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Google Core Algorithm Updates

Google Core Algorithm Updates

One of the most dramatic changes in Google’s search engine ranking results comes from what Google calls “core algorithm updates.” These algo updates often result in big changes in rankings and traffic for many websites.

In this graphic Sistrix reports the top gainers from the most recent core update. Here we see the top rising sites are dictionary and info type sites. The update could then be rewarding sites with extensive coverage of keywords or a topic. Amazon and Etsy are popular holiday ecommerce sites as the season peaks. Seasonality does have an effect.

Much of an professional SEO strategist’s work involves optimizing for the core algorithm components and helping clients recover from them, then building ranking strength with high quality content going forward. That means the full search engine optimization package to build extensive, sustainable rankings while avoiding core update pain.

The core updates may put your current SEO strategy into doubt and it may not be necessary to reassess your content, promotion methods, and budget.  Learn more about how Google uses the core algorithm and about how an advanced SEO expert creates content strategies that resonate with it.

What is the Core Ranking Algorithm?

There’s no easy answer to what it’s Core Algorithm is. You might understand it as a mathematical equation using weighted factors which compute a final score for a web page for a keyword phrase. Those factors are actually sub-algorithms which then feed into the final rating of your web pages.

A deep understanding of the core ranking algorithm is the realm of SEO experts and SEO software developers who may study them. The algorithm patents that Google registers are a topic of focus. However, we know enough to understand how the system works.

Google’s search engine uses many sub-algorithms and their developers create new ones which are then introduced or integrated into the main overall weighted indexing system. This creates big changes the output of the indexing system. There are reporting tools that show when and how much these changes disrupted rankings (moz, rank ranger, and you can find a list of them on

Responding to the Core Algorithm

SEO strategy is all about optimizing against the core algorithm with all its complexity.

Because the core algo updates bring significant, sometimes damaging effects, it’s important for webmasters, marketers and even advanced SEO people to investigate them. If you’ve been hit with a ranking and traffic loss, it could be the core updates were the cause. Sometimes losses are short-lived when Google discovers the initial rollout was not quite successful. They’ll redo it in a month or two and some site’s traffic will return.

Most often however, these ranking changes result in permanent reduction of rankings and traffic. And that means small business owners must hire an advanced search engine optimization analyst to conduct an SEO audit and advise on recovery. Google speaks of “incremental recovery” from these core updates which means they may let you recover slowly in a way that will prevent you from discovering exactly what the issue was and therefore use the information for an unfair advantage in future.

What Did the Core Algorithm Dislike in Your Site?

It’s important to identify the key factors and rule out those that didn’t affect performance. Often, page speed, over-optimization, and other elements weren’t the cause of declines. SEOs do plenty of changes to identify the factor but discover it often has to do with not enough backlinks and low backlink quality or relevance. Sometimes content quality ratings are the issue.

Google’s changes in the past two years have focused heavily on assessing backlinks for relevance, trust and PageRank flow. Small business sites which have fewer backlinks have been impacted. Further, negative SEO practices are generating losses because Google can’t often know whether the site owner bought paid, spammy links or not. They can filter/delete links that weren’t all that spammy.

The search engine monopoly advises that content quality is the issue and also the resolution to your website’s peril.

Google’s named core updates were called RankBrain, Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, Page Layout Algo, Speed Update, Link Spam Algorithm, Mobile Indexing, and Page Experience updates. Each update focused primarily one one key change such as quality, spam or speed.

Some of these updates in the last 15 years have seen massive, sudden effect on websites. Some are referred to as major or minor updates, but any one of them could be ruinous to unsuspecting website owners.

Google offers its own insights into how and why website owners and small businesses are affected, but stop short of getting too specific (they want to protect their ranking special sauce from spammers and Advanced SEOs who can take advantage of it).

They report ranking losses as caused by:

  • involvement in link spam schemes
  • low quality, non original, or curated content
  • ranking algorithm changes rankings
  • lost backlinks
  • technical issues on your site
  • a key, high traffic page on your site lost its quality valuation

Any one of these factors could have caused your site’s reduced traffic. If your competitors didn’t lose rankings, then you know that your site specifically was downgraded. And how you must determine the cause and rebuild your rankings.

If spammy links are the cause of your ranking drop, you can disavow them in the Google Webmaster console reporting section. Given the amount of spam links showing up now, you would have to identify all the new links each month and create a new list to upload to Google console.

This can be risky, since the loss of the links may set off additional automated ranking algorithm signals and cause your site to drop even further. Some of the links that point to your site may not be spam to Google, and you’ll be losing the rank boosting power they provided.

Additionally, if you report hundreds of spam backlinks, it might indicate to Google that more of your other backlinks might also be untrustworthy. Google warns that if you report a lot of spam links, it could be detrimental to your site’s rankings. Reporters beware.

Google is a big, multinational corporation and they don’t have time to even communicate to or consider your specific loss. Everything is automated, controlled by an AI controlled system. They aren’t even sure what the system has assumed and applied. The result for you can be very unfair with no recourse at all.

Google has advised business owners not to be too dependent on Google search engine traffic.

14 Keys to Recover From a Core Update

Google advises to improve your content as the cure all. Yet, the real culprit may be a loss of backlinks. Sometimes your old backlinks are deleted or Google devalues them because they’re older. You’ll need to improve how you market and promote your business, products and website, along with how you go about attracting backlinks to your site.

It could be an overall re-evaluation of the quality on your site too. Of course, some advanced level SEO analysis and optimization is required. Here’s a few items to take care of:

  1. do another backlink analysis to discover which backlinks disappeared (e.g., the site owners may have been persuaded to link to your competitor instead; or the content was deleted by the publisher)
  2. rewrite your key content pages completely with all new, in-depth, expanded, original copy, images and video and make more user friendly and credible
  3. cut out redundant copy in your pages and streamline the user experience
  4. analyze and integrate new important topics or news you may have left out
  5. do a complete redesign of your website (or blog section) using the latest fast coded templates (Google AMP)
  6. don’t panic and make unplanned, erratic changes in the hope of a correction
  7. look for bad, shallow content and delete it, or better, completely rewrite it to beef it up
  8. find particularly bad, low quality and spammy links to your site and disavow them
  9. review your site for excessive keyword use and over-optimization (de-optimize if necessary)
  10. update and freshen up your old content
  11. check your site for any technical errors and review Google’s Core Web Vitals Report
  12. review content for popular or seasonal interest levels (the overall theme of your site isn’t being sought by searchers as much)
  13. using the Google Search Console, remove really low quality content from the index
  14. review Google’s quality guidelines as a cue to improving content

You may want to begin your recovery by hiring an expert level SEO consultant to do an SEO audit. You may even want to go deeper with a digital marketing audit to correct deeper reasons for lost rankings (e.g., poor value proposition, wrong content, poorly written copy, low engagement).

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