Top 3 Changes to Google’s Algorithm in the Past Year

If you’re looking at your website traffic data and wondering why you’re seeing some drops in rankings or odd fluctuations in traffic over the past year, it’s important to know what’s happening with Google’s algorithm. Here’s a roundup of three changes Google has made to its search algorithm in the past year, their impact, and what you can do to keep your site ranking well.

December 2020 Core Update

What is it:   

As always, they never say exactly what they are doing. They tell us it’s happening and it’s always with the goal of improving search results, but beyond that it’s vague and up to us SEO professionals to analyze what happened. Google “reassesses content” and changes rankings accordingly. You can read their template response to core updates here.

What does it impact:

You might see pages that had historically ranked well no longer ranking in their usual positions (sad face). On the flip side of that, you might see some pages on your site that were previously under-rewarded suddenly get a boost on the SERP (woohoo!). Monitor your rankings and analyze any changes that you see. If some competitor “stole” your spot, dig into the issue and analyze why Google decided their page was better than yours. How is it providing better content to the searcher?

Biggest takeaways from SEO professionals:

RankRanger has a good article we found useful that qualitatively analyses what may have happened in this core update. For a more quantitative analysis, this Moz blog post has some good data on what changed with the December 2020 core update.

We agree with RankRanger’s article that points out that Google is favoring content that is highly specific and relevant to the nature of the query. So if someone is making a very specific search query, Google is going to favor a page that answers and goes in-depth on just that one topic, rather than a page that covers that topic within a broader context. Think less ‘ultimate guides on [one broad topic]’ and more highly focused content that directly addresses the intent of the query.

In addition, Google seems to be favoring pages that really present information in an easily digestible format. For example:

  • pretty comparison charts
  • easy to scan bullets
  • subheadings
  • explainer videos
  • any other features that make the information easy to digest

So if you’ve had a poorly designed website for a long time with things like:

  • tiny font
  • hard to read color-scheme,
  • inability to format bullets and numbered lists properly

Your site might be finally taking the hit for that, and Google may be choosing competitor pages that are well-designed and provide a better overall experience for the searcher.

February 2021 Passage Indexing / Ranking

What is it:   

Google says, “since sometimes the single sentence that answers your question might be buried deep in a web page. We’ve recently made a breakthrough in ranking and are now able to not just index web pages, but individual passages from the pages.”

What it looks like:

You perform a search, click on the result you want to read, and are taken directly to a specific passage that is highlighted on a web page, rather than clicking and being taken to the top of page as would happen normally.

What does it impact:

Google says it will impact 7% of search queries once it is fully rolled out across the globe. Monitor your rankings and if you see drops, investigate to identify who is now in the position you used to hold and why that may be.

How to optimize for passage indexing:

  • Do long-tail keyword research and incorporate it into your content strategy
  • Update your existing long form content pages and blog posts with new stats, resources, and information
  • Create new long form content that specifically and clearly addresses a query

February 2021 Featured Snippet Drop

What is it:   

This update is unconfirmed by Google but confirmed by all the top dogs in the SEO biz (MOZ, SEMRush, Search Engine Land, and others).  Essentially, it appears that in February Google began showing far fewer featured snippets in general,  and particularly for shorter queries that are only a few words in length. By some estimates, the prevalence of featured snippets  dropped by about 40%. However, in March it appears that featured snippets prevalence on mobile devices rebounded to previous levels while on desktop they did not. Check out MOZ’s article on the featured snippet drop for more information on this topic.

What does it impact:

Some sites get a ton of their organic traffic from a few pages that have won the featured snippets for particular queries. So if a featured snippet is no longer showing for one or more of those queries, you might notice a significant drop in organic traffic due to this update. If you’re one of those who have been negatively impacted, don’t freak out, just adapt and come up with a new strategy to produce new content and tweak your old content with the ultimate goal of providing valuable information to the end-user.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, this is the nature of the SEO game, and no one should be surprised by the fact that Google occasionally makes updates to their algorithm. What matters is that you stay abreast of these changes and adapt as needed. And if you don’t have the time to stay up on these things, which is understandable for busy business owners, then it’s your responsibility to outsource this to a professional team who knows what they’re doing. Contact us if you need help with your SEO strategy.

Post A Comment