There is significant chatter in the SEO community of a Google Update that appears to target Black Hat SEO, in particular, backlinks. There are also some suspicions that content quality is targeted as well. We take a look at the rumors, SERP trackers, and comments by Google and other experts, to try and ascertain what is going on.
We will first take a look at the SERP trackers to gauge the scale of the update, and to check that there is some basis to the rumors. Following that, we will look at the chatter in the SEO community for insights as to what it is targeting, and finally report on comments made by Google about the recent volatility.
Global SERPs Volatility
You will find below all the latest charts from the SERP trackers. It is clear the chatter in the community about an update has some basis to it, with significant spikes showing on all the trackers.
Rank Risk Index
The Rank Risk Index shows a relatively quiet middle of the month, with the significant volatility showing the February 7th Update (which we covered here), and the more recent volatility today, March 9th.
SERPmetrics show an almost identical picture to that indicated by the Rank Risk Index, noting that the latest data is only up to the March 8th, so it may be useful to check this chart tomorrow when the data for the March 9th is released.
MozCast is interesting, as it shows a spike in volatility around March 1st, which was also picked up by Sensor (see below). The data for MozCast, also only goes up to the March 8th, but it does show a clear spike on that day.
Google Grump shows a sharp spike on March 9th, as well as a smaller peak around March 3rd. The great thing about Google Grump is that you can filter by location. The chart below shows the data for Mobile and Desktop, Globally.
However, what we found was significantly more volatility (relatively speaking) in EU countries, with the US showing a smaller rise. Take a look:
We are not sure what to make of it, but it may suggest a phased, or ever so slightly delayed rollout.
Sensor is a brand-new tracking service from SEMrush, and while it only covers the US at this point, it does break down the volatility by sector for greater insight. There is some volatility showing on the 8th and 9 March, as well as a small spike on March 2nd.
We scrolled through some of the categories to see if there were any indications whether the update targeted particular sectors and found the following:
- Some categories are much more volatile than others on a long-term basis, for example, News.
- Even though categories such as Health show low volatility, they still saw a spike over the last few days relatively speaking.
- Books and literature do not seem to be overly affected.
At present, we don’t see anything particular that stands out between the categories, but if after checking it out yourself, you see something interesting, feel free to let us know in the comments. Regardless, this will be a useful tool to check each time an update happens.
One good thing to note about SEMrush’s Sensor is that the data is updated several times a day.
Chatter in the SEO community
There is significant chatter on both Webmasterworld and Blackhatworld. You shouldn’t read too much into these comments as we can’t verify whether they are experts or just merely speculating. Instead, we look for general trends and use that to inform our other data.
References to link profiles:
I think their taking the algo Rhythm out of penguin. I have a site that was impacted Oct 2013 by penguin algo rhythm. They filtered my results to keywords to last page and beyond. Now it looks like I am getting the results back. Weird update. (Blackhatworld)
Yes, at least 2 pbn networks I know have got deindexed in past 24 hours. (Blackhatworld)
No manual actions and yes this has more or less to do with pbns. (Blackhatworld)
Pbn networks from the marketplace might be getting de-indexed, I just checked one and seems like 50%+ of the network is gone. It accepted payday loans, coc hacks etc. And it was spammed (posts would roll to inner pages, not perma home page posts) (Blackhatworld)
Some have said over optimization might be an issues and it looks like that might be true for one of my sites. (Blackhatworld)
We believe a Canadian client of ours was hit with Penguin back in Oct 2014. We finally seem to have recovered (think Page 7 to in the top 3 on Page 1 for ALL keywords) just yesterday. We haven’t made any changes to the site in months. Anyone else seeing this kind of movement? (Webmasterworld)
References to Content Quality:
I doubt it has to do with PBN linking. I’ve seen competitors whom did hell lots of PBN backlinks and they’re still ranking fine. I suspect it has to do with anchor name diversity, and content. (Blackhatworld)
What the experts say
We have heard from John Mueller, confirming the usual “We make changes almost every day,” and Gary Illyes, somewhat humorously naming the update “Fred.” Illyes declared that all future updates would be called “Fred.” As such, we are ignoring him on this!
But, putting the rather useless responses from Google aside, we did gather some excellent information from Glenn Gabe at G-Squared Interactive, and Paul Macnamara, an SEO consultant.
Firstly Glenn Gabe posted to Twitter a couple of screenshots showing two different sites, one of which lost rankings that had a terrible backlink profile:
Here's a site w/a risky link profile that saw a drop in rankings yesterday. Not a huge site, but rankings vanished for important keywords. pic.twitter.com/1NzgqnIGYy— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) March 9, 2017
I said yesterday that the sites tanking had horrible link profiles. Well check out the flip side of the drop. This is a HUGE surge. GA data. pic.twitter.com/xRKvmFgoIo— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) March 9, 2017
Glenn Gabe later clarified that the surge was after significantly improving content quality:
Just like this one I shared this morning (GA Data). Client w/out link problems surging on 3/7. Worked hard on quality issues in the past. https://t.co/NY5UJwz3bU— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) March 9, 2017
It would seem that throughout the day, other SEO consultants have been looking at what Glenn Gabe has posted, and started to see alternative patterns:
Not convinced that this update is solely link based.— Paul Macnamara (@TheRealpmac) March 9, 2017
I agree w/Paul. Seems like there was a link-based update (very clear). And then other sites surged that have been improving quality. https://t.co/gMRndFta9G— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) March 9, 2017
This wouldn't be the first time multiple updates rolled out together. :) Remember the 10/24/14 Panda update along with Penguin 3? https://t.co/gMRndFta9G— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) March 9, 2017
Same as @glenngabe just said. Seeing sites previously hit by quality updates surge that had no prior link issues— Paul Macnamara (@TheRealpmac) March 9, 2017
We suspect that the views by Glenn Gabe and Paul Macnamara contain the best information to go on at this stage. It would certainly make sense to roll out several changes at the same time to confuse the blackhat spammers.
It is evident from the chatter in the SEO forums that Private Blog Networks (unnatural links) appear to have been hit quite badly, and those who were hit suffered significant rankings drops. There is little mention of content quality, and we suspect that is because the rankings drop for any quality-related changes were much less.
Either way, it is evident an update happened, and equally clear mixed signals are indicating that it is targeting several parts of the Google Algorithm.
Because this update may target several things, you will need to take a multipronged approach when dealing with the problem. We would suggest the following:
- Audit your website for technical defects
- Check your backlink profile
- Check Content quality