Small Google Update on 16th December 2018 - An in-depth look

There is some minor chatter in the SEO community of an Google update on the 16th, which is supported by a small uptick in SERP Tracker volatility.

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I’ve been hearing a few rumors of a Google Update happening between the 15th and 18th December that coincide with a mild increase in volatility of the SERP trackers over the same period.

At the moment it is difficult to find any patterns, or any specific website category this is targeting, so I’ll treat it, for now, as just a broad generic algorithm change. Once I have more data (over the next week), I’ll come back and update this post with further insights.

SERP Tracker Volatility

Rank Risk Index:

After a relatively quiet period since the 30th November update, the Rank Risk Index tracker shows a period of increased volatility between the 15th and 18th December 2018. The volatility appears to have peaked on the 16th and 17th December.

Rank Ranger Risk Index 18 December 2018.
Rank Ranger Risk Index 18 December 2018. © Rank Ranger.


The SERPmetrics flux index interestingly shows a more substantial spike on the 15th and 16th December than the significant update on the 20th November when looking at the top 100 results, but is more in-line with the Rank Risk Index when looking at the top 10 results.

US (.com) Top 100 SERPmetrics 18 December 2018.
US (.com) Top 100 SERPmetrics 18 December 2018. © SERPmetrics.
US (.com) Top 10 SERPmetrics 18 December 2018.
US (.com) Top 10 SERPmetrics 18 December 2018. © SERPmetrics.


The MozCast weather report is a little behind on it’s reporting. They report the spike in volatility a little earlier than the other SERP trackers, with it taking place on the 14th and 15th December.

Moz - 16th December 2018.
Moz - 16th December 2018. © Moz.

Google Grump:

The data from Google Grump is actually quite interesting as it is one of the few to show a global perspective.

The first chart below shows increased global volatility for the last week or so. The second chart showing the US volatility only shows the volatility in line with what I have displayed above. While not shown below, I checked the volatility for the UK, Australia, Denmark, Germany, and France. All showed significantly more volatility than the US.

Google Grump - 18th December 2018.
Google Grump - 18th December 2018. © Accuranker.
Google Grump - 18th December 2018.
Google Grump - 18th December 2018. © Accuranker.


The SEMrush Sensor shows a spike in volatility between the 15th and 17th December.

SEMrush - 18th December 2018.
SEMrush - 18th December 2018. © SEMrush.

I also checked to see what categories appear to be most affected, but the results differed significantly over each day. I wonder if the rollout of the Google Update was staggered over different days, with different parts of the algorithm change affecting different types of sites.

SEMrush Categories.
SEMrush Categories. © SEMrush.

I would point out that the above chart shows the deviations from the norm for each category rather than the level of volatility. This is a better way to view it as categories such as News naturally have a much higher level of volatility than anything else.

It is possible that some of the movement we are seeing is seasonal. For example, there may be a higher number of Food and Drink recipes being posted due to the Christmas period. Equally, high volatility in Beauty & Fitness, along with Computers & Electronics could be due to more blog posts advertising Christmas gifts.

I’ll come back to the possibility that this is just seasonal variations later.

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.

First, let’s see what users had to say about the initial update on the 16th:

Recently every site took a major hit. This in the middle of what was traditionally the holiday “rush”. Nice sneaky greed move G…again.

Seems that an update brewing. The ranking is very fluctuating.

Hellp me, google update 15.12.18 my website reduce traffic 35% all webpage in website

Black Hat World:

Let’s take a look at the discussions on Black Hat World. You can take a look yourself here.

Without a doubt another major update rolling out. All websites shifted 10-30,000 organic searches a day. About 20-30% of website traffic a day.

Traffic dropped

The number of people complaining in the forums is relatively low compared to the 30th November Update. I suspect this is a relatively minor update.

Is this just Seasonal Volatility?

I suspect there is some seasonal volatility occurring throughout December each year, but not to the extent the charts below show. I can’t rule out the possibility that Google rolls out various updates before they take their Christmas break.

The charts below are for the US only.

Google Grump - December 2015.
Google Grump - December 2015. © Accuranker.
Google Grump - December 2016.
Google Grump - December 2016. © Accuranker.
Google Grump - December 2017.
Google Grump - December 2017. © Accuranker.
Google Grump - December 2018.
Google Grump - December 2018. © Accuranker.

I am not overly happy using Accuranker charts for the comparison, as their December 2018 chart does not appear to be in line with the other SERP trackers for the 16th and 30th December update.

However, I highlighted the Friday about a week before Christmas to test my hypothesis that Google was rolling out updates before they break for Christmas. 2017 was a bit of a messy year, but even if I ignore this, it is difficult to draw any conclusions.

I’ll add some more charts from other SERP trackers to see if I can tease out any conclusions here. While I can suspect my hypothesis has some merit, I have a long way to go before proving it. These charts, unfortunately, are not good enough.

What to do if your rankings have dropped

Invariably, if your rankings drop coincides with an increase in volatility in general, then it is likely to be a content quality issue.

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., is your content trustworthy).

The E-A-T update, meaning Expertise, Authority, and Trust, sought to introduce algorithms that identified the highest quality of pages. Much of the detail on what the update was looking for was introduced in the Quality Raters Guidelines. You can find the document here with the relevant section starting on page 24.

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 can then adapt your strategy accordingly.

Also, I recommend doing a technical audit. I recommend SEMrush for this, and you can pick up a 7-day free trial here.

Just remember, changes will not happen overnight.

It takes hard work, and any changes you make today may not reflect in your rankings for several months. But don’t let that get you down. Keep working at it, and you will be rewarded.

Jonathan Griffin. Editor @ The Webmaster

About the author

Editor at The Webmaster.

Jonathan Griffin has been the Lead writer at The Webmaster for the last 5 years. Having provided technical SEO, WordPresss development, and hosting services for clients, his passion remains to help small businesses and bloggers develop their online presence.

In his spare time, he loves to push his technical knowledge further, and regularly undertakes professional courses on subjects ranging from python development, digital marketing, and Google Analytics.

Find out more about Jonathan Griffin on our About Page.