I started tracking a slight increase in SERP volatility around the 22nd February, with it peaking on the 22nd. Initial investigations reveal that a broad range of categories is affected, with a notable absence of typical E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, and Trust) categories such as Health.
Based on my initial analysis, I suspect this is a broad quality update.
The SERP Trackers
The SEMrush Sensor shows some volatility peaking on the 22nd of February 2019.
Rank Risk Index:
The Rank Risk Index tracker shows increased volatility over four days commencing on the 21st of February.
The MozCast weather report shows some minor volatility on the 20th and 21st February.
Advanced Web Ranking:
The Advanced Web Rankings report shows a very slight increase in volatility between the 21st and 23rd for ranking positions. The visibility of the keywords in the dataset does increase after the 22nd February much more significantly. It is difficult to reconcile the large increase in visibility with the much smaller keyword volatility.
The Algoroo report shows increased volatility between the 21st and 23rd February.
The SERPMetrics report is interesting. It shows a relatively minor update on the 22nd February, with a much more significant update on the 26th and 27th (which I discuss further here).
The SEO community confirms a likely Google Update
Let’s take a look at the discussions on WebmasterWorld.
Anyone seeing any dramatic movement? (BushyTop)
I wouldn’t say dramatic, but definitely movement. And still in the downward direction for us. It’s still slowly declining since around the 12th. (lostshootingstar)
I’ve seen very dramatic changes in traffic starting Wednesday 20th, early morning GMT time. Ranges from down 80% to up 30% affecting most of my sites. Overall lost 40%. Never seen such big movements in a short time before. Thought is was a major algo update, but I can’t see any reports of that. (Blackadder99)
Lot’s of movement for mobile results the past 48 hours.
My traffic is down slightly but more importantly I’m seeing low conversions since this algo update. Once the dust settles on these updates I usually see a return to normal conversion rates. Google is definitely tweaking their mobile-first indexing procedures this week. (penitentman)
I’m bouncing around again - held 3rd pos after the last update and dropped to 9th today. The good thing is, I know I will back in 3rd pos by Monday! (RareBit)
Very dramatic. 20 Feb lost of 80% google traffic. (vgasoft)
Seeing changes on both of my websites. They are not so big, but they are happening. Hoping that my content defends me from these updates, because right now the traffic decrease is not so catastrophic. Let’s see what will happen in the next few weeks. (Cyril TechWebsites)
Who does the Update Affect?
Looking at the SEMrush Sensor Deviation (from the average volatility):
This chart is quite informative.
One of the major themes of the Google Algorithm Updates this year has been E-A-T, or Expertise, Authority, and Trust. Essentially, Google now assesses an author and whether they are suitably qualified to write an article on any given subject. Typical E-A-T categories include Health, Science, Law & Government, etc.
The absence of any of these specific categories being affected by the update indicates that this update is unrelated.
The fact that so many different categories have been affected makes me suspect that this is a broad content quality update, although it is almost impossible to know precisely what aspects of content quality they are targeting. User intent, for instance, has been another big theme of updates over the last year.
What to do if you are hit by this update
Before you start updating your existing content to improve site quality, the most important thing you can do is to read the Google Raters Guidelines in its entirety.
Google hires raters that will review a website and provide feedback to Google, essentially, on how good it is. They use the Raters Guidelines when providing that feedback. These reviews do not directly affect a website’s rankings but are used by Google to tweak its algorithms.
By reading the guidelines, you will gain a basic understanding of what Google is looking for in a website. This is important.
Following that, many tools that can help you carry out a site audit, and even provide advice and guidance on your specific blog posts. I recommend (and use myself) SEMrush. Their Site Audit is comprehensive, and I particularly like their keyword research and SEO writing assistant.
You can pick up a 7-day free trial here.
Just remember; changes will not happen overnight. It will take several months, but with some hard work, you will get there.
Jonathan Griffin Editor, SEO Consultant, & Developer.
Jonathan Griffin is The Webmaster's Editor & CEO, managing day-to-day editorial operations across all our publications. Jonathan writes about Development, Hosting, and SEO topics for The Webmaster and The Search Review with more than nine years of experience. Jonathan also manages his own SEO consultancy, offering SEO developer services. He is an expert on site-structure, strategy, Schema, AMP, and technical SEO. You can find Jonathan on Twitter as @thewebmastercom.