Breaking down September's Google core update

By Steven Saltmarsh

Google's famed search algorithm - the sole decider in what you see when you search for any particular term - has undergone big changes over the last few weeks, and it's all to do with their most recent core update.

The core update to the search algorithm has been happening roughly each quarter for the last few years. For us in the digital marketing industry, it is a sign of big changes, with emotions ranging from anticipation to absolute, utter dread.

To explain why this is so, in this article we're going to be looking at a very brief history of previous Google updates to their search algorithm, what has changed in the most recent variant, and what this means for your average small-to-medium sized business in Tasmania.

But first, a very brief history

Google's first change to the way their search engine is widely acknowledged to have happened back in 2003, only a few years before Google first became prominent in our daily usage of the internet. That update had a cool name, too, Florida.

If you remember the old days of the net when websites were long, arduous, repetitive monstrosities - and likewise ever wondered why that seemingly stopped - you can thank Florida for that.

A few more ticked along afterwards, focusing on eliminating many of the peeves that we used to have using the web, but it wasn't until 2011, when the Panda update was released by Google.

This update is still arguably the one that impacted websites the most. Panda further cracked down on what was deemed untrustworthy, low quality websites. By the time Panda finally rolled out, it was said to have affected 12% of the world's search results using Google.

There were plenty in the immediate years following, too, such as:

  • Penguin, which stopped link spamming effectively in 2012
  • Hummingbird, which improved the results that were delivered for specific searches in 2013
  • Pigeon, an update that appeared in 2014 that changed the way results showed up for local searches
  • Mobilegeddon, the first non-bird update and one that forced web designers to design for the smaller screens of mobile and tablets in 2015
  • And the Quality/Phantom Update, which was a further refinement of stopping websites from being too spammy

Since the intense years of 2011-2015 that changed everything, we've had relatively easy updates roughly every quarter since that have refreshed the way the algorithm works overall. This was no different this past September, when this latest update began to roll out.

September's Core Update: The Facts

The September core update wasn't as spectacular as any of it's previous incarnations mentioned above, nor as drastic as June's core update was, however it has shifted a few results in a way that we have not seen for quite some time.

From what we've seen, and what has been reported from some of the industry's most revered minds, it looks as though this update is a further crackdown on link building. Link building is but one of the many tools that webmasters use to gain authority in the Google search results. The idea goes that, the more that people link to your website, the more trustworthy it is and ergo the better website placement it deserves.

Link building used to be the holy grail, the one and only tool in town that you could use to become famous overnight, until the above mentioned websites changed all that. Nowadays, it is still something to strive for, but not the be all and end all that it once was.

That being said, it is still a useful tool, and many do go to great lengths to get links, even if they are somewhat frowned upon, such as setting up dummy websites or placing links in comment sections of websites.

It's also been noted that websites that are thin on quality content may see some issues with their rankings and traffic as a result. Content is what you write about your business on your website, and is essentially how Google determines who you are and what you do. If it's thin, that's to say that it is either minimal or low quality, chances are Google's gonna have a hard time figuring out what you're story is.

What does this mean for my business in Tassie?

If you're in the Health, Retail, Real Estate, or Travel industries, then it's bad news, as this update appears to have hit those sectors the hardest. It may be worthwhile to look at your website perhaps a little more closer, making sure that your links are quality, your content is good, and even a general clean-up of dead pages and redundant content doesn't ever hurt.

For everyone else, you should still do this anyway, as it's always essential to get into the habit of doing things in good faith.

Google is akin to a directory, much like the White Pages and Yellow Pages of yore, and like these directories back then, competition is fierce to get on that first page of Google's search results.

Doing things the correct way, which is basically creating a website that you yourself would visit and interact with happily, goes a long way to not just getting on this first page, but to also avoid the common pitfalls that befall many who venture into the digital world, as we spoke about in our last blog article. Three key areas that you can also definitely look at are listed below for your further musings.

Focus on your local market

Even here at MMG, we've seen our clients really make gain for suburb queries since the roll out began. Across the board, it seems that those that think local will reap huge rewards, so make sure to work on what you're offering your key market - the neighbours.

This can be simply done just by creating content that addresses your knowledge and understanding of the world immediately around you. If applicable, write case studies that showcases just how much you know about your business' local area, or just simply talk about the trends that in your experience and professional opinion you feel are important to those in your neck of the woods.

Look at your keyword relevancy

Keyword relevancy takes into account the content on any given page, and does its best to give off the smallest possible answer to the question "What is this all about then?"

It may help to just re-read what is on your website, and if you feel that the content there trails off the subject, then safe to say it will need to be re-written. This is a good chance to showcase just what you know and what you can offer potential customers and clients.

Get really granular

Google's aim at the end of the day with these updates is to make sure that, no matter what you search, what you're looking for is displayed right in front of you. Making sure the pizza you bought is actually what is delivered more or less.

Taking the phrase cars for sale as an example, it might help to break that down and create unique content for each category. Do you sell used cars, new cars, former demonstrator cars? Write the content for them, keep them independent and working with one another, and chances are you may pick up some extra traffic coming your way, pardon the pun.