SEO Insights - December 2020 Report image

SEO Insights – December 2020 Report

SEO Insights - December 2020 Report image

As we bid a fond farewell to 2020, there is much to reflect upon and even more to look forward to in 2021.

2020 was truly like nothing most of us have ever experienced and for most businesses, their positive plans at the beginning of the year will have taken a significant deviation.

However, here at Artemis we never spend much time looking back. Our focus is, and always has been, on looking ahead, planning and implementing what we have to do with our clients’ online presences to best position them going forward to stay ahead of the competition as algorithms evolve, shopping behaviours change and people adapt to a “new normal”.

Before we look at ahead to what’s in store for 2021 there are two key items of news to discuss from December 2020 first:

1 – Google Core Algorithm Update

It was a big one…and really quite bad of Google to launch it at such an important time for businesses when many might have already suffered a very tough year because of the pandemic.

Nevertheless, they rolled it out over two weeks and it generally changed a very high number of search results.

A core update is defined by Google as:

Several times a year, we make significant, broad changes to our search algorithms and systems. We refer to these as “core updates.” They’re designed to ensure that overall, we’re delivering on our mission to present relevant and authoritative content to searchers.

We have compiled our initial observations of this update and it appears to have impacted websites in different ways.  However, there are two main areas where we have witnessed significant impacts:

  1. Internationalisation
  2. Page keyword relevancy

We will send more details to all of our clients shortly on these findings and what it means in terms of the resultant focus over the coming weeks and months.

2 – “Request Indexing” Tool is Back

Google removed this useful tool a few months ago but reinstated it in Search Console in December.

This tool is very useful for getting new and updated pages indexed quickly and also for testing the effects of on-page changes.

It appears that Google engineers had not envisaged SEOs using the tool to try and reverse-engineer elements of Google’s algorithm and that’s ultimately why they removed it.

Although it has been reinstated it’s not quite the tool it was before. All submissions are no longer guaranteed to be reindexed immediately (if at all) and we are assuming at this early stage that they will also have updated it to only reindex pages that have had significant quality changes made to them and not just any minor changes.

We will be testing this during January and adapt our use of the tool accordingly.

Now, looking ahead and what’s in store for 2021, there are two milestones from Google’s perspective:

1 – Mobile-First Indexing – March 2021

Although Google has been transitioning indexing to the mobile version of most websites for some time now, for many websites that are still not mobile-friendly, Google has still been crawling their desktop version.

The original plan was for mobile-first indexing to be enabled for all websites from September 2020, but this was pushed back to March 2021 to give more businesses time to prepare their websites accordingly due to the pandemic.

Therefore, as of April, Google will index the entire internet from a mobile perspective. It’s quite a key milestone and a reflection of just how mobile search focused the internet has become.

2 – Page Experience Update – May 2021

This new update that is being rolled out by Google in May is part of their ongoing mission to make the web a fast, secure and pleasant experience for all users.

Whereas traditionally ranking factors have been based on on-page elements (titles, meta tags, content, etc.) and off-page signals (backlinks, citations, etc.), this new update also takes into account how friendly and easy to use pages are for users.

There are seven key areas that all play a part in the Page Experience Update of which three are recent metrics provided in Search Console called Core Web Vitals:

  1. Loading (time) – Core Web Vitals
  2. Interactivity – Core Web Vitals
  3. Visual Stability – Core Web Vitals
  4. Mobile Friendly
  5. Safe Browsing
  6. HTTPS
  7. No Intrusive Interstitials

As with what normally happens with the introduction of new ranking signals, such as the mobile page load speed ranking factor and the HTTPS boost, it’s likely that this update will not be a significant overall ranking factor initially. Over time it is likely to increase but ultimately, Google still needs to return the most relevant results for a search query, and that may still not be the fastest or smoothest loading page.

However, over the coming weeks we will be working with all of our clients to ensure that their websites are brilliantly prepared for when this update rolls out in May.

Looking Further Ahead

It is difficult to predict what other surprises Google will throw at us in 2021 but if there’s one thing that’s guaranteed is that there will be plenty of them.

It’s what we love about what we do. The uncertainty, the constant need to be testing new ideas, predicting the evolution of search and online user behaviour and working with our clients to anticipate the changes we need to make to keep them ahead of the competition.

As we have been delving into the effects of Google’s December Core Update, it has only reinforced the strategy we’ve been implementing for our clients for years, and that’s to focus on the user (speed and structure), quality targeted content (on-page optimisation) and backed up by authoritative and relevant third-part references (off-page optimisation).

There are no shortcuts. SEO is becoming increasingly technical, complex and time-consuming, especially with so many more businesses focussing more of their efforts in 2020 on their websites, organic search rankings and their overall online presence as shopping behaviour has increased online as a result of the pandemic.

2021 brings with it huge opportunities for our clients who have a strong head start over a lot of their competition and they are in strategic positions to benefit from the increase in online search activity. There have been a lot of lessons learned in 2020 and these will be benefiting our clients in 2021.

We look forward to working with all of our clients this year to make it a very successful and positive experience despite the global uncertainties still ahead.

Google December 2020 Core Update

Google has officially announced that they are in the process of rolling out a new broad core algorithm update, which they are terming December 2020 Core Update.

Core Updates from Google typically take around two weeks to roll out entirely and the company has indicated that this one will likely be completed over a similar time frame. This is the third Core Update to be rolled out in 2020.











A strange time for an update?

The timing of the Core Update has drawn criticism. These updates do have the potential to be disruptive for businesses – and this is especially true over an important trading period like the run up to Christmas.

There has been an outcry on Twitter and other platforms regarding the timing of the rollout – with many saying that this is the wrong time for it, especially with regard to business challenges over the COVID-19 pandemic.

What does the December 2020 Core Update mean for you?

As is the case with all updates, it won’t be clear exactly how it will affect websites until the rollout is complete and the update has had some time to settle in.

Core Updates often result in ranking fluctuations, but ensuring that your website is technically sound and has great content is an important way to minimise this.

As always, at Artemis, we are monitoring our clients’ rankings and stats closely and will act quickly if there appear to be adverse effects of any kind.

Google’s own advice for what to do as a result of the Core Update remains largely unchanged – focus on great quality content, provide value to users visiting your site, and offer expert advice and insight in your field.

Get more information

If you’re concerned about how the December 2020 Core Update might affect your website, the team at Artemis can help.

We are SEO specialists with extensive experience helping our clients maintain strong rankings and even improve their positions through Core Updates. Contact us today for more details.

November 2020 SEO Report

SEO Insights – November 2020 Report

November 2020 SEO Report


November is generally a critical month for a lot of businesses that generate sales online, and last month was possibly even more vital than ever after what has been a very turbulent year for many businesses.

Initial feedback shows that online sales hit record levels in November, particularly around Black Friday when products are heavily discounted.  At the same time, it appears that in-person store visits are at an all-time low due to various restrictions and lockdowns in place.

As we write this the Arcadia group has announced that it is going into administration, as is Debenhams. This is sadly leading to huge job losses but these are examples of physical businesses which have not adapted well or quickly enough to the major shift to online shopping.

In contrast, Next has been heavily focused on their web presence as have M&S and even during these difficult times, they appear to still be performing well.

There has probably never been a more important time than now for businesses to ensure that they have an established and prominent online presence. It is extremely sad to see empty highstreets but the world has changed, online shopping is increasing by the day and the trend is likely to continue.

Now, in other (more Search related) news….

Crawl Stats Report

Google has released a new Crawl Stats Report in Search Console. This report gives an insight into how often, how quickly and how deep Google is crawling a website.

Understanding crawl behaviour (Google’s discovery of pages) can help to diagnose website issues that may be leading to ranking losses, such as server downtime or the inability for Google to fully download resources.

November 2020 image 1


There is a new element to this report now which is quite interesting.  It shows the stats for pages which are re-crawled (refreshed) and those which are newly discovered:


November 2020 2


This is particularly useful to understand how often pages are re-crawled and how long it takes pages to be discovered.

For example, an important page may only be re-crawled once per month because the content is quite static. If the content is updated on a regular basis this would lead Google to re-crawl it more often, which is important for freshness in the search results and to have new content indexed quickly. We can monitor these crawl rates in this new report.

New and Improved Link Disavow Tool

Google has now migrated the link disavow tool to the new Search Console interface.  This tool is used to tell Google to ignore certain links pointing to a website, such as spam links and paid links.

It now features a friendlier user interface, the ability to download the disavow file as a text file and there are error reports now showing more than 10 errors.

November 2020 3


As the warning says…this is an advanced tool and should be used with caution.

Google is really very good now at ignoring spam links pointing to a website. It’s mostly not necessary for any website to use this tool. In fact, you can inadvertently tell Google to ignore perfectly legitimate links to your website if you don’t realise that those links are actually helping your website to rank and not harming it. Disavowing good links can lead to ranking losses.

However, sometimes there can be an overwhelming number of spam links that could be causing an issue for the website, in which case it is fine to use the tool as it is when a website has a manual penalty when Google detects that a website has been buying links; a practice that goes against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

This is not a tool that we are ever likely to use for your website.

Both of these tools, as well as all of the others in Search Console are what we use and monitor for all clients on a regular basis to ensure their websites are performing at their best at all times.

SEO Insights – October 2020 Report

England is set to go into another month-long lockdown. It’s not the news anyone wanted to hear but things should be very different this time around.

We’re all much better set up for remote working, we know what a lockdown means to our businesses and we are better equipped to get through it. The extension of the furlough scheme until the end of the November is appreciated, particularly for those businesses which will struggle during this time.

We are now approaching the Christmas trading period which is a very critical time for a lot of our clients. We expect that online shopping levels will be the highest ever and general requests for services delivered online will increase again.

Now is the time that we need to keep pushing and work together to extract the most from every website and thrive during this busy trading period. If you would like to discuss strategies for your website over this crucial time then do talk to us. We are, as always, here to help in any way we can.

To make the most of this potentially busy period for businesses online, it is important to understand what has been happening in the world of SEO this past month.

Google Analytics 4

In October Google launched its latest version of Google Analytics which it’s called “Google Analytics 4” or GA4 for short.

GA4 is a very major change in how Google presents and interprets user data. It’s designed to give businesses a much better overall understanding of what users (customers) are doing on their websites. These new insights are designed to help businesses make better and more data-driven marketing decisions.

GA4 uses advanced machine learning to analyse trends in the data and provides a greater level of customer-centric measurement as opposed to metrics derived from devices and platforms.

GA4 is now the default option for new analytics properties. We are excited to start digging into this data for our clients so that everyone can start benefiting from the new datasets available.

Microsoft Clarity

Not to be outshone by Google, Microsoft has launched its very own free analytics tool called Microsoft Clarity.

This is a very exciting development in the area of website analytics as Clarity introduces new features not available within Google Analytics.

Clarity is designed to be easy to use and easy on the website, meaning that it has a minimal impact on page load times.

It comes with in-built heatmap and click-tracking functionality to enable you to see what users are doing on each page of your website. It also records user sessions so that you can view what specific users are doing and how they navigate the website. These sorts of insights are normally only available through third-party tools such as Hotjar and Crazyegg.


With the recordings you can filter them to view some interesting new metrics such as “rage clicks”, “dead clicks” and “confused scrolling”:


“Rage clicks” are a behavioural pattern where a user clicks several times on a portion of your page that they think should link somewhere, but which doesn’t. This can be a good indicator of non-intuitive portions of your page or help you identify page elements which aren’t working how they should.

We’re excited to start testing and experimenting with Clarity and will be looking to introduce it across all client websites along with the new GA4.

Request Indexing Feature Disabled

The handy little “Request indexing” feature in Google Search Console has been temporarily disabled. This is quite unfortunate is it was a great way to get updated pages indexed very quickly and to immediately test the effects of on-page changes.

Google notified this on Twitter:

It doesn’t make sense to disable it like this. We can assume that they realised that it was a great way for SEOs to use to it to reverse-engineer elements of the Google ranking algorithm and have suspended it accordingly.

We’ll need to wait and see how it returns but we hope it returns soon!

Passage Indexing

Google released details of how it’s using AI to make search better and in the announcement, it mentioned that it can now index passages from pages as well as entire pages themselves.

It’s not quite that passages are indexed as separate items, it’s just that it can isolate a passage on its own regardless of the content on the rest of the page.

This helps Google to surface information for complex queries that previously would not be ranked because of the influence of the page as a whole.

According to Google, this will impact 7% of queries. This is just for English queries at the moment but will be rolled out to all languages globally. Here is an example of this new technology in action:

Passage Indexing


At Artemis, we stay ahead of changes in SEO, Google and digital marketing tools to ensure our clients are not only up-to-date but ahead of the game. If you are interested in having us work on the digital marketing for your business, get in contact with us today.

Google Local Services Ads: What You Need to Know

At Artemis, we pride ourselves on staying up-to-date with very latest changes and innovations in SEO and digital marketing. One new addition to Google’s products and services is Google Local Services Ads – and it could have huge ramifications.

Google Local Services Ads launched in the UK at the beginning of October. They have been around for a while in the US and Canada in 2015, but the service has now officially been rolled out in Britain. These ads offer an incredible opportunity for small to medium sized businesses in particular, providing access to some of the top spots on Google on a pay per lead basis rather than pay per click.

In this guide, we’ll explain how these ads work and why it is vital that local businesses start using them as soon as possible.

What are Google Local Services Ads?

Local Services Ads allow local businesses to connect more easily with searchers and provide a great opportunity for collecting leads. They occupy a coveted position at the very top of the SERPs but are presented in card form rather than the usual text ad for even greater visibility.

What’s more, these cards stand out thanks to the green ‘Google Guaranteed’ check mark that sets them apart from other businesses. For local service providers, such as plumbers, electricians or cleaners, these ads offer a fantastic opportunity for increasing revenue and brand visibility, as well as making it easier for users to connect to local services quickly.

Local Service Ads sit outside the realms of Google Ads and Google My Business – it’s a separate product entirely that provides leads to the advertiser who can then respond to calls or messages directly through the ad.

It delivers a seamless experience that means users don’t actually have to leave the SERPs in order to get in touch with a provider, which in turn can boost conversion rates if utilised correctly.

New Google Local Service Ads
Google’s new local ads have increased visibility in search results.

An incredible opportunity for businesses

Google Local Service Ads presents a unique and unmissable opportunity for businesses to capitalise on this new area of the market. The companies that were first to make use of Google Ads were able to have enormous success – and this is a very similar opportunity, but based around local search.

Your business can have the phone ringing with genuine enquiries within days of signing up. And if you’ve been put off by the cost of Google Ads in the past, it’s worth pointing out that in the US, where Local Ads have been around for longer, the cost per lead has shown to be around 50% lower than on traditional PPC.

How to get the ‘Google Guarantee’?

Businesses that want to be Google Guaranteed and receive that green tick of approval need to pass Google’s background checks. They also need to have their license if relevant and insurance details verified.

One thing to note is that businesses who operate as a franchise or have field operatives working for them will need each individual to go through these checks too.

It is also worth pointing out that the ‘Guaranteed’ tick can just as easily be removed as it is given, so diligence in this area is critical.

How does the ranking work?

Unlike the standard search strategy, there are no keywords at play here. Google relies on different indicators when ranking businesses, such as location and your review score.

This is where businesses that have an existing Google presence will have a head start over other companies. While location is naturally out of the advertiser’s control, it does help to maintain an up-to-date business profile.

This includes the business name, location, a phone number (this comes with a tracking number for data analytics), business hours, reviews and any unique selling points you want to highlight, which ideally will include your Google Guarantee.

New Google Local Ads Profile
Unlike previous ads, businesses don’t have to pay when customers click on their profiles (which look like the one shown above). Instead, they only pay when a potential customer calls their number for 30 seconds or more.

Which businesses can benefit?

Google has confirmed that the vertical markets included in the UK launch include:

  • Appliance Repair
  • Carpet Cleaning
  • Electrical
  • Garage Door Repair
  • House Cleaning
  • HVAC (Heating, ventilation and air conditioning)
  • Lawn Care
  • Pest Control
  • Plumbers
  • Removal services
  • Roofers
  • Tree Services
  • Waste Removal
  • Water Damage
  • Window Cleaners
  • Window Repair

Why Local Service Ads matter to businesses

Going forward, local service businesses will essentially comprise their own SERP subset, set apart from the usual search results. This offers a distinct advantage in having ads for businesses that can maintain positive reviews and visibility to their local market.

But managing your responses is key – in order to keep receiving notifications, businesses need to be able to respond as quickly as possible in order to stay part of the ranking algorithm.

There are numerous benefits to Local Service Ads, not least the prime spot it provides above regular text ads that delivers excellent exposure for local businesses. It’s also a great opportunity for connecting to people searching for your services, resulting in higher quality leads.

Businesses using these ads only pay for leads related to their specific business or services, and the ads show up across all searches, including mobile, tablet and desktop. When compared to standard search ads, Local Service Ads are easy to set up and they don’t require keywords or creativity to manage – the information is simply pulled from the brand’s business profile.

Final thoughts

This is an extremely rare opportunity to take advantage of a new Google service that many of your competitors won’t be ready to capitalise on. Google Local Service Ads could mean higher conversion rates, less time wasted seeking out customers and increased exposure for your business.

With an easy management platform and the chance to connect to high-quality leads, it could mark a great difference for local service providers in the future.

At Artemis, we understand it is absolutely crucial to keep up with the latest changes to Google in order to benefit our clients. If you are interested in learning more about how we can help business manage their Google Local Service Ads, as well as their other SEO concerns, please contact us today.

Google Algorithm Updates

Google ‘Core Algorithm’ & the new ‘Page User Experience’ updates

Justin our Technical Director has recorded his latest monthly video where he touches base on the latest Core Algothym update for May, as well as looking ahead to Google’s new ‘Page User Experience’ update, which will be launched in 2021. He also discusses how Artemis is responding and helping our clients adapt to the current climate.

Learnings from Google’s January 2020 Core Algorithm Update

Google has had a busy January making significant changes to its algorithm and search results. As large updates are usually not implemented in the run up to Christmas, January is often the month where we see quite a few changes in the search results. Here are the three main changes that have happened in January:

Core Algorithm Update

Google makes regular updates to its core algorithm but the one in January was quite a large one, resulting in significant changes in search results across the board.

There are no details of what the core algorithm change was focused on, these are never released by Google, but the update has very positively benefited Artemis clients’ websites. Our initial assessment of this update is that it is focused on content quality and better rewarding content that deserves to rank higher, due to higher relevancy, accuracy and presentation, but which may have lower PageRank authority than other websites targeting those same key phrases.

New Desktop Search Results Appearance

In 2019 Google changed the look and feel of the mobile search results to include a favicon for each listing and placing the web address (brand) above the page title.

In January Google copied this same set-up across to the desktop search results. This layout may work well on mobile screens but for desktop it does not work well at all.


The new desktop results were so poorly received that the backlash caused by this change prompted Google to make the unprecedented move of admitting that maybe it wasn’t the best update to the interface and that they would begin to experiment with further alternatives.

We have now already seen the favicons removed from the desktop search results and we can expect further changes over the coming weeks.

Featured Snippets

A featured snippet is presented in the search results when Google’s algorithm believes that an enhanced result may be very useful to the user based on the search query entered.

Ever since the feature was introduced, a website could enjoy two listings on the first page of the search results: The featured snippet and the organic search result itself, for example:


This double listing was often deemed unfair by many and in January Google changed this set up so that if a website had the featured snippet, the same page would not appear again in the organic search results.

This change has advantages and disadvantages. If a listing had a featured snippet and a first place organic listing, this update will result in a loss in traffic as now there is only one opportunity to click through to that page. However, for those websites that rank low on the first page of the results, to get the featured snippet is a way of getting to the top of the search results without needing to be first organically. There can only be a traffic increase in this scenario.


As with all changes there are always winners and losers. The latest changes have been very positive for Artemis’ clients and it is a reflection of our constant attention to detail, optimisation refinement and very high-quality link building activities. We expect the Artemis approach to SEO will continue to have an increasingly positive effect on business for all of our clients throughout 2020.

If you would like to learn more about Google’s updates and how Artemis can help your business stay ahead of them, please get in touch with our experienced team today.

Google introduces new speed report in GSC

Google introduces new Speed report in GSC

We have recently seen a couple of significant algorithm updates which were not publicly announced or confirmed by Google. It is important to note that Google applies updates to its algorithm on a daily basis and most of them go relatively unnoticed. However, sometimes particular updates can cause the search results to noticeably shift the rankings for certain keywords.

Apart from those unconfirmed updates, the most interesting news last month was about the introduction of the new Speed report in Google Search Console (GSC). Google has been testing this new tool for the past six months and is now available for all websites.

It is listed under the Enhancements section but it is still in an experimental stage so it will likely change and improve over time.

Google Search Console speed report


There are two reports available, one for mobile and one for desktop.

The results are then broken down into three categories:

  • Slow (longer than 3 seconds)
  • Moderate (longer than 100ms)
  • Fast

Each category then list the specific URLs that fall in that category.

GSC speed report example


Interestingly it groups similar URLs, understanding that similar pages, for example blog pages, may all have a common theme contributing to the speed issue.

Why is this important?

Speed metrics have long been available in Google Analytics but the introduction of these reports in GSC is a further reflection of the current and growing importance of page load speeds for ranking purposes.

However, fast loading pages are not just beneficial from a ranking perspective; users are less likely to get frustrated with a website if the pages load quickly resulting in an increase in enquiries. Website visitors have little patience and often little loyalty. Improving the user experience is vital for good conversions.

SEO is a continuous process of refining pages, content, optimisation and authority whilst being relevant and useful for a given search query. A significant part of this process now is also the ongoing task of refining the pages to improve load speeds.

We have known for some time now that page load speed is a ranking factor for mobile results and the significance of it will increase over time. Working towards fast loading pages to create a great user experience is a key SEO factor going into 2020.


At Artemis, our team our highly experienced SEO professionals keep up-to-date with all of the changes Google rolls out so that our clients don’t have to. If you are interested in learning more about what we can offer, get in contact with our team today.

Google BERT

How Google’s BERT update is affecting search results

Google BERT update blog image

In early 2015 Google launched its machine learning artificial intelligence system, RankBrain, to further improve the ranking algorithm for its search results. Google actually launched RankBrain in April 2015 but didn’t announce it until October of the same year.

During that time no one had noticed any difference or that anything was refining the search results in the background.

Fast forward four years and we’re seeing the same effect with Google’s latest and most significant update since RankBrain: BERT.

Google seems to have a habit of giving its updates silly names but BERT is a highly significant and advanced addition to Google’s ranking algorithm.

BERT stands for “Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers” and is an AI based natural language processing (NLP) system. The system enables Google to better understand the relationship of all words in a sentence and, therefore, better understand what the searcher is ultimately trying to find.

Understanding the relationship of words in a sentence sounds like a simple task but it’s actually incredibly complex for computer algorithms to process accurately. The technology behind BERT is so advanced that it’s also required a change in hardware to handle the complex calculations and processes which were pushing the existing hardware to its limits.

How BERT improves search

BERT is able to determine the intent behind a search query by understanding the relative significance of the words before and after each word in a search query. Here is an example from Google of BERT in action:

Before and After BERT image

“In the past, a query like this would confuse our systems–we placed too much importance on the word “curb” and ignored the word “no”, not understanding how critical that word was to appropriately responding to this query. So we’d return results for parking on a hill with a curb!”

For more examples see Google’s news post about BERT.

When you look at the examples of the change in results with BERT’s input, you’ll see that the results are now completely different. It’s not like with regular Google updates where results change around a bit, with BERT the results returned for the search queries are completely different.

This is why BERT is the most significant change to Google’s algorithm since the introduction of RankBrain.

BERT isn’t refining the search results; it’s completely changing them to make them relevant and more accurate.

Key takeaways

BERT is using machine learning which means that it will continue to improve over time, resulting in an increasingly intelligent language learning system. It also means that the search results will continuously become more accurate and relevant over time.

However, note that BERT will mainly impact longer tail search phrases where the relationship between the words is vital in order to return the correct results. For short phrases it’s likely to have very little impact.

Google estimates that BERT will have an impact on 10% of all search queries and at the moment it is only impacting English queries in the US. It will begin to roll out to other countries and languages over the coming weeks and months.

BERT is also being applied to featured snippets as so many of these are often generated through longer tail search queries. As a result, they should be much more relevant than they are today.

On a final note, it’s important to understand that there really isn’t anything that you can do to optimise for BERT apart from having the relevant content for a given search query. If you were previously ranking top for a specific search and with BERT it no longer is, it’s probably because Google was previously showing the wrong results.

We positively welcome BERT and the positive impact that it will have on the quality of long tail search results. The impact may not be obvious to most searchers or SEOs but it’s Google’s biggest update in over four years and a very exciting one at that.

Man searching on smartphone

Google’s Core Algorithm Update

Man searching on smartphone

In March there were a couple of significant announcements made by Google which are worth discussing in more detail. These are:

Core Algorithm Update

Although Google makes daily changes to its algorithm, most of these changes generally have a very low impact on search results. Most people would never even notice the effects of these updates.

However, this month Google confirmed that it has made a significant adjustment to its core algorithm. It’s rare for Google to confirm that a core update has taken place, but the result of the update on the 8th/9th of March had a significant effect on some websites and it seems Google saw the need to confirm that a “broad core update” had been rolled out.

What’s interesting about this update, compared to previous confirmed updates, is this public comment from Google:

Google SearchLiaison March update tweet

And then followed up by this one:

Google SearchLiaison March update tweet follow up

“There’s nothing wrong with pages that may now perform less well” and “benefiting pages that were previously under-rewarded” and “There’s no fix” and “Over time, it may be that your content may rise relative to other pages”.

So what does this mean?

Historically, updates such as Panda and Penguin have always demoted websites with low quality content or toxic backlinks. However, this core update appears to be working the opposite way and is instead rewarding websites that deserve to rank better, hence the “no fix” comment.

However, the sentence of most significance is probably this one:

“Over time, it may be that your content may rise relevant to other pages”

Over time! In other words, there is “no quick fix”.

What this update appears to have done is adapt the core algorithm in line with artificial intelligence (AI) data that Google has been exponentially accumulating over the last couple of years, since the integration of “RankBrain” into its ranking algorithm.

Google’s AI data is powerfully analysing enormous datasets of user behaviour and the insights from this data has enabled the core algorithm to be adapted to better focus on useful, relevant, correct, engaging and valuable content. Rewarding engaging content is what this update appears to be focused on.

The reason why there is no quick fix is because in order to improve rankings it is necessary to satisfy Google’s AI that a page is better, more relevant and more engaging than the others in the search results. It takes time for this data to accumulate and for the benefit to be applied to the page.

Therefore, the focus has to be, as Google puts it:

“to remain focused on building great content”

Apart from that, some additional insights from this update include the following:

• Avoid competing pages on a website
• Avoid poor internal website structure
• Ensure pages are engaging
• Ensure pages are completely relevant to the search query
• Ensure pages have accurate information and data
• Ensure pages have “high value”
• Ensure pages load quickly
• Ensure pages are considerably better than the competition

There may not be a quick fix, but there’s always a fix.

Mobile-First Index Rolling Out

At the end of March, Google announced that after 18 months of testing, the mobile-first index is now slowly being rolled out to all websites.

A notification will appear in Google Search Console when a website is migrated to the new index, as such:

Mobile First Index Google Search Console Notice

The move to a mobile-first index is in line with the majority of searches now being made on smartphone devices.

Google’s intention is to not affect rankings with this update, hence the slow rollout, and for most responsive websites that will be the case. However, for mobile websites that offer a different crawl path to search engine crawlers or different content when compared with the desktop version, they may see a negative effect from this change.

We have worked with our clients for many months to ensure there is no impact from this change and we continue to monitor results and the transition to the mobile-first index.

We will notify clients when their websites are added to the mobile-first index and will monitor their subsequent progress in search as a result of this. We don’t anticipate any impact in rankings for our clients.