Google releases a broad core update every few months, so 2020 got off to a pretty normal start with algorithm changes announced as expected in January and May.
However, after 7 months with no news about another one, we started wondering if Google decided to give SEOs a break in the last 4 weeks of 2020.
But the search engine likes to keep us on our toes. And so came the December 2020 Broad Core Update, announced per usual on Twitter.
The December 2020 Core Update is now rolling out live. As is typical with these updates, it will typically take about one to two weeks to fully roll out.
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) December 3, 2020
The rollout began at 1 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, Dec. 3, and is expected to take full effect in a week or two. With this in mind, let’s look at why this happened, how to tell if your site is affected and what to do if it is.
Why did this update happen?
This is a core algorithm update, which means this is the type of update that Google plans on implementing once every 3 months or so (which is why it’s so odd that it took 7 months to get here).
In other words, there’s no specific, singular reason “why” this happened. It also means that we can’t identify a specific outcome to look out for, such as lost Featured Snippets after the deduplication process that happened along with the Jan. 2020 update.
Why would Google release an update now?
The timing of this update has been called into question by many people in the SEO community. It took place during Cyber week (Black Friday was on Nov. 27, Cyber Monday on Nov. 30 and Giving Tuesday on Dec. 1). Further, it’s a Cyber week like no other, with e-commerce being the most likely shopping solution for many people due to the pandemic.
Needless to say, people are unhappy with the timing of this update.
Did Google release the December 2020 Core update at a good or bad time? After Black Friday/Cyber Monday but before the still holidays.
— Barry Schwartz (@rustybrick) December 6, 2020
In the past, Google’s stated that it would try to minimize site volatility during the holiday season …
This didn’t age well. https://t.co/GhFnYhFXWT
— Marie Haynes (@Marie_Haynes) December 3, 2020
… And, according to Google’s John Mueller, this update doesn’t contradict that. As he told Barry Schwartz, it’s “not really in the holiday season and kind of after the whole Thanksgiving rush. So … from my point of view, it wasn’t something that I would have flagged and said oh you need to watch out for this.”
So, perhaps from Google’s vantage point, this release fits snugly between Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. and the beginning of the holiday season (with Hanukkah beginning on Dec. 10 and 3 weeks to go until Christmas Day).
However, for e-commerce retailers pushing for their holiday rush, nonprofits striving to bring in year-end donations and companies working to close deals before Q4 wraps, this algorithm update could have serious implications for EOY goals, when organizations want their SERP visibility to be predictable and consistent.
How to protect your site rankings following this update
Google’s advice is exactly the same as it is for every core update, which hasn’t been updated since August 2019. It boils down to 1 suggestion: Review your content.
Google’s ultimate goal is to help searchers navigate the internet in the most seamless way possible. As such, all content on your site should be created to be as helpful to the visitor as possible.
If your pages take a hit during this update (or at any point in time), review the content according to these 4 criteria:
1. Quality: Content should be complete and comprehensive. It should use relevant data where necessary, and if you can provide original research, that’s a bonus. On that note, your content itself should be original – no copy-pasting, always cite your sources and absolutely no plagiarism. The headline, intro and meta data should all contribute to the helpfulness and comprehensiveness of the content.
2. Expertise: Is your site qualified to be giving advice on the topics you’re writing about? Readers will expect the content they find to be trustworthy, so it’s essential that the information found on your site is reputable. If readers can easily disprove the information you provide, it’s not good.
3. Presentation: Your content should be easy to look at, read and understand. Spelling mistakes are a red flag, but so are more complex presentation issues, such as not being responsive for mobile devices and long page load speeds.
4. Comparative: Does your page fit in with the other pages on your target SERP? Is it filling an information gap? If your page is either too thin (which likely means your search competitors address the topic in question more completely) or irrelevant to the searcher intent (which you can assess based on the types of content presented on the SERP), your page probably won’t hold up long on Page 1.
What’s next for Google updates?
We’ll probably be able to observe the ongoing impacts of this update for the next week or so.
Beyond that, Google has announced a major update for May 2021 dealing with user experience. So, if you’re looking for a long-term SEO project, UX is a great place to focus on right now in preparation for that.
And, of course, we can expect a handful of core algorithm updates throughout 2021.
Until then, here’s some further reading in regard to the December 2020 Broad Core Algorithm Update: