Guide to Google Algorithm Changes

Google regularly push out algorithm updates which include such things as “Core Updates”, “Product Reviews Updates”, and “Page Experience Updates”. These changes have effects on web pages and how well they rank on Google’s search engine result pages (SERP’s).  Rapid drops or fluctuations in page rankings may be due to updates from Google, so it’s worth keeping up to date with any new changes.

Guide to Google Algorithm Changes

14th December 2022: Link Spam Update

This update targeted spam links and was designed to neutralise any credit passed from unnatural links. This rollout overlapped with the helpful content update and took around 2 weeks to fully implement.

6th December 2022: Helpful Content Update

This update added new signals to its classifier and brought the helpful content update across the globe for all languages, this update took around 2 weeks.

19th October 2022: Spam Update

Starting on October 19th, Google rolled out improvements to its spam prevention systems. Google has not specified whether this update focused on links, content or other types of spam. This update was global and affected all languages and took less than 48 hours to fully roll out.

20th September 2022: Product Reviews Update

Oh the 20th of September Google released the fifth version of their product reviews update. This included an update that targeted review-related content on the web.

According to the ranking updates page, this update affected the English language product review sites and e-commerce sites. It also only took 6 days for this update to take full effect and concluded on September 26th.

Google said this update may in the future impact those who “create product reviews in any language,” but Google said the initial rollout will be “English-language product reviews.” Google added they have seen “positive effects” from this update in the past and the search company “plans to open up product review support for more languages” in the future.

12th September 2022: Core Update

This is the second board core update of 2022, with the previous one being in May. It took 2 full weeks to roll out with it being released 3 days after the helpful content update finished rolling out on September 9th.

Based on data from tracking tools, the September 2022 core update hit fast but was less impactful than previous updates. While there was some rank volatility, the consensus was that it was weaker than past Google core updates.

25th August 2022: Helpful Content Update

Google announced in August 2022 that it was rolling out a “helpful content update” with aims to boost content written for people and devalue content written explicitly for SEO purposes. This update has the potential to impact all pages sitewide and whilst Google only gave 1 week’s notice of this update one would argue that all sites should be written for humans in the first place.

The helpful content update will introduce a new ranking signal that will negatively impact pages/sites that publish high amounts of content that provide little value or are unhelpful to users.

It is also worth noting that people-first content can still rank highly, even if published on sites with large amounts of less-helpful content. The ranking signal is also weighted, meaning some sites will get hit harder than others and to begin with, only searches in English are affected.

27th July 2022: Product Reviews Update

This product review update is a refinement of the previous product review update from March 2022. This algorithmic update is designed to reward reviews that highlight in-depth research rather than surface-level content that merely summarises the information that could be found on the manufacturer’s website or the product page.

Although there was no additional guidance from this update, Google reiterates that they want to see that you have tried and tested the product before reviewing it. Including qualitative measurements, pros and cons, and comparisons with other products is the way forward, along with user-generated content rather than stock imagery.

22nd May 2022: Core Update

This May 2022 core update is part of a series of updates that Google makes to the overall ranking process throughout the year. The update began on May 22nd and was fully rolled out on 9th June 2022.

With most core updates that are released, Google will point back to the same guidance they published in 2019. This includes stating that core updates are broad and do not target anything in particular, rather they are designed to improve the overall ranking system within Google. During the rollout of the update, there may be large spikes and drops in rankings – ranking drops aren’t being penalised, they are just being compared to other content that has been published since the last update.

Focusing on improving content is the best way to deal with the impact of a core algorithm update. However, improvements do not guarantee recovery, but choosing not to implement changes will virtually guarantee no recovery.

23rd March 2022: Product Algorithm Update

This product algorithm update is the third in a series of updates which build upon the product review updates from April and December of 2021. This particular update took several weeks to complete and affected many English-language product review sites.

With this, Google also published new guidance on writing reviews to ensure they meet the search engine’s quality threshold. Google recommends the following:

  • Include helpful in-depth details such as the benefits or drawbacks of a certain item, including specifics on how this product differs from any previous versions.
  • The review comes from the person who has actually tested the product and shows what the item is like and how it is used.
  • Include unique information beyond what is provided by the manufacturer, such as visuals, audio or link to other content.
  • Cover comparable products or explains what sets this product apart from its competitors.

22nd February 2022: Page Experience Update

The page experience update began rolling out on the 22nd of February and concluded on the 3rd of March – in comparison the mobile version took two and a half months to complete. To determine any changes to your website’s page experience, there is a dedicated tool on Google Search Console to evaluate on a page-by-page basis. This update for desktop is an extension of the algorithm that launched on mobile in June 2021.

The page experience update on desktop includes the same Core Web Vital ranking signals as the mobile update: Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID) and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS). And also includes HTTPS Security and the absence of intrusive interstitials.

If you’re unsure of how to check for page experience on your website, you can check out this guide on measuring Core Web Vitals.

1st December 2021: Product Review Update

Following on from the Product Review update in April, another update has been scheduled and took 3 weeks to complete. Some argued the update was ill-timed in the lead up to the busiest shopping period in the year, but anecdotally these updates have never been too disruptive.

Google announcement references an automated assessment that is specific to product reviews and also notes these pages are still subject to the same ranking factors as regular web pages Within the product review best practices, Google states a requirement is that the product review needs to provide clear evidence that the product being reviewed has been used by the reviewer.  Secondly, the product review must offer multiple buying options and not just be a single affiliated link to purchase it.

30th November 2021: Local Search Update

The local search update began affecting local search results at the end of November and works were completed by the 8th of December.

This update included a rebalancing of ranking factors that Google considers when generating the local search results. Although Google recommended keeping in mind local SEO best practices it also referenced their help guide. The ranking factors for local search results include:

  • Relevance: How well a local business profile matches what the user is searching for
  • Distance: How far each potential search result is from the location used
  • Prominence: How well known the business is

As Google doesn’t specify the details regarding the weight of each ranking factor it’s perhaps best to balance your efforts when it comes to these three factors.

17th November 2021: Broad Core Update

The November broad core update didn’t seem to change an awful lot, or have the disruptive impact of a normal major update. Many people in the search marketing industry regarded this update as very mild and theorised it was a shift in the underlying algorithm architecture, which just makes the system more effective.

3rd November 2021: Google Spam Update

Google regularly rolls out spam updates, and although the exact details of this update were not provided, it is more than likely to be generic updates to keep search results free of spam. Due to these updates, Google’s automated systems keep more than 99% of search results spam-free – in 2020 the system blocked 25 billion spam pages from being indexed in search results every day.

26th July 2021: Google Link Spam Algorithm Update

The link spam algorithm update focused on its algorithms, making identifying and nullifying link spam quicker and easier. This update took almost 1 month to fully implement across multiple languages. The original post by “Google Search Control” on Twitter reiterated the importance of qualifying affiliate links and guest posts that are used as monetisation techniques.

1st July 2021: Core Update

Although Google rarely specifies what is involved in a core algorithm update, we do know that they introduce changes across a wide range of indexing and ranking processes. Earlier in 2021 Google announced it was fighting spam with a new AI, so it is speculated that they have introduced new and efficient spam-fighting features that allow them to perform even better.

There was, however, some anecdotal evidence of an increase in spam in SERPs since the update. Including spam websites that appear to be able to hack Instagram accounts, and scraped websites ranking higher than the original, legitimate sites.

23rd June 2021: Spam Update

This update included two small updates a week apart, fighting spam in search results. Although exact details were not made available, it is highly unlikely that a legitimate website following Google’s webmaster guidelines will have anything to worry about.

According to Google, Spam is defined as a low-quality website that’s purpose is to trick users into providing personal information or installing malware onto their devices.

15th June 2021: Page Experience Update

Google announced that this page experience update finished rolling out on the 3rd of September. The statement made by Google Search Central on Twitter didn’t receive much response or feedback one way or the other.

Whilst relevance is still the most important ranking factor, page experience factors still qualify as important cues that merit consideration and attention. The official Google Search Central page for the Page Experience ranking factors states:

“…in cases where there are many pages that may be similar in relevance, page experience can be much more important for visibility in Search.”

2nd June 2021: Broad Core Algorithm Update

The June board core update is being followed by another in July, which is unusual for Google. This was due to not having everything ready in time, however, they stated that most sites are unlikely to notice a significant impact from either update.

It is worth noting that being negatively impacted by a core update isn’t necessarily a sign that you have done anything inherently wrong or that you are producing bad content. It may just be a sign that what was considered relevant then, may not be as relevant to today’s searchers.

8th April 2021: Product Reviews Update

In April, Google launched a product review algorithm update which was designed to uplift well-researched and in-depth content over short product summaries. In the announcement, Google stated:

“Google Search is always working to show the most useful and helpful information possible, through testing, experimenting and review processes. From this, we know people appreciate product reviews that share in-depth research, rather than thin content that simply summarizes a bunch of products. That’s why we’re sharing an improvement to our ranking systems, which we call the product reviews update, that’s designed to better reward such content.”

Going forward from this update, reviews that are short or only give brief summaries of the product will find it harder to rank. Site owners are encouraged to public holistic analyses of products including comparisons of similar or past products.

10th February 2021: Passage Ranking

Google’s Public Liaison for Search, Danny Sullivan, announced via Twitter that Passage Ranking was officially launched for English-language queries in the United States. According to Google: “This change doesn’t mean we’re indexing individual passages independently of pages. We’re still indexing pages and considering info about entire pages for ranking. But now we can also consider passages from pages as an additional ranking factor….”

This update was rolled out across other countries in the following weeks and months.

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