You don’t necessarily need to be an SEO expert or professional marketer to know that Google has come a long way since its launch in 1998.
With each Google core update, the world’s top search engine has become increasingly smarter over the years, making solid SEO knowledge more important than ever for digital-age businesses that are serious about ranking well.
However, knowing that frequent core updates are a reality of digital life is one thing. Understanding them well enough to adapt to new ones like a champ is another.
Here’s a closer look at everything you need to know to stay ahead of the game.
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What is a Google Core Update?
Google is actually in the habit of updating little things about its algorithm and overall function on an ongoing basis.
However, these are usually minor changes and fixes designed to better optimize search results. Every update makes Google better and smarter, but most users won’t notice these differences taking place.
In the event an update will likely be noticeable to most users, Google will usually confirm that it took place so users aren’t left guessing. And if an update is very significant, advance notice will also likely be given. This type of update is called a Google core update.
Core updates involve broad, large-scale changes to the search engine algorithm as well as system functionality.
Some website owners won’t notice much of a performance difference, but others may notice sweeping gains or losses.
How Often Does Google Update?
Although no one truly knows how often Google performs updates, most experts think smaller search algorithm changes occur somewhere between 500 and 600 times a year — a couple of times each day, on average.
Google’s major core updates are less frequent, but they typically still occur once every two or three months.
You can keep up with Google’s update schedule by following along on their website, as they’re in the habit of posting detailed rundowns of each of their named core updates.
The most recent broad core update was the May 2022 Core Update, which began on May 22nd and concluded on June 9th of 2022. Other notable core updates that have occurred in the past include Penguin, Panda, Hummingbird, Fred, and Possum.
How Does a Google Core Update Impact Your SEO Efforts?
A Google core update is a huge deal to most website owners, as it often drastically affects their previous SEO efforts.
SEO is generally a long game, so it can take weeks or months to achieve top search engine rankings for key web pages. But Google core updates represent major adjustments to the algorithm.
That can change everything when it comes to a website’s SEO gains. For example, a particular ranking signal that previously gave your site a huge boost may be rendered irrelevant by a core update rollout.
And it’s certainly not uncommon for efforts attached to entire campaigns to be rendered completely obsolete.
Some particularly famous core updates — like 2011’s Google Panda update — involved algorithm shifts so sweeping, that webmasters had to completely change tactics.
Prior to Panda, it was possible to get a website to rank well with minimal content. The content that was there didn’t even need to be particularly meaty.
However, the Panda rollout applied an automatic penalty to websites with this approach to content.
Ultimately, Panda made the web a better place to be and Google a significantly more efficient search engine. But it also really challenged content creators and web admins everywhere to rethink their approach to common SEO challenges and do better.
How to Recover from a Google Core Update
It’s inevitable that pretty much every Google core update will change the game for a decent handful of sites.
If yours happens to be one of them, it’s not the end of the world. There are ways to recover, as well as to be better prepared for the next update.
Here are some things to keep in mind.
1. Avoid panicking
Naturally, when something massive like a major Google algorithm update tanks your hard-earned site rankings, it’s upsetting.
Most people’s knee-jerk reaction is going to be to panic, but it’s important to avoid that.
When people panic, they also overreact, which can easily lead to bad decisions they’ll regret later.
Instead, get together with industry peers. Talk things out with both people who’ve been affected and people who haven’t, so you’ve got a good read on what’s really going on.
2. Get to the bottom of the update’s purpose
Keep in mind that all Google algorithm updates roll out with one cohesive purpose in mind — to improve its user experience by generating better, more accurate search results.
Sometimes such updates are left to users to figure out on their own.
Other times, Google itself will offer additional information as to the focus of the update, so check to see if that’s the case.
For example, the June 2021 update was eventually confirmed as an update meant to address spam.
3. Consult your analytics for more information
No two sites that might be affected by a particular Google core update will necessarily be affected the same way.
So while comparing notes with peers is a great way to get a better idea of what’s changed, you still need to consult your own analytics for personalized answers.
Does your SEO data show you any helpful patterns? Was there a particular page category or type of content that experienced a decline, or did the change appear to affect your entire website?
If the effect was sitewide, it may be an issue best fixed by a stronger focus on quality.
4. Compare your site with the competition
If landing pages that previously performed really well are no longer ranking the way they once did, then you’ll want to check out the competing pages that are now sitting in those positions.
Remember, algorithm updates don’t affect the number of people using Google or the searches they’re performing, so that traffic is going somewhere.
Take a careful look at those pages.
What are they doing that you’re not? Is their content better than yours in some discernible way? How does their approach to concepts like formatting, imagery, layout, and content production differ from your own?
5. Don’t assume you’re doing something wrong
Sometimes a website owner evaluates their data and does their homework on other sites in their niche in an attempt to figure out what the problem could be only to still come up stumped.
And, really, that could be because there isn’t a problem at all.
Not every update is like Panda in that it includes a penalty for websites engaging in certain practices Google sees as quality issues.
In many cases, it’s less that poor-quality websites are being punished and more that terrific sites or promising newcomers are now receiving greater recognition for what they’re putting out there.
6. Redouble your focus on E-A-T
No matter what a particular Google core update entails, E-A-T — a concept introduced after 2018’s Medic update and covered in detail throughout Google’s quality rater guidelines — will always be something to focus on if you’re serious about achieving and maintaining top SERP rankings.
E-A-T stands for:
- Expertise: How well does the content creator know, understand, and discuss the topic at hand?
- Authoritativeness: How much of an authority might the creator of this content be? What about the authority ranking of the content and the website where it’s posted?
- Trustworthiness: Can Google users trust this content creator, this website, and this particular piece of content?
In other words, there’s really no shortcut here.
The smarter Google becomes, the more the cream tends to rise to the top all on its own. So focus on creating incredible long-form content that’s helpful, readable, and well-written.
The better a resource your website becomes, the more likely it is to come out on top, even after future algorithm updates.
It always pays to focus less on trying to game the system and more on creating incredible content that truly deserves to rank well.
7. Be prepared for future core updates
When it comes to SEO, you can pretty much take it for granted that the next Google core update is just around the corner.
But a little preparedness can go a long way. Beyond staying dedicated to producing quality, user-friendly, good content on an ongoing basis, you should also:
- Diversify your traffic, so that you’re not entirely dependent on organic traffic from Google.
- Diversify your income stream, as well, so you’re less dependent on ad revenue from your site.
- Work on turning your brand into a household name — something so good, that it’s not reliant on search engines to acquire new leads.
- Grow yourself a loyal audience that you can also connect with over social media, through email, and so forth.
And if you want a comprehensive overview of the latest update and extra tips on what to do, check out the video below:
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Any Google core update will always be a big deal to SEO professionals and website owners, and with good reason.
People pour a lot of time, effort, and money into building their websites’ ability to pull in loads of organic traffic. So if something happens to suddenly erase all that, it’s terrifying and frustrating, to say the least.
But it’s not the end of the world. As you can see, it is possible to recover if you’re affected by a particular core update. However, you should still do everything you can to future-proof your site in preparation for potential upcoming changes.
Ready to learn more? Check out our piece on surviving algorithm updates for some great advice on how to get started.