Google’s December 2020 Core Update: What We Know So Far

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At least twice a year, Google make significant, broad changes to their algorithms. These changes are referred to as “core updates” and keeping up to date with these changes will, in turn, keep you on top of rankings and SEO.

“They’re designed to ensure that overall, we’re delivering on our mission to present relevant and authoritative content to searchers.” Google

Amidst the pandemic – and more specifically, the Christmas online shopping season! – Google’s timing for the new core update is controversial. But for those waiting for a chance of recovery following the last major update in May, the rollout will be welcomed with open arms following the longer than usual 7-month wait.

These affects have been explained before by Google;

“Broad core updates tend to happen every few months. Content that was impacted by one might not recover – assuming improvements have been made – until the next broad core update is released.”

Rolling out the update on the 3rd December 2020, Google announced the update rollout was complete on the 16th December and along with it, some rigorous movements in the SERP results.

Over the first few days following the update, many sites saw a solid increase in organic traction, with SERP positions and online visibility on the rise. But this was just the beginning and site owners soon took to Twitter and forums to express their dismay as Google seemingly threw in a ‘reversal update’. Or as some have called it, the core update ‘second wave’.

These reversals have been explained before as the inevitable ‘smaller tweaks’ that follow the bigger algorithm changes.

What impact has the update already had on rankings?

The perspectives on what happened in Google’s core algorithm update vary. What most observers seem to agree is that no obvious factors or changes seem to stand out.

Others suggest that because no change is obvious, that it could mean something related to AI or Natural Language Processing was refined or introduced. But for now, that is all just speculation.

What we do know, is the rigorous impact that the update has already had.

Below, you can see the volatility comparison of the May 2020 core update against the December core update. The chart shows clearly how the latest update has had a greater impact so far, with the top 3 results showing a much more volatile position than the previous update in May.

Alternatively, by looking at SEMrush via their sensor tool in the graph below, we can also see that on December 4th, just a day after the update was launched, there was high fluctuation and subsequently, a vast amount of SERP shifting. Overall proving just how impactful the first few days of the core update were in December.

To see if your site has been affected, you can look at your site analytics to identify whether you have been affected by the update or not. Any drop or rise in organic traffic or SERP position movements within the first couple of weeks of December would indicate that you may have been affected by the new core update.

Google’s Core Update: What can you do & what should you look out for?

The core algorithm updates are intended to revise the search results to give an advantage to high-quality content that originally failed to show up. Therefore, however unpredictable these updates may be, revising your site content for written improvements or navigation tweaks can only benefit you and your site.

Google’s much talked about ‘passage indexing’ feature still sits on the near horizon of updates; whereby Google will rank and show specific passages from parts of pages and documents in response to some search queries. The update was originally set roll out alongside the December update, however Google are yet to implement the feature but say we will see the changes early this year.

A way to combat this change? Well, avoid stale content.

Ways to do this would be to make sure to add more relevance and context to your content with real emphasis on adding useful information that users are searching for online. An example of this is written content in a Q&A format – many search terms are put as a question, so why not explicitly answer their question in your content?

Another technique is creating holistic content, opposed to fragmented. Bing your content around topics and club them together in a cluster format for easier indexing, obvious topical relevancy and an all-round simpler user experience.

Additionally, Google’s John Mueller has explained that if you provide the same content, or very similar content, to many other sites on the web, then it’s hard for Google’s algorithms to determine which site should rank. This can lead to a lot of volatility over time and is why is it so important to differentiate your site as much as you can.

Another way to keep on top of your sites SEO will be to focus on the upcoming ‘Page Experience’ feature. The feature won’t be launched until May 2021, but will introduce essential new ranking factors, such as ‘Core Web Vitals’ and mobile userbility.

So, to summarise what you should be focusing on to stay ahead of the update affects:

  • Content is king. Extremely relevant content will continue to help you rank, despite other updates. Google is always looking to surface the highest quality and most relevant content for each query. Be sure to incorporate relevant information and context to your online written content and don’t forget to be the answer to the questions the users search for.
  • Focus on page experience. Implement measures to ensure your site meets Google’s page experience requirements and think about users perceive the experience of interacting with your web page.
  • Create holistic content. The ultimate goal is to make your website fulfil its users’ needs on all levels. Not only by providing the right information in one place and easy to access, but also by being easy and safe to use.
  • Consistently check web analytics and tracking. Web analytics can help you recognise what works best for your site and to learn how to make your site thrive. Additionally, if you have rank tracking tools available, then be sure to check any fluctuations in rankings aside from your website analytics.

If you need a helping hand in tracking or improving your rankings, get in touch for a chat on how we can help you gain better positions over your competitors.