When Google unleashes core algorithm updates, it’s pretty simple: some sites win, some sites lose.
In our latest video, our SEO Director, Lily Ray, and SEO & Content Specialist, Bambi Frazier, dive into the data behind the 550 biggest winners and losers in the Google May 2020 core algorithm update.
Introduction – 0:00 – 8:10
Bambi Frazier: Hello, my name is Bambi Frazier and I am an SEO Analyst here at Path Interactive when I am not teaching my three kids (pretending to teach my three kids). I have the pleasure of working with an amazing talented diverse group of digital marketing professionals that Path Interactive and many other people’s opinions are amongst the best in the world when it comes to SEO and digital marketing.
Leading our SEO team is another woman in this industry Lily Ray. She has traveled the world speaking at SEO conferences. Across the land and she drops her SEO knowledge like no other. And she is led our team who have received many awards for our work. At Path Interactive we are proud to serve a wide, wide range of clients. With our digital marketing ability, many of which are heavily affected by the algorithm updates by search engines.
So today, Lily and I have the pleasure of discussing one of her most recent publications on the 550 Winners and Losers of Google May Core Algorithm Update.
Presentation – 8:11 to 30:12
Introducing Our Approach to Google’s May 2020 Algorithm Update
Bambi Frazier: Now Lily this blog has created tons of buzz in the industry. So, let us go ahead and dive right in and tell us about the research that you have done and on who has been affected by this.
Lily Ray: Sounds great. Thank you. Bambi. So basically, when core algorithm updates happen, I think the SEO industry as a whole is really hungry to find out who was impacted because from there we can start to draw some conclusions and do some research about why the update might have happened, who’s been impacted by it, what Google’s trying to achieve with its updates. Because in many cases, Google is a little bit vague about what the updates are intended to do so.
I have been working with a technology company called Sistrix which is based in Germany. It is one of my favorite SEO tools. And earlier this year I was with them in Germany, where they enabled me to be able to analyze domains at scale and the performance of those domains after algorithm updates and really at any point in time. So, with this article what I tried to do was take 550 different domains out of obviously many, many more where that came from. These were not the only domains that were affected by the updates, but I chose ones that have historically seen big fluctuations with recent algorithm updates. And basically just analyze their visibility before and after Google rolled out the May Update, which was on May 4 2020 and just report back on who’s seen gains and losses and SEO visibility as a result of that, and today we’ll talk about some updated numbers because I published that article a few weeks back, but I’ve since updated to see how those sites are trending as of June 2020.
How Lily Leverages Sistrix’s Visibility Index
Bambi Frazier: Okay, we will let us talk about the method that you use. You mentioned Sistrix. Tell us more about that and what your process was when you when you pulled your data.
Lily Ray: Sure. Great question. So Sistrix has a unique and proprietary metric that they use called the visibility index. And that is purely based on statistics and their own data. So that is not something that comes directly from Google. It is not something that is used by other SEO tools. So, it is important to understand what the visibility index is. And so when I use the visibility index what it is trying to reflect is how a given domain given website or you can even look at like a page or sub domain or anything like that, but I am looking specifically at a domain. And how visible that domain is at any point in time. And what visible means is, how does that domain rank.
For the index of keywords that Sistrix is looking at on a routine basis, it was about a million keywords that might be more now that are they are tracking within the US index. And that is saying from point “A,” you know, date “A” to date “B,” does that change visibility? If so, how much more visible? How visible are these domains for that core set of keywords that we are tracking in terms of how they rank? And the visibility indexes also reflect how much volume, those keywords have in general over time. So, if it is an extremely high-volume keyword and your ranking position one, you are going to have a lot more visibility than if you are not ranking or your ranking low for a low volume keyword, for example.
More On the Data Gathering Process
Bambi Frazier: So, you give us a little perspective on how long it takes you to pull this data. Is this like a one and done type of thing, I would like to say as someone who has worked with you, you live and breathe this topic, but give me a perspective on how this works.
Lily Ray: Sure thing, and it is worth noting that Sistrix allows anybody that has the Sistrix tool to login and to be able to pull this data, it does require some custom building of like a Google Sheet or otherwise using their API to pull in the data, or you could potentially do it manually. If you just wanted to look at one individual domain, but because I am doing so many domains, at the same time. It does take a little bit of time and that is just because their API can time out. If you are using it too often, there is a certain number of queries that you can use per day and per week and everything. So, I must do the process a little bit slowly.
I have pulled about 1000 domains in the past week or so just to update the numbers and that process takes me about three days to finish just because I do not want to blow through the AP queries, you can get locked out. If you are using Google Sheets and it will just stop pulling the data. So, I must space it out. And that is why, you know, I wish I could report back on thousands of domains and their performance, but it just takes too long. And by the time you have done 1000 in three days, Google might have rolled something else out or those domains that have changed in the visibility. So, you must pick a point in time and report back on a finite number of domains. And that is what I did with this article.
What Does The Data Tell Us About Google’s Update?
Bambi Frazier: So, you mentioned Google shifting gears on you a little bit. When they roll out these updates. They do share some documentation on the main point what the focus is why they are doing it. Do you think as an SEO professional and expert, do you think that those documents that they share with people like us are always fully transparent or do you think it’s kind of like a “well time will tell’ type of thing. What are your thoughts on that?
Lily Ray: Yes, that is a great question. I do not know that. I do not know that they are aiming to like to misinform or deceive, by any means. They are being as transparent as possible with their communications around the update, but do they are specific enough or do they supply enough information. Personally, I wish they would go a little bit further. It was interesting because yesterday being updated its guidelines around how to rank on Bing and how being chooses to rank websites and it was much more granular much more specific than Google.
Google has a lot of reasons why it is vague about certain updates. It does not always want to enclose or show entirely what it is doing with SEO and I think the main reason for that, among a variety of reasons is that SEOs have a history of spamming things. So, we have a history of taking specific information and guidance from Google. And then overusing that topic or that method. To the point where we are just supplying inferior quality content spam and Google’s the number one fighter of spam in history of the world. So, like it is in their best interest to not even give people that much information, so they do not overuse it.
But I do personally also think that there is somewhat of some political and social implications to what Google is doing. You know, there is no secret that all the social media websites lately are facing a lot of scrutiny and a lot of controversy about how they are handling information and on their platform’s misinformation, especially. So what Google’s aiming to do with a lot of its core algorithm updates is to reduce misinformation and increase the visibility of high authority trusted websites. And that makes some people angry that also gets them and to some, you know, difficult areas with things like the anti-trust investigation that is happening with Google. So, I think there’s other larger reasons why they might not show entirely what they are doing with the algorithm updates.
What Types of Domains are Most Affected?
Bambi Frazier: Um, do you feel like when you do this research that the algorithm updates affect all websites across the board. Or do you feel like there’s kind of a trend that is going on with the types of websites that are affected?
Lily Ray: Yes. So, they are specific about core algorithm updates never particularly targeting certain verticals or certain industries. So that’s something that’s really important for SEOs to understand sometimes I read SEO articles from you know, maybe specialists who don’t really fully understand collecting data to well and they’ll say like this was the one that affected all health websites or this is the one that affected this category of sites or legal websites. So, it is important to remember that that is a byproduct of what Google rolled out. The fact that we are seeing a disproportionate impact on certain categories like health or legal or financial that’s not because Google said tomorrow, we are launching the financial update. Google has a million levers that they pull when they adjust algorithm updates and what we are seeing with things like the medical update on August 1 of 2018 and some of the later updates.
After that, it does seem to have disproportionately affected health and medical queries in addition to other your money, your life queries. So, things that affect people’s livelihood in their health and everything like that. But that’s not because Google said tomorrow I’m going to go completely changed the landscape for health websites, it is just because they are looking at things like authority trustworthiness credibility news misinformation and those things tend to affect sites like help sites legal sites news sites, politics, etc.
Winners of the May 2020 Google Core Algorithm Update
Bambi Frazier: Let us talk about that. More specifically, let us dive into the winners of this May 2020 Google Core Algorithm Update. Give us some more insight into who the winners are.
Lily Ray: Sure, yes. So, there were a lot of interesting trends with this update. Before the May Update, there has been about I want to say 10 in the past two years, big core algorithm updates that have all been from my perspective, starting in early or with the August 1, 2018 the medical update. There has been a common trend in terms of who is winning and losing. There has also been some documentation and some communications from Google about what they are calling E-A-T (Expertise Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness). And that seems to be playing a key role in these algorithm updates, among other things that people are looking at. So that is not the only thing affecting sites. But Google’s been clear that that is something that they are looking at very heavily so beginning with you know, core algorithm updates and continuing to this day.
A lot of what we are since Google adjusting what it considers to be high quality, high authority high trust websites and how are they doing that. It is through their proprietary algorithms which look at millions of different signals. So, it is not just one thing. But I do think that particularly with the main core update I think there’s been a lot of speculation that this was very link related Other updates have obviously looked at links you know historically the Penguin update was primarily about links and backlinks and everything like that. But with the May Core update. We are seeing a lot of interesting trends around like authoritativeness of domains.
So, let us talk about a couple distinct categories. news websites, we are seeing some big winners among like Al Jazeera. The New York Times, The Washington Post Forbes CBS local CNBC was a big winner. But then we also saw some interesting trends in terms of the losers. So, we saw on the other side, like BuzzFeed news, for example, saw big decline. Vox Newsweek. The New York Post the New York Daily News, so it is hard to exactly pinpoint why that might be happening. But I think if you look at the perceived authoritative Enos of the winners compared to the losers, you will see that the winners in many cases are more trusted publications around the world.
Let us dive into another category so health websites we saw Web MD very well mind what to expect, which is a pregnancy website Healthline, Everyday Health, The Cleveland Clinic. So, a lot of the big trusted health publishers online that have historically done very well with these updates are continuing to do well in May. But there has been a lot of shakeups in the last few months with health websites and that’s partially just because coronavirus is happening. So, I think Google’s grappling with whose content to surface considering coronavirus to reduce misinformation and, in many cases, they fall back on sites like health line Web MD Mayo Clinic, because they trust those sites, very much.
How E-A-T Ties Into the May Core Algorithm Update
Bambi Frazier: So, this goes into E-A-T, which is a subject that you are heavily immersed in you have been studying it for several months you speak about it worldwide. So, let us talk about E-A-T and why E-A-T matters when it comes to these core algorithm updates.
Lily Ray: Yes, again. So, Google is really focused on surfacing the most credible most trustworthy highest authority and most relevant content whenever possible. So that is what their algorithms aim to achieve. They want to reduce bad actors, misinformation, dangerous information, hate speech and violence so E-A-T is the opposite of that. You know if we are talking about coronavirus there is all kinds of publications and information on the Internet. That is not true. It is dangerous. It is not based in tangible evidence or scientific facts and Google’s aim which they are noticeably clear about in their quality guidelines. Is to reduce that in the rankings, whenever possible, because they do not want to hurt their users. They do not want to deceive their users. They want the users to feel trust in the search results that they are seeing on Google. And they want them to be safe.
So, when they increase the visibility of sites like the New York Times or The Mayo Clinic, which are publishers and you know organizations that they have shown that they’ve trust over the course of many years I mean with the Mayo Clinic. They have actual partnerships with them to surface medical content. They are just trying to make it so that users are not getting into trouble with what they are meeting in the search results. So E-A-T is the criteria that they’re using to analyze how much they can trust publishers and E-A-T is going to matter a lot more when you’re producing what’s called your money or your life content because that content can seriously impact people’s health and their wellbeing.
How User Behavior Impacts Changes in SERPs
Bambi Frazier: Speaking of people and the things they’re doing, we can’t talk about this update without Acknowledging that user behavior when it comes to searches, they’re doing on the internet has been heavily impacted by Our unprecedented events that we’ve experienced, not just as a country, and this is a world. So, we are the things that we are searching online are hugely different right then the things that we have searched in the months prior to this algorithm update. Right. So how do you think that that played a role and in the results of your studies.
Lily Ray: Yes, that is a good question. So before the main core update, which I think took the SEO community by surprise, because Obviously may is like right in the middle of or not, maybe not even the middle because who knows when the real middle will be like Right at the peak of coronavirus like dominating the news, especially in the US. So Right before that point. Google was putting out a lot of communications about coronavirus they were rolling out a lot of new search features. And ways that businesses could receive help from SEO and from local you know SEO. Google My Business. They made Merchant Center free for e commerce websites, so Google’s been very sympathetic and very trying to help publishers and webmasters to be able to Thrive considering what is happening in the world.
So one thing that was interesting to note was before the make or update we were seeing the search results fluctuate pretty wildly Because I actually published some content about this, but Things that were more online like virtual were ranking better because users were at home, they were quarantined and then they needed to be able to do certain things like meetups and watching movies and things like that on the internet as opposed to going to the movie theater, for example. So we were seeing that happening. And then suddenly the may core update rolled out and it was like, wait a minute. We are trying to figure out what is happening with coronavirus but now Google is going to turn the dials. In some cases, and really affect the visibility of domains.
So there’s been a lot of speculation about whether they may core update was because of coronavirus I was on a webinar previously where we talked about maybe the main core update was Google’s way of changing the algorithms, a bit to reflect this new landscape, because people have different needs. Now, but there is also in March, we saw a huge amount of volatility in terms of some sites ranking to well, suddenly, because let us say they had hand sanitizer on the website. And so that was like disproportionately affecting their SEO performance to the point where they did not use to rank as well. And now they are suddenly one of the most visible sites on the internet because they have hand sanitizer.
So, Google might have been adjusting for that a little bit to kind of level out some of the peaks that they were seeing during the height of coronavirus.
How Are Impacted Sites Performing Now?
Bambi Frazier: Okay, so user behavior. Definitely. A key factor that might. So, this update was in May and things have settle down. Just in time for some other updates that that may have rolled out that we may or may not know about What are you seeing now. So, this, like I said, this was not may, what are you seeing now with these websites that have been affected. Are you seeing some recovery? Are these being the winners holding on to their spots. What, what do you see now as you as you investigate how they are doing?
Lily Ray: Yeah, I would say Google said that it took them about three weeks for the update to finish. They supplied an update. I want to say like May 20 or so. And they were like, Okay, we are done. So, it took a few weeks to roll out A lot of it.
A lot of the trends that we saw like let us take Pinterest. For example, Pinterest is one of the biggest winners from the algorithm update They continue to grow and visibility to this day. I do not think that they have declined yet. I do not think that they have changed course since the Maker Update. But we did see last week, so about June 22nd or 23rd, there was a new update that was not confirmed by Google, but a lot of us are seeing it. Glenn Gabe, who is a fantastic SEO. He and I have been talking every day because we are seeing our sites, our clients and a lot of websites be affected by this this update from last week. I personally think the one from last week had some type of political motive or health related motive, because there is obviously a huge problem with coronavirus, especially in the US and Misinformation.
What is happening with Facebook is huge right now in terms of, you know, fact checking and fake news and all that stuff. So, we saw in the last week that a lot of like the CDC, the FDA government websites hospitals and Mayo Clinic, things like that are all seeing huge increases in visibility. So that had some impacts on the sites that were affected by the may corrupted just because when one site goes up other sites must go down. But in general, things like, you know, Pinterest, Instagram is doing a lot better. We are seeing some big movements with some e commerce sites. So, like Nike Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s so They’ve been improving since the update.
But I do think that, like you said, there is going to be latest updates that rollout. So last week. We are seeing a little bit of a recalibration and we are going to see another big core update. Pretty soon because I do not know that they fully achieved what they intended to with them a core update.
Closing Comments on the May Core Algorithm Update
Bambi Frazier: Lily, do you have anything else that you that you would like to add that you want to make sure our viewers hear you know you know what you are doing. That you think that I mean I mean what do you, what do you think is, is the takeaway from this, this May 2020 core algorithm update.
Lily Ray: So, one thing to note is that my approach to this is that I am looking at domains. So, I am looking at biggest winners and losers in terms of domains and there’s Potential issues with that method. So, this is not to say that this is the single way that we should analyze algorithm updates, but we are dealing with trillions and trillions of web pages. So, we must start somewhere. But a lot of people in the industry will say, like, let us does not look so much at the domains. Let us look at the pages that are ranking and that is absolutely what we should do as well so You’ll it is important to be able to, especially if you have been affected by the update look at who is ranking before and after.
Look at what content is on the pages that has changed because of the update or something about the business that is different. So, if it is a key word related to health and wellness now there is a bunch of practitioners that offer that service at their practice that that are ranking better now. So, Google saying we know that people want to be able to go to that type of practitioner’s office when they type this keyword, but two weeks ago before the update Google was just showing a bunch of blogs or articles. So, it is important to laser focus on the intent and the relevancy of content and not just say Pinterest improve. So, Pinterest is the best site on the Internet. It is more the case that Google determined that people love Pinterest boards. So, the update has allowed Pinterest boards to rank better because that is a better beating of the user intent from Google’s perspective.