Google’s December 2020 Core Update – What you Need to Know

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In the latest episode of Hack My Growth, we’re looking at the recent December 2020 core update from Google. We’re going to look at how it’s impacted the SEO community, who are some of the early winners and losers, and what you need to do to make sure that your site is ready no matter what type of update comes your way.


Video Transcript: 

In this video, we’re going to take a look at this December 2020 core update, some of the things that you need to know, and how you can really proof your site or make sure that your site is ready no matter what types of updates that Google is making. On December 3rd, Google began rolling out the 2020 core update. Most of that impact was felt on December 4th. Some of you may have felt that, or at least seen some of the fluctuation within the search results. Looking at some of the early data from some of the big aggregators, this could be a bigger update than what we saw in May.

There’s another thing we need to keep in mind. It’s not over yet. These core updates don’t just happen in one day. They don’t happen in 24 to 48 hours. They happen over the course of a few days and sometimes weeks, so we still need to pay attention to what’s going on and make sure that we’re not overreacting to what we’re seeing just yet.

Early Impact of Core Update

Here’s some data from Rank Ranger on the early impact of this core update. You can see there’s a fluctuation. In May, it was 38% within the top three results; we’re at 55 right now. In the top five results, May was a little more volatile. In the top 10 results, overall December has been more volatile. Most of that happening within those top three positions. If we look at SEMRUSH, we can look at their sensor tool and see that on the fourth, we had a very, very high fluctuation, a lot of shifting.

Then obviously the next day you see it kind of go down again and if you look at the data today, you’ll notice that it’s trending back up. Here we go. We look at the normal deviations in the search results. This is going to help us see the volatility. It’s a deviation of about 4.8, which is critical, and the volatility on December 4th was extremely high. You can also notice here that on December 10th, we started to see a higher uptake in the volatility of the search results. It wasn’t within the critical level, but the volatility definitely went high, it was over a seven here, which is pretty significant. Now, if we want to compare some of the early winners to losers, these are categories based on the SEMRUSH data. You can see here the categories in green, these are the ones that saw more of a positive impact like pets and animals and internet telecom, online communities as a category.

But overall, if we look, we can get kind of an idea of some of the industries that did see some uplift. Over here you can see the negatively impacted categories. Obviously, you’ve got sites in both categories that had positive and negative.

Update’s Broad Impacts

We could see that this update was extremely broad, which it should be. It’s a core update, it’s a broad update, but it’s had an impact on people in every industry and in every category we’ve got positive and negative impacts. One of the things that I’ve seen, I’ve seen some of the competitors that we compete against for some of our clients, we’ve seen some of the recovery where they were hit pretty hard in May, and we’re seeing some recovery and that’s something that’s been shared across the web. I’ve seen a number of SEOs and webmasters talk about how they were hit pretty hard in May with a core update.

If we look at this data, this is actually looking at specific domains, and this is from Path Interactive. If you look at that blog below and I’ll make this deck available, so you can click all the links, they aggregated all the data of a thousand winners and losers of this update. These are some very interesting metrics to me.

Use the Visibility Index

If we look at the visibility index, it is what Lily Ray used here to show who won and who lost within these domains. You notice that YouTube saw a massive increase in visibility with this update. YouTube is obviously owned by Google. You can see that they’re continuing to favor their own platforms, their own products, which is something that we’ve known for quite a while. SparkToro founder Rand Fishkin, formerly of Moz, did a lot of studies on this how Google entities are tending to rank higher and higher, and they’re owning more and more of the SERPs.

As an SEO, this is something that you should obviously be aware of and know that you need to be leveraging these platforms. We saw an increase in eBay and Facebook, LinkedIn, and these social media groups saw quite a bit of an increase over here in these social communities. If you look at the big losers, one of the biggest ones was Amazon, a direct competitor in a lot of ways. When it comes to shopping and exposure in that way, we also saw a huge drop in Pinterest, the CDC, which is really interesting that they have seen not that big of a slide in their overall visibility and some of the other sites. You’ve got some major news sites in here as well with New York Times and CNN, as well as the BBC. This data is actually available. She provides it for you. Go ahead and check that out. You can look at it a little bit deeper, but I found that these were very interesting when looking at the domains of early winners and losers so far.

What Is Coming Next?

There are some people talking about round two. Like I said before, a rollout doesn’t happen over 48 hours. It usually happens over a few days where you see high fluctuation, then you see it kind of mellow out and then you see some more volatility and then you see it mellow out. Expect this to happen probably for a few weeks. As you can see here, we were talking in November. Like are we seeing an update at this time, as you’ve seen the volatility spikes here happening quite a bit. You can’t sit back and say, “Yeah, it’s done. Google made the changes. I got to live with it.” We still don’t know the full impact of this yet. Rank Rangers sees the big impact here and also a spike there on December 10th. And then once again, it was very warm on the ninth with the Moz cast, which can also help us when it comes to looking at the volatility of the search results.

What Are These Updates?

Let’s understand these core updates a little more, what are they? Google says that they designed them to ensure that overall they’re delivering their mission on presenting relevant and authoritative content into the search results. They also say that broad core update dates tend to happen pretty frequently, honestly, every few months, and the content that’s been affected by one, it might not recover. It might not recover ever. That’s because they’re setting in new rules in new pieces of the algorithm. You may never recover from a broad update, or you may make changes and you won’t see a recovery until the next core update is released. Those are two things you have to think about when you’re creating content and building content. This is why playing the long game with SEO is really important.

Play the Long Game

Don’t take shortcuts, don’t create content for the sake of content. You may see some quick wins, but overall, you’re going to really damage your brand and the authority of your site and the ability of your site to recover or maintain quality search results. These are things that you have to pay attention to because these broad core updates can set your site back. It can take months before you’re going to see the return of the traffic and you may never get back to where you were before.

What can you do about these core updates? Now, these are a few questions that I’ve taken from the site, where they talk about core updates. Google gives us quite a bit of information on what they’re looking for. Things like providing original information, making sure that we are providing substantial and complete, comprehensive information and description of our content. These things are very, very important.

We also want to look at things like is our content insightful? Is it interesting? Is it beyond obvious? Are we adding value to people’s lives? Are we using trusted sources? Are we using clear sources? Are we saying, “Hey, here’s where we got the information and here’s why you can trust us.” There are a lot more of these questions that we can look through and there are tons of them on this page. But it even goes down to the level of, is it free from spelling issues and stylistic issues? Is it produced well? Is it sloppy and does it look like it was written quickly or too quickly? These are all questions you want to really be thinking of when you’re creating content, designing your content, designing your sitemap, deciding how you build this up, because it’s going to impact both sides of the coin. We talked about this on the channel a lot.

Does It Provide Value?

It’s going to matter for the users who are reading your content, is it providing value? And then when you add structure to that content, is it going to provide value in that sense as well with structured data and linked open data and the other areas of our site that are also extremely important.

One of the main things that you can do is focus on EAT, E-A-T, and it stands for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. This is something that Lily Ray says in one of her really good guides. I found these very helpful. Google even links out to them and those links are below in the sources. It’s for all pages that have a beneficial purpose; the amount of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness is important. You have to consider the expertise of the creator of that main content.

If the person creating your main content isn’t an expert, you should question that. That will be taken into account and that’s one piece of it all, but I think it starts there, right? Don’t hire out content or creators that don’t have expertise in your field and think it’s going to be okay. Take the time to make sure that your content is created by the most qualified person when it comes to those pieces of content that matter, those core site pages, those blogs that you want to use to drive traffic. Content again, for the sake of content, isn’t going to provide much value.

Consider the Algorithms

Here’s something that Ben Gomes VP of search at Google says, “You can view the raters guidelines as where they want the search algorithm to go.” They use the raters guidelines for that. They kind of help shape where they’re taking the algorithm. They don’t fully tell us how the algorithm is ranking results, but they fundamentally show you what the algorithm should do. A lot of times in the SEO community, people will say, “Well, the Google search raters guidelines, those are guidelines for people. The people who are doing the search rating to look into.” But the reality is we, as SEOs should look at this and say, “This is what they’re wanting the algorithm to do.” The algorithm is supposed to act as if it’s a search rater, where it’s giving you those best results and saying, “Yes, this is the best, best content.”

It’s not just a computer. They want this computer program to deliver the best results, the way that a human being intended those results to be shown. These are important things to consider. If you’ve been impacted by this so far, one of the things you can do is start building out better content now. Increasing your expertise, your authoritativeness, and trustworthiness in hopes that you can recover in the future. If you’re seeing light fluctuation, not massive drops in traffic, but light fluctuation, don’t freak out. That’s expected to happen during times like this, where the algorithm is readjusting and realigning, and looking at providing those better results. If you continue to do it by the right rules of focusing on your end users and focusing on delivering the content that they need to succeed online, you will succeed as well.

A rising tide lifts all boats. When you do that and you provide that value and you put yourself out there and you meet the user’s intent and expectations and you establish yourself as an expert, you get some authority. When you link with trustworthy sources, you become trustworthy yourself. You’re going to see great improvements in the long run. Let me know if you have any questions about what we talked about today and as always, until next time. Good luck.

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