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Google has announced it is rolling out a widespread update to its search engine algorithm which it is simply titled the ‘January 2020 Core Update’.

The update began rolling out late yesterday and will affect how the search engine ranks all web pages around the world. However, as it is a “broad core” update, there is no specific issue or ranking signal being prioritized like in past mobile or speed-related updates.

Rather, Google’s recommendations for optimizing for this update remain the same as past core updates, which can be found here.

In the past, Google has described its broad core updates using a metaphor:

“One way to think of how a core update operates is to imagine you made a list of the top 100 movies in 2015. A few years later in 2019, you refresh the list. It’s going to naturally change. Some new and wonderful movies that never existed before will now be candidates for inclusion. You might also reassess some films and realize they deserved a higher place on the list than they had before.”

While the update is unlikely to radically shift search engine rankings, Google’s announcement of the update is relatively uncommon. Typically, Google prefers to quietly roll out broad updates and only confirm core updates when they relate to specific issues or are widely recognized.

This may signal that Google expects relatively large impacts on some search results, though it will take some time for the full impact of the update to become apparent.

Google’s latest search algorithm update made some significant changes to how local search results are compiled and processed, according to a recent statement from the company.

Though the rollout of the update began in early November, Google only this week explained that it has begun integrating neural matching into its local search algorithm.

As for what neural matching actually is, Google referred people to a tweet from earlier this year which called the process “a super synonym system.”

In more detail, neural matching uses AI to better understand the meaning and intent behind search terms, allowing relevant results to be included even when they do not include a specific keyword in the original query.

“The use of neural matching means that Google can do a better job going beyond the exact words in business name or description to understand conceptually how it might be related to the words searchers use and their intents.”

To put it in plain English, this allows your site or local business listing to be included for relevant searches where you previously may not have been included.

As of yet it is hard to tell exactly what impact this will have on local search results. Despite rolling out globally last month, it may take some time for the true impact to become apparent.

After months of warnings, Google is officially rolling out its “Speed Update” for all users.

Google updated its original blog post to say the new ranking factor would be rolling out for all mobile search results throughout the day – though it is unclear exactly how long the Speed Update will take to fully go into effect.

What is Google’s Speed Update?

Essentially, Google’s Speed Update is just a mobile version of the speed-based algorithm used on desktop search results for years. Rather than rewarding the fastest sites, the update is better described as punishing the slowest sites online. This is particularly important for mobile-based search results because numerous studies have shown that people are likely to leave a webpage if it takes more than 3 seconds to load.

What this isn’t, is a large-scale algorithm shift. The majority of sites are likely to see little to no change after the roll-out. However, it is unclear just how harshly it will penalize the slowest sites out there.

Will you be affected?

Google refuses to give an exact estimate of just how many sites will be affected by the rollout, but they have said it will “only affect a small percentage of queries.”

Still, if your business’s website is notoriously slow, you may be at risk for a loss in search ranking and traffic. If you’re afraid you may be on the chopping block, you can see how your site stacks up using a number of Google’s tools, such as the Chrome User Experience report, the Lighthouse tool, or the Page Insights tool.

As always, it is recommended that you take steps to make your website as fast as possible. This can be done a number of ways, including reducing image file sizes, finding faster hosting, or reducing the number of widgets or the amount of content on a single page. Even if your site is safe from the Speed Update, you don’t want to risk losing potential customers while they wait for your page to load.

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With Google’s extensive personalization of search results for users, it has gotten harder and harder to tell when a major shakeup happens thanks to changes to Google’s algorithms. That hasn’t stopped people from guessing a major algorithm shift has occurred when they notice significant changes to how sites are performing across the board.

This happened last week when many major authorities in SEO speculated Google unleashed a major algorithm update. Of course, Google won’t confirm that any major changes happened, but Webmaster Trends Analyst for Google, John Mueller, did take the time to remind everyone “we make changes almost every day.”

Google’s Gary Illyes took the stance even further, tweeting “we have 3 updates in a day average. I think it’s pretty safe to assume there was one recently…”

The truth is, the days of the major Google algorithms like Penguin and Panda upending the search world overnight are largely over. Instead, Google has shifted to a model of constant evolution, tweaking and changing things perpetually.

When there is a new important algorithm, such as recent mobile-friendliness algorithms, the company tends to warn businesses ahead of time. Even then, these recent algorithm updates have been benign, only affecting a small number of websites.

The best plan isn’t to be on constant watch for unannounced shifts, and react. Instead, take a proactive stance by making sure your site follows all of Google’s latest best practices and provides value to searchers. If you do that, you should make it through any changes Google throws at you any time soon.

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We’ve all seen the cycle of Google updates. Every time there is a change to the algorithms, the blogs all light up with announcements, a fair sized group panics while the rest ride out the storm, and then the “how to recover” posts start rolling in. Eventually the excitement tapers off, and then it is time for a new update.

Probably the most shocking thing about all the commotion is how many people freak out in the first place. While some of Google’s changes are pretty significant, it isn’t like they don’t warn webmasters ahead of time with what direction they are headed for ranking websites. They won’t give the specifics, but they normally denounce a practice well before they start penalizing for it.

That is all my long-winded way of saying we don’t all have to be afraid of the next Penguin or Panda update. By simply following the best practice guidelines and keeping some solid tips in mind, you’ll find you have no reason to worry. Erin Everhart recently shared some great tactics you can use to keep your website in Google’s good graces.

1) Focus on Branding, Not on Ranking

It is no secret that Google isn’t actually a fan of a lot of what constitutes search engine optimization, mostly because of the way many try to take advantage of every loophole to get rankings. The common idea of SEO focuses solely on improving rankings, while Google wants to rank sites based on value to their consumers.

To start thinking like Google, you need to get your mind off of ranking and focus more on building your brand. If you search for any type of product like a flat screen TV, the results will be almost entirely brand names. Google views brand names as trustworthy and valuable parts of their community, and that goes for small businesses as well as large companies. Simply sponsoring events in the community and interacting with users in positive ways go a long way with search engines.

Of course, it would be naive to say the big brands don’t have advantages, but it isn’t the reason you think. Google evaluates them the same way they evaluate everyone else, but these brands are large enough that they never resort to the keyword stuffing, anchor text over-optimizing stuff that so many SEO professionals try to use.

2) Create a Good User Experience

Along the lines of taking your focus off of rankings, Google has been pleading with the SEO community to take their attention to actually delivering quality experiences for users. The search engine wants to deliver great sites that users will enjoy being on, not low quality pages with the most optimization. To achieve this, the engine made site quality more important than link profiles and has been refining their guidelines to push for faster sites with better content.

For marketers and optimizers, this can be a little confusing. Who exactly defines a “high quality site” and what are the criteria? Well we know the faster your site is, the better off it will fare. But, there are many more amorphous factors to deal with. The only real way to find out exactly what your users will like and how to make the highest quality site for them is testing. Run every type of test you can. Do user testing. Do split testing. Research your market.

3) Preserve Your URLs

It is a little bit of an outdated practice at this point, but it remains true that old URLs still rank the best. The only reason you should resort to changing your URLs is to fix an absolute mess of site architecture or absolutely have no choice. But, if there is any way you can avoid it, do. Canonicals and 301s reduce equity that you’ve built up, and new pages have to start all over again.

Instead, bigger companies like Apple use the same page for every new product launch, unless they release an entirely new product like the rumored upcoming smartwatch. They simply update the existing page to reflect the new product, while the old iPhone gets pushed to a new page. This way, you can take advantage of the equity you already have.

Conclusion

Focusing your SEO efforts on rankings isn’t sustainable any longer. You may shoot up the rankings more quickly than those creating a high quality campaign, but you’ll live in fear of every algorithm update, and eventually you will get hit. Chances are, you probably already have been penalized once, unless you’re walking the straight and narrow.