New Google Update March 2017 - Possibly targets links, content quality.

There is major chatter in the SEO community of a Google Update targeting Links, and also possibly content quality as well.

There is major chatter in the SEO community of a Google Update that appears to targetBlack Hat SEO, in particular, backlinks. There are also some suspicions that content quality is targeted as well. We take a look at the rumors, along with the 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 major volatility showing the 7 February Update (which we covered here), and the more recent volatility today, March 9th.

Rank Ranger Risk Index.
Rank Ranger Risk Index. © Rank Ranger.


SERPmetrics show an almost identical picture to that indicated by the Rank Risk Index, noting that the latest data is only up to the 8 March, so it may be useful to check this chart tomorrow when the data for the 9 March is released.

SERPmetrics. © SERPmetrics.


MozCast is kind of interesting, as it shows a spike in volatility around March 1, which was also picked up by Sensor (see below). The data for MozCast, also only goes up to the 8 March, but it does show a clear spike on that day.

MozCast Weather.
MozCast Weather. © Moz.

Google Grump

Google Grump shows a sharp spike on the 9 March, as well as a smaller spike around the 3 March. The great thing about Google Grump is that you can filter by location. The chart below shows the data for Mobile and Desktop, Globally.

Google Grump.
Google Grump. © Accuranker.

However, what we found was significantly more volatility (relatively speaking) in EU countries, with the US showing a smaller rise. Take a look:

United States:

Google Grump United States.
Google Grump United States. © Accuranker.

United Kingdom:

Google Grump United Kingdom.
Google Grump United Kingdom. © Accuranker.

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 clearly some volatility showing on the 8th and 9 March, as well as a small spike on the 2 March.

Sensor Google volatility tracker.
Sensor Google volatility tracker. © SEMRush.

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 a 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.

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, rather humorously naming the update “Fred.” In fact, Illyes declared that all future updates would be named “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:

Glenn Gabe later clarified that the surge was after significantly improving content quality:

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:

Our Thoughts

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 (artificial links) appear to have been hit quite bad, 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

Fortunately, you can currently get a free trial at SEMrush who offer the tools to do all of these tasks. We have negotiated two different offers for our readers (click the links to activate):

  • Sign up for a 7-day limited free trial - You will be able to sign up without providing any billing information and get access to a limited version of SEMrush.
  • 30 day fully featured trial - This is by far the better deal, and provides a fully featured trial. The only issue is that you must provide billing details to take advantage, but it is definitely worth doing.
Jonathan Griffin. Editor @ The Webmaster

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.

Read more about Jonathan Griffin on our About Page.