Starting on the 7th of November, numerous stories have emerged of huge changes websites’ search engine rankings and traffic. Most reports have come from webmasters in the USA who run affiliate sites and who have observed changes in the travel, food and health sectors. SEO experts have described the update as “aggressive” and comparisons have been made in terms of size and scope to the ranking changes that occurred following the first Penguin Update in 2012. Google has now confirmed several recent updates. This blogpost contains the latest news and analysis of what people are calling the Google November 2019 Update. If you have been affected by this Google Update, you can request a website audit from our Digital Strategies Group consultants:
Summary: Google Update November 2019
- From the 7th to the 8th of November 2019, many webmasters and SEOs report massive changes in search engine rankings.
- The changes seem to mainly affect small and medium-sized affiliate websites, primarily in the USA.
- Many of the affected websites belong to the travel, food and health sectors.
- Google has confirmed several updates, but no particular actionable guidance to follow.
Google confirms several updates in November
Meanwhile, Google has commented on the reports of a possible November update via the Twitter channel Google SearchLiasion. Google has confirmed that several updates were made to the Google Search algorithm during this period. However, Google did emphasize that these changes are made regularly. If Google does not provide specific communication regarding an update, then there is nothing for site owners to pay attention to or repair. As always, the message is to focus on the creation of outstanding content:
“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.”
Here you can read the Google statement via Twitter in the original:
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….
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) November 12, 2019
In previous entries on its webmaster blog, Google has referred to the large number of changes that are constantly being made to its ranking algorithm – they say that one of more changes are rolled out every day. Google also states that it is not specific niches or industries that are affected by updates, but certain types of search query that are answered differently. However, there is likely considerable overlap here and there is, in practical terms, not necessarily always a clear distinction between the two.
As Google has now reaffirmed, they have changed their communication strategy for updates. Following the Mobile Speed Update in 2018, Google also made prior announcements for four Core Updates in 2019, explained the udpates via its communication channels and even suggested names for the updates. This applies to the updates listed here:
||Features of the Google Update
|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|
Meanwhile, Webmaster Trends analyst John Mueller has spoken in one of his Google Webmaster hangouts after a user reported 40% decline in traffic and suspected BERT to be the cause. Mueller explained that BERT was not responsible for such rankings and traffic decreases, but one of the regular updates or a core update. According to which criteria the algorithm changes are made, Mueller explains detailed how development at Google works from 30:46 minutes in the video:
Google Update November 2019: What webmasters and SEOs say
After a turbulent weekend, the SEO community, both on Twitter and on Google’s Webmaster Forum, has been a hive of activity. There are now numerous people citing examples of websites, mainly in the USA, that have apparently been affected by the Google Updates. Many pages are travel, food or recipe sites, but lifestyle and YMYL domains are also found amongst those affected. Many of the reported traffic drops are in excess of 30 percent. The following provides a selection of viewpoints and tweets from the community.
SEO Consultant Alan Bleiweiss provided a list of several websites that have seen considerable changes in the wake of the update – with movement both up and down. He monitors 47 websites, many of which seem to have been significantly impacted. The biggest losses were suffered by a skincare affiliate site and the biggest gains went to a travel website.
I monitor 47 sites
Mental Health Knowledge base & Directory – up 20%
Travel booking – up 14%
Travel booking – up 25%
Recipes – up 12%
B to C eCom – up 20%
Tech news – down 20%
Skin care affiliate – down 48%
Alternative health – not impacted
Other Recipe sites – not impacted
— Alan Bleiweiss (@AlanBleiweiss) November 10, 2019
Another SEO Consultant, Casey Markee, posted a tweet showing that various food and lifestyle blogs had all seen a drop in traffic of at least 30 percent. The Google Analytics screenshot (below) shows the week-on-week comparison.
BIG unannounced Google Update starting yesterday? I have had MULTIPLE food & lifestyle blogs reach-out reporting 30%+ traffic drops when doing a 11/8 to 11/1 week-over-week comparison. Example drop below. cc: @rustybrick @martinibuster @Marie_Haynes @jenstar – ouch! 1/2 pic.twitter.com/Xri8JXjLVm
— Casey Markee (@MediaWyse) November 9, 2019
SEO veteran, Glenn Gabe, was another reporting huge changes. In the example below, he has anonymized Google Analytics screenshots of an affiliate website dealing with YMYL (Your Money, Your Life) topics. This is how Google refers to highly sensitive search topics that can have a significant impact on the user’s life – mainly search queries related to the areas of finance and health.
OK, more impact from the update starting ~11/7. This example is for an affiliate site for a YMYL category. Important note, I've now also seen movement across several health/medical sites. Until now, I've seen most of the movement across sites where the holiday season is important pic.twitter.com/0J6nl0YV9b
— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) November 10, 2019
Glenn Gabe’s conclusions regarding Holiday Season, which might be responsible for the ranking changes, are consistent with Searchmetrics Research Cloud data. If we look at the absolute winners from November 10th, within the top 10 websites with the largest absolute increase in SEO Visibility are three domains dedicated to the high-selling Black Friday. And for keywords these Black Friday pages gain rankings, other websites have to loose:
Technical SEO, Paul Shapiro, saw a site with lifestyle content take a 34% traffic hit.
Yeah, newer site I’m running. Whitehat, lifestyle content. pic.twitter.com/8zDTAqSxR2
— Paul Shapiro – SEO Edition (@fighto) November 10, 2019
In addition, Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Rountable launched a Twitter survey on the possible impact of Google’s November update. Again, SEOs and webmasters got in touch, complaining the update’s changes to be “aggressive on small affiliate websites”:
30% drop for one website in favour of larger generic newspaper/media authority sites. No change in another, less visible website using same tactics. Absolutely no change whatsoever in auto finance niche in the UK. They seem to have been aggressive on small affiliatee websites
— Ronnie Lawson-Jones (@Ronneh_) November 11, 2019
Kevin Indig, former SEO Consultant at Searchmetrics und now VP SEO & Content at G2, has called the Google Update “aggressive”, and drawn comparisons with the first Penguin Update, which Google rolled out back in 2012.
Woah, the latest Google algo update is AGGRESSIVE!
Some sites are tanking like it’s 2012 and Google just rolled out the first ever Penguin update.
Is that the impact of BERT or something else – whaddayathink? pic.twitter.com/WWmLW637Ay
— Kevin_Indig (@Kevin_Indig) November 10, 2019
The discussions in the Google Webmaster Forum saw several other comments along the same lines. Here are a few selected quotes:
- Down by 22% from this time last week. I need to find a way to get out of my subscriptions and shut down the site. It breaks my heart, I love it, but it’s no longer viable.
- My two websites have lost exactly 30% of traffic from Google simultaneously despite they are in different languages. Google is definitely testing or already using a new algorithm.
- One of my sites that has suffered from that drop is 9 years old, I never did any seo to it more than technical on site seo. Domain authority is 50+ and content is original, all articles 2500 words up. The 30% drop is still here today in all geos and hourly constant.
- We saw an increase of 24% with G organic yesterday vs. the average of the last 8 Fridays. We’ll see if it holds through the weekend and into next week.
- We where doing well when the BERT algorithm rolled out, however we can hit by something yesterday.
- Lost 50% of our traffic overnight.
Google Updates: What Webmaster 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: