By Jonathan Griffin. Editor, SEO Consultant, & Developer.
There is some significant volatility in the SERP trackers, which, when coupled with increased chatter in the SEO community, indicate that Google has just rolled out another Google Update. Our initial thoughts are that this is related to content quality.
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. The volatility appears to have commenced around the 21 - 23 June, peaking on or around the 25th of June, 2017.
Rank Risk Index
The Rank Risk Index shows some significant volatility starting around the 23rd of June, lasting several days.
SERPmetrics show an almost identical picture to that indicated by the Rank Risk Index, with the volatility starting around the 22nd of June, again peaking around the 24 - 26 June.
MozCast does not appear to show much volatility, which seems rather odd. That being said, the MozCast volatility has been relatively high for the last few months, so that it may be tracking things in a slightly different way to the other tools.
Google Grump shows a sharp spike between the 24 and 29 June 2017, although not quite a pronounced as the other SERP trackers.
However, what we found was significantly more volatility (relatively speaking) in EU countries, with the US showing a smaller rise. Take a look:
Sensor shows similar fluctuations to the other trackers (apart from Mozcast).
Chatter in the SEO community
There is significant chatter on Webmasterworld. 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.
Its almost like some keyword results have at least 2 or 3 different indexes. I see many homepages disappearing out of the index then reappearing again later. Even some of my sites are acting wacky but traffic seems to be almost the same? Some of these sites have not had any links built to them just ranked naturally, but many of them are partial emd’s.
I see a lot of pages missing from Google’s index. Some of them are popular pages that have been online for years.
I first noticed this on my own site and was getting worried. Then I started checking competitor sites and noticed the same thing. So I tried a bunch of other sites and found more pages missing from the index but functioning normally on their sites.
Everything I recovered since Fred update was destroyed two days ago after this update. I returned to results I had just after Fred… -15% on first website, -20% on second one…
Something definitely seems to be happening. In the last week, I’ve had at least 20 of my top keywords drop by anywhere from 20 to 95 positions. Some of the primary keywords that my site is built around…not in a spammy way…but just naturally…are completely out of the index. Not even in the top 100. After dealing with all this madness for 15+ years I’m about to call it quits and just focus on my local business that does more revenue and has no reliance on Google at all.
References to Content Quality:
We reported back in March about a Google Update that has since been dubbed “Fred.” This appeared to target both backlinks and content quality, so we need to be a little careful what conclusions we draw from it. However, one user on Blackhatworld has confirmed:
Got many rankings back that I lost with Fred. Not all but some.
Another user at Blackhatword indicated that this might be both Penguin (links) and Panda (content quality) orientated:
Across our analytics network (xx,xxx sites strong) we’re seeing what appears to be more of a penguin + panda refresh as both “thin/low” quality content as well as “lower quality” link profiles seem to be getting hit the hardest.
What the experts say
We have heard from John Mueller, confirming the usual “Yep! We make updates all the time.” This is nothing new, as he pretty much said the same thing last time, almost if it is a well-oiled pre-rehearsed script.
One interesting Tweet was from Glenn Gabe:
The June 2016 appeared to be related to content quality, and with Gabe identifying some limited recovery from a website hit by that 2016 update, it would affirm to at least some extent, that this recent update was content quality related.
RankRanger has published a very interesting article analysing the results of the SERP fluctuationswhich seem to show that the update hit mainly pages ranking in positions 5-10:
The article shows similar fluctuations for other industries such as Gambling, Retail, and Consumer Goods, Health and Fitness, and Travel, so it is not just limited to Food and Drink.
Usually, Penguin or backlink orientated updates are relatively easy to spot. SEO’s who specialize in backlink recovery will often publish examples on Twitter showing recoveries of sites they know to have had backlink issues, and blackhat spammers will be a little more vocal too.
The fact that the top 5 placed results in the SERPs have seen little movement may indicate that Google is getting better at determining content quality for pages that perhaps were not using top-tier content. It could be that Google is giving domain \ page authority less importance over content, allowing less authoritative domains with better content to rank. It is hard to say.
As we do not see a great deal of Penguin related chatter (although there are one or two mentions), then it leaves us to surmise that it is a core algorithm update. These usually target content quality in some way, and as such, we think a content audit would be your best place to start.
That being said, it never hurts to cover all the basis when you have been hit by traffic reduction following a known period of Google SERP volatility.
- Audit your website for technical defects
- Check your backlink profile
- Check Content quality
You can use various online tools to help with these tasks, such as SEMrush, Ahrefs, or Moz.