Large Google Algorithm Update Between the 6th & 14th January 2019

Jan 15, 2019
7 min read
Google Algorithm Update

I started tracking an increase in SERP volatility around the 6th. With the update continuing over the subsequent days and peaking on January 9th, I have now updated this post with the latest charts, chatter, and my thoughts.

As of January 6th, the community chatter indicated that this might be a content quality update, with some webmasters who have focussed on improving content quality seeing recoveries from previous losses.

Having now seen the updated SERP Trackers, more chatter in the community, and the categories of website affected, I believe this, or at least the movement seen on January 9th, was related to E-A-T and YMYL, due to the type of sites affected. I’ve covered more about E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trust), later in the article.

The SERP Trackers

SEMrush Sensor:

The SEMrush Sensor shows the volatility building on January 5th, with a more substantial spike on January 9th, 2019.

If you take a look more closely at the SEMrush Sensor, you will find that different countries had spikes on different days. For instance, the UK showed the main spike in volatility on January 10th. This seems to indicate a phased rollout.

SEMrush Sensor 14th January 2019.

Rank Risk Index:

The Rank Risk Index tracker appears to indicate the same level of volatility as the SEMrush Sensor.

Rank Ranger Risk Index 14th January 2019.


The MozCast weather report only shows up to January 13th. The spikes in volatility are slightly different, which may be due to how Mozcast collates its data (Top 10 results over 1000 keywords selected to avoid local intent.)

Mozcast 14th January 2019.

Advanced Web Ranking:

The Advanced Web Rankings report shows a significant increase in volatility around January 10th.

Advanced Web Ranking 14th January 2019.


The Algoroo report shows three spikes in volatility; the 7th, 10th, and 13th January.

Algoroo 13th January 2019.


The SERPMetrics report shows a significant increase in volatility for their first page rankings on January 9th.

SERPMetrics 14th January 2019.

Chatter in the SEO community indicates there was a Google Update


Let’s take a look at the discussions on WebmasterWorld. You can take a look yourself here.

** January 6th:**

Big changes happening in the serps since Friday for us. Anyone noticing an uptick or downward slide of long tail referrals? First time we’ve seen much since the big changes in August/September. (SnowMan68)

My site is on a rollercoaster right now. Increased traffic over the last few days, significant rankings increase across the board yesterday, then a smaller drop back today. (broccoli)

Big uptick today, and I knew it was coming because on every update I get a sudden burst of inquiries from customers. If the pattern holds, this will be temporary and tomorrow or next day drop right back down….we’ll see (ichthyous)

I lost traffic in March, I’ve been making site quality improvements and keyword adjustments since then and I’ve seen smaller or bigger boosts whenever there’s a core update. (broccoli)

Uptick, about 20-25% (depending on the day) compared to average October and November days. It is basically a reversal of the 15% drop that we had in late August and early September. We’ll see how it plays out this week.

Loads of movement again today. Confused because I’m not seeing anything from the sensors or SERPs trackers, but our site is constantly moving around. Genrally negative this past week. Oddly though, we are seeing decent traffic and conversions. I’m putting this largely down to an increase in longtail and a drop in generic.. (BushyTop)

** January 9th:**

Just confirming that we are seeing some noticeable changes in the SERPs, especially today, January 9th.

For us personally, some up, some down. (lostshootingstar)

Yes! today the signals are quite intense. Probably going on for past 4 days No changes seen on the sites though. (arunpalsingh)

It’s been going on for me since about the 2nd and doesn’t seem to be over yet. My home page is bouncing around all over the place on the short tail. It’s much higher than ever before. Fingers crossed.

** January 12th:**

My positioning, traffic and CTR all jumped up dramatically on the 9th and then jumped up a bit again yesterday. The first real upward trend since last November. Every uptick has been short lived since then, so we shall see. I’m at 60% of where I was in September so it would have to keep rising for a very long time to get back to where I was. (ichthyous)

January 14th:

I’m seeing a big drop in traffic again. Yesterday I was down about 10% which is not really statistically significant but today I’m seeing drops around 30%. Taken together, the drop from yesterday and today are pointing towards a serious drop. (NickMNS)

Black Hat World:

There was not much chatter on Blackhatworld until the January 9th:

Yes. My site, which has been on page 1 for years, just landed on page 3! (zippyants)

does look massive changes (redarrow)

Yes! I am seeing some settling now and back on page 1 (just). Lots of blog posts from years ago started taking over so god knows what’s been happening. (zippyants)

My site went from the first/second page to almost nowhere for most of my keywords when it was hit by Medic update :).

Since then I’ve been working on it to get it back!

It will come back more powerfully!

but didn’t find any magic happened in this Jan update. Maybe wasn’t lucky this time. (Shehryar Aziz)

This makes sense. I saw a 30% drop in traffic on my largest site pretty much overnight Sunday. I figured it was from the U.S. Government shutdown scaring the fuck out of consumers. I guess not!

Word of advice to new people who haven’t experience a big update before: just keep doing what you were doing. Don’t make any drastic changes for a few weeks. It’ll all sort out. (JamaicanMooseJamaicanMoose)

Who does the Update Effect?

I only have limited information at this stage from the community:

  • Black Hat World reports the update, but little can be gained from the comments.
  • There are comments on WebMasterWorld that people seeing increases had previously seen decreases in their rankings last year over multiple updates. I wonder (and this is pure speculation) whether there has been a slight dialing down of previous updates.

Looking at the SEMrush Sensor Deviation (from the average volatility):

January 6th:

SEMrush Sensor Deviation of Categories January 6, 2019.

9th January:

SEMrush Sensor Deviation of Categories January 9, 2019.

13th January:

SEMrush Sensor Deviation of Categories January 13, 2019.

These charts are quite interesting. The typical E-A-T updates affect categories that require a lot of expertise, and that usually includes Health. As Health has been a significant target of Google throughout 2018, I wonder (and this is pure speculation) whether some of the principals in that category have been adapted for other categories.

Autos & Vehicles, Science, Law & Government, Beauty & Fitness, and Pet’s & Animals appear to have been the worst hit. Some expertise is required for these categories, so my previous speculation would make sense.

What to do if this update hits you

There are several mentions on WebMasterWorld of people hit by previous updates in 2018, seeing a recovery with this update. In particular, the following comment caught my eye:

I lost traffic in March, I’ve been making site quality improvements and keyword adjustments since then and I’ve seen smaller or bigger boosts whenever there’s a core update. (broccoli)

A general approach to content quality can result in a recovery in traffic. If improvements to content quality are showing gains in this update, it must be reasonable to assume that this update (like almost every Google Update) targets content quality in some way.

There have been several other Google Updates this year that have focussed on content relevant (i.e., does your content satisfy user intent for that query), and E-A-T (i.e., does your content show expertise, authority, and trust).

I recommend taking a look at the following PDF starting on page 24 in particular: Link to PDF.

For a high-quality page, Google wants to see the following:

  • Very high level of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T)
  • A very satisfying amount of high or highest quality Main Content.
  • Very positive website reputation for a website that is responsible for the Main Content on the page. Very positive reputation of the creator of the Main Content, if different from that of the website.

Once you have read the guidelines, I recommend taking a step back and thinking about the type and quality of content you are producing.

You may even want to review the keywords each page is targeting and undertaking a technical SEO audit. Tools such as SEMrush, Moz, or Ahrefs can help with this.

Just remember, changes will not happen overnight. It may take several months. With some hard work, you will get there.