What we’ve learnt from the Google September 2019 core update

Written by Ryan Ogilvie - 24 Oct 2019

It has been around a month now since the roll-out of the Google September 2019 core algorithm update.

In the search and content teams at Fresh Egg, we’ve been analysing data over this time to gain insight into what has changed as part of the update.

But before we get into that…

What is a core algorithm update?

Put very simply (and with machine learning and quality raters removed), Google has hundreds of ranking factors and signals that make up its algorithm which decides how the search engine prioritises one website’s ranking over another. 

Broadly speaking, a core algorithm update is Google tweaking the weighting of some of these ranking factors and signals.

Unlike specific named updates in the past such as Penguin, Panda and um... Fred, Google doesn’t reveal what changes go into the core updates beyond a simple reveal that an update is coming. And it makes sense for Google not to specifically reveal the increased importance it is placing on specific factors.

Would you like an alert whenever there is a core algorithm update?

What changes have we seen as a result of September’s core algorithm update?

Despite the lack of clarity from Google, there are three distinct things we’ve seen across the many websites and data points we have access to.

1. Authority of a brand and the link graph

Perhaps the biggest trend we have seen from September’s core update is how Google is rewarding brands that users recognise and trust, and who are constantly front of mind.

This goes beyond the brands we all know like Amazon, Disney and Xbox. It is industry specific, and applies to brands that are being spoken about and linked to from relevant, reputable sources.

Google has spoken in recent months about how it has a much deeper understanding of what makes a good quality link, so it is hardly surprising to see an increase in weighting of links from relevant and authoritative sources.

As an example, fashion brand I Saw It First suffered a 39% drop in organic visibility following the update. A quick analysis of the backlink profile of the website shows they have just 3,800 links from just 15 referring domains. Of these 15 domains, none are particularly influential or places where fashion audiences would frequent.

The top performing brand for one of I Saw It First’s top performing organic queries ‘women’s clothing’ is recognised retailer New Look. Not only is the brand well known both on and offline, but the website also has a huge amount of authority links.

Though links appear to be just one of the elements that have been tweaked as part of the September update, they seem to be one of the biggest reasons why we’re seeing some brands being given prominence over others.

What’s important to note is that Google doesn’t appear to be penalising websites for having a poor quality link profile, they are simply rewarding brands who market themselves to their relevant audiences and getting coverage in the right places.

Majestic.com is a great link intelligence tool to help you carry out backlink analysis, if you want to explore your website’s data in more detail.

2. Showcasing trust

Another trend we’ve seen following this update is a focus on trust. Trusted medical websites saw improvement within the search results, and sites that made some medical claims without enough trust or expertise from the writers saw drops. 

As an example, Pampers.co.uk has an extensive medical section on pregnancy, motherhood and childcare but doesn’t cite any authors or recognised medical authorities in any of their content.

It is important to realise that trust signals go far beyond medical websites. Having reputable authors, strong brand reviews and content backed-up by other sources are all signals contained within the Search Quality Rater Guidelines and play a role in Google’s wider core algorithm.

3. Excessive advertising

While on-site advertising doesn’t tend to apply to some of the sectors we work in (e-commerce, charity, financial services and education), we have analysed other websites in other industries that have seen losses as part of this update. and many of them feature excessive advertising or low editorial standards of content.

How can you find out if you have been impacted by the update?

It’s highly likely that you would have already noticed if you’ve been impacted by the September update but if you aren’t sure, the best place to start is Google Search Console.

Assessing your organic click data around September 24-25 will give you a good indication as to whether your website has lost visibility as a result of this update.

Here’s an example of a website that suffered as a result of the update:

Google Search Console is a good starting point, but be sure to check your year on year data to account for seasonality as well as your Google Analytics package to see if this trend is consistent. If you have a keyword tracker (such as STAT), this will give you further data relating to what happened to your search engine result page (SERP) positions as the update was rolled out.

What can you do if you have been impacted by the update?

While Google’s advice is often to carry on as normal, a good place to start is the three areas covered in this post. 

Assess which competitor websites have been rewarded in the update, and you will quickly be able to unpick what you need to do to improve your own visibility. It might be that you need to spend more time on building your brand through digital PR activity and gaining authority links into your website. It could be as simple as improving trust signals (such as customer reviews) on your website.

It’s worth keeping in mind that we haven’t assessed every website that has lost out since the September core algorithm update. There are likely to be other factors that have been given more weighting, or lost it, as part of this update.

If you need help in unpicking how and why your website has lost organic visibility, please get in touch and we can investigate together.

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