How Google’s Search Algorithm Is Changing SEO In 2019
While not every single one of them is confirmed, Google has made over 3,200 changes in the past year, with each one designed to make the search experience that little bit better. With an increasing focus on page quality, relevance, timeliness and, of course, user experience, optimising any website for Google’s constantly changing algorithms is a full-time job. Whether it’s adapting to the latest broad core update or keeping your eye on the thousands of smaller updates taking place every year is a crucial part of keeping up with SEO best practices.
In light of Google’s most recent updates to its freshness algorithm, which is also confirmed to be related to featured snippets, we’re taking a look at 2019’s major changes so far and how they’ve changed SEO as we know it.
The Major Changes
Each year, Google releases a number of major changes that can completely shake up the SERPs as we know them. These updates are often confirmed by the search engine and while they’ve recently confirmed that they rarely confirm smaller core updates, those that are likely to affect a wider audience are generally confirmed, and release once every few months. This supposed pattern does change, as we’ve seen this year:
March 2019 Broad Core Update
In March, the search world was shaken for the first time in 2019 with a broad core algorithm update. While there didn’t seem to be any strict focus for the update, there was initial rumour that it was focused on rolling back some of the more aggressive results from the August 2018 Medic update. In the following days, it appeared that the update was focusing on everything from neural matching and exact-match anchor text, to medical sites, search intent and aggressive spidering, with webmasters and businesses alike seeing spikes and drops as a result.
This update was confirmed on March 13th, with a tweet stating:
Here’s an update about updates — updates to our search algorithms. As explained before, each day, Google usually releases one or more changes designed to improve our results. Most have little noticeable change but help us continue to incrementally improve search….
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) October 11, 2018
The update didn’t require much in terms of action from webmasters, at least nothing that they weren’t supposed to be doing before. Google’s advice was to follow previously given advice and the Search Quality Rater Guidelines, and so SEOs were left to determine the cause of their drops individually as a result.
Google Discover is the search engine’s answer to a news feed, designed to provide users with a fully customisable content feed that focused entirely on what they want to see. Google collects data from logged-in users through their search history, behaviour and their given preferences and followed topics, in order to produce a scrollable feed of related posts, links and more. For example, if you were to search for ‘Stranger Things’ and hit the ‘follow’ option, your Google Discover feed will begin to show relevant items to the show, including the latest news.
The feed isn’t limited to just interests in a TV sense. You can also follow and be shown content for sports, celebrities, brands, travel updates, flights, weather information and more. Google utilises an algorithm and a spot of machine learning in order to not only show things they know the user will be interested in, but determine what they’re likely to search for in the future through relevant sub topics.
For marketers, this offers a whole new avenue to get our content in front of an audience, but with such a small opportunity in which to be featured, it’s more important than ever to secure a position 1, 2, 3 or position 0 in the SERPs. Beyond just being featured, businesses need to ensure their meta data is tailored to capture attention. We’re all guilty of scrolling through our social media for hours on end and this new feed will act in a similar manner. If you want users to click onto your post, user your titles and descriptions to capture that attention.
June 2019 Core Update
Pre-announcements of core algorithm updates don’t come very often, so imagine the surprise that swept across the industry when, on the 2nd June 2019, Google announced that there would be an update on the following day:
Tomorrow, we are releasing a broad core algorithm update, as we do several times per year. It is called the June 2019 Core Update. Our guidance about such updates remains as we’ve covered before. Please see this tweet for more about that:https://t.co/tmfQkhdjPL
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) June 2, 2019
The update seemed to focus on page quality and E-A-T yet again, with even big brands like Daily Mail and CNN facing penalties or reduced rankings for unpleasant or non-user-friendly content. Daily Mail were one of the biggest culprits, with webpages often littered with advertisements and popups that made the reading experience difficult or distracting. They saw a reduction in their ranking, and certainly weren’t the only website to suffer from such drops throughout the five-day rollout.
The Diversity Update
Released just a few days following the June 2019 Core Update, the Diversity update wasn’t pre-announced but seemed to have just as much of an effect on the SERPs as it’s predecessor. This update was designed to reduce the number of times a single brand could appear within the SERPs for a single query, to just two. In industries where big brands have been dominating the search results, this offered smaller businesses the opportunity to work their way up through the results pages.
Google stated that “A new change now launching in Google Search is designed to provide more site diversity in our results… This site diversity change means that you won’t usually see more than two listings from the same site in our top results.”
It was soon clarified that these changes weren’t a part of the original June update, and that it was in fact an entirely separate entity. Given how closely the two updates had been released, webmasters and SEOs were initially unsure as to whether this was all a part of the same change. Of course, once this was clarified, the attention then turned to why Google had opted to release two updates within a few days of each other, rather than allowing webmasters to adjust to the changes from the first update first.
August’s Recent Update
A year on from the Medic update that completely changed how we see the SERPs today, chatter started to spread around the search community about a potential new update. While there were no pre-announced updates, despite the search engine claiming that this would be the standard from now on, webmasters reported seeing their tracking tools indicate a potential new update. However, no update was confirmed and while a number of SEOs and webmasters did see drastic traffic changes, this didn’t appear to be widespread.
Instead, August’s update doesn’t actually appear to be an update at all. In fact, Google announced on Twitter that they’d recently update their Freshness guidelines, which has suggested to marketers that this has something to do with potential changes to the algorithm.
On August 1st, Search Liaison tweeted:
Sometimes, freshness counts when it comes to featured snippets. That’s why we made a change earlier this year to better identify when we should show fresh content. We share more about that in our blog post today: https://t.co/ADkAFfOHQ4
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) August 1, 2019
Simply stating the update was ‘earlier this year’, webmasters are unsure as to just what this refers to. However, within the linked blog, Google go on to explain:
“As part of our ongoing efforts to make Search work better for you, a new algorithm update improves our systems’ understanding of what information remains useful over time and what becomes out-of-date more quickly”
Essentially, this means that SEOs and webmasters alike will need to start determining which of their content pieces are evergreen, which are completely out of date and which may need regular updating to remain up to date throughout the year. This update, however, has closely focused on featured snippets, with the intention to offer users easier access to helpful and relevant information through these boxes, rather than having to dig deeper into the SERPs.
For events, such as a movie release date or even widespread news concerns such as medical outbreaks etc, this update is designed to utilise the most recent information to provide the widest amount of details possible. For example, if a release month was previously listed, an updated featured snippet will list the exact date when it comes out. This, effectively, becomes more useful to the searcher.
SEO is constantly changing and Google’s algorithm updates are often to blame. Whether it’s a major algorithm change that sees SERPs-wide fluctuations, or a small update that only effects a handful of webmasters, each has a significant effect worth paying attention to. For help with forming a proactive approach to these changes, our team are on hand to help. Simply get in touch on 0800 088 6000, today.