A new year is often a time for new beginnings and Google has already announced the first major change to its search algorithm of 2020. Google’s January 2020 Core Update began rolling out on the 13th of January and is being implemented in the various Google data centers over the subsequent days. This sees a continuation in 2020 of Google’s more open communication strategy around updates. In summer 2019, Google initiated a policy of pre-announcing updates and then confirming the roll-out once they had gone live. Read on for the latest news and analysis of the Google Core January 2020 Update. By the way: All relevant news about SEO and Content Marketing can be read in our monthly newsletter – sign up now for free:
Summary: Google Core Update January 2020
- On 13th of January 2020, Google announces the roll-out of its first broad core algorithm update of 2020.
- Over the coming days, the Google January 2020 Core Update is rolled out to Google’s data centers.
- Impact of the January 2020 Core Update is not yet established.
- Google continues to pursue its transparent communication policy for core updates, which started in 2019.
- Google also releases another update to its SERP layout, which sees company icons (favicons) displayed in desktop search results.
Google announces January 2020 Core Update
Google set up its Google SearchLiaison Twitter account in November 2017, which it uses as a communication platform to provide information on Google Updates. This is where the announcement was published on 13th of January 2020, that stated that a new “broad core algorithm update” was being released that day. Shortly afterwards, another tweet followed stating that the January 2020 Core Update was now live and that it would be distributed to Google’s data centers in the following days:
The January 2020 Core Update is now live and will be rolling out to our various data centers over the coming days.
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) January 13, 2020
This sees Google continue its transparent policy for communicating the release of algorithm updates. They started to pre-announce Core Updates via Twitter in 2019 – or at least to confirm them after their release. This approach to communication was an attempt to put an end to the speculation in the SEO community following every (apparent) Google Update, which would normally begin with chattering amongst rank trackers and be boosted by SEOs entering the discussion with reports of drops or spikes in rankings and traffic. However, Google hasn’t been entirely consistent. The November 2019 Core Update was not announced in advance, and Google saw itself forced to confirm the update in response to the reaction of the community. Furthermore, Google attempted to clarify its communication strategy regarding the release of algorithm updates:
“Some have asked if we had an update to Google Search last week. We did, actually several updates, just as we have several updates in any given week on a regular basis. In this thread, a reminder of when and why we give specific guidance about particular updates. Sometimes, a particular update might be broadly noticeable. We share about those when we feel there is actionable guidance for content owners. For example, when our Speed Update happened, we gave months of advanced notice and advice. Broad core updates are often broadly noticeable. That’s why we have shared about them since last year and even preannounce them, plus provide the actionable guidance that there’s often nothing to “fix” and emphasize instead having great content. Again, we have updates that happen all the time in Google Search. If we don’t share about them, there is no particular actionable guidance to follow nor changes to make other than to keep focused on great content as we’ve advised generally.”
Overview of Google Core Updates
After the Mobile Speed Update in 2018, which was the first time Google had announced an update (long) before its release, 2019 saw four Core Updates officially introduced via Google’s own communication channels, and assigned names. The BERT Update was also announced via this channel, but this can be considered separate from the Core Updates, as it deals more with how Google understands search queries. The most import Google Updates that were officially communicated are summarized here.
||Features of the Google Update
|Google January 2020 Core Update||January 13th 2020||
The first official Core Update of 2020 was rolled out on 13th January 2020. There is not yet any information regarding its impact. With this update, Google continues its communication strategy of (pre-)announcing Core Updates on Twitter.
|Google’s announcement via Twitter|
|Google Update November 2019||November 7th 2019||
Webmasters in the USA who run affiliate sites have observed massive changes in the travel, food and health sectors. Google has not commented on the changes, but SEO experts have described the update as “aggressive”.
|Post-update confirmation via Twitter|
|Google BERT Update||24th October 2019||
It’s the biggest change to Google’s algorithm for five years, affecting one in ten search queries. With the Google BERT Update, Google aims to improve the interpretation of complex long-tail search queries and display more relevant search results.
|Google’s explanation in a Blogpost|
|Google September 2019 Core Update||24th September 2019||
The September 2019 Core Update was rolled-out globally, starting on the 24th of September. This Google Update focused on improvements in the content quality in the SERPs. For the second time, Google pre-announced a core algorithm update in advance.
|Google announcement on Twitter|
|Google June 2019 Core Update||3rd June 2019||Google set a new precedent with its “June 2019 Core Update” by, for the first time in the history of Google Updates, announcing the roll-out of a major core algorithm change in advance. This update was the second major update of 2019 altering the core algorithm, and was rolled out on the 3rd of June, as preannounced.||Google announcement on Twitter|
|Google March 2019 Core Update||12th March 2019||In this global core algorithm update, there were ranking shifts for keywords related to health and other sensitive topics. The algorithm was also adjusted to favor trust and expertise, as well as user signals.||Confirmation on Twitter|
Google January Update 2020: Analysis
Google has released its first Core Update of 2020 – the next step is the search for understanding, looking at which topics, clusters of kinds of search query have been affected. Which tweaks has Google made to its algorithm and how will this affect the way that web content is evaluated? The update has already had some impact, with SEOs reporting changes in the forums at WebmasterWorld and BlackHatWorld. Here is a selection of reactions to the first Google Core Update of 2020:
- I lost 80% of my traffic started yesterday..I think this update come with couple phase…in late November 2019 I’m noticing slight drop (20-30%) but yesterday is the huge one…my traffic dropped almost like my website got hit by manual penalty
- This is a big update for us in the medical sector. Like I said before, we lost in May 2018, we lost in August 2018 (Med), we recovered half in March 2019, we lost the recovery from March in September 2019 and now we made a recovery again to March 2019 or hopefully more…we will see when its settled down. We did so many changes on our websites, that I have no idea anymore if these changes made the recovery or not.
- 11 December – 60% drop seo traffic. Today – 30% drop seo traffic.
- I’m quite surprised, my site started getting around 30% more visitors right after this update. I hope it ain’t just a fluke or a mistake.
SEO expert, Glenn Gabe, also noticed some significant changes – in particular in the health sector, which has often been affected by previous Core Updates:
Jan 2020 core update cont'd: I'm seeing some crazy movement in the health/medical space (as usual). Check out this surge. Note, the site has seen some big drops based on previous core updates, so it's hard to say how far it will come back yet. But that's a good start. 🙂 pic.twitter.com/tqQ2nnDRrX
— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) January 14, 2020
Moz’ Pete Meyers has observed improvements for dictionary sites following the January 2020 Core Update:
Strong flux yesterday for January Core Update (98°F) — pattern feels a bit different than previous core updates. Sizable jumps for Dictonary. com and Merriam-Webster. com, for example. Apples App Store lost a chunk of rankings.
— Dr. Pete Meyers (@dr_pete) January 14, 2020
Have you seen your websites affected by the update? Then send us a message or comment underneath this post.
Google Updates: What Webmasters and SEOs can do
In the Summer of 2019, Google published a post on its Google Webmaster Blog. Here, they explained in more details which changes to the algorithm are made by Core Updates, and what webmasters and SEOs can do if they have been affected by a Google Core Update.
If you see your rankings drop following an update, then you “haven’t violated [Google’s] webmaster guidelines nor been subjected to a manual or algorithmic action”. The changes are more focused on improving the evaluation of content. These changes can, according to Google, mean that websites that were previously unfairly overlooked, or not given the credit they deserve, now perform better – and vice versa. One analogy of how these Google Core Updates can be viewed could be a list of the 100 best films, published of 2015. A few years later, in 2019, the list can be updated – and it will likely change because new films have been released and the way we view older films may also have changed.
Google’s recommendations for webmasters and SEOs whose websites have been affected by a Google Update are as follows: “We suggest focusing on ensuring you’re offering the best content you can.” When auditing a website, Google suggests considering questions regarding the following four aspects:
- Content & Quality: Does the website offer original, high-quality content that isn’t just copied from somewhere? Are the page title and description appealing and do they reflect the content? If you were a webmaster, would you share the content with friends?
- Expertise: Is the content trustworthy? Does the page contain errors? Would you, as a webmaster arriving at the page via Google search, trust the website you find?
- Presentation & Production: Does the content seem to be well researched and well produced – or does it seem to be mass-produced fodder? Are there too many ads? Does the page load appropriately on all devices?
- Competitive comparison: Does the website offer added value when compared with its competitors? Does the content fulfil the user’s expectations?
A good place for webmasters to start is to try and answer these questions as honestly as possible – and compare their website alongside their competition, with a particular focus on the quality of the content they are offering.
If you’ve been affected by this Google Update, then you can request further information and a analysis of your website our experts: