You may have noticed a cheeky little tweet from Google announcing they've rolled out their January 2020 Core Update. We've always been quite fond of earlier Google algorithm updates with cute names like Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, etc. Alas, the January 2020 Core Update is quite simplistic in name, however, it's going to be like a bull in a china shop for some websites. So, to appease our love of animal-themed algorithm updates, we'll call it the January 2020 'Bull' update.
Later today, we are releasing a broad core algorithm update, as we do several times per year. It is called the January 2020 Core Update. Our guidance about such updates remains as we've covered before — Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison)
As usual, the update came without much warning and, whenever a broad core update is implemented by Google, it's a mad dash to figure out what changes have been implemented and how website rankings will be affected.
The January 2020 update is, in fact, a Broad Core Update. This means that the update will affect rankings on a worldwide scale and is not aimed specifically at a particular issue, such as the Google 'Speed Update' in 2018. The Speed Update had a clear target and was flagged months in advance by Google. That's not always the case with major algorithm updates. In fact, here's the official core update description from Google:
"We confirm broad core updates because they typically produce some widely notable effects. Some sites may note drops or gains during them. We know those with sites that experience drops will be looking for a fix, and we want to ensure they don’t try to fix the wrong things. Moreover, there might not be anything to fix at all." - Google
If that sounds extremely vague, unhelpful and secretive - you're not alone. Core updates are not aimed at one particular issue. Google states that, even if your rankings drop, "there might not be anything to fix at all."
What we know so far
Google rolled out a core update in September of 2019 which, ultimately, didn't shake things up as much as we originally expected. The big takeaway then was the importance of backlinks. However, early discussion within the SEO industry is pointing to a much bigger shake up with the January 2020 Update. That being said, there always tends to be a bit of doom and gloom chatter whenever these core updates happen. So, we'll take a practical approach and keep an eye on the data and trends as the update rolls out.
What to look for during the January 2020 Core Update
First off, check your traffic and rankings. Check it again tomorrow. Check it again next week and the week after. Core algorithm updates take some time to roll out and for all effects to be noticeable. You should already be in the habit of checking your traffic and rankings on a regular basis anyway. However, you'll want to pay extra close attention over the next few days and weeks. We recommend tools like ahrefs or SEMRush to track your keyword rankings (they're also great tools to check out the competition).
If your rankings do drop, take some time to analyse the websites that are now ranking ahead of you. Keep in mind that a drop in keyword rankings does not necessarily mean you've done something wrong. These updates are intended to improve how Google's systems assess content overall. Competing sites with relevant content may be rewarded for their efforts, where they may not have been previously ranking as well. Here's an example that Google has provided to describe the changes you may experience during a core update;
"One way to think of how a core update operates is to imagine you made a list of the top 100 movies in 2015. A few years later in 2019, you refresh the list. It’s going to naturally change. Some new and wonderful movies that never existed before will now be candidates for inclusion. You might also reassess some films and realise they deserved a higher place on the list than they had before." — Google
Your content may have ranked well - and likely still carries a lot of value - but the updates can sometimes wreak havoc on an otherwise well-optimised website. It may be time to do a little finessing to ensure that your content provides the most value possible. In fact, Google provides a list of questions to help you assess your content:
- Does the content provide original information, reporting, research or analysis?
- Does the content provide a substantial, complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
- Does the content provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
- If the content draws on other sources, does it avoid simply copying or rewriting those sources and instead provide substantial additional value and originality?
- Does the headline and/or page title provide a descriptive, helpful summary of the content?
- Does the headline and/or page title avoid being exaggerating or shocking in nature?
- Is this the sort of page you'd want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
- Would you expect to see this content in or referenced by a printed magazine, encyclopaedia or book?
Core algorithm updates can certainly cause some stress and we're likely to see some very noticeable effects across a range of websites. Keep an eye on the performance of your website - traffic, keyword rankings, etc. If you do experience a drop in rankings, it's not the end of the world. Take a step back to perform a thorough analysis of your situation - then, develop a step by step plan to regain your footing.
Check back here for updates, and our recommendations, as the effects of the update become more apparent.