On the 13th of January, Google announced the rollout of a new broad core update called the “January 2020 Core Update”.

This is the first broad core update of the year and the first of what is likely to be a handful in 2020.

Now, several weeks after it rolled out, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of its impact on rankings and search results around the world.

What is the January 2020 Core Update?

Like Google’s other broad core updates, the January 2020 Core Update doesn’t target a specific industry or category.

Instead, it’s a general refinement of Google’s core search algorithm. This update is designed to provide better search results to users, resulting in more relevant and accurate results for their search queries.

Google releases several broad core updates like this every year, with the last one released in September 2019. 

Broad core updates are global updates, and they are not restricted to a specific region, language, or search category. Naturally, its effects on search rankings vary around the world. Some see massive drops or gains in their rankings, while others don’t see any notable ranking changes at all.

What we’ve seen so far – our initial observations

Although broad core updates don’t target specific industries, there are categories that seem to get more affected than others.

In the past, the websites that experienced the biggest ranking changes after the release of broad core updates were YMYL (“Your Money or Your Life”) websites. YMYL websites are those that provide information, products, or services in the medical, financial, transactional, and personal health and safety fields.

From what we’ve seen, the January 2020 Core Update seems to have a similar effect.

Search Engine Land recently rounded up feedback from the SEO community, and responses from various experts seem to confirm this observation.

Sistrix, for example, noted that the biggest impact was observed in the health and finance sectors, as seen in their Visibility Index data for these industries after the launch of the core update.

(Source: Sistrix)

Marcus Tober (founder of SearchMetrics), meanwhile, tells Search Engine Land that “the January Core Update seems to revert some changes for the better or worse depending on who you are. It’s another core update where thin content got penalized and where Google put an emphasis in YMYL. The update doesn’t seem to affect as many pages as with the March or September updated in 2019. But has similar characteristics.

Here at KDM, we’ve also seen some significant ranking changes for some of our clients after the core update, especially for our clients who have YMYL websites.

Big ranking changes in other industries as well

Some SEO experts, however, have also seen significant changes in rankings in other industries and categories.

In the same round-up by Search Engine Land, Yulia Ibragimova from SEMRush said that “…the latest Google Update was quite big and was noticed almost in every category.

SEMRush shared additional data on the recent volatility of search rankings in both mobile and desktop search results. (Their data below shows ranking volatility across a range of industries on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being extremely volatile.)

(Source: Search Engine Land)

Rumoured update: Was there another update after?

What’s really interesting is that a just few weeks after the launch of the January 2020 Core Update, SEO experts and webmasters noticed significant ranking changes again. And many of these changes were so big that experts began to wonder whether there was another update that Google didn’t announce.

Search Engine Land reported the following observations that showed significant fluctuations in search rankings for in the first few weeks of February (particularly around 7th to 10th of February).

According to Mozcast
According to SEMrush
According to Advanced Web Ranking

So, was there another core update that Google rolled out but didn’t tell us about?

It turns out, there wasn’t.

According to Search Engine Journal, Google has confirmed that there has been no new core update since the one rolled out last January. That doesn’t mean, however, that Google did not release any other update. In fact, Danny Sullivan (Google’s public search liaison) confirmed that Google rolls out minor updates all the time.

Danny Sullivan points readers to a previous Twitter thread that discusses the regular updates that Google does.

So, while there was no new core update released since January, there were indeed Google updates that clearly made an impact in search rankings.

But the good news is that these recent ranking changes seem to have settled down. In fact, many websites have reported their rankings reverting to where they were before all the recent ranking fluctuations.

What to do if you dropped in rankings

  • Don’t panic. As the recent fluctuations have shown, website rankings can bounce back to where they were once a Google update reorients itself. Google is constantly experimenting and tweaking their algorithm, and they have been known to roll out an update and undo it after some feedback. If your website has suddenly lost rankings, wait at least a few days (we recommend a few weeks) to see whether your rankings will climb again.
  • Follow Google’s recommendations (if you aren’t already). Google’s recommendations for managing its broad core updates (and any of its updates, really) have always been the same:
    • Familiarise yourself with E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) – this is part of Google’s Quality Rater’s Guidelines.
  • Keep a close eye on your rankings. Even if you have not lost or gained rankings significantly, it’s still a good idea to monitor your rankings closely. Google is continually updating its search algorithm with minor and major updates, and they’re continually testing different updates that could affect your position in search rankings over time.

Need more information?

If you have any questions about the January 2020 Core Update and how it’s affecting your rankings, feel free to contact us for more information.