Google Core Update: keywords and websites analysed
The Google Core Update was one of the most far-reaching updates in the last 2 years.
That much is certain.
But what exactly has Google changed with the recent update? And what lessons can be learned from this for the future?
To find out, I analysed websites and the rankings of over keywords.
In total, I gained 5 insights into the update.
Some of them were to be expected. Some of them took me by surprise, even.
If you should be affected by the update, I also have some recommendations for you at the end.
Does that sound good?
Then let’s start with the first insight:
1. High domain authority wins (but not always)
If there is one thing that can be said for sure about the core update, it is:
It was about backlinks.
High domain authority websites have won for certain keywords.
“Affiliate keywords (best & review) were 30% more frequently appearing in authority leveraged keywords sample. For those industries, building links will probably be the first step to recovery”.
In addition, according to the analysis, high domain authority does not seem to be equally important for all niches.
In addition, I noticed the following:
Purely informative keywords at the beginning of the customer journey seem to be less affected.
2. Affiliate websites have lost massively
Most of the affiliate websites I examined lost massive amounts of traffic as a result of the update.
It is interesting that the losers not only include small niche sites with exact match domains but also:
- Large affiliate portals
- Small to medium-sized affiliate magazines
Why is that?
I see two main reasons for this:
We’ve already covered the first one (low domain authority). Now we come to the second.
3. Re-evaluation of search intent for product-related keywords
The winners of the core update also include large online shops and marketplaces such as:
And I suspect that, in addition to the domain authority, this is also due to a re-evaluation of the search intention for some keywords:
Product-related keywords without an explicit know component (i.e., additions such as test, comparison, best list, etc.) are now rated even more than keywords.
Instead of test and comparison articles, there are now even more websites in online shops (and in some cases more providers and comparison portals) for many product-related keywords. So websites where the product purchase is possible directly or with a few clicks.
4. There are winners, losers, and winners-losers
Another exciting finding of the Google Core Update:
It’s not just websites that have won or lost. Some have won and lost.
This again confirms that the update wasn’t just about domain authority (or that it only became more relevant for certain niches or keyword types).
However, this does not apply to all directories on the website.
The directory/comparison / is a comparison portal operated using “subfolder leasing”.
This means that another company has rented the directory to put online comparison articles for products there. The aim of these comparison articles is classic affiliate keywords such as:
- best lawn mower
- lawn mower comparison
- lawn mower test
And these comparison articles rank very well (and even better after the recent core update), as they benefit from the high domain authority.
However, I assume that sub-folder and sub-domain leases have an expiration date because Google is aware of this technology and already warned against it on Twitter in August 2019.
The core update has mixed up the SERPs on a broad front.
The following tendencies have emerged:
- Many affiliate websites and forums have lost visibility.
- Online stores have won for many product-related keywords.
- In some niches and for some search intentions, high domain authority has become more important.
Please note that these are tendencies. There were also online shops that lost with the core update and affiliate websites that gained visibility with the update. At the end of the day, my analysis is just a sample.
There are also other ranking and visibility changes that I cannot (yet) explain.
And the deeper I went into my analysis, the more I found it.
- Are nofollow links now counted as a result of the update (Google had already announced in September 2019 that it would partially include nofollow links in the ranking)?
- Did content design also play a role (e.g., the analysis by RankRanger or the almost simultaneous presentation of the Core Web Vitals suggest this)?
5.1 Background of the core update
I can only speculate about Google’s motivation for the Update.
I suspect it has something to do with the corona pandemic:
Because with the current pandemic, cybercrime has increased. There are, e.g., —more phishing websites, fake shops, or websites that spread malware.
It is more important than ever to display only trustworthy shop and comparison portals in the SERPs (keyword: EAT).
For me, online shopping belongs in the YMYL category anyway (and Google seems to have implemented exactly that with Update).
However, I think it is questionable whether replacing smaller affiliate websites with subfolder comparison portals or reducing the visibility of forums is the right way to better search results in the long term.
Hopefully, some changes due to the Update are only temporary.
6. What should be done now?
Are you affected by the core update? Or are you wondering what you should do differently with the update than before?
Here are my 4 recommendations:
6.1 Comprehensive on-page audit
Even though the Google Core Update apparently had a lot to do with domain authority.
After severe ranking losses, I always recommend doing a comprehensive on-page audit.
First of all, you can never say 100% what a Google update was aiming at (even if you have analyzed it extensively). Second, any loss of visibility during or after a Google update doesn’t necessarily have to be related to the update.
I recommend the following measures:
- Check the Google Search Console to see if the action is manual or if Google has detected security problems on your website (sometimes yourwebsite is hacked without you noticing).
- Fix any errors that appear in the Google Search Console
- Check the absolute loading time and the performance of PageSpeed Insights (also with regard to the new Core Web Vitals).
- Check if there are any problems with your SSL certificate.
- Check whether your website is completely or partially unavailable (e.g., due to a faulty WordPress plugin)
- Remove broken images and links.
- Remove internal redirects(e.g., caused by changing the permalink structure).
- Improve your internal linking.
- Optimize your indexing settings (by removing unnecessary pages from the index, such as attachment pages in WordPress).
6.2 SERP analysis is more important than ever!
With the update, Google rates the search intention differently and prefers other websites for certain search terms.
Accordingly, the SERP analysis is even more important in keyword research than it is already. Only then can you offer the content that users and Google consider relevant to a particular keyword?
Do you have a small affiliate website and want to rank for a keyword where only well-known online shops are in the top 10?
Better forget it and optimize for other keywords!
In my upcoming online course Keyword Mastery, I will show you how you can analyze search results and meet the search intention 100%.
6.3 Take care of link building more!
And good links want to be earned…
For example, through great content that is easy to link (keyword: linkable assets), a better outreach strategy and the development of a strong and well-known brand.
And don’t forget that backlinks also have an on-page component.
6.4 Improve your internal linking
Getting direct backlinks to money content can be difficult.
So why bother unnecessarily?
Do link building for your linkable assets and simply link your money content more often and more prominently. That is much more efficient.
7. Further analysis of the core update
The Google Core Update mixed up the SEO scene.
Accordingly, there were many articles and analyzes from well-known SEOs and tool providers.