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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.

Google has announced they will be rolling out a broad update to their core search algorithm starting later today. 

While the updates are a regular part of maintaining and improving the company’s search engine, Google has typically been reluctant to give advance notice before the update has rolled out. In some cases, they have even been unwilling to address algorithm updates in-depth after their implementation. 

This is only the second time the search engine has announced a broad core algorithm update ahead of time, suggesting they are being more proactive in communicating with webmasters. 

Google’s Danny Sullivan says the update should start very soon and will take up to a few days to complete. 

The company’s announcement didn’t add any new guidance or recommendations for managing your site during and after the rollout of this update, but Google did recommend reviewing the existing guidelines for core updates:

  • Widely notable effects are to be expected, which can include drops or gains in search rankings.
  • Core updates are “broad” in the sense that they don’t target anything specific. Rather, they’re designed to improve Google’s systems overall.
  • Pages that drop in rankings aren’t being penalized; they’re being reassessed against other web content that has been published since the last update.
  • Focusing on providing the best possible content is the top recommended way to deal with the impact of a core algorithm update.
  • Broad core updates happen every few months. Sites might not recover from one update until the next one rolls out.
  • Improvements do not guarantee recovery. However, choosing not to implement any improvements will virtually guarantee no recovery.

With Google’s constant updates, it is easy to miss some of the new features they roll out with less publicity than their biggest products receive. However, even the smaller revisions to Google Search make a huge affect on how we search and use the internet in general. Jessica Lee recently rounded up some of the less talked about changes Google has been making so you can be sure you haven’t missed anything lately.

1) Date Selector in Hotel Carousel Search Results

The Carousel results box at the top of localized searches for hotels and restaurants has only been around for a few months now, and Google is already making regular updates to the function. While most of the work has gone into normalizing what queries get carousel results.

But, they’ve also implemented some new, interesting features such as a date selector for hotel searches. Now, you can easily weed out hotels that aren’t available on the days you will need lodging.

hotels-in-new-york-date-selector-google-carousel

In a statement to Search Engine Land, Google said:

We’re always adding features to search to help people find what they need and get things done faster — you can now more easily research hotels when planning a trip and filter by user ratings and hotel class, as well as select specific dates.

2) Cards for Local Results

“Answer Cards” have slowly been spreading across Google’s platform for a while, but they were largely reserved for specific questions or brands. You needed a specific and targeted search to wind up with the convenient card at the top of the search results. But, lately the cards have begun to deliver more detailed answers such as the address of a nearby retailer. Mike Blumenthal highlighted the change with an example of searching for a brand name + location (Dress Barn locations Amherst):

dress-barn-amherst-answer-card

But, queries with multiple results still get the traditional pack results:

dress-barn-pack-results

3) Answers to Complex Questions

The answer cards have also gotten better at providing answers for trickier questions in general. The people running the Google Operating System spent a good amount of time trying to stump Google’s answer feature, but they’ve found the task has gotten much harder as the feature has been improved.

In their words:

Google used to only answer simple questions like “who’s the prime minister of Canada?” or “what’s the population of China?” Thanks to the Knowledge Graph project, Google can answer more complicated questions like “who played Batman?”, “what’s the latest album of Celine Dion?”, “what are the main attractions in Spain?”.

To test this out, one of the authors asked Google a question without a definitive answer: what is the “distance to Mars”.

google-direct-answer-distance-to-mars

Google can even tell you why the sky is blue.

google-direct-answer-why-is-sky-blue

4) Distance Results

Google is able to tell the distance from most locations other than planets. In fact, Google announced on Google+ that users can now get the distance from any two locations on earth, no matter how far apart they are. The example Google offered was the “distance between Siberia and Hawaii.”

google-how-far-is-it-from-hawaii-to-siberia

5) Streamlined Search Options

The Google Operating System blog explained how they have updated search options to be more responsive to your individual search query:

Google removed a few specialized search options that were usually displayed in the “more” drop-down: recipes, patents, discussions, blogs, places. The list of links to services like Maps, Images, News, Flights, Shopping is reordered based on your query. This isn’t a new idea, it was implemented a long time ago by Google, but now it’s used more often.

search-options-google

Google is always making changes and updates, but it seems like the past couple weeks have been especially crazy for the biggest search engine out there. There have been tons of changes both big and small, but best of all, they seem to all be part of one comprehensive plan with a long term strategy.

Eric Enge sums up all the changes when he says Google is pushing people away from a tactical SEO mindset to a more strategic and valuable approach. To try to understand exactly what that means going forward, it is best too review the biggest changes. By seeing what has been revamped, it is easier to make sense of what the future looks like for Google.

1. ‘(Not Provided)’

One of the hugest changes for both searchers and marketers is Google’s move to make all organic searches secure starting in late September. For users, this means more privacy when browsing, but for marketers and website owners it means we are no longer able to see keyword data from most users coming to sites from Google searches.

This means marketers and site-owners are having to deal with a lot less information, or they’re having to work much harder to get it. There are ways to find keyword data, but it’s no longer easily accessible from any Google tool.

This was one of the bigger hits for technical SEO, though there are many work arounds for those looking for them.

2. No PageRank Updates

PageRank has long been a popular tool for many optimizers, but it has also been commonly used by actual searchers to get a general idea of the quality of the sites they visit. However, Google’s Matt Cutts has openly said not to expect another update to the tool this year, and it seems it won’t be available much longer on any platform. The toolbar has never been available on Chrome, and with Internet Explorer revamping how toolbars work on the browser, it seems PageRank is going to be left without a home.

This is almost good news in many ways. PageRank has always been considered a crude measurement tool, so if the tool goes away, many will have to turn to more accurate measurements.

3. Hummingbird

Google’s Hummingbird algorithm seemed minor to most people using the search engine, but it was actually a major overhaul under the hood. Google vastly improved their abilities at understanding conversational search that entirely changes how people can search.

The most notable difference with Hummingbird is Google’s ability to contextualize searches. If you search for a popular sporting arena, Google will find you all the information you previously would have expected, but if you then search “who plays there”, you will get results that are contextualized based on your last search. Most won’t find themselves typing these kinds of searches, but for those using their phones and voice capabilities, the search engine just got a lot better.

For marketers, the consequences are a bit heavier. Hummingbird greatly changes the keyword game and has huge implications for the future. With the rise of conversational search, we will see that exact keyword matches become less relevant over time. We probably won’t feel the biggest effects for at least a year, but this is definitely the seed of something huge.

4. Authorship

Authorship isn’t exactly new, but it has become much more important over the past year. As Google is able to recognize the creators of content, they are able to begin measuring which authors are consistently getting strong responses such as likes, comments, and shares. This means Google will be more and more able to filter those who are creating the most valuable content and rank them highest, while those consistently pushing out worthless content will see their clout dropping the longer they fail to actually contribute.

5. In-Depth Articles

Most users are looking for quick answers to their questions and needs with their searches, but Google estimates that “up to 10% of users’ daily information needs involve learning about a broad topic.” To reflect that, they announced a change to search in early August, which would implement results for more comprehensive sources for searches which might require more in-depth information.

What do these all have in common?

These changes may all seem separate and unique, but there is an undeniably huge level of interplay between how all these updates function. Apart, they are all moderate to minor updates. Together, they are a huge change to search as we know it.

We’ve already seen how link building and over-attention to keywords can be negative to your optimization when improperly managed, but Google seems keen on devaluing these search factors even more moving forward. Instead, they are opting for signals which offer the most value to searchers. Their search has become more contextual so users can find their answers more easily, no matter how they search. But, the rankings are less about keywords the more conversational search becomes.

In the future, expect Google to place more and more emphasis on authorship and the value that these publishers are offering to real people. Optimizers will always focus on pleasing Google first and foremost, but Google is trying to synergize these efforts so that your optimization efforts are improving the experience of users as well.

With all of the changes Google made in the past year, it is easy to get mixed up as to what changes affected what areas of a site’s SEO information, and what was penalized by which algorithm updates. Combine that with a disavow links tool which most don’t seem to understand, and it is a wonder anyone can keep up with Google’s updates.

Pratik Dholakiya, writer for Search Engine Journal, recognized how confusing this all must be, and sought to explain which types of updates affected what, as well as all of the misconceptions surrounding these updates. He breaks them down into three basic types of updates, and each focused on different aspects of SEO.

EMD Algorithm Update – The September update targeted sites with exact match domains (EMDs), or sites named after keywords instead of brands. This change didn’t so much penalize most affected as it removed a special boost they were receiving due to the name of the website.

The only people really penalized by the update were those who had over-optimized their site around the keyword. There is also a misconception the EMD updates were Panda or Penguin related, but Matt Cutts has put that idea to rest.

 

Panda Updates – The main area the Panda updates looked at was your on-site content. Google was trying to weed out low-quality or duplicate content, and they’ve been churning out constant new versions of Panda all year.

Penguin Updates – Despite the close association with Panda, Google’s Penguin updates are actually their own beast, formerly known as the webspam algorithm update. They are targeting all of the spammy sites out there, and unless you’re a spammer, the only penalties you may have seen from these updates were from links.

If you have seen any penalties from these updates, Dholakiya explains how to help fix the problems. The Disavow Links tool can help with that, especially if you’ve seen penalties from the Penguin updates, but it isn’t a magic solution.