Last week, there was a lot of talk among the SEO community about a change in Google’s search algorithm. The bulk of the fluctuation happened between December 12th and 14th. On Wednesday, Google confirmed that there was indeed a change, saying they implemented several minor improvements during that time. Google always downplays their updates as minor, refusing to give these updates names like they had done previously. This relegates all subsequent unnamed updates as "Fred". However, this recent change seems to have affected many sites, across all verticals.
What did this update target?
Because Google did not explain exactly what changes have been done, this early on, only speculations can be made regarding what this update means. Across all industries, the most popular theories are that this update went after websites that: use doorway pages without providing valuable, relevant content; have ads that are a hindrance to the user experience; and lack schema data markup.
An example of doorway pages that are detrimental to users would be two separate pages on the same site with similar content titled: "New York Car Accident" and "New York Auto Accident." Ads that are a hindrance would be like affiliate sites with intrusive ads that do not give users any benefits to going on their site. Schema, or structured data, is metadata that allows web crawlers to decipher your content more clearly. Lastly, with the future of Google's search engine heading towards mobile-first, mobile search results had slightly more erratic changes than their desktop counterpart.
Many sites affected negatively by this update (that do not have any of the negative elements targeted by the update) have seen their rankings drop around the 12th to the 14th, but recovered or even improved in the following few days. This could indicate that as the update continues rolling out, these sites were deemed "favorable" as Google engineers review and fine-tune the update.
The storm is still brewing
Mozcast’s weather report still shows continued turbulence at the time of this post, which means this update and/or other minor changes are still being rolled out. We will continue monitoring these changes and update this post as more definitive information surface.
Dexter Tam is a Google Partner Certified SEM Specialist at Custom Legal Marketing.