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December 2020 Google core algorithm update

Near enough every day, Google releases some form of update to improve our search experience. These updates are often so minimal that they go unnoticed, but over time, they team together to shape Google’s intelligence and overall performance.

While we are usually left in the dark about small Google algorithm updates, the yearly ‘Core’ updates require a warning – and for good reason.

Even the word “core update” is enough to make a marketer’s palms clammy!

In most cases, these significant algorithm changes raise havoc with rankings and traffic levels as Google’s new ‘grading’ comes into effect –  with some industries being affected more than others.

But, before we can understand the nitty-gritty – let’s first cover what a Core update is and what’s changed since the last one in December of last year.

What Are Google Core Updates?

In contrast to small everyday updates, a Google core update tends to produce more noticeable effects. These types of updates consist of significant changes to Google’s search algorithms, in an attempt to make the results as relevant and informative as possible to searchers. Due to this, we are often told about the update taking place so we can prepare.

When core updates roll out, many sites notice changes to their rankings (some bad, some good!). The changes aren’t always immediate, so it’s important to keep an eye on analytics both days and weeks after the update.

Depending on the new changes, your site may be ‘downgraded’ or ‘upgraded’ in Google’s eyes, depending on the quality, trustworthiness and user experience of your site.

Your website’s analytics may fluctuate for weeks (or even a couple of months) while Google tweaks parts of the update.

Google’s December 2020 Core Update

The most recent core update rolled out in December 2020.

At Pubcon in 2019, Google’s Gary Illyes explained that Google’s core ranking algorithm is “comprised of millions of baby algorithms working together to output a score”.

While this reminds us of Google’s intelligence, it makes establishing what core updates want to see from websites ten times more difficult.

With that being said, it’s no secret that every Google update focuses on finding the sites that are the most relevant and valuable to searchers. This is one of the main reasons why YMYL sites saw sudden drops after the December 2020 core update.

Why Were So Many YMYL Sites Hit?

“Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL) is a term used by Google to refer to pages that “can impact the future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety of users”. Due to this specification and the new December 2020 update, sites in the YMYL bracket are now assessed to a higher page quality standard.

To put it simply, YMYL sites now need to prove themselves more than ever, due to being up against a strict algorithm assessment. This includes e-commerce sites and:

With the above information in mind, it’s only normal to feel like the odds are against you. But, if your site follows E-A-T, Google will reward you accordingly. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

What Is E-A-T?

E-A-T stands for ‘Expertise’, ‘Authoritativeness’, ‘Trustworthiness’. It is a term used by Google’s algorithms when ranking the quality of a site. If your page matches the elements of E-A-T, you’ll have a greater chance of ranking highly.

Expertise: Does your website prove that you have in-depth knowledge about your niche? If so, are you communicating this well with your audience?

Authoritativeness: Are you qualified to be talking about your subject? If so, have you made your relevant credentials clear? In addition to this, authoritativeness is also assessed through whether experts are linking back to you.

Trustworthiness: Trust is built in many ways; from legit customer reviews and clear contact information to a fully functional website with relevant content.

Important Ranking Factors

With E-A-T in mind, let’s take a closer look into how you can improve your e-commerce site. The following ranking factors are particularly important for YMYL sites that need to up their game after the December core update.

1. Create Quality Content

The greatest point to take away from December’s 2020 core update is that Google favours sites with high quality content. From being as informative as possible right through to grammatically correct, Google’s algorithm will leave no stone unturned.

Ask these questions when analysing your current site:

2. Focus On Relevancy

The majority of Google’s core updates feature relevancy adjustments that help to remove any irrelevant terms that your site might be ranking for. Although this isn’t a bad thing, the drop in rankings can seem alarming at first.

To prevent relevancy adjustments from screwing your analytics, focus on ensuring that your website stays true to the services or products you offer.

3. Differentiate Your Website

SEO is an incredibly competitive landscape. To get top rankings, you need to prove that you’re different and better than the rest. Once again, use the following questions to assess your site:

4. User-friendly Website Design

The design of your site needs to be well-built in order to rank. It should provide an excellent user experience without any broken pages or slow loading times. This isn’t new, but remains incredibly important.

5. Positive Reputation

As the T in E-A-T explains, your site needs to prove itself as trustworthy. Google states that: “For a YMYL website, a mixed reputation can be a cause for low ranking”. With this in mind, you must be able to assure visitors (and Google!) that your business has a positive reputation. This is most popularly done through review integrations, testimonials, and case studies.

Final take-aways from the last Core Update

As search engines become all the more intelligent, us marketers have to tweak our approaches to suit. Google’s most recent core updates have taught us that the user is the key. Sites creating content with only ranking and SEO goals in mind will not prevail.

With the year in full swing and undoubtedly a 2021 Google core algorithm update on the way, there’s never been a better time to prove your worth to customers.

Keep up to date!

Please keep coming back to our blog throughout the year to make sure that you always have your finger on the pulse of what’s hot and trending in digital marketing.

You can check out our article on The Power Of Storytelling In Sales & Marketing ⋆ Slam Marketing