Google released some significant broad core updates to its user search algorithm in 2019. This had varying effects on web page rankings. A handful of the most drastic changes has been confirmed by Google while others remain guesstimate findings from SEO marketers and experts.
Let’s take a look at the confirmed updates and those that had a noticeable impact on SEO in 2019:
When Google issues a broad core algorithm update, it’s not necessarily trying to “fix” anything or actively solve a specific issue. These updates are implemented to fine-tune Google’s process overall:
Sometimes, broad core algorithm changes have little effect on search engine results pages (SERPs), rankings and user traffic for specific websites. But there are times when one small update can cause big waves for internet marketing companies and can either make or break a business.
The March 2019 Core Update is nicknamed Florida 2, calling back to Google’s first Florida update several years ago. SEO marketers started calling the March 2019 update Florida 2 because it was released near the time of the Pubcon Florida SEO conference.
A “rollback” negates changes that a previous algorithm update made. Many experts in the SEO marketing industry saw a rollback-like flux in Florida 2 that reversed the “Medic Update” of August 2018.
Econsultancy said the Medic Update “largely affected websites in health, fitness, and wellness-related verticals.”
As a result of Florida 2, 75% of sites experienced a boost in their rankings that had been penalized by the Medic Update, and possibly other previous algorithm changes.
And yet, there was evidence of negative results for Black Hat marketers. Those utilizing automated link building loopholes, exact-match links, and other low-quality links were trending downward, according to the Search Engine Journal.
The effects of the June 2019 update were more obvious and directly related to their E-A-T algorithm, which was introduced back with the Medic Update in 2018. E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. This acronym is now a key aspect in how Google crawlers are evaluating web page content to create SERP rankings.
Apparently, Google judged many web pages as untrustworthy in June 2019, as well-known and authoritative websites like the UK’s Daily Mail and Coin Desk (a bitcoin site) suffered in their rankings.
The blanket cure to poor rankings due to credibility issues seems to be, according to its Quality Raters Guidelines, a focus on creating high-quality content. While this is important for gaining user traffic, it’s also crucial to note that Google’s algorithms don’t rank for quality content alone with E-A-T in mind. They rank most effectively for content that is relevant to user search queries.
The September 2019 update continued to reinforce their goal of rewarding quality content while penalizing low-quality content, specifically through low-quality linking. In the spirit of improving relevancy and credibility, sites that sketchily and irrelevantly used 301 redirect links lost both rankings and user traffic. Black Hat marketers reported similar losses once again.
Basically, Google is increasingly demanding quality content, as well as quality linking signals. As evidenced by the September 2019 update, it’s also continuing to weed out the imposters and improper linking schemes used to try and “trick” the system. Earn your backlinks as organically as possible to avoid being penalized by search engines.
We finally come to the Google BERT algorithm update, which undoubtedly has created the most buzz in the SEO industry since October. This is probably because BERT marks the most significant change Google has made to its algorithm since the debut of the Google RankBrain algorithm of five years ago, released on October 15, 2015.
BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, and it is impacting 10% of searches in the United States, or one out of 10 user searches. The new algorithm works to improve Google’s way of understanding language and more natural, conversational search queries. It has been directly and noticeably impacting what pages rank for on featured snippets.
As Google’s Vice President Pandu Nayak explained, “BERT models can therefore consider the full context of a word by looking at the words that come before and after it—particularly useful for understanding the intent behind search queries.”
You can bet that Google is taking cues from voice-based searches made with voice assistants, such as Siri and Alexa. SEO marketers have responded to this new way of user searching by developing voice engine optimization (VEO), but there’s more to the BERT algorithm. BERT evaluates the nuances and context for interpreting the user intent of search queries, and this makes the question-answer language process of Google search more accurate than ever before.
The original SEO tactic of direct matching keywords for rankings is rapidly coming to an end. Pages that are written poorly, or contain low-quality links, just won’t cut it for SERPs rankings.
What Google broad core updates taught us in 2019 is, quality content is still the best way to gain user traffic, better rankings, and improve your brand’s credibility.
The focus topic of a web page needs to be specific and apparent. You can accomplish this by creating clearly structured data: use headers in your copy to emphasize the importance, and to establish a hierarchy of how your content should be read, viewed, and understood.
Incorporate internal linking to help Google recognize context within your content. Its crawlers will gain a better understanding of the information, and will be able to pull from it for relevant search queries.
Organizing your digital content through the lens of user intent — what questions people want answered — will also be instrumental in developing or adapting your SEO strategy in 2020.