Explaining Google’s November 2021 Core Update
On November 17, 2021, we saw the release of the latest Google core update. Google advised that it will take approximately two weeks to see the full changes in effect.
According to preliminary assessments, it’s very probable that you are now seeing a notable change in your site ranking. Before you panic, it’s important to understand what these Google core updates aim to achieve as well as the ranking volatility that we typically see after an update.
Let’s jump right in.
What is a Google Core Algorithm Update?
A Google Core Algorithm Update is a significant update that dictates changes to how Google’s search engine algorithm qualifies and ranks websites for search engine results pages.
While Google releases minor updates throughout the year, they officially announce and name these updates for the public. Veteran SEOs typically plan for these major changes as they can have a significant impact on page rankings.
The main hurdle with this is that Google is always keen to withhold explicit information regarding the changes. This makes sense as understanding these direct ranking factors can potentially result in practices that abuse the ranking system and worsen the user experience.
On the other hand, those that experience significant changes in ranking may find themselves panicking following an update. Even though the specific changes are kept close to the chest, these are the ranking factors that we do know go into search rankings:
- Technical SEO factors (page speed, mobile-friendliness, navigation, etc.)
- Backlink profile
- HTTP vs HTTPS
- Individual page ranking
- Content with EAT factors
- Search query relevance
With these factors in mind, let’s take a look at how the latest Core Update continues to affect search result rankings.
SERP Volatility Changes Following the Latest Google Core Update
Any fluctuations to Google’s search engine result pages are typically referred to as SERP volatility. We can utilize volatility scores to gauge how impactful a Google Core Update is on a website’s SEO and rankings.
We could see evidence of preliminary changes before the November 17 update announcement. SERP volatility was at a 5.5 and 5.6 volatility rating for the 16th and 17th of the month. The most significant changes were observed on the 18th where the volatility rating peaked at 9.3/10. These metrics are courtesy of the SEMRush Sensor.
It’s also important to note that following the spike the volatility rating mostly returned to stability. This is a typical occurrence of events following a major core update. The site RankRanger corroborates these metrics with their Rank Risk Index. You can also compare this Core Update to the smaller Anti-Spam update that went out earlier this month between the 3rd and the 5th.
Volatility by Industry Category
While the above examines how the update impacts all search results, let’s take a closer look at specific industries that appear to be experiencing the greatest effects.
While most industries are now back to a normal, stable score, shopping continues to trend higher on the volatility scale. While the initial peak was the same, we can see a higher average for the entire month with another big peak around the 25th. This perfectly coincides with the inevitable e-commerce rush for Thanksgiving and Black Friday.
Sistrix also reports that dictionaries and informational websites like Wikipedia were some of the update’s biggest winners. This is not necessarily surprising as Google consistently calls for improved content to protect your site rankings. This change may also indicate a need for sites to provide lean, direct answers and definitions to user questions as opposed to opinion-based responses.
Other industries that received notable impacts equivalent to this are arts & entertainment, games, and sports. Health, in particular, saw notable fluctuations which are likely tied to Google’s ongoing effort to battle misinformation regarding COVID-19 and related variants.
All remaining industries experienced some light fluctuations with the same overall peaks and valleys, but have since stabilized and demonstrate normal activity.
Important Note – SEMRush’s volatility scores are relative to previous periods of stability. Therefore, you should not compare Core Updates one-to-one as peaks and dips are defined by their relationship to the immediate trends that preceded the changes.
How Do I Know if the Latest Google Core Update Affects My Site?
There are two primary metrics to keep an eye on before and following a Google Core Update:-
Did Your Search Rankings Change?
The primary way to determine if a Google Core Update is a cause for concern is to examine your latest search rankings.
There is no set expectation for how greatly your search ranking may change following an update. If your website does not pertain to industry from the discussion above, your changes are likely mild. However, a shopping website that’s regularly updated with SEO best practices may even experience significant ranking boosts in time for the holiday season.
However, this is unlikely to change too much as SEMRush’s report indicates that just 16.19% of the top twenty websites were new results. 83.81% of the URLs were present before the algorithmic update.
Did Your Daily Site Traffic Decrease?
This metric typically coincides with your organic search rankings. A sudden and obvious decrease in daily web traffic is a sign that the update impacted your website’s visibility in SERPs. If your result is now further down or has been relegated to the second page, it makes sense for your traffic to take a dip.
Per Google’s tweet, it typically takes up to two weeks for a new algorithmic change to fully take effect. As we are nearing two weeks exactly, it’s likely that any traffic changes you see now are here to stay. However, because we can never know the fine details, we are left to Google’s advice on how to recover rankings when updates happen.
How Can I Reclaim Lost Search Rankings Following a Google Core Update?
Google Search Central emphasizes the importance of quality website content when it comes to determining rankings. It’s also important to understand that a sudden drop in rankings following an update doesn’t mean that your content is poor or that your SEO strategy does not work.
The potential impact of Google Core Updates is further explained by Danny Sullivan, Google’s Search Laison:
Google goes on to explain that major algorithmic changes primarily serve to deliver the best content possible to its users. With that in mind, website owners need to step back and review all of their website offerings. Instead of exclusively reviewing what is “wrong” with your site (which may be nothing), it’s important to review the content on sites that now rank higher.
1. Focus on the Principles of EAT
EAT stands for Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness. These are the tenets of excellent content according to Google’s guidelines. To honestly evaluate your content for search rankings, you must ensure that it adequately adheres to these principles.
Content that ranks higher features a level of superior authority on the subject that makes it more valuable than other offerings. It provides a unique level of insight that other results simply cannot or do not provide. If you find that your content falls into the trappings of being the “same old” or expected material, a new update may finally deem that content as less valuable than others.
2. Create Content in Adherence with the Google Quality Rater’s Guidelines
Google also readily provides its Quality Rater’s Guidelines to inform website owners of how a page’s content receives its rating.
This PDF booklet dictates how to define quality content, how to properly outline your site for navigation, and how to communicate a positive reputation to users. It also provides guidelines for best practices on how to keep advertisements appropriately separated from the main content.
Use this step-by-step checklist to review every webpage on your website. If you wish to solve the problem of decreased rankings, you need to be willing to assess your content’s quality honestly. So long as your content strictly adheres to Google’s quality control rules and meets the needs of your visitors, you can be confident that content quality is not negatively impacting your rankings.
3. Use Analytics Tools to Identify Existing Issues
If you’re not already, you should take advantage of free analytics tools for SEO such as Google Analytics and Google Search Console.
All you need to do is verify ownership of your business and domain with Google. Once you’re ready, you can gain critical feedback regarding errors that are present on your website. It will also inform you whether or not your site violates any guidelines that can substantially impact your search rankings.
This is critical following an update as there is always the possibility that new rules are now in effect. The good news is that quickly identifying and resolving known issues can quickly help you move back up in SERPs.
While these tools are commonly utilized to improve site vitals, you can also use the feedback to determine potential content problems with specific website pages. Website pages with poor content will feature a poor page rank, which can hurt the great work you provide on other pages of your website. It will be necessary to improve these pages or delete them from your site entirely to avoid penalties to your rank.
4. Keep it Up to Date
A Google Core Update can directly influence how search engine algorithms interpret website content. Therefore, it makes sense that you should regularly update existing content to keep up with new data and trends.
It’s essential for your content team to consistently revisit existing pages on the site even when they perform well. Information is not immutable and it’s very easy to lose page rank as a result of being old or outdated. Making the effort to refresh existing pages and direct visitors to important updates can help you gain extra mileage out of already excellent content.
Be advised that content updates are not only important for providing up-to-date data, but for improving the presentation of said information. As per Google’s admission, it’s not that your page is doing something wrong, but rather that another page is now doing it better. Consider how you can utilize your expertise and authority to improve a page’s content since the time of its initial creation.
Conclusion – Don’t Panic and Stay On Course with Your SEO!
It can be frustrating to keep pace with Google’s core algorithmic updates. It’s even more frustrating to suddenly feel penalized for months of otherwise quality SEO work.
However, it’s important to know that every website owner on Google experiences the same challenges. A sudden shift in rankings following a core update is not necessarily a sign that your SEO is in the gutter, but rather that there is an opportunity to improve your site further.
Stay on course with your SEO strategy and use our feedback to discover opportunities for further improvement. Additionally, you should follow Google Search Central’s primary website and social accounts to stay up-to-date for when a new update will appear.
New updates occur roughly every three months, which provides you with ample time to clean up your SEO and get your site in order. Strictly adhering to Google’s best practices is the best way to protect your website rankings in future updates.