The May 2020 Google Core Algorithm update has once again set the SEO world ablaze. By all early indications, this is going to be a significant one.
2020 has been an interesting year – to put it very, very lightly. The novel COVID-19 outbreak forced people across the planet to barricade themselves indoors to kill time and hope for the best.
What do people in the 21st century do when they need to “kill time”?
As you could assume, internet usage has skyrocketed. To put it in perspective, here is a chart by Cloudflare calculating the change in internet traffic from December 2019 to April 2020 in a handful of countries:
In addition to a big shift in internet usage, there has also been a shift in internet behavior. Due to the pandemic, many industries were hit with serious dips in traffic/conversions – while others thrived.
All in all, a big takeaway is that businesses that primarily operate face-to-face got the muddy end of the stick – while internet-based businesses (like digital marketing, eCommerce, website development, etc.) are in a pretty nice spot.
The importance of content marketing and the digital experience has been important for a while, but now it’s absolutely essential to survive. This change in online behavior was (expectedly) followed by a Google Core Update in May 2020.
The May 2020 Google Core Algorithm Update And Its Impact
As of this writing, Google has rolled out two major core updates in 2020. The first one came back in January (a glorious time that we all took for granted). Per usual with a core update, the sites hit the hardest were in Your Money Your Life (YMYL) industries – health, personal care, law, finance, etc.
On May 4th, 2020, Google announced yet another broad core update.
While it’s still very early to see the full impact of this global update, several data companies tracked Google search results and the implications point to one thing: This is a big one.
RankRanger shared a graph comparing the May and January updates in relation to rank volatility:
Now, a big observation of this update is that it appears to be more or less consistent across niches. This is interesting because most of the core updates we’ve seen in the past primarily affect YMYL verticals.
Here is a chart of the industries that experienced the most significant drops in organic positions following the May 2020 update (courtesy of SEMrush).
The verticals that saw the biggest drops in organic positions make this update pretty extraordinary. The industries that saw big boosts in traffic in the wake of COVID-19 (March 2020) were media, news, and finance websites.
However, many of these sites took nasty hits in the May update. Some of the big ones affected include:
This update can definitely be a big blow for sites that were getting traffic/conversions – even during the pandemic. Even more interesting is that many of the sites that took hits in this update were the same ones that saw noticeable gains in previous updates.
Given the data, it’s fair to say: this ain’t the average Google update.
Our Take On The May 2020 Update
Core updates almost always come down to one thing: content quality.
Google’s advice is pretty much the same as it is with any big update. Something along the lines of “we’re rolling out a broad update, there’s nothing you can ‘fix’ if your rankings dropped.”
We then get the standard advice to “just create high-quality content that’s relevant to your target audience.”
Looking at the results – and the verticals that got hit – we believe Google’s mindset is to be more critical of the websites that are seeing a boost in traffic due to COVID-19.
Given that more and more people are frequenting news, entertainment, and financial sites, it makes perfect sense that the all-powerful search engine wants to take extra precautions. The powers that be need to ensure they are providing the “best and most reliable content” to the increased number of users.
But Really, What Can You Do?
Contrary to what Google tells you after a big update, there is almost always something you can do to help recover after a nasty hit in rankings. While things aren’t totally clear yet, we’ve seen some reports that indicate there are a handful of action items to think about.
1. Consider Updating Your Content More Frequently
Neil Patel recently published some interesting research on the update and its effects.
A big observation was that many negatively-impacted websites were not frequently updating their content. This was in comparison to websites that updated their content on a daily basis.
So how is one supposed to update content so frequently?
Well, like most things in marketing, updating content isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of deal. The end goal is to make each particular piece more timely, relevant, and valuable to the reader. I know, that sounds like the cookie-cutter advice we get after every update.
There are several items you can look for on a piece of content to determine how exactly you should update it. In the name of relevancy, ask yourself these questions when looking over each piece:
- What do the new SERPs look like for your content’s top keywords?
This is one of the first things you should do following any big core update. If your site’s content took a hit, look into the top keywords each piece is ranking for. Who is ranking at the top of the SERPs for those terms now? What are they doing that you aren’t?
- What questions does your content answer?
Hopefully, you created each piece of your content to answer one or more specific questions. Is that question(s) still being asked? Has the answer to that question changed? Is there a way you can better answer that question?
- Does the messaging in this piece still apply to today’s interests?
- Can you add fresh insight to the piece?
Say you’ve got some content giving tips on how to create a video marketing campaign – written back in 2017. How has the landscape of video marketing changed in the past three years? Are there any new tips, tools, examples, and/or data you can reference?
You want to be sure you are always citing the most recent year possible in content. Who cares about a stat or case study from five years ago? As a rule of thumb, try to keep data/insights no more than two years old.
- Does your content meet website accessibility standards?
Website accessibility standards are subjected to updates every once in a while. It’s very possible that some of the content on your website no longer fits the bill.
- Can you make the content more concise?
When you go through your content library, can a piece be streamlined a little more? Can you make it easier to digest (without compromising the quality)? Do your best to eliminate fluff and make your points a little bit clearer. Always remember, people generally don’t like having to dig for the value in your content – and neither do the search engines.
- Can you consolidate content pieces?
Say you created several pieces of content on a similar topic. Maybe one of them fared better in the update than the others. If this is the case, consider consolidating them into one, comprehensive post.
Regardless of what happened to your site and content in the May 2020 update, there is one common denominator you can always turn to Google loves fresh content that’s in tune with the answers people are currently seeking.
If you don’t have a solid protocol in place to update your content around this notion, now is the time to set something up.
Google has no love for outdated content. If you’ve got content giving tips on how to use the Vine app (rest in peace) for business, it’s not doing anyone any good anymore. That said, you can probably delete it or redirect it.
2. Stay On Top Of SEO Errors
Neil Patel found another trend in sites that got hit with the update.
As what shouldn’t come as a big shock, many of the negatively-impacted sites were plagued with SEO errors. Neil’s analysis found that it was one SEO error, in particular, that was hurting sites after the update: duplicate title & meta tags.
Now, having SEO errors doesn’t always mean you will lose rankings after an update. But based on the findings of this algorithm change, fixing duplicate tags should be a priority.
3. Fix Your Thin Content
No one likes thin content.
As the name implies, thin content is content that has little to no value, resolves nothing, and isn’t relevant to why people landed on the page.
Common types of thin content include:
- Duplicate – or half-heartedly paraphrased/scraped content.
- Automatically-generated content
- Doorway pages
- Useless affiliate pages
Some of the early reports we’ve been seeing on this update are that sites containing thin content are getting hammered in their organic positions. Whether or not this is directly related to the pandemic, it’s a good thing.
Maybe we’re biased as a content marketing agency, but there’s always been a hurdle with some clients in terms of content creation. Those who aren’t familiar with digital marketing often have the mindset of “why in the world would I pay your prices for a blog post when I could go on Upwork and get someone to write it for $10?”
Ninety-nine percent of the time, going the low dollar freelancer route results in thin content. In other words, you get what you pay for. Now that it appears Google is cracking down on these sites, we may finally see the half-ass practice of simply “creating content for the sake of creating content” fade into the mists of time.
So how should you do a sweep of your site to pinpoint thin content?
a) Read It!
First and foremost, you should make it a point to go through each of our pages manually and listen to your gut. What questions are leading people to this content? How well are you providing answers?
Read over the content and examine the takeaways. Are they valuable? Did you explain them clearly?
Keep in mind, longer content isn’t always better. Don’t get caught up in generalized stats.
It’s very possible that a piece of content can answer a question perfectly in 400 words and rank better than a sloppy 4,000-word piece on the same topic.
b) Run The Content Through A Plagiarizer Tool
Duplicate content will always hurt your rankings – regardless of the update. Run each piece of content through a tool like Copyscape to pinpoint any threats. If any of your pages get flagged, rewrite them immediately.
C) No-Index Category Pages If Necessary
Category pages can be prime suspects for thin content – especially on e-commerce sites. You might consider taking out the category pages. Or, you can simply no-index them.
Thin content has been an epidemic in digital marketing for more than a decade.
Businesses across the world have been seeing messaging pointing to how important content is for brand building. And unfortunately, many didn’t know where to start or elected to take shortcuts due to budgetary constraints. The May 2020 update is a good sign that this phenomenon may very well be coming to an end!
As with most big Google core updates at this stage, there isn’t much we can do as SEOs except keep our eyes on the data and draw potential conclusions.
We’re not sure exactly how this update will affect rankings in the long run. Until then, sticking to Google’s general principles of creating “high-quality content relevant to the target audience” is the best thing you can do.
If you were impacted by the May 2020 update, don’t hesitate to get in contact with us. We started our agency by helping businesses recover from big algorithm changes – and we’d be happy to do the same for you.