Google’s 2020 May Core Algorithm Update: The Rankings May (or may not) Be With You

When Google revealed on May 4th that it would be rolling out a new core algorithm update over the next couple of weeks, we here at SEO Toronto began counting down the days to see the implications of Google’s latest bombshell. Meanwhile, Trekkies around the world rejoiced in honour of Star Wars Day.

Fast forward to now, and the SERPs are reflecting the update’s impacts. Here’s everything you need to know about Google’s 2020 May Core Algorithm Update.

The Impact: The Algorithm Update, COVID-19, Or Both?

The reality is that a lot has changed about the state of the world and the state of search over the last few months. This update has notably provided the most volatile changes to the SERPs in a long time, reflecting a lot of changes in search trends since Google’s core update back in January

Considering the information we do (and don’t) have from Google, it’s hard to tell if a lot of the changes seen since the update rolled out is due to how COVID-19 has changed search trends, or because of the update. Honestly, it’s probably a little bit of both. 

The most significant implication of this update is how it’s impacted specific industries. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the update’s winning and losing industries directly correlate with the industries that have been positively and negatively impacted by COVID-19.

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The Most Volatile Update Yet

This update has left the SERPs more volatile than ever before, as it has significantly shaken up website rankings and how search results are delivered.

According to SEM Rush, while January’s core update only led to average volatility of 8 points, in the midst of this update roll out almost every search category hit peak volatility. 

On May 6th, specifically, the May core update reached volatility ranging between 9 to 9.4 points. Needless to say, this is a strong update that is changing things significantly in the SERPs.

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The Losing Industries

The industries that got hit the hardest by the algo update are also the industries that were hit hardest by the pandemic.

Travel and tourism businesses, and a lot of other sectors that are less relevant because of quarantine and social distancing regulations, saw a significant drop in their rankings.

With Google constantly working towards serving content that matches user content, this change should actually come as little surprise. Specifically, the categories that saw the biggest losses following this update are:

  • Travel
  • Real Estate
  • Health
  • Pets & Animals
  • People & Society
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The Winning Industries

The industries dominating the SERPs this time around are the ones serving time-sensitive information about the state of the world.

To be honest, this makes a lot of sense considering that the news sector is what is matching search intent right now as users continuously seek updates about the state of the world.

People are constantly flocking to news publications to follow COVID-19 related updates, and stay informed about the state of the world as a whole with the rising prevalence of injustices. Specifically, businesses that saw significantly higher rankings (50+ positions to be exact) include:

Additionally, this update seemed to reward a lot of mass social media and e-commerce platforms like Pinterest, Amazon, Etsy and eBay — but more on that later.

The Quirks

This core algorithm has been a quirky one. It’s had some strange outcomes including bugs that have either since been fixed or are in the process of being fixed. It’s worth mentioning, however, that these quirks are not all a direct result of the update but rather occurred at the same time. 

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  • The Pinterest Thing

    After the update rolled out, users were finding that the popular lifestyle social media platform Pinterest was dominating many SERPs, with the SERPs ranking the platform’s pages more than once. 

 

This is something Google is well aware of and is looking into. After all, they did get a fair bit of tweets inquiring if there was any particular reason why this platform was getting duplicate listings.

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  • Etsy = Handmade

     

    Similar to Pinterest, the online marketplace Etsy has also been dominating the search engines for many search terms including the words “hand made.”

    The thought process behind this is that because Etsy is best known for its handmade goods, Google has started to directly correlate hand-made search terms with Etsy.

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Honestly, when you pair how quarantine has influenced a lot of online shopping from local businesses with Google’s new correlation between handmade and Etsy, it’s not entirely shocking that Etsy has been killing it as a search trend.

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  • The Mysterious Disappearance of LinkedIn


    If you thought you were seeing things when LinkedIn stopped showing in relevant SERPS during the update, you weren’t going crazy. For a hot minute, LinkedIn unintentionally hid from Google.

This was not in any way related to the update, as LinkedIn made the common mistake of marking their user agent as “disallow” in their robot txt, which made the site invisible to Google crawlers. Oops.

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  • The Indexing Issue


    Right before the update in late April, Google all of the sudden stopped indexing new content. Weird, right? At first, the belief was that Google was not indexing pages due to problems with quality, but this became an increasing issue as more users found that their pages weren’t being indexed. 

The good news is that Google eventually realized something was up and took action. There are suspicions that this indexing issue is directly related to the large scale of the update as the indexing issue returned once again after the update rolled out. This has since been resolved.  

The Core Update’s Ranking Factors (Spoiler: It’s the Same)

E (xpertise), A (uthoritativeness), T (rustworthiness)

 

This core update may be rewarding some large sites, but some SEOs are still calling it an “E.A.T” update. This means that the algorithm is prioritizing sites that boast Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. This is a concept that has long been preached by Google, but it is one that SEOs continue to strive to achieve with their blog content and all copy on their website.

The idea that Google rewards quality content is not a new one, but E.A.T (a concept outlined by Google itself) more specifically outlines the key components that will help Google recognize your content as quality content that is worth sharing and serving to searchers.

Core Web Vitals

While Google has always looked for indicators of a page’s quality, the search giant is now using some additional metrics to measure the quality of your content. Specifically, it is using user experience based metrics to identify the quality of your content and website. 

Site speed, responsiveness, and other technical aspects that impact how and for how long a user visits a page, are direct ranking factors that indicate the security (i.e. trustworthiness) of a site. Most recently, these metrics have been labelled as Core Web Vitals. This is a category of metrics that Google recently announced it will be using to assess pages.

Google’s Checklist

When Google rolled out their update, they right away directed SEOs to “What webmasters should know about Google’s core updates.” In this blog from 2019, Google outlines how content should be assessed after every update to ensure optimized, relevant, quality, competitive content. We’ve taken these questions that Google suggests we ask ourselves about our current content and made it into a checklist. 

This checklist comes from Google’s mouth and can help make it a lot easier to assess, refresh, and think critically about your content as needed.

Content Quality

  • The content provides original information, reporting, research or analysis
  • The content provides a substantial, complete or comprehensive description of a topic
  • The content provides insightful analysis and/or interesting information
  • If the content draws on other sources, it provides substantial additional value and originality
  • The headline and/or page title accurately summarizes the content
  • The headline and/or page title is not exaggerated (i.e. clickbait)
  • This is content that you’d share with or recommend to a friend

Authority & Expertise

  • The content is clearly sourced
  • The content boasts sufficient evidence for claims and expertise
  • Author information and link to bio is included to confirm their credibility
  • Page and website provides an impression of authority and expertise in a niche
  • Content is written by an expert or educated enthusiast
  • Information in content is factual & accurate
  • The content is reliable for improving your life and money (i.e. your money your life)

Presentation & Production

  • The content is free from spelling & grammatical errors
  • The content is well written & formatted
  • The content isn’t mass-produced by or outsourced
  • The content does not have excessive ads distracting from the content
  • The content is responsive & displays well on both desktop & mobile

Competitor Comparison

  • The content provides equal if not more value than other results on the on SERPs
  • The content can satisfy visitors’ general interests

SEO Toronto: What the Update Means for Us & What We’re Doing

Best practice when Google rolls out a new update is to wait for the update to fully roll out to measure the implications — which we’ve done. Now, we can assess our webpages and the webpages of clients that may have been impacted by the update either positively or negatively. 

After performing an SEO audit, we are able to ensure the on-page and off-page elements of a website are up to par based on Google’s checklist of sorts and update the ones that are not. It’s easy to react instantly to these updates but general assessment, critical thought, and patience is essential to maintain quality content, and refresh outdated content.

Google reminds us time and time again that the biggest ranking factor is serving searcher intent with quality content on trustworthy pages. So, we take this time to ensure that our content and sites are as good as they can be without compromising their quality. 

SEO is about willingness to adapt every time an update comes around, but also having the patience to ride the wave and understand the different role every core update plays — no matter how questionable the timing may be, or how drastic the SERPs may change as a result. 

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