Google Update: Massive SERP Volatility Continues - January 10th 2016

Jan 10, 2016
6 min read
Google Algorithm Update

This weekend, all the SERP trackers are off the charts. Very significant changes are still happening, and chatter in the community about the fluctuations are at an all-time high.

The last few weeks have been wild, and if you look at the big picture, the volatility has been present since November 19th. We previously an indication that the fluctuations during December were an extension of the November 19th Update, but it seems things have just got much worse.

We know that Google Penguin is imminent, and there was a false alarm raised about this on the 6th January when the SERP volatility first started.

What Google has to Say:

Google doesn’t always like to comment on Updates, but sometimes despite that, information can leak out that can adequately explain the situation. There is a conversation currently going on between John Mueller, Google webmaster trends analyst, and various SEOs on Twitter. Here is what John Mueller had to say:

We think that the essential part of the conversation is when John Mueller said, " _w/o specifics (“generic query X; results much worse now”), there’s not much to say. Things always change :) _". This indicates that the testing Google has been doing has not been the most successful.

We would suggest that you do not worry about the Google Algorithm changes at present. We think that until the volatility settles down, nothing is set in stone. John Mueller, who clearly has some influence, is not happy with the results of these tests, and as such, we suspect some elements of the update will be rolled back in due course.

In a more recent update (11th January 2016) John Mueller was a little cryptic over whether it was related to Penguin, preferring to take the line that they will not confirm whether it is or isn’t. It is possible that some elements of the testing they have been carrying out are related to Penguin:

Gary Illyes, webmaster trends analyst at Google, has also been chiming in with his thoughts:

Gary Illyes suspects this is not Google Penguin, but that being said, he doesn’t seem to be in the loop just yet on what is going on.

SERP Trackers

Before we start to delve into all the chatter in the SEO community (to see if there are any indications on what was being tested), let us take a look at the SERP Trackers:

Rank Risk Index

This shows just how volatile December 2015 and the beginning of January 2016 has been. Interestingly, the most significant spike over the last 30 days took place on the 9th of January.

Rank Ranger Risk Index.


MozCast shows the biggest spike on the 8th of January, with considerable movement commencing on the 4th of January. After the previous reports of a possible Penguin update on the 6th of January, they did post a tweet indicating that the data was wrong. However, they seem to have fallen silent on that point and kept the data as-is. Perhaps, the nature of the movement (are there multiple data sets \ algorithms being tested?) caused them to doubt the validity of the data initially.

MozCast Weather.


Algaroo shows a massive spike on the 10th of January, with the first signs of significant movement on the 9th.

Algoroo SERP Volatility.

What are webmasters saying about the update?

The most in-depth discussions are at Webmasterworld. In particular, there are several references to the Penguin Algorithm, and that they do not believe it is related.

I’m not seeing anything positive on my 80 ish percent Penguin released website. In fact I’m not seeing any changes at all in my UK niche. Is it still going on?

I am seeing a large increase in traffic on a squeaky clean USA website that has been around for a couple years. There are three links the website acquired throughout this time, and Google traffic changes to it is a good indicator of non-penguin updates for me. The industry the website is in is also clean with no spammers I know of in it. If what Google is doing is Penguin, I would not expect any of the sites in this industry to move.

I agree - this is not (only) Penguin, but imho a refresh or update of the core algo.

This doesn’t feel like a Penguin-only update. We never saw a drop of 25% during a Penguin update (we’re seeing a 25% increase). On the other hand, we could have moved up because of new penalties - but the increase seems too big for that..

Another interesting comment is that the updates seem to be country-specific. This seems to indicate that whatever is being tested is being limited to specific countries. Indeed, we see more movement with the keywords we track on the US SERPs and minimal movement in the UK SERPs:

The flux is very country-specific. If you check serpwatch or accuranker where you can filter by country, you’ll see that the UK is barely seeing anything at all. Whereas the US, Canada, Australia and parts of Europe are off the chart. I guess the UK is coming soon …

On Blackhatworld, multiple posts are complaining about Personal Blog Networks being deindexed:

Fairly new sites should be seeing a boost here, as I’m seeing another round of deindexing of a lot of the older PBN (paid) links some of my niche sites have. This effect would drop older sites down who owned the PBN links, while it misses newer sites who’s PBN links are newer and not on any Google hit list yet.

I agree. I just lost a mini network (less than 20) and a website or two on some networks so I guess it’s a rollout of a deindexing campaign.

We are not sure what to say about this, except, we advise to focus on White Hat SEO techniques.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, while the chatter in the community indicates it is not Penguin, John Mueller is giving some cryptic clues that perhaps it might be, but they won’t confirm either way. Gary Illyes, says that he believes it is not Penguin, but that he doesn’t know for sure.

We suspect that they are testing multiple things and that any coherent summary of the changes will be virtually impossible until the volatility settles down. The changes they are testing is certainly not limited to algorithm changes. We have seen rich snippet rating stars change color from yellow to blue and even gray intermittently.

Are your rankings changing? Have you previously suffered from Penguin? Please let us know.

Update 12th January 2016 - Google has now confirmed that the update is not Penguin related.