How Google’s Search-Engine Algorithm Update Could Shape Your Website Metrics
Google implemented a “broad core update” to its search-engine algorithm on May 25, 2022, as announced by Danny Sullivan, a Public Liaison for Google Search.
Its full effects take a couple weeks to manifest because Google rolls out major updates gradually.
This is Google’s first broad core update in over six months since November, 2021.
An algorithm update is a big deal. It means Google is refining how its search engine interprets webpages, which impacts your company’s rankings, traffic and, subsequently, revenue.
It is hard to assess, let alone prepare for, a broad core update. Google doesn’t specify what the update is nor how it will affect your website metrics because broad core updates have wide scopes.
So what’s the deal? How will this Google algorithm update modify your website’s performance? How will website content play a role? And, ultimately, what does this mean for your business?
We’ll go over everything you need to know about Google’s May 2022 core update!
What Is a Broad Core Update?
Broad core updates represent an overall tweaking of the algorithm instead of a targeted effort.
Think of it in terms of car maintenance. An engine tuneup maintains overall performance but isn’t a particular fix meant to identify a specific problem.
Google’s broad core updates impact search-engine ranking factors across the board without addressing any one component in detail. That’s why Google calls them “broad.”
Past updates like Panda and Penguin were targeted, specifically looking at the quality of backlinks and content.
Other updates are more specific still. For example, Google Search adjusted how product reviews and spam impact relevant rankings in December & November, respectively, of 2021.
But broad core updates? They change how the algorithm values a webpage in a more wide-ranging way. Who knows what could happen!
So then how in the heck are you supposed to respond to broad core updates?
You just need to ensure you’re nailing all the essential best practices. Know how to optimize content for SEO, provide great user experiences, have fast page speeds and build healthy backlinks!
What Happened in Previous Broad Core Updates?
We mentioned the most recent broad core update before this one was in November, 2021. But the June/July 2021 update is what actually takes the cake for the most website impact.
That’s because the update was so large, Google split its deployment into two, launching the first half of it in June and then finishing up in July. This was largely unprecedented.
Data analysts observed a lot of volatility for website performances across many industries as Google Search rolled out the June/July 2021 broad core update.
One analyst described it as “one of the largest core updates we’ve seen from Google yet.”
Will this May 2022 update have the same punch? How will it impact your company’s website? Importantly, how will it affect your business and what do you have to do? Let’s try to find out!
What Is Unique About This New Broad Core-Algorithm Update?
In a way, nothing. Or, at least nothing that the public can confirm.
Again, when it comes to broad core updates, Google never provides any specific details. All we know is these updates have the potential to significantly disrupt rankings on Google Search.
The SEO community had (correctly) speculated about an impending core update about a week before it happened, causing many to guess that data changes during that time were casualties.
But according to Search Engine Land, John Mueller, a Webmaster-Trends Analyst at Google, said that, “when we announce core updates, we start the rollout at that point, not beforehand.”
And broad core updates tend to be rolled out over time. So any noticeable differences in website traffic from late May into mid-June we can safely assume were influenced by this new update.
Takeaways From Google’s May 2022 Core Update
Let’s start by researching some of the data related to this broad core-algorithm update and what we can glean for brands and content marketers.
1. What Google Did Advise With the Update Announcement
As is typical, Google doesn’t provide any specific feedback, preemptive or otherwise, about how content marketers and website managers can prepare for or adjust to a broad core update.
In fact, Google tried to impart on many, “don’t try to fix the wrong things,” shortly before acknowledging that, for some, “there might not be anything to fix at all.”
But surely there must be some way to narrow down a particular takeaway and receive actionable advice from Google?!
Well, actually, kind of, yes.
Whenever Google announces a broad core update, as general advice, they always point to documentation for search-ranking best practices unchanged since 2019.
Here, Google explains that content marketers and SEO specialists can best spend their energy after a broad core update by “focusing on ensuring you’re offering the best content you can.”
This means providing:
- Original information, reporting, research or analysis;
- A substantial, complete or comprehensive description of the topic; and
- Insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious.
As a rule of thumb, if your site’s rankings increased, your content probably already exhibits these practices. Conversely, if your rankings dropped, you likely need to up your content game.
2. Focus on E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, Trust)
No, not food!
E-A-T is the acronym that Google uses to describe best practices for optimizing content to rank well on their search engine.
It stands for Expertise, Authority, Trust. Simply put, does your content a) demonstrate expertise in your field, b) come from a position of authority and c) compel readers to find you trustworthy?
Your goal as a website marketer responsible for online leads and digital sales should be to answer “yes” to all these questions.
There is no concrete ranking factor in Google’s algorithm that represents E-A-T directly, but Google confirmed in 2019 that multiple ranking factors do encompass the principles of E-A-T.
And Google explicitly encourages focusing on E-A-T in their documentation mentioned above about core-algorithm updates.
We can therefore safely assume a connection between ranking drops from the May 2022 broad core update and content that underwhelms at exhibiting E-A-T.
In fact, content marketer Will James claimed that some victims of the core update lost ground on search engines because of their lack of E-A-T.
Because the update hurt rankings for generalist websites more than for specialist websites with a narrower scope of topics, James induced generalist websites were diluting their expertise.
So, how can you guard against future performance setbacks of your website and optimize for E-A-T?
Follow a Google E-A-T checklist and ensure content is comprehensive; authoritative by focusing on a niche; written by reputable authors; and commentated on by experts where needed.
3. Volatility in Website Rankings Is Common After Broad Core Updates
If your website rankings bounced all over the place after the May 2022 Google broad core update, we can assure you that you are not alone.
It’s not uncommon after a broad core update for websites to see volatile rankings because Google rolls out their algorithm updates gradually.
It’s why these updates always take a couple of weeks to settle and why we saw volatility for multiple days following both the June/July 2021 update & the November 2021 update.
But so far, the May 2022 update had a briefer but more intense volatile period that has leveled out.
This is significant despite the leveling-out because the results could foretell potential long-term impacts yet to happen.
So what do we know?
From the two Semrush graphs below, all industries (except real estate) had slightly smaller ranges of rank volatility than from before—but also higher (or at least even) peak volatilities.
This consistency makes it difficult to pinpoint specific impacts by industry.
Couple the consistency with the intensity itself of the volatility and it’s more likely a stronger sign than of anything else that Google is both improving & expediting their rollouts of these updates.
For instance, take a look below at contrasting examples from industry pros about the same industry: healthcare.
Different results, but same vertical.
Could we attribute the lost rankings to a skew against non-English sites, as the commentary suggests is plausible? It’s possible, but then again, that factor isn’t consistent across industries.
What this all means is that the best practices moving forward are agnostic towards industry.
All industries need content and Google applies the same principles of content to all industries.
Implementations, messaging, use cases, etc., may differ—but the underlying principles to gauge value are the same.
Take a look at this last data set below:
Most industries (except some like Arts & Entertainment and Books & Literature) more or less saw high-level parity between average gains and average losses in search-engine rankings.
Well, this analysis reinforces the idea that valuable content with quality checks—including E-A-T but also branding guidelines to compel your audience—is both relevant and universal.
4. Which Search-Engine Features Had Definite Impacts?
Snippets! You love ’em? Well do we have great news for you!
That’s right, the May 2022 Google broad core update has definitively impacted multiple snippet types for SERPs, like FAQ snippets and featured snippets.
What has this looked like? And what will this impact mean for your company’s SEO?
The Impact on FAQ Snippets
Let’s start with FAQ snippets. Yes, those pesky little buggers that provide short, direct answers to variations of users’ queries underneath webpage listings on SERPs.
A fascinating result of the broad core update reported on by Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable is that FAQ snippets on SERPs have increased from 22% to 27% of queries.
That means FAQs are showing up on Google Search almost 23% more often than before. That’s huge!
Granted, the source data, from Rank Ranger, groups FAQ snippets and how-to snippets together.
But the conclusions have been validated externally, including by SEO expert and Search Engine Land columnist Glenn Gabe.
Gabe analyzed multiple case studies to observe that “Google [is] showing more search results with FAQ rich results.”
How is this significant?
Well, on one hand, FAQ results ostensibly enable Google to siphon clicks from your website (it’s another clickable element on the SERP for users to find an answer to their query, isn’t it?).
But they also empower your webpages to attract more clicks by adding credibility and expertise to your SERP listings themselves.
Plus, qualifying for FAQ appearances helps improve your main search rankings as a whole, since strong content for FAQ snippets could be what lifts your content to the top!
Make sure you mark up FAQ content with relevant structured data on your website.
And improve your content with information suitable for questions related to target keyterms. Do keyword research or even something as simple as analyzing “People Also Ask” questions.
The Impact on Featured Snippets
As for featured snippets? Recall the observation in the above-referenced tweet by SEO professional Lily Ray that there have been “massive fluctuations with featured snippets.”
Well, Gabe echoed those observations, noting a distinct “surge or drop in featured snippets” from the May 2022 broad core update.
That means all those information pieces at the top of SERPs above the traditional listings, including highlighted paragraphs, bullets, lists, tables or videos, have seen big gains or losses.
And that’s a big deal for a lot of businesses because featured snippets deliver relatively high proportions of organic traffic.
As Gabe elaborates, sites not “seen as high quality/relevant anymore can lose featured snippets when negatively impacted by a broad core update.”
So what should you do? Check your featured snippets; you can easily track them if you’re not already with tools like Ahrefs, Semrush or Google Search Console.
If you find you’ve lost any, you’ll know where and how to improve your content quality as a result of the May 2022 broad core update.
5. The Big Kahunas: What Won the May 2022 Update
Drumroll please! *Drumroll sounds* And the big winners of the May 2022 Google broad core-algorithm update are…videos, content specialization and search-intent matching!
Okay, that’s maybe not the sexiest sentence to read out loud, so let’s parse these out.
These analyses came from Malte Landwehr, Head of SEO at idealo, the largest ecommerce publishing platform in Germany, from cross-referencing data from Semrush and SISTRIX.
With this data, we see some fairly consistent and convincing conclusions about SEO after the broad core update in three areas that could inspire amazing content ideas for your business.
The Rise of Video (Again)!
We know, we know. Digital marketers have been hailing the “rise of video” for several years now.
In fact, we have to go that far back to get to when I first heard a now-former boss of mine proclaim to the audience at an industry seminar that “videos are the future—and they’re here!”
Just look at this sample SERP in the below image. Not a lot of diversity in the metatitles for these webpages that are themselves spread out over a few years, is there?
Of course, it all seems a bit silly.
Even that now-former boss of mine was mildly embarrassed by one of my then-colleagues who made an astute reflection in response. (Don’t worry—no one got fired!)
That reflection? Video isn’t always ideal because it’s often easier to quickly scan well-organized text, such as a blog post, for specific answers to a particular query.
But the medium wouldn’t hold back! TikTok has exploded the popularity of shorts, YouTube videos are well-structured with labeled sections and video-embedding is as effective as ever.
Landweher discovered that video websites improved their online visibility by a whopping 25% after the broad core update.
The takeaway? If you’re not already complementing your written content with videos, there is a huge missed opportunity for scaling your website traffic, lead volumes and your revenue.
Nobody Likes a Know-it-All! Show Why You’re the Best in What You Know
Remember the above comment about how the broad core update hurt generalist websites more than specialist websites with a narrower scope of topics?
This observation corresponds with Landweher’s take that websites like news publishers, “known for trying to rank for everything—lost on average 4% of their Google rankings.”
So what is the take here? You try to rank for lots of things and you’ll end up ranking for nothing. Know your niche and demonstrate your expertise there. Your organic metrics will reward you.
Content Is King? More Like Context Is King!
Back in the day, it was easy to pump out semi-relevant content about any given topic and win high search-engine rankings by covering these topics with broad details.
Encyclopedia- and database-style websites (think Wikipedia copycats, online dictionaries, song-lyric & stock-photo websites and the like), were masters at this.
As Landweher describes it, such sites “contain pages for virtually any topic that seems relevant based on term frequency-inverse document frequency[to retrieve content info from an index].”
What does this mean and why is it a problem?
Term frequency-inverse document frequency looks at the relationship between keyword volume and the degree to which keywords are spread out when search engines retrieve data
These websites were leveraging this method to rank for queries despite not going in depth to match more specific intentions behind the queries.
The free ride is over, as evidenced by the below data.
Landweher notes these sites “rarely match the [user’s] search intent.”
This means that generic content about a particular topic could rank well even if it didn’t specifically address a search query, but the May 2022 update is reigning this in.
So focusing on contextual relevance in your content, deemphasizing exact keyword-matching (especially keyword-stuffing!) and providing real value for a search query is key to success.
It’s actually simple. Ask yourself honestly: does your webpage’s content provide helpful value relevant to the page’s scope and reflective of typical queries that would lead visitors there?
If so, you’ve created what’s known as “search-intent matching,” where your content closely matches the intention of the search-engine user based on their query.
Time to watch your website’s organic traffic skyrocket!
Bottom Line? Quality Content Is the Name of the Game
If there’s one thing Google’s May 2022 broad core update is teaching us, it’s that the time to raise your quality standards for website content was…yesterday!
It’s no secret that Google’s own guidelines recommend following E-A-T best practices as evidenced by the results of this update rollout.
From intense ranking volatility and impacted snippets to more attention on videos, content specialization and search-intent mapping, publishing great content is a must for online visibility.
Investing in SEO content services can empower you to leverage subject-matter expertise and efficiently publish high-quality content on your website to start boosting your traffic.
And with time, you can say goodbye to broad-core anxiety for good!