Google Confirms May 2020 Core Algorithm Update Rolling Out Today
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Google Confirms May 2020 Core Algorithm Update Rolling Out Today


Google’s Danny Sullivan has confirmed that a core algorithm update is rolling out today – May 4, 2020.

The update will officially be known as the “May 2020 Core Update.”

Google has been one step ahead of the SEO community when it comes to naming these updates, as the company now defaults to a generic Month/Year naming pattern.

Otherwise, I would wager we’d all be tempted to refer to this as the “May the Fourth” update – or something to that effect.

Update 3:52 p.m.: The May 2020 Core Update is now rolling out.

Second Core Update in 2020

This is Google’s second confirmed update of 2020 so far, with the first one launching back in January.

Feels like a lifetime ago considering how the world has changed between then and now.

With that said, this effectively answers any questions about whether Google will pause core updates amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The answer is: no.

Although that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and throughout this post I will explain why.

The Purpose of Core Updates

Broad core updates are designed to produce widely noticeable effects across search results in all countries in all languages.

Sites will inevitably notice drops or gains in search rankings when a core update rolls out.

Changes in search rankings are generally a reflection of content relevancy.

Meaning if content has gained relevancy since the last update it will be moved higher up in rankings. The opposite is also true.

Then there’s newly published content that didn’t exist at the time of the last update. That all has to be reassessed against previously existing content.

To put it simply, rankings can move around quite a bit.

With this being the first update since the pandemic, the May 2020 Core Update has the potential to be especially volatile.

First Core Update Since COVID-19

The last core update was launched in the second week of January 2020.

At the time, coronavirus and COVID-19 were hardly on anyone’s radar. Now that couldn’t be further from the truth.

The world quickly changed when coronavirus was declared a pandemic, which came with significant shifts in users’ search behavior.

Earlier today Google said there has never been so many searches for a single topic as there have been for COVID-19.

COVID-19 has changed what people need from Google’s search results.

Whether it’s seeking information about the virus itself, or places offering remote services, or where to buy much needed products online.

There are many things gaining relevancy that weren’t as relevant to searchers before.

Conversely, categories that were once highly relevant aren’t being searched for as much.

For example – searches related to travel, tourism, live entertainment, and in-person events are all down. Just to name a few.

With the May 2020 Core Update, Google is faced with the unique challenge of catching up with how the world is searching.

Over time, we will see if people are finding it easier to access the information they need through Google Search.

Boon to SEO Job Market?

If the May 2020 Core Update ends up being as potent as it has the potential to be, it could be a good thing for SEOs.

It’s no secret that, amid the economic downturn, companies are laying off staff and clients are pausing services.

Services provided by SEOs are especially valuable any time an algorithm update occurs.

The more volatile the update, the more valuable those services become.

That means SEOs may soon find themselves in a position where there’s a significant rise in demand for their work.

Will be interesting to see how many companies suddenly have room in their budget for SEO when the May 2020 Core Update fully rolls out.

 May 2020 Core Update: What to Do

Google’s guidance regarding this update remains exactly the same as all core updates in the past.

Historically, Google has always said there’s nothing to “fix” if rankings drop after a core update.

Rather, site owners are routinely advised to make their content the best it can be.

I interpret that as meaning: strive to make each piece of content the most holistic resource on the web for a user’s specific query.

There are many other interpretations of Google’s advice on how to deal with the impact of a core update.

Here are some of the best resources we’ve published on this subject in the past:





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Google's January 2020 Core Update: Has the Dust Settled?
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Google’s January 2020 Core Update: Has the Dust Settled?


On January 13th, MozCast measured significant algorithm flux lasting about three days (the dotted line shows the 30-day average prior to the 13th, which is consistent with historical averages) …

That same day, Google announced the release of a core update dubbed the January 2020 Core Update (in line with their recent naming conventions) …

On January 16th, Google announced the update was “mostly done,” aligning fairly well with the measured temperatures in the graph above. Temperatures settled down after the three-day spike …

It appears that the dust has mostly settled on the January 2020 Core Update. Interpreting core updates can be challenging, but are there any takeaways we can gather from the data?

How does it compare to other updates?

How did the January 2020 Core Update stack up against recent core updates? The chart below shows the previous four named core updates, back to August 2018 (AKA “Medic”)

While the January 2020 update wasn’t on par with “Medic,” it tracks closely to the previous three updates. Note that all of these updates are well above the MozCast average. While not all named updates are measurable, all of the recent core updates have generated substantial ranking flux.

Which verticals were hit hardest?

MozCast is split into 20 verticals, matching Google AdWords categories. It can be tough to interpret single-day movement across categories, since they naturally vary, but here’s the data for the range of the update (January 14–16) for the seven categories that topped 100°F on January 14 …

Health tops the list, consistent with anecdotal evidence from previous core updates. One consistent finding, broadly speaking, is that sites impacted by one core update seem more likely to be impacted by subsequent core updates.

Who won and who lost this time?

Winners/losers analyses can be dangerous, for a few reasons. First, they depend on your particular data set. Second, humans have a knack for seeing patterns that aren’t there. It’s easy to take a couple of data points and over-generalize. Third, there are many ways to measure changes over time.

We can’t entirely fix the first problem — that’s the nature of data analysis. For the second problem, we have to trust you, the reader. We can partially address the third problem by making sure we’re looking at changes both in absolute and relative terms. For example, knowing a site gained 100% SERP share isn’t very interesting if it went from one ranking in our data set to two. So, for both of the following charts, we’ll restrict our analysis to subdomains that had at least 25 rankings across MozCast’s 10,000 SERPs on January 14th. We’ll also display the raw ranking counts for some added perspective.

Here are the top 25 winners by % change over the 3 days of the update. The “Jan 14” and “Jan 16” columns represent the total count of rankings (i.e. SERP share) on those days …

If you’ve read about previous core updates, you may see a couple of familiar subdomains, including VeryWellHealth.com and a couple of its cousins. Even at a glance, this list goes well beyond healthcare and represents a healthy mix of verticals and some major players, including Instagram and the Google Play store.

I hate to use the word “losers,” and there’s no way to tell why any given site gained or lost rankings during this time period (it may not be due to the core update), but I’ll present the data as impartially as possible. Here are the 25 sites that lost the most rankings by percentage change …

Orbitz took heavy losses in our data set, as did the phone number lookup site ZabaSearch. Interestingly, one of the Very Well family of sites (three of which were in our top 25 list) landed in the bottom 25. There are a handful of healthcare sites in the mix, including the reputable Cleveland Clinic (although this appears to be primarily a patient portal).

What can we do about any of this?

Google describes core updates as “significant, broad changes to our search algorithms and systems … designed to ensure that overall, we’re delivering on our mission to present relevant and authoritative content to searchers.” They’re quick to say that a core update isn’t a penalty and that “there’s nothing wrong with pages that may perform less well.” Of course, that’s cold comfort if your site was negatively impacted.

We know that content quality matters, but that’s a vague concept that can be hard to pin down. If you’ve taken losses in a core update, it is worth assessing if your content is well matched to the needs of your visitors, including whether it’s accurate, up to date, and generally written in a way that demonstrates expertise.

We also know that sites impacted by one core update seem to be more likely to see movement in subsequent core updates. So, if you’ve been hit in one of the core updates since “Medic,” keep your eyes open. This is a work in progress, and Google is making adjustments as they go.

Ultimately, the impact of core updates gives us clues about Google’s broader intent and how best to align with that intent. Look at sites that performed well and try to understand how they might be serving their core audiences. If you lost rankings, are they rankings that matter? Was your content really a match to the intent of those searchers?



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