Google and the Tale of 2019 Updates: What Happened and How Everyone Survived

There’s one thing about Google that never changes: its love for change (as evidenced by its countless algorithm updates).

Since its first update in 2003, the search engine giant hasn’t stopped updating the mechanics of rankings and website discoverability. Some updates were minor changes, such as data refresh, while others were significant updates that turned the Internet upside down (literally and figuratively).

No matter what the result of the update was, Google continues to change how online marketing works. The primary goal of an update, after all, is to improve the quality and relevance of search results.

Annually, Google implements over 600 updates to its algorithms. In 2018, the reported number of updates reached a staggering 3,234 (nine updates per day). Some of these changes do not affect the economy of online marketing strongly, but there are major updates that impact search functionality and structure.

2019 is far from over, but it already has its share of memorable updates. Each update affected the Internet in its unique way. Looking back at it will not only remind you of what happened during the “algorithm chaos;” it can also teach you how to improve your local search marketing methods in Denver.  

19-result SERPs (March 1, 2019)

Online chatter among SEOs greeted the first day of March 2019. Google Algorithm Trackers experienced major fluctuations, which was a sign that change is again on the horizon. They eventually put two and two together and realized what had just happened: Google rendered as many as 19 results on the first page of search engine results pages (SERPs).

Moz pointed out the first sign of change. They reported a spike in Google’s first page of the SERPs, which had more than 10 organic results. The SaaS Company tested about 10,000 keywords and saw nine SERPs with 19 results. It also noticed that these keywords resulted in more than 10 organic search results on the first page.

Counting organic results is difficult in 2019. Some search elements — such as Top Stories, expanded site-links, and image results — can dominate the first page of the SERPs. So when in-depth articles occupied the first fold of the search results due to buyer intent keywords, it came as a surprise. Informative articles often rank because of the informative keywords, and they don’t always get the top spot.

The 19-result SERPs update caused publishers of in-depth articles to monitor their metrics closely now that Google could rank their pages along with e-commerce web pages for buyer intent keywords.

March 2019 Core Update (March 12, 2019)

The 19-result SERPs update was just an appetizer. Eleven days later, Google implemented another algorithm update that had a significant impact on several websites. Initially called the Update Florida 2, the March 2019 Core Update was dubbed as yet “another broad core update” by Google’s Dan Sullivan.

Broad care updates do not target particular signals (e.g., quality) or niche; these tweak the main search algorithm itself.

Some SEO specialists speculated that this Core Update reversed the effects of the Medic Update of 2018, which had a significant impact on health, medical, and fitness websites. This speculation was due to the sudden increases in traffic after the update’s implementation. Analysis of data, however, suggested that this update is independent of the Medic Update and focuses on pages that prioritize user experience.

Some key findings with this update include the following:

  • Title tags and word counts. The average word count for title tag keyword phrases and high-ranking articles remained consistent.
  • Low-quality content. Websites with low-quality content experienced a reduction in traffic.
  • Sites with great user experience. Websites that went through traffic drops during the Medic update regained some of their traffic, but not all. Some sites were fortunate enough to gain full recovery, particularly those that provided good user experience and high-quality content.
  • Large overlays and excessive ads and pop-ups. Sites with excessive pop-ups and advertisements experienced a decline in traffic after the update.
  • Backlinks. No new linking penalties came out of the update. The number of total links to rankings on Google’s first page did slightly drop.
  • Regular content creation and publishing. Regular publishing helped websites maintain their current traffic levels. The creation of new content also enabled sites to keep their readers engaged, which sent positive signals to Google.
  • Sub-domains. After this update, the main domain of a sub-domain blog that had terrible UX remained steady, but the sub-domain had a traffic drop.

Deindexing Bug (April 5, 2019)

April 5 witnessed a stir among SEOs and website owners. About four percent of web pages fell out of Google’s index, according to Moz. A de-indexed site means that none of its pages will show up in the SERPs.

Webmasters started seeing signs on April 4, but the search engine giant did not officially announce the existence of the bug until April 7.

The issue was resolved on Wednesday of the following week. Google’s team reprocessed pages to put them back on the index. Some websites still had un-indexed pages, which was normal. After all, Google never indexed every single page online. It only indexed pages of substantial value.

The de-indexing bug debacle reminded website owners that they are at the mercy of glitches, “technical issues,” and engineering bugs. It also gave them another good reason to check the Google Search Console regularly to spot problems early on. GSC’s Submit to Index and Inspect URL features were lifesavers for web developers who resubmitted dropped URLs to the index.

June 2019 Core Update (June 3 to 8, 2019)

Barely two months since the Great De-Indexing Incident of April 2019, Google implemented another update which took five days to roll out.

The June 2019 Core Update resulted in steep traffic declines overnight, particularly for news sites. The most notable websites affected by the update were the Daily Mail, the UK’s second most-read tabloid, and CCN.com, a bitcoin currency news website. The latter shut down on June 10 because its site traffic dropped 71 percent on mobile overnight.

The update targeted soft news sites or websites that have “questionable” content. The Daily Mail has a reputation for writing clickbait and sensational headlines and depends on their massive social following to drive traffic. Most of their articles lack quality sources, which compromises their credibility with Google.

CCN’s case, on the other hand, is because most of their articles are about cryptocurrency.

The update emphasized an important lesson: content will always serve as a reflection of a site’s reputation and values. Blogs can drive traffic from both organic sources and social channels. When your blog is your primary source of traffic, relevance and quality are essential factors to mind.

Outlandish articles and blogs with a massive amount of links do not guarantee high rankings. Content should have tangible and authoritative value first.

When A Major Update Rolls Out, What’s The Best Thing to Do?

Google will never stop updating its algorithms. Its pursuit of more user-friendly SERPs will lead to more frequent changes. Instead of fearing the updates, it’s best to prepare for them.

When the search giant releases an update, here’s what you should do:

  • Keep calm and just watch. It’s natural to worry about the news, especially since Google only gives a few pieces of information regarding an update. Listening to online chatter can help, especially when you don’t know what’s going on, but it may also make you paranoid.  After the release of an update, wait a few days to see its impact on your website or from other sites in the industry. Take time to understand the potential changes on your site. Once you’ve seen the full effect, then you can take action.
  • Follow trusted SEO websites and sources. Not all SEO websites offer accurate guides for algorithm changes. Stay up-to-date with the news by following these blogs:
  • Keep an eye on your position and traffic. Check your organic traffic and search ranking to determine how the update affected you.  Use rank tracker and analytics tools to identify increases or drops in traffic. If you spot fluctuations in your ranking, it’s a sign that the update is not in your favor.
  • Know your other options. Even if your traffic decreases after a major update, don’t conclude right away that it’s the update’s doing. Instead, check your Google Search Console and click “manual actions” to see the reason behind the drop. Google will likely offer suggestions on how to address your concerns; all you have to do is implement the recommended changes and submit your website for reconsideration.

Google’s love for change will continue to manifest in the form of updates. Algorithm changes can be overwhelming, but if you’re doing search engine optimization properly, you have nothing to fear. In case an adjustment does affect you, observe it, learn from it, and take action.

Do you have more questions about Google’s algorithm changes? Third Stage Marketing is eager to assist. Brace yourself for updates in the future with our help. Get in touch with us today.

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