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Google’s May 2020 update

Over the past couple of weeks, Google has been rolling out another of their core updates. When Google action one of their core updates, almost instantly there can be a volatile fluctuation in search rankings.

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In the aftermath of these fluctuations, SEO experts scramble to determine the cause of these fluctuations, and the factors that will have been impacted by the update. This recent update was no different, with many websites seeing huge fluctuations in their rankings, both positively and negatively. You can see the volatility in the graph below sourced from SEMRush Sensor:


As you can see, on May 5th, the day the core update was released, the volatility shot up to more than double its usual amount.

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What could this mean for your business? 

Some businesses have been affected more than others, and it all depends on how optimised your website is. We put a lot of time and effort into content creation for our SEO clients, as the more relevant and valuable the content is on a website, the better that website generally fares after one of Google’s updates, meaning better rankings as a result. You can easily see how the update has affected your business website’s rankings by either checking your search term tracking tool or doing a quick Google search with your key search terms and see if you have changed positions. If your rankings have improved, then you are doing something right! However, if not, there are some key things you can do to help increase and maintain your rankings. To do this effectively, you need to fully understand the factors behind why your rankings have dropped and what role the core update had to play in this decline.

We are going to explain later in this article what we know so far on the ranking factors of this latest core update.

Who’s been affected?

Industries across the board have been affected, however, there are five key industries which have seen a volatile change in their rankings, these include, Travel, Real Estate, Health, Pets & Animals and People & Society, as shown by this table produced by SEL from SEMrush data:

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SEMRush went a step further to look at which industries have benefitted, and which have been negatively impacted by the core update. The ‘winners’, include News, Business & Industrial, and Online Communities, with these categories experiencing the most “significant” increases in rankings.

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The biggest losers interestingly were seen in some of the same industries, with Online Communities and Business & Industrial markets being featured in the top 3 of both lists. This shows that where there is volatility, there will always be winners and losers, even in the same industry.

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What’s changed?

As is standard with all core updates, Google’s explanation of exactly what had changed was enigmatic. Their advice was the same as always, to make sure you are producing quality and engaging content, always keeping the end-user and their experience in mind. While there is obviously a lot more to it than that, quality content is what Google have been pushing with the majority of their recent core updates. Take a look at our articles on the January 2020 and BERT updates - user experience is consistently the driving force behind Google’s changes. With the intelligent crawlerbots having now been set up to emulate human online behaviour rather than crawl like a machine, it is more important than ever to focus on user experience.

If your website has experienced a decline in rankings after the update, it is most likely to be caused by a content issue. However, there was one more thing that caught some people off guard. Websites with duplicate meta tags were also hit hard from this update. In fact, 42% of websites with duplicate meta tags saw a 10% decrease in rankings as a result of the update. These two factors appear to be the two most affected by the recent core update. If you’ve seen a drop in your rankings, we have some advice that might help you regain

What you can do?

  • Review and update old content – One of the most effective tasks you could be doing is to improve the quality of your current content. Have a look back at your older pages, articles and projects and check if they are still relevant. If they aren’t, can you make them more relevant? There are two potential ways in which you can do this, the first is to look at whether it is a case of restructuring the content and tweaking it as necessary, or whether you need to add to the content using text, imagery, videos or internal/external links to bring it more up to date and make it relevant to your audience.

    Alternatively, if you cannot improve the page, is there a page on your site that covers the same topics but is more recent or relevant to your audience? If you have a similar page, you can set up a 301 redirect to that page, so people are directed to the most relevant content rather than the outdated page. 

  • Look for thin content – As part of the push for higher quality content and better user experience, Google expects web pages to have a purpose and to be of use to those reading them. Google now penalises pages that have a low word count by ranking them lower. We’d recommend that you analyse your website to find pages that have low word counts or ‘thin content’ and update them. However, the content must be relevant - we wouldn’t advise that you stuff your page full of keywords or write irrelevant content for the sake of boosting the word count, as this can also be a cause for penalisation.

    To get started, run the content of the page in question through a word count auditing tool such as ConvertCase. The latest guidelines state there needs to be a minimum of 300 words on a page (as best practice, we aim for 600 plus words of rich content). If the webpage doesn’t meet the minimum word count, can you add any more content? Are there any images or videos that might help the user engage with the page more? If the answer to both of those questions is no, consider whether you need the page, or whether or not it could be combined with a similar page to make a single, high-quality page with a higher word count and relevancy.

  • SEO Issues – Finally, as mentioned earlier, Google hasn’t forgotten about core SEO issues and having these issues affect your ranking negatively. One of the key issues to look out for is duplicate, missing and non-optimised metadata. To learn more about metadata, have a read of our metadata mini-series.

We recommend checking your site on a regular basis for SEO issues. There are a lot of free and paid tools to do this. Some of these include:

Screaming Frog 



If you have been affected by the update, try not to panic, your business is not the only one. If you have seen your rankings fall, by following the advice in the above sections you should start to see an improvement over time.

The best piece of advice is to always have the end-user in mind, when creating web pages and content, consider what they need to know and where they need to get to, and make it quick and easy. Especially as with every recent update, Google is focusing more and more on user experience and content.

If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us on 0114 250 9578 or [email protected]. We would be delighted to help you with your ranking challenges.


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