Google's August algorithm update

Posted by Owen Powis on 14 Aug, 2018
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On 1st August Google began pushing an almighty core update. It went on for over a week and now it’s done we’re ready to give you the lowdown on what happened.

So on 1st August there was a big update to what Google refers to as its ‘core algorithm’, or in other words the central part of its ranking mechanism.

This week we released a broad core algorithm update, as we do several times per year. Our guidance about such updates remains the same as in March, as we covered here: https://t.co/uPlEdSLHoX

— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) August 1, 2018

Announced with the usual ambiguity we've become pretty used to from Google, it simply refers to a core update and points out this is something they do all the time.

However this update has been far bigger and wider ranging than your average update.

Core update?

A core update is one to the central or main part of the algorithm which does the bulk of work in deciding the value of pages and subsequently the order they appear in when you perform a search. Remember, that order is not predetermined; you could potentially search for something that’s never been searched for before. Google does that final ordering on the fly, based on your query.

Google is constantly testing via machine learning different variants of its algorithm, so automatically adjusting the weightings of the different metrics and spitting out new sets of results. This happens offline and these results are then manually reviewed by their quality raters. The positive or negative outcome is then fed back into the machine learning system and it proceeds to work out a new set of variants and combinations and narrow down on a better set of results.

Through this process we get core updates when a better set of weightings is found and the changes to the algorithm are good to roll out live. Sometimes the change may only affect a small number of sites and other times, like this one, it affects a broad range.

YMYL

This update looks to have affected a large number of sites across multiple niches, with some gains and some losses. However they are all a similar type of site known as YMYL sites.

YMYL - Your Money or Your Life

These sites focus on getting the user to make a financial transaction in exchange for potentially life changing information or products. Where there is the potential of a significant impact to lifestyle / health etc these are typically YMYL sites.

Within the Search Quality Raters Guidelines Google explains YMYL pages as follows:

“Some types of pages could potentially impact the future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety of users. We call such pages “Your Money or Your Life” pages, or YMYL.”

The remit for YMYL pages goes a lot further than you might think from this description though, as within their examples Google lists content such as:

“webpages that include information about local/state/national government processes, policies, people, and laws; disaster response services; government programs and social services; news about important topics such as international events, business, politics, science, and technology; etc.”

Courtesy of Sistrix we can see the sites which the August update hit hardest (in the UK)

They all fall under the remit of YMYL sites.

Looking at the winners we can see this mostly here too:

Some of these sites are less obvious, for example appliancesdirect.co.uk. However bearing in mind how broadly Google defines the category it’s arguable that as they offer finance on the site it would fall under YMYL.

Google looks at 5 main factors to judge the quality of content (according to their quality raters guidelines):

  • How well the page fulfils its purpose
  • EAT (Expertise, Authority and Trust)
  • Main content quality and amount
  • Website information regarding who is responsible for that content
  • Website reputation

However for shopping sites, Google also states:

If the page is primarily for shopping or includes financial transactions, then it should have satisfying customer service information.

Looking at an example of an Appliances Direct page we can see why it might have been rewarded according to these guidelines:

Appliances Direct

So we have the blue blocks with a ton of MC or Main Content in it. This contains lots of rich information about the product and, importantly, it helps fulfil the main purpose of the page: helping you decide whether you want to buy the dishwasher.

Having that information in a non-text format isn’t necessarily a problem for Google either, the main content doesn’t have to be written copy. So for example the feature grid is seen as part of the MC.

Additionally they also have lots of links to both customer care and company information, as well as lots of ‘About Us’ style information. This checks some big boxes in terms of page quality.

What to do

Google has simply been referring enquires about the update to this tweet...

There’s no “fix” for pages that may perform less well other than to remain focused on building great content. Over time, it may be that your content may rise relative to other pages.

— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) March 12, 2018

...which basically says little more than carry on existing and keep your fingers crossed.

We can gain a much better understanding from looking at their own Search Quality Raters Guidelines.

So if your site has taken a hit, or you’re taking sensible steps towards safeguarding against it being hit, then you need to focus on the areas Google highlights as being important for high quality page content.

A lot of this focuses around both YMYL sites but also E-A-T or Expertise, Authority and Trust. It’s worth noting Google recently updated its guidelines around this, including creating a higher bar for this for high quality content, stating:

“High E-A-T medical advice should be written or produced by people or organizations with appropriate medical expertise or accreditation”

So it’s not just the quality of the content, but also the reputation of both the wider site and the creator of that content. Site reputation is judged by a wide variety of well known metrics such as reviews, and we know links play an important role here. However the reputation of the content creator is a little different.

Google wants them not only to be someone authoritative, or at least credible in thier field; they also need an online presence to back it up…

“For content creators, look for biographical data and other sources not written by the individual”.

In summary

If your page comes under the very broad banner of YMYL you’ll want to:

  • Ronseal the page! So make sure it ‘does what it says on the tin’ or as Google would put it ‘fulfils its purpose’ so the user gets what they need out of the page.
  • Make sure there is a suitable amount of main content, and this must be genuinely useful content that helps the page fulfil its purpose.
  • Make sure there is suitable ‘About Us’ information accessible from the page that tells the user about the website.
  • Where content is authored by a specific person, rather than generic content by the website, it needs to contain suitable information about the author.  The author must be authoritative on the subject with an online presence to back it up.
  • If you sell any form of product, have good customer support mechanisms which are clearly explained and linked to from the page.

Finally, what has the impact on your sites been? Please do let us know in the comments if you’ve seen rises or losses. Anyone with a site with pages that have gone in both different directions would be especially interesting to hear from.

Either way, affected or not, please do let us know what you think in the comments.

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