographic or a video tutorial related to the post? If yes, add that!
There’s a lot you can do to update old content. Make content upgrading a part of your schedule to keep your content relevant and stay a step ahead of your competitors.
c) Fix Thin Content
Google is ruthless with websites that offer content that’s of little or no value to its users. If your website has pages with articles that lack depth or have repetitive or duplicate content issues, you are sure to face Google’s wrath.
Check for content with a low word count, especially for topics that deserve long-form content (LFC). For instance, if I am writing a post on a topic like ‘video marketing hacks,’ I will surely not restrict my post to 500 words. There’s a lot to share on this trending topic!
Long-form content offers more opportunity to share value-adding content and use a wide variety of keyword variations and synonyms. This can also help you maintain a healthy keyword density (Google penalizes sites for keyword stuffing!).
4. Improve Your Site’s UX
Google ranks sites using over 200 ranking factors which include content quality, site speed, image optimization, inbound links, site structure, and readability among others. What’s great for the user is great for Google! Therefore, it’s critical to develop a sound UX strategy that revolves around offering an awesome experience to people visiting your site and interacting with the webpages.
Here are a few tips to boost your site’s UX.
a) Use Clear Headlines
The headlines in your content should be able to attract your target audience. Write relevant headlines that appeal to what your potential audience is looking for. Further, include appropriate keywords to improve the searchability of your content.
Lastly, pay attention to the headline design. It should stand out with respect to its size, color, and font and accurately describe the page content.
Ever noticed HubSpot Academy’s website? Their headlines are well-crafted and thoughtfully written, making it easy for the user (and the search engines) to scan through them. The page also has a clear call to action, another important factor that boosts a site’s UX.
b) Befriend White Space
A recent post by Crazy Egg speaks about how a simple design hack like increasing the white space on webpages can improve a site’s UX. If your page has a lot of content, make sure you space them right, thus drawing attention to the key messages and making it easy for the reader to digest the information.
Check out how Kohler, the American manufacturer of plumbing products, uses white space throughout its site. This allows the user to pay attention to each section on the page.
c) Improve Your Site’s Navigation
Poor navigation can negatively impact a site’s UX. Include a clear navigation menu on all webpages, allowing visitors to land on the homepage with ease. Avoid complex and confusing menu items. Also, add a search bar, enabling users to key in what they are looking for.
d) Pay Attention to Site Speed
Your site’s loading time is a major contributor to page abandonment. In fact, according to this infographic shared by Neil Patel, 47 percent of visitors expect a page to load within 2 seconds.
Speed up your website to improve it’s overall UX and ranking.
Google continues to stick to its tradition of announcing major core updates with the objective of offering high-quality and relevant content to its searchers. The May 2020 Core update was yet another of Google’s attempts to ensure the most relevant and useful sites rank well in the SERPs. The information and strategies shared in this post is an endeavor to help you understand this update better, allowing you to get a grip of the situation and improve your search rankings.
How are you managing to sail through Google’s new Core Update? I am eager to know your best practices in the comments below!