If there’s one thing we know about the Google ranking algorithm, it’s that we don’t know a whole lot. Unless you’re a behind-the-scenes Google engineer, then you’re like the rest of the SEO community: left to speculate what exactly Google changed with every new algo update. As Google constantly works on improving organic search results for online users, we’re faced with a new ranking algorithm that can either boost our sites or leave us trailing behind our competitors.
In light of the new year, I thought it would be helpful to give a review of all of the 2018 Google algorithm updates. If you saw a major shakeup last year, it was probably around the time of a new algo update being rolled out. So go ahead: sign into analytics and see if any of the updates below had a big impact on your site’s organic search performance.
Unnamed Update – Unconfirmed
The first Google algorithm update to get noticed in 2018 is an unnamed, unconfirmed update, meaning Google did not come out and publicly confirm there was, in fact, an update. SEOs around the globe began to experience shakeup, specifically mentioning ranking drops. Rank Ranger reported a high level of ranking fluctuations on February 20, shown in the image below:
As always, some sites experienced positive results, while others saw their rankings drop. Unfortunately, Google never confirmed there was an update, but the fluctuation in rankings sure seems to confirm it.
“Brackets” Core Update – Confirmed
On March 12, Google announced it had released a broad core algorithm update. What seemed to have the biggest impact? Rich Snippets. Many sites lost rich snippet results and new sites gained some they may not have ever had before. Rich snippets are considered “position 0” in the SERP because they fall above the normal organic results. In other words, they occupy prime real estate for any practice website.
Wondering how to combat this if you saw a drop? Make sure the content on your site is high-quality, well-written, and well-organized. Try to get mentions or backlinks from high-authority sites so Google will see you as an expert in your field.
Zero-Result SERP Test – Confirmed
In mid-March, Google stopped displaying organic results for certain queries, instead showing a “Show all results button” underneath the knowledge card. The test only lasted for about a week, but SEOs speculate that we should expect to see this again in the future.
Mobile-First Index Roll-Out – Confirmed
This next algo update was talked about for quite some time before it went live in late March. On March 26, Google announced:
“Our crawling, indexing, and ranking systems have typically used the desktop version of a page's content, which may cause issues for mobile searchers when that version is vastly different from the mobile version. Mobile-first indexing means that we'll use the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they're looking for.”
Google reiterated that it still has only one index for all search results, whether on desktop or mobile. Webmasters were notified via Search Console that they were migrating to mobile-first indexing.
Is your site mobile-friendly? Enter your domain in the Mobile-Friendly Test to check your score and see where you can make improvements.
Unnamed Core Update – Confirmed
Like others, this was a “broad core update” that didn’t receive its own name. However, Google tweeted, “Changes to our systems are benefiting pages that were previously under-rewarded. There’s no ’fix‘ for pages that may perform less well, other than to remain focused on building great content.”
When I consult with my clients, I constantly stress the importance of regularly writing and publishing quality content on their sites. So, if you’re doing content right, then you were probably rewarded with this algo update. If you saw drops around this time, take a close look at your content and see what others are doing who are ranking higher in the SERP.
Snippet Length Drop – Confirmed
For some time, Google was running tests that displayed longer snippet results, allowing up to 300 characters for the chosen result. In May this came to an end, and Google reverted back to the old snippet display, which only allows 150-160 characters.
Video Carousels – Confirmed
In June, Google stopped showing video thumbnails in the SERP and instead began displaying a “video carousel.” Rank Ranger published an in-depth article on this update and the impact it’s had on the SERP. This study showed that the update didn’t impact the high-demand real estate of the SERP, but that the biggest losers were those who previously ranked with a video thumbnail but no longer show in the top video carousel results.
Mobile Page Speed Update – Confirmed
At the beginning of the year, Google announced that page speed will become a mobile ranking factor. This metric has been a ranking factor for desktop traffic for almost 10 years, but will now be rolled over into mobile rankings. When you think about how much increased mobile web traffic we’ve seen as cell phones continue to get more technologically advanced, this seems to be a no-brainer. This “Speed Update,” as Google refers to it, isn’t exactly an algorithm update, but more of a precursor to one.
Check your mobile-specific site speed to see how you compare to your competition. Implement any speed suggestions your test results suggest. There are a wide variety of tools you can use to test mobile site speed. I personally like the Think with Google Test My Site tool.
Chrome Security Warnings – Confirmed
By now we’ve all stumbled upon a website only to be greeted by the scary, red Not Secure warning in our browser. This is now in place for all non-HTTPS websites after the Chrome Security Warnings update that was rolled out in July.
If you’re not familiar with the term, HTTP stands for hyper text transfer protocol. So, you can probably guess what the S in HTTPS stands for. That’s right, it stands for Secure!
To summarize, data sent between your web browser and the site you’re interacting with are encrypted, and therefore more secure than the previous HTTP standard. If you want to make sure your site is safe and users aren’t afraid to access it, make sure you have HTTPS in place.
“Medic” Core Update – Confirmed
Here we have another broad algo update. As a digital marketing agency that specializes in health and medical industries, this one hit home for us. Sites in this vertical saw widespread shakeup, both positive and negative. Many SEOs across the globe claim this is one of the most impactful updates they’ve experienced, adding that they’ve never seen one specific industry so affected by an update.
If your site got hit by this update, then make sure you’re optimized for E-A-T. It appears that Google awarded sites that they viewed to be experts in the field, with authority on the subject at hand, and a trustworthy source of information.
The graph above was originally created by Search Engine Roundtable.
Adapting to Google’s Algorithm Updates
Don’t wait for the next algorithm update to improve your site. It’s the beginning of the new year, so what a great time to make sure you’re starting off on the right foot. Go ahead and do a year-over-year comparison in GA. Are you up? Great! Are you seeing drops? Well, that’s definitely not what we want. Dig deeper to see when the drops happened, try to correlate it to a Google algo update, and get a plan in place to tackle any issues so you can be as optimized as possible. Because let’s face it, your website isn’t going to fix itself .
If you’re unhappy with your site’s organic search performance and don’t think you can tackle everything on your own, give Page 1 Solutions a call at 800-368-9910.