While May 4 is typically a day for the Star Wars fanatics in search engine optimization (SEO) to geek out over their favorite pop culture franchise, Google decided to shake things up a bit on May 4, 2020. That fateful day, Google’s Danny Sullivan confirmed that it was rolling out the year’s second core search algorithm update. They called it the “May 2020 Core Update.” No witty names, no cute animals yet deadly with penalties — just straight up cold facts.
Naturally, online businesses and digital marketing firms began fretting about page rankings and worrying over how their website content was going to fare with the update. It definitely caused some serious search engine result page (SERP) ranking changes across various industries. Some sites reaped astonishing rewards while there were those whose rankings got clobbered.
However, what was really striking, out of all the damage and fluctuations influenced by the update, was that this update gave birth to a new buzzword: “volatility.”
Based on a graph from SEMRush’s Sensor Tool, search engine volatility shot up between May 4 and May 5 from 2.9 to 7.7. It peaked at 9.4 on May 6. Three days following the update, volatile rates remained high, showing just how impactful the core update was.
Who were the winners and the losers of Google’s May 2020 Core Update?
SEMRush’s data has broken the winners and losers of the algorithm update by industry. As seen in the linked article, the sites within the news sector experienced the biggest gain in average search traffic. It was then followed by the business and industrial sector, online communities, the arts and entertainment industry and then the health sector.
Interestingly enough, four out of the top five high-performing categories also ended up among the top five losers, except for the health sector.
What do the statistics convey?
Simple: content quality still affects SERP rankings, although it’s not as simple as it may seem.
The May 2020 Core Update saw certain sites penalized and others rewarded based on on-page factors — specifically the quality of content as per Google’s standards.
According to historical data, content that ranks high on the Google search engine results demonstrate E-A-T: expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. Before the core update, this was the foundation for quality content and it still holds true today.
How do we know this to be true? Because Google says so.
In its tweet about the May 2020 Core update, Google shared the blog post that explained what webmasters should take note of regarding their core updates. The resource highlights the importance of quality and how it affects search engine rankings — therefore challenging marketers to take a deeper look at their content, especially if they’re going to see significant shifts after a major update.
Google even shares questions that webmasters can ask themselves when assessing the quality of their content. These include questions such as:
If you answered a resounding “no” to the questions above, it could be the reason why you’re not ranking well, even after the core update. Google already spells it out for all of us. As long as you assess your content in terms of E-A-T criteria, you’ll help it conceptually align with the various signals that the search engine uses to rank content.
Each day, Google crawls through billions of web pages in order to rank the ones it believes to have the best content on the first page. Multiple companies have tried but only a few come out on top.
So what can you do to improve on your content and get in Google’s good graces? The quick and simple answer really is to continue creating high-quality content. This includes but is not limited to:
Featured snippets are basically selected web pages that are featured in position zero of Google’s organic results. Content that takes this highly coveted spot typically answers the true intent of a query.
Being featured as a snippet means gaining additional brand exposure in search results. If you want to rank as a featured snippet, you have to aim at answering the user’s question right away.
While technical SEO techniques in marketing already do a good job of making sure Google indexes and crawl your web pages, ranking high on the search results ultimately depends on how good your content is.
In the world of SEO, quality is always tied to relevance and intent. Does your article or web page directly answer the searcher’s query? Does your content provide specific solutions to an issue or problem? Whatever keyword or search terms you’re aiming to rank for, make sure the intent of the article or web page is crystal clear before you start writing. Additionally, don’t forget about the four types of search intent: informational, navigational, transactional and commercial.
Re-optimizing old, existing content after a major algorithm update is nothing new. You can actually take this as an opportunity to perform an SEO audit of your website and improve posts that have garnered significant traffic. You can then improve or rebuild on their momentum by updating dated information, inserting high-volume keywords that have become relevant since and adding new details that will enhance the overall quality of the content.
To make the May 2020 core update work to your advantage, try to make your website’s keyword vocabulary as diverse and extensive as possible. Instead of settling for the root or main keywords, use Google Search Console to enrich your copy with secondary keywords and latent semantic indexing (LSI) terms. However, don’t get carried away by sprinkling your content with synonyms. Semantics are significant signals, but make sure they’re still relevant to your website and within context.
Although many webmasters lamented on industry forums about the timing of the May 2020 Core update, Google has provided sound reasons for implementing these major changes amidst the pandemic. Chiefly, it allows them to provide users with relevant information concerning COVID-19 from the most reputable sources available.
Consider incorporating timely topics such as COVID-19 in your content strategy, no matter the business you run or what industry you’re in. As long you find the perfect balance of temporal and evergreen content, you’ll gain optimal results in your search performance.
This is a common question asked by many webmasters after a core update — with the content on their site improved, how long until they recover? It’s important to note that broad core updates typically happen every few months. This means that content that was impacted by a major update might not recover — even after improvements have been made — until the release of the next core update.
However, Google constantly makes updates to its search algorithms, including smaller core updates. The search engine giant doesn’t announce all of these as they’re generally not very noticeable. But when released, they can cause your site’s content to recover after you’ve made improvements.
Additionally, keep in mind that the improvements you make do not guarantee a rise in rankings, nor do pages have a guaranteed or static position in Google’s search results. If the search engine finds more deserving content, it will continue to rank that on top of the results.
It’s also important to remember that Google doesn’t understand content like a regular human being. Instead, it looks for signals that it can gather regarding content and then it tries to understand how those correlate with how online users assess relevance.
If you’re still wondering on how to navigate the May 2020 Core update, rest assured Google’s guidelines regarding the update remain the same. Google’s mantra also stays the same in that there’s not much you can do about a major core update except to keep improving your content’s quality.
As updates are designed to ensure that Google is presenting the most relevant and authoritative content to online users, now’s the perfect time to evaluate if your content conveys expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. Focus on creating content that provides search engines and your target audience with all the information — facts, data, tips — that they need to answer a query.
While there’s no exact guarantee your site will rise to the top of search results, following the best practices in content creation will help position your website for SEO success. If you’ve already been doing that, there’s a good chance you’ll still perform well in the wake of the May 2020 Core update.