“March 2019 Core Update” - Major Algorithm Update March 12, 2019

The SERP tracking tools show a spike in SERPs volatility starting on the 12th of March, and continuing to the 14th. Google has confirmed an update is taking place.

Google has confirmed that it has rolled out a significant Algorithm Update, which has been named “March 2019 Core Update” by Google. The update is Global and has been rolled out at the same time.

The update was initially named “Florida 2” by the SEO Community (this article has been updated to reflect the new name) because it coincides with Pubcon. The first Florida update that took place in November 2003 also coincided with Pubcon, hence the connection.

I am not sure I agree with the naming here, as the two updates are not related in any way, and it would appear that Google now agrees. Henceforth, this update is now called the “March 2019 Core Update”.

In this article:

  • I will take a look at the SERP trackers to ascertain the scale of the update.
  • See what Google has said about the update and provide my opinion.
  • Finally, take a look at the chatter in the SEO community.

Recent updates to this article:

  • It looks like many sites hit by the 1st August, 2018, Medic update. This was another Broad Core Algorithm Update, and hit YMYL topics such as Health and Finance hard. I’ve added a section below discussing this (15 March, 20019).
  • Google provided Search Engine Land with some further information about the latest update (26 March, 2019).

Trackers Show a Significant Google Update

Google has already confirmed that this is a significant update, but it is interesting to see how things are playing out with the SERP trackers.

The update started on the 12th, with a more significant spike on the 13th March. High volatility continued into the 14th, and it is too early to tell whether it is still continuing.

Volatility appeared to start for both the US and UK on the 12th, with some other countries (such as Germany) showing a delay of 24 to 48 hours. Google has already confirmed it is a Global Update.

Let’s take a look at the SERP trackers:

SEMrush Sensor:

The SEMrush Sensor shows the update commencing on the 12th of March and continuing through to the 14th of March.

SEMrush Sensor 12th of March 2019 in the US.
SEMrush Sensor 12th of March 2019 in the US. © SEMrush.

Rank Risk Index:

The Rank Risk Index tracker shows significant volatility peaking on the 12th and 13th March.

Rank Ranger Risk Index 12th of March 2019.
Rank Ranger Risk Index 12th of March 2019. © Rank Ranger.

MozCast:

The MozCast weather report shows increased volatility on the 12th and 13th.

Mozcast 12th of March 2019.
Mozcast 12th of March 2019. © Moz.

Algoroo:

The Algoroo report again shows volatility on the 12th and 13th.

Algoroo 12th of March 2019.
Algoroo 12th of March 2019. © Algaroo.

SERPMetrics:

The SERPMetrics report shows significantly more volatility than previous updates over the past month, indicating a much larger update than represented by the previous SERP tracker charts.

SERPMetrics 12th of March 2019.
SERPMetrics 12th of March 2019. © SERPMetrics.

Google Confirms this is a Broad Core Algorithm Update

Google confirmed in a Tweet that they released a broad core algorithm update.

Danny Sullivan, Google’s public Search Liason confirmed that the update started on the 12th of March:

Sullivan confirmed that the update was Global and was rolled out around the world at the same time:

The update is anticipated to take a week or more to fully roll out:

Google Says You Can’t Fix Pages Hit by This Update

In Google’s announcement Tweet, they referenced previous advice from March 12, 2018, stating that:

There’s no “fix” for pages that may perform less well other than to remain focused on building great content. Over time, it may be that your content may rise relative to other pages.

As they took time to reference this Tweet specifically, I suspect that the update is not about content quality.

As I have discussed later, Google has confirmed that this is not Penguin-related (as Penguin no longer exists), but they did not rule out changes to the core algorithm that affects backlinks.

I’m just wildly speculating here, but the following seems plausable:

E-A-T / backlink-related

SEO community chatter indicates that E-A-T related sites have been harder hit, with many seeing recoveries.

The SEMrush Sensor confirms E-A-T related sectors, such as Health, were hit.

SEMrush Sensor Deviation of Categories 13th of March 2019.
SEMrush Sensor Deviation of Categories 13th of March 2019. © SEMrush.

It is possible that Google has rolled out a change to how they treat backlinks. It may be linked to E-A-T and whether the domain they are coming from has sufficient Experience, Authority, and Trust. I.e., links from sites with a higher E-A-T score are worth more.

User intent / relevance-related

There are two parts to the algorithm that deals with this:

  • Rankbrain - How Google relates pages to concepts.
  • Neural matching - How Google relates search queries to concepts.

Both essentially help Google find synonyms that enable increased understanding of the content \ search query.

Google has already ruled out Neural matching (I comment on this later in the article), but it is unclear whether Rankbrain is at play here.

Google Provides Further Information about the Update

Search Engine Land managed to pry some information from Google about the update:

  • Is this a reversal of a previous core update? - “We’re constantly improving our algorithms and build forward to improve.”

  • Is this Penguin related? - “This wasn’t a Penguin update, because we no longer have those, as we’ve said before. This was a core update, as we’ve explained.”

    This is a bit of a non-answer. They did not confirm whether any link-related core algorithm changes took place.

  • How big was the update? - “This was a noticeable update that we felt warranted confirming, in keeping with what we’ve said before. But it is far from being the biggest update Google has ever done. We’re not characterizing it beyond that.”

  • Is the update related to Neural Matching? “Neural matching has been part of our core ranking system for over half-a-year. None of the core updates we have confirmed coincided with some new use of neural matching.”

Some Sites hit by the Medic Update (August 1, 2018) have seen Recoveries

Some in the SEO industry are speculating that this update has reduced the penalty applied to YMYL sites, such as Health, Finance, etc, that was previously imposed by the Medic Update last year.

Let’s look at what they had to say:

One of the most interesting Tweets is by Marie Haynes who noted two things:

  • The update is taking time to roll out
  • She believes that the update reduces the punitive filter applied to some TMYL sites.

Dany Sullivan helpfully reminded those engaged in this speculation that the Medic update didn’t specifically target medical material. He also specifically confirmed that the Florida Update in 2003 is completely unrelated to this.


Seroundtable asked it’s readers if they recovered from a previous core update, and only 57.7% of 331 respondees said yes.

Pie Chart shows that 57.7 percent  of respondees recovered from a previous core update.
Pie Chart shows that 57.7 percent of respondees recovered from a previous core update. © Seroundtable.

I’ve already summarized Google’s response to various questions in which it did not confirm or deny whether this was a reversal of a previous update. Instead, they merely said that “We’re constantly improving our algorithms and build forward to improve”.

Based on all the information, including Google’s comment, I do not believe this to be a reversal.

Chatter in the SEO community indicates a Google Update took place

Let’s take a look at the discussions on WebmasterWorld for this update.

You can tell it is a big update, as they have opened a dedicated thread, and many users are commenting about being hit by this update.

I have posted the main comments below, and there are some interesting theories about this update targeting E-A-T (Experience, Authority, and Trust) type websites, as well as sites previously hit by Penguin (backlink related penalty) showing improvements.

Interesting Comments

I’ve highlighted some interesting comments to the top of the list that seems to lend support to some of the theories discussed by the SEO professionals:

Two of my sites took a huge hit during Medic. Looking at yesterday’s traffic from Google, while we are up 70-90% above last week, overall we are about 75% back to pre-Medic traffic. I made a ton of changes over the past 7 months to fix issues with both sites, so I am not sure if that helped, or if this was just a roll back? (vetofunk)

It appears that my health/diet blog and my maybe my hair website have both recovered from April 18 and August 1st updates. My health blog is actually doing a little better than before the medic update. Things are still bouncing around a lot, though. so I’m cautiously optimistic. My hair website is showing signs of recovery, but I’m less sure.

I spent months working on updating the content by giving it a clear focus, correcting spelling, grammar and tightening things up a bit with the content. I also completely changed the menu structure to make it very easy to navigate to find relevant content. I merged many posts together which were similar and/or short in length. I also deleted over 130 blog posts which were embarrassingly awful (I used to use Blogspot from where I migrated, more like Twitter with a few pictures and few words). I mean, I cringe when I think about how bad they were…

Noticing a big improvement today for my site the health/diet niche which got hit in August (I’ve since made massive changes and quality improvements across the site in almost every area). I have a hair website (does that come under YMYL?), which got hit in April 2018, but too early to say if there are any improvements.

SERPs are looking more relevant today than they have been in a long time. (whoa182)

Biggest impact since EAT update. Something is going on with EAT.

I mean today. The last 5 hours. I think google made huge adjustments in the medicine sector.

In my opionion this update is a change on EAT in combination with the user search intent. Google was collecting data about the search intent over the last month and now google knows better what the main focus of a website is. For this main keywords some sites see now a improvement. The serps are now more keyword based. (sofie77)

Other Comments

Just passed our 1 year anniversary for our main site on March 8th when we lost over 20% of traffic which would reach 30%+- in April. Have done a number of changes over this past year but have not been able to increase traffic back to historic norms. (JesterMagic)

After a decent last few months, yesterday the bottom dropped out. Traffic is at nearly zero all day. Past few months were almost like the good old days. Figures. (samwest)

@Sofie77, I’m not in the EAT niche and see no changes on my site so you may be on to something there. (BangkokBaby)

Yes, big flux going on here in USA. Should be interesting to see what Google does for ecommerce. The last update was horrible. Google can’t take away anymore converting traffic because it’s all gone. Google is dead…. (glakes)

I’m guessing this is another health niche update since I’m seeing no changes at all. I wouldn’t even be thinking about an update today if it were not for other people talking about one.

+30% traffic, finance niche.

I’m going to cry now. Let’s hope this will stick ! (Jori)

Entertainment niche.

Okay, after struggling all the way up to position 8 on my short tail I’ve now been dropped down to position 31 and Google has selected a completely random and not very relevant subpage with hardly any backlinks at all. (broccoli)

All along, we just had to wait for another ‘core update’ to see any improvement? I’ve worked so much on my site since August. I mean, I made loads of mistakes before and corrected them all… made massive improvements to the quality of the content. So much happier with how my site is today… but I felt really frustrated I wasn’t seeing any gains and I felt that my traffic was capped.

Well… today…

Big increase in traffic. (whoa182)

Correction from my earlier post…SEMrush updated and I got hit hard by this. I noticed that my top two competitors also got hit. I hope it’s just temporary

Woke up this morning to a big drop across the board. My home page is back on the short tail but now at position 44. Many of my big pages have dropped 1-3 places. Traffic is down by maybe a quarter. I feel sick. I’ve worked so hard for the last year and I’d literally just got to the point where I had my traffic levels back. I don’t understand why they keep punishing me. Please please be temporary. (broccoli)

Based on previous observations these type of Core updates usually take a week+- to fully deployed. Most niches will be affected to varying degrees throughout the week with some days being more pronounced than others.

During the rollout of the update, some days will be up and some days will be down but I find if you have a large initial jump or drop that will be how your site comes out at the end, though it will be not as pronounced.

Also a few weeks after the initial core update finishes rolling out there will be another smaller one to fix any issues Google sees. (JesterMagic)

Traffic on several sites that were abused by Penquin have rebounded significantly. (Brett_Tabke)

Yes, a Penguin hit site I had given up many years ago just went from 35 to 380 unique visitors. (nettulf)

Hmm. Could these penguin site recoveries be related to the big changes in backlinks me and someone else observed in GSC a couple of weeks ago? (broccoli)

Jonathan Griffin. Editor @ The Webmaster

About the author

Editor, Hosting Expert, SEO Developer, & SEO Consultant.

Jonathan is currently the Editor & CEO at The Webmaster. He is also an SEO Developer offering consultancy services, primarily to other web development companies. He specializes in the technical side of SEO, including site audits, development of SEO related features, and site structure & strategy.

In his spare time, Jonathan has a passion for learning. He regularly undertakes professional courses on subjects ranging from python, web development, digital marketing, and Advanced Google Analytics.

Read more about Jonathan Griffin on our About Page.