We are currently living in crazy times.
I had hoped that 2020 would be the start of a new ‘post-Brexit arguments’ era, but that has obviously been derailed by a certain virus. This week proved that Corona is not the only bug that can send the world into a flat spin. There was a fairly massive panic reaction amongst the webmaster community to an apparent Google algorithm update which gave me flashbacks to the years of old…
If you have been involved with SEO since the early days, you will no doubt remember the stress of the infamous Google Dance. This was not some funky disco move, but a periodic update to the core algorithm that typically had quite a big impact on Google’s search results. This volatility was sometimes fairly extreme, with fortunes being made and lost almost overnight, and the SEO community would generally go into uproar mode before trying to figure out what the new results meant in terms of the core algorithm. A period of relative calm would then follow before another dance as the algorithm was updated and applied to Google’s index.
These seismic changes have, thankfully, become a thing of the past as Google moved to a model of constantly tinkering with the core algorithm rather than waiting for less frequent, bigger updates. Whilst some of the changes that are introduced can feel a little reminiscent of the old dances, the reality is that massive fluctuations in rankings every month or so have given way to a much more fluid SERPs landscape. Yes, you can see huge movements in rankings for a particular domain, but it is usually following a penalty or recovery and it will only really affect that domain.
Yesterday, however, felt like a flashback as the digital noise about a Google update went into overdrive. Example reactions that I have seen to the ‘update’ include:
HUUUUUGE MOVEMENTS Right now. Absolutely massive changes. Have not seen it on this magnitude before.
Absolutely insane. What’s happening right now?
Crazy movements here too. If it stays like this, I am wiped out.
Every niche I follow is messed up.
wow insane big update here in Norway, never seen so big change.
What the hell is going on?
Damn wow. Here we go again. Huuuuge drops.
Something HUGE going on right now
This is batshit crazy
holly molly, all my rankings are shaken up, hope this settles down, current results don’t make sense.
Enormous, not seen anything like this before
I think it is fair to say that alarm bells were ringing and something big was happening.
Or maybe not, as it turned out that it was actually a bug rather than a core algorithm update. No doubt someone at Google will be getting their knuckles rapped, but John Mueller replied to a tweet by Barry Schwartz to confirm the error:
I don't have all the details yet, but it seems like this was a glitch on our side and has been fixed in the meantime.
If someone could fix the other 2020-issues, that would be great.
— ? John ? (@JohnMu) August 11, 2020
Panic over folks.
So what did this reveal about modern SEO? The scale of the uproar is testament to the fact that Google still exerts a ridiculous amount of power over websites. Whilst I generally encourage clients to avoid the temptation to base all their measurement on ranking reports, there can be no denying that Google can drive a massive amount of traffic to any website and dropping out of the top positions can have a disastrous impact on a business. It is understandable why panic stations were manned so quickly.
You should, of course, build resilience to dependence on Google but this ‘glitch’ was a timely reminder of what can go wrong overnight and how important Google is for traffic acquisition. It is, however, important not to panic when you see sudden movements in rankings. It is very possible that the changes are very local as results are so personalised, so you should head to Search Console to see if it is a global problem or isolated blips.
It has been a long time since I saw any meaningful, widespread changes across Google’s SERPs and Tuesday’s panic always felt like a glitch rather than a return to the days of the dance. As always, I would encourage you to focus on creating an industry leading web presence (both on and off-site) and publishing / amplifying engaging content for your users rather than obsess about individual keyword rankings. It is a long haul, but an approach the delivers the results that you desire without the rocky ride that you will experience if your SEO strategy is to constantly chase algorithm updates.