Major Google Algorithm Update on the 2nd of March 2019

The SERP tracking tools show a significant spike in volatility on the 2nd of March, with significant chatter among the SEO community. Looks like a major Google Update.

This latest update appears to be on a similar scale to the UK update on the 27th of February. It makes you wonder if there is a phased rollout of a large algorithm in progress. That being said, while the previous update differed between the UK and US SERPs, the March 2nd update shows similar volatility between locations.

I have seen a reasonable increase in Google Rankings in this update. While I don’t track my UK rankings, I did notice a small traffic increase on the 27th of February, so it makes me wonder if the two updates are related. Like I said though, there doesn’t appear to be much difference between the scale of update between the US and UK in this update.

I am going to share with you what I have been doing over the last few months. This may provide some ideas for your own SEO strategy improvements.

First, though, take a look at an extract of my SEMrush position tracking chart:

The Webmaster shows a decent increase in Google Rankings.
The Webmaster shows a decent increase in Google Rankings. © The Webmaster.

Here is a very brief summary of the changes that I have made:

  • Change in Content Strategy - Instead of shorter news-based posts, my focus is on higher-quality, longer form, evergreen content. News is now located in longer newsletter posts. This leaves more time to focus on higher quality, evergreen content.
  • Pruning old content \ content audit - As part of the change in content strategy, I removed around 50% of all news-based posts (NB: Google would rather you improve old content, rather than remove). All were low-quality and received virtually no traffic. No posts were deleted that had backlinks, or which were referenced in other content.

    Other news posts that received some traffic were archived so that they absorb little page rank.

  • Backlink audit - I used SEMrush (linked to Majestic and Google Search Console) to audit my backlinks. With a history of negative SEO being undertaken against this site, I disavowed only the most obvious spammy links. It is arguable whether this was necessary.

  • Updating old content - This is where the majority of my time has been spent. I used SEMrush SEO writer, SEMrush ideas, SEMrush Keyword Research, and generally tried to make my content as helpful as possible (think user intent).

    One particular example is this post on HTTP/2 where I spent considerable time creating illustrations to explain various concepts further.

  • Increased E-A-T Signals - The old website was written in the third person, and while each post displayed the author name, there was no author bio.

    I now write in the first person, display an author bio, and provide a little background on myself in the about page (including linking to Linkedin). It’s on my to-do list to have a separate author page and about page for even greater detail.

As you can see, I have made significant changes and put in a lot of hard work to improve content quality and E-A-T signals.

As I have made significant improvements on both Content Quality and E-A-T signals, I cannot rule out either of these things being involved in this update.

The SERP Trackers

Let’s take a look at the scale of the update via the SERP trackers, or at least those that have updated for the 2nd of March:

SEMrush Sensor:

The SEMrush Sensor shows “very high” volatility on the 2nd of March 2019.

US Volatility:

SEMrush Sensor 2nd of March 2019 in the US.
SEMrush Sensor 2nd of March 2019 in the US. © SEMrush.

UK Volatility:

SEMrush Sensor 2nd of March 2019 in the UK.
SEMrush Sensor 2nd of March 2019 in the UK. © SEMrush.

Rank Risk Index:

The Rank Risk Index tracker is an interesting chart. It shows increased volatility, but less than the 27th of February update.

Rank Ranger Risk Index 2nd of March 2019.
Rank Ranger Risk Index 2nd of March 2019. © Rank Ranger.

MozCast:

The MozCast weather report doesn’t yet show the “weather” for the 2nd of March, but I have included it as it shows a significant spike on the 1st of March.

Mozcast 1st of March 2019.
Mozcast 1st of March 2019. © Moz.

Algoroo:

The Algoroo report shows a spike in volatility on the 2nd of March.

Algoroo 2nd of March 2019.
Algoroo 2nd of March 2019. © Algaroo.

SERPMetrics:

The SERPMetrics report shows a major spike in volatility on the 1st of March.

SERPMetrics 2nd of March 2019.
SERPMetrics 2nd of March 2019. © SERPMetrics.

Chatter in the SEO community indicates a Google Update took place

WebMasterWorld:

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

The chatter appears to start late afternoon on the 1st of March. I suspect once people are back to work on Monday the chatter will increase.

1st of March 2019

biggest hit last night into the day.

Refs from google are down by 99%.

Seeing it across several domains.

And again serps are full of shops that i would trust a penny. If it is this that google tries to compete against amazon, google is lost (Martin Ice Web)

Weird situation since last update, rankings have improved but traffic from Google has drastically gone down. (Smittie06)

Pretty hard changes today… Fingers crossed that this will roll back… (Cyril TechWebsites)

Cralamarre, thanks. I’ve gone from being annoyingly positive to just downright depressed. I have had knock backs before, but I have never seen anything like this in my 16 years of owning the site. With almost 1,000 articles, I am down to single digits. I hopped onto webmaster tools in the hope I’d been given a manual penalty, but nope. (browndog)

We have seen some drastic drop in our traffic from last 3 days onwards, I have checked with few of my other websites too, seems something happened from google algo side.

I think this end of month update is bigger than I first thought. For the first time in almost a year I’ve noticed significant shuffling on the first page of the short tail for my niche, and I’m now on the verge of breaking through to the first page. Somehow this is happening despite Google trashing my backlink count in GSC.

2nd of March 2019

I’ve seen a healthy up-tick since the last update on the 27th Feb. I have been making tweaks to my site for the past few months so hopefully it’s a reflection of the work put in.

Who does the Update Affect?

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

SEMrush Sensor Deviation of Categories 2nd of March 2019.
SEMrush Sensor Deviation of Categories 2nd of March 2019. © SEMrush.

This update hits a broad number of categories, with many different categories of queries affected.

Categories such as Health that have previously been affected by E-A-T (Experience, Authority, and Trust) do not seem to be as affected here, but I cannot rule out E-A-T entirely.

However, based on my own gains in this update, and on this chart, I believe this to be a broader content quality update.

What to do if you are hit by this update

I’ve set out at the top of this article the strategy I have used to improve content quality and E-A-T issues. I am not saying you need to prune your low-quality pages, but certainly reviewing your content quality and E-A-T signals is highly recommended.

Before you start updating your existing content to improve site quality, I highly recommend you read the Google Raters Guidelines in its entirety.

There is some excellent guidance relating to E-A-T and content quality in the guide.

The only tool I currently use is SEMrush. I have used many others, but if you really take the time to get to grips with the SEMrush keyword tool, SEO Ideas tool, and actively use the SEO writer (works in Google Docs, or natively in SEMrush), I don’t think you need anything else.

There is a real danger when using tools such as these that you focus too much on keywords, rather than content that helps the user. Try to write naturally, and cover your topics well.

You can pick up a 7-day free trial here.

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.