The first quarter of 2020 has been a turbulent time in the Google SERPs, with the search results being affected by both layout alterations and algorithm updates. An apparent Google Update was observed on the 7th and 8th of February 2020, and led to SEOs, webmasters and Google search enthusiasts reporting huge changes in their rankings and traffic. Unlike the previous major Google Updates – the February Update was not announced via Google’s official search liaison Twitter channel, and Google has since denied rolling out any Core Update. Yet reports suggest that Google did twiddle the knobs on its search algorithm, with many websites feeling the impact. Read on for background and analysis.
Summary: Google Update February 2020
On Sunday, the 9th of February 2020, Barry Schwartz published an article on Search Engine RoundTable where he reported on “really big, maybe even massive” changes taking place in the Google search results. Over the weekend of 7th and 8th of February, reports emerged around the web of sites experiencing significant drops and spikes in their organic traffic.
Here are a few of the main points taken from Schwartz’ report and readers’ comments:
- Update was initially neither announced nor confirmed by Google
- On February 13th, Google states that there was no Core Update
- Update affects many different niches, and websites with very different profiles – i.e. no clear pattern to websites impacted
- Some sites losing and then gaining traffic – possible sign of Google testing
- Some speculation, though considered unlikely, as to whether the fluctuations observed are connected to layout/HTML changes in the SERPs
- Update clearly not affected everyone (yet), as some readers comment that they have not observed any change.
Google says: February Update not a Core Update
Since the Core Update in March 2019, it has been Google’s practice to announce (or even pre-announce, as it did in June 2019) major updates to its core algorithm via its Search Liaison Twitter account, run by Danny Sullivan. However, since this change in communication policy, introduced in an attempt to increase transparency and prevent some of the wild speculation around updates, there have still been instances of major fluctuation in the Google search results, providing strong evidence than an update has been released unannounced. One such example last year was the November 2019 Update, which was not pre-announced and only commented on by Google sometime after many SEOs had seen their rankings affected.
“Some have asked if we had an update to Google Search last week [in November]. We did, actually several updates, just as we have several updates in any given week on a regular basis.” – Google comments following the November Update.
The ranking changes being observed in February 2020 were also not-preannounced by Google. And, a few days after the first chatterings in the SEO community, Danny Sullivan responded to talk on Twitter by making it clear this was not a Core Update. “We do updates all the time,” he said.
We do updates all the time. I would suggest rereading our general advice about this: https://t.co/aL4QObvvhH
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) February 13, 2020
This is similar to the somewhat delayed confirmation by Google in November 2019, which also avoided mention of any Core Update, but referred to “several updates”. This could be an indication that, while Google is happy to confirm what it considers major algorithm changes, it continues to experiment and make alterations to its search algorithm, some of which clearly have a bigger impact on rankings than others. This unconfirmed update in February 2020 is likely a result of such experimentation.
SERP Turbulence in Q1 2020 – Layout changes, Featured Snippets and Core Updates
After the BERT Update in late 2019 was dubbed the biggest change to the Google search algorithm of the past five years, Google hasn’t been dragging its heels this year. Early 2020 has already seen a number of alterations to the Google SERPs – both affecting the way the algorithm evaluates pages and the way the ranked results are displayed to users. Here is a quick run-down of the biggest causes of SERP turbulence of the year so far.