The Complete Rundown Of Google’s 2019 Algorithm Updates (so far)

Over the past year, Google made a whopping 3,200 changes to its search system, amounting to an impressive 8 changes a day. It’s safe to say that this number is a far cry from the lowly one change a day initiated back in 2010. As SEO experts we also know that these changes often arrive unannounced and take their time to settle in and unpack their algorithms on the world wide web.

The full effects of Google’s algorithm updates on the search system is still unknown, leaving many of us in the dark. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. While some consequences include drops in traffic and shifts in positions on the SERP, those practicing ethical SEO strategies can adapt to these changes and still achieve high quality rankings. Remember that the ultimate aim of all Google algorithm updates is to create a high quality user experience and improve the understanding of search queries.

In understanding where and when these changes occur, industry professionals are able to account for certain side-effects to webpages in the update aftermath and devise the best strategy to neutralise them.

To keep you informed, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of all Google’s major algorithm updates in 2019 to date.

March 12th 2019, Google Core Algorithm Update

Touted as a ‘broad core update’, this change was a big one. The term ‘core’ indicates that Google was not targeting any particular website or quality, almost like an NHS health check. The underlying goal was to improve overall user satisfaction through the process of Neural Matching – an algorithm first introduced in 2018 that enables the generation of more diverse search results.

Winners and Losers

Interestingly, this algorithm update affected all search queries relating to sensitive topics in the legal, financial and most prominently health industries. Some have said that this update reversed the affects of the E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trust) update rolled out in August 2018 – otherwise known as the Medic Update – which also targeted webpages in the health arena. Everydayhealth.com and verywellhealth.com were among those hit the hardest.

However it has also been reported that other medical sites with a strong brand profile and topical focus experienced improvements in site visibility. A key factor known to account for these positive side-effects was the favouring of YMYL keywords. This acronym for, ‘your money or your life’ is what Google uses for webpages that impact the future of users’ happiness, i.e. health, financial stability etc. In laymen stems,  webpages that could successfully answer user search queries relating to YMYL keywords went up in the world as they could provide a higher level of trust.

June 3rd 2019, Google Core Update

The June 2019 core algorithm update was the first update that Google announced ahead of its implementation – a stark indication that this would likely have major effects on the SEO ecosystem. It has been speculated that this update targeted news providers that offered low-value content to users.

Winners and Losers

The five-day roll out impacted a plethora of large digital publishers such as the Daily Mail (who saw a 50% drop in search traffic) and CNN, who still claim to be in recovery. On the flip side, others including the Mirror, the Sun and the Metro experienced positive spikes in search traffic. The underlying causes of why the Daily Mail saw such dismal results post-update are still unknown. Some blame the lack of user trust in their content, their political positioning and the volume of poor quality advertisements. What we do know, is that SEO analysis of the core update continues and has been made doubly as difficult to understand due to its overlap with the June Diversity update (see below.) 

June 6th 2019, Google Diversity Update

Google’s diversity update was the antithesis of the March core algorithm update. Side-effects were minor and the change itself was narrowly targeted as a result of lesser known improvements made. The aim of the update was to limit SERPs from displaying various results from the same websites and to improve the assortment of options on offer for the user.

Winners and Losers

Some say that because this update overlapped with the June core update (which finished rolling out on the 8th June), that its affects on webpages were minimal. Users continue to demand a greater array of websites on the SERP, suggesting whether Google has done enough to address the issue of limited diversity? While there have been mostly positive results from this update, we have spotted a few discussions on Twitter that suggest otherwise. SEO industry professionals have predicted that we should expect to see more algorithm updates surrounding filtering out similar content on the SERP in the near future, so results may continue to improve in time.

Possible updates sighted in July 2019

On 11th – 13th July we spotted possible signs of an algorithm update. While this was unannounced, some have reported changes to YMYL sites, many health related. Prior to this around 1st – 9Th July, there were also spotting’s of a possible change to the June 3rd update. Again, information on this is in scarce supply and further highlights the importance of consistent site monitoring and metric analysis.

Winners and Losers

The unconfirmed July update has yet to expose those who benefited and those who suffered from the change. Some debate that the scale of the update was not momentous enough to impose significant damage, while others claim to have experienced rank fluctuations to the bottom half of the SERP across all markets.

August 16th 2019, Google Search Ranking Update

Over the weekend, there have been signs of an algorithm update, labelled the Google Search Ranking Algorithm Update, that begun on August 16th 2019. While we personally have not yet seen many changes to our clients’ websites (19th August 2019), there are ongoing discussions on Webmasterworld as well as Twitter.

Winners and Losers

Chatter surrounding this update died down quickly, and Google are yet to confirm if an update was released.

The issue with small updates or tweaks to search is that, as we receive small amounts of information, it’s harder to detect what updates specifically target – which applies to this small August update. Not much insight has been presented to us and any changes in traffic or rankings appear to be minor compared to the many other updates from this year. Yet many suspect that the changes were the result of seasonal factors, such as the summer holidays being in full swing.

August 29th– 30th 2019, Unnamed Update

Following on from the suspected update just the week before, Google launched an algorithm update that commenced on the 28th of August, continuing until the 30th.

What was interesting about this particular update, was that self-proclaimed Google employee, Bill Lambert warned the SEO community a few weeks before that this update was imminent, and advised site owners to build as much traffic as possible while trying to keep users on the site for longer.

Winners and Losers

The update appeared to have affected a wide range of industries as opposed to the usual YMYL or ones struggling with elements of E-A-T.

There were a few associations with this update and affiliate linking websites, which typically are sites of lower quality. While this theory is yet to be confirmed, it is also interesting to note that Marie Haynes reported this update as a ‘possible link related update’ after her clients experienced gains following recent disavow work. This strengthens the affiliate linking theory, as the update may have been related to Google’s ability to assess link trust.

September 13th – 18th 2019, Potential Update

From September 13th – 18th, SERP volatility trackers were incredibly high, indicating another Google update. However, the effects did not appear to be as significant as previous updates.

Winners and Losers

The winners and losers of this update were more transparent than during previous algorithm changes. As the update began, sites related to health, finance, law and government were affected in more negative ways than others. This indicated to us that YMYL sites were the predominant target.

However, the update then spiked on the 18th of September which flipped the above predictions on its head. The categories that were heavily hit included arts & entertainment, science, gaming and more, while YMYL sites were mostly absent.

This suggests that either the September 13th update did not last as long as we thought, and it may have been a separate update that occurred on the 18th.

September 24th 2019, September 2019 Core Update

Google announced on their Twitter account that a broad core update was incoming, formally named the “September 2019 Core Update.’ This announcement informed us that it would be significant as Google rarely declares updates beforehand. The search engine giant also stated that their advice for recovering from such updates remain the same.

This update took a while to get going and for the affects to be noticed – the day after the announcement, Barry Schwartz posted a Twitter poll asking if anyone had detected any changes and 61% claimed that they had not. But the next day, search results were certainly shaking up.

Winners and Losers

At first, there appeared to be quite a mix of recoveries and losses across the board, but either way the results did not appear as problematic compared to previous broad updates.

Similar to the last suspected August update, links appeared to be a factor with this update. One example of this, as reported by Search Engine Journal, came from members of the Proper PBN Facebook Group – a Facebook group who specialise in grey hat SEO tactics – who reported negative effects, especially after employing the 301 spam trick (when a different domain similar to the main site would be purchased, spammy links would be built to that domain, and then redirected to the main site with a 301). Sites with relevant 301s however retained their ranking

Furthermore, earlier in the month, Google announced small changes regarding how nofollow links will be treated, so it would make sense for links to be an update target during this time period.

October 25th 2019, BERT Algorithm Update

At the start of the week, signs of an algorithm update were extremely noticeable as changes were noted regarding traffic. Then, on Friday 25th, Google announced that they had released one of the most significant changes to search in recent years – the BERT algorithm update.

Similar to RankBrain, the aim of BERT was to help Google better understand language used in search queries. This means that the search company will be able to provide users with more accurate results within the SERPs as well as more useful featured snippets.

Winners and Losers

While Google described this update as one of the biggest changes they’ve made to search for a while, it certainly did not feel as big as previous major updates such as Penguin. This is likely because, over the years, the idea of keyword stuffing and writing for SEO has died down and been replaced with writing genuine, useful content for users. So you could say that the majority of websites have been preparing for this sort of update for a long time.

Of course, what will likely be affected is traffic, especially if your site often holds featured snippets. These SERP features will be changed – possibly quite dramatically – as Google can now recognise more accurately whether or not the content answers certain posed search query.

The main reason for a change in traffic is because Google will be changing which sites suit which queries, so any keywords your site ranks for may or may not alter slightly, depending on the quality of your content.

For more info about this update, click here. 

November 7th – 8th 2019, Search Ranking Algorithm Update

There was a considerable amount of chatter within the SEO community from November 7th, suspecting a significant search ranking algorithm update from Google. However, confusion was also at large as the majority of tracking tools did not pick up on the fluctuations.

But a week later, Google came forward to confirm the update, stating in a tweet that they rolled out several updates that were no different than usual. This signifies that these updates were smaller by Google’s standards – nothing more than routine, despite the number of tremors the community picked up.

Google’s Danny Sullivan also stated that he believed this update was unrelated to BERT.

Winners and Losers

Victims of this update mostly came from the US, with many sites affected significantly by these algorithm changes. These were primarily small and medium affiliate websites, notably from the travel, food, and health industries. SEO veteran Barry Shwartz asked on Twitter what people’s thoughts are, and the answers appear to support these findings. Overall, the update has reportedly been ‘aggressive on small, affiliate websites.’

There has been much discussion surrounding the online health industry recently, what with Google announcing that they are working on a search tool to help with medical research, and several updates this year touting YMYL sites as targets. Marie Haynes has been looking into these changes, believing that Google has been working to crack down on alternative health sites that go against general scientific consensus – even if these alternatives were backed up their claims thoroughly on their websites. According to Search Metrics, because of this update, many of the organic traffic drops were more than 30%.

November 4th – 10th 2019, Bedlam Update/ Local Search Update

We, alongside many within the SEO community, saw significant tremors throughout local map rankings throughout the week. There were shifts in rankings, and it took a while for the Local RankFlux tacker to settle. Local updates are quite rare, so any changes are usually quite noticeable.

Coined the ‘Bedlam’ Update by local search expert Joyanne Hawkins, this update was ‘a scene of uproar and confusion’ as changes were made across the board, with theories coming out left right and centre to later be hidden away again as further effects continued to take place.

A few weeks later, Google confirmed that the local update did take place, naming it the Nov.19 Local Search Update.

Winners and Losers

According to Google, the update focused on adding neural matching to local queries, following the implementation of this to organic search back in 2018. This means that, while the fundamentals of local rankings remain the same, the way Google understands these search queries have changed.

This proves Joyanne’s Hawkins belief that relevance was the priority of the update, not proximity. Google stated that there’s no need for businesses to do anything in the aftermath of this update, except follow the fundamental advice already available on their website.

In her blog post published during the early days of the update, Joyanne Hawkins said that many of the drastic changes had relaxed by the 10th, with only a few not being reversed. As an example, she stated that a lawyer started ranking for several zip codes that he never had before, which continued to increase as the update carried on.

 

With thousands of changes rolling out each year and over 200 contributing factors to Google’s algorithm, navigating your website through a Google update minefield remains no easy task. However, in the event of a major update, those in the SEO community should take the time to scrutinise traffic and rankings in order to understand if a site has been hit at a given time and pinpoint if any other affecting factors have come into play.

If you’d like to know how to protect your site from future Google updates, click here for our breakdown of Google’s blog, or get in touch today.

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