The first Google Update of 2019 has caused major upheaval in the global search results. What do the winners and losers of the March 2019 Google Core Algorithm Update have in common.
Google has – not for the first time – adjusted the search results with a particular focus on sensitive topics. Many websites affected are those in the health industry that provide information on YMYL search queries (Your Money or Your Life). Read on for our analysis of the first official Google Update of 2019, including the top winners and losers.
Google confirms Update – and even suggests a name
The first official Google Update of 2019 has arrived. The Core Algorithm Update 2019 was rolled out on 12th March 2019, and has affected search results in Google indexes worldwide. This is the first time in 2019 that Google has officially confirmed the release of an update, following confirmation of the previous Google Core Algorithm Update, in 2018. This time around, Google has even suggested a name for the update, albeit not an overly creative one: “March 2019 Core Update”. This information has all been verified by the Google SearchLiaison Twitter account.
The analysis shows that Google continues to fine-tune its search results for queries related to particularly sensitive topics, such as those dealing with health questions. Following the E-A-T Update in August 2018, which is also known as the Medic Update, and E-A-T Update No. 2 in early October 2018, we see that, once again, the March 2019 Google Core Update has had a large impact on websites in this industry.
If we look at health websites found amongst the overall winners of last year from our 2018 Google winners and losers analysis, then we see that several of them are now amongst the biggest losers of this latest Google Update. For example, everydayhealth.com and verywellhealth.com each lost half of their SEO Visibility in the weeks after the Google Update.
At the same time, we see other health websites benefiting from others’ decline. One such site is draxe.com, which received a significant boost from this update. This health website was one of the worst hit by both 2018 iterations of the E-A-T Update – yet now the Google Core Update 2019 has increased the SEO Visibility of draxe.com by 300 percent in 3 weeks.
Another clear trend resulting from this update seems to be Google favoring websites, particularly when users are searching for sensitive YMYL keywords, that are able to provide a higher level of trust. The main beneficiaries of this focus are websites with a strong brand profile and a broad topical focus. On the flipside, this has meant that niche websites dealing with these topics have seen their rankings fall.
As Martin Mißfeldt reports (link to German report), almost all domains that he is responsible for have seen their traffic and turnover hit by the update. These are mostly health websites dealing with niche topics like blutwert.net (blood counts), brillen-sehhilfen.de (glasses) and erythrozyten.net (red blood cells). These domains all saw their traffic fall by around two thirds compared with before the update, and they all experienced similar losses in turnover. Mißfeldt’s theory is that his domains could – from Google’s point of view – have lost some of their expert status as a result of the update.
An analysis conducted by Malte Landwehr, VP Product at Searchmetrics, suggests that Google’s algorithm has increased its weighting of user signals when calculating rankings. The results show that domains that improved their SEO Visibility following the Google Core Update have higher values for time on site and page views per visit, and lower bounce rates than their online competitors.
|Time On Site||Pages per Visit||Bounce Rate|
Just take a look on the contrast of the average time on site for all winners and losers. The update winners have an average time on site of 2:29 minutes – that’s 26 percent more than the update losers, which have an average time on site of 1:58 minutes. Similar differences can be found when analyzing the pages per visit or the bounce rate.
These findings are of great interest because these user signals are some of the “hardest” ranking factors. If users spend longer on a domain, open more pages per visit and bounce less often back to the Google search results, then the page must be doing something right. However, optimizing for these three metrics isn’t the answer for every single search query. Some searches – and the search intents behind them – will be fully satisfied by a short visit to website (though here there is an ever-increasing danger that Google is already, or will soon be able to answer such queries itself).
This analysis is based on the top 100 winners and losers of the Google Update. Domains have been excluded where SimilarWeb could not provide user signal data, where there has been a domain migration or where the weekly SEO Visibility change was under 10 percent.
Google Update – Selected Winners and Losers
The following lists show a selections of winners and losers of the week of the Core Google Update. The rankings are ordered by the net gain of change in SEO Visibility in the US index of Google.com, based on data from 17th March 2019. For comparison, the percentage change to the pre-update week is also given. Not all changes that took place last week will be a direct consequence of the Google Core Update, but a look at the weekly winners and losers provides a good first overview of the update’s impact.
On 1st April 2019, the lists of winners and losers for Google.com were revised to to provide a clear, more relevant analysis. The selected winners and losers were filtered manually and now contain, for example, only domains that saw an increase or decrease of at least 10% SEO Visibility – with one exception. Despite losing only 9 and 8 percent respectively, the losers everydayhealth.com and verywellhealth.com have been kept in the list, because their downward trends continued in subsequent weeks – see chapter “Big Changes for Health Websites”.
Conclusion: 3 ways to win from future Google Updates
With its first official update of 2019, Google has made another major alteration to the workings of its algorithm. But how can website owners deal with losses or how can they protect themselves from being negatively impacted by any future updates?
1. Build brand & trust
One of the key investments for website owners is building a brand and expertise in a topic segment so that users and Google trust the site. It also creates long-term user relationships and makes the website more independent of individual Google updates: More Direct Traffic, less dependency from organic search.
“Branding and user experience are becoming increasingly important for Google. Websites that aren’t positioned at the end of a transactional user journey have to offer more than just good, holistic content and crawler-friendly technical infrastructure.” Malte Landwehr, VP Product, Searchmetrics
The Google search results are no different from any other place where users interact with brands – people are more likely to click on a result if they recognize a website than if they don’t. This creates improved user signals and can have a long-term positive impact on rankings, traffic and conversions. In this regard, it is possible for a website to establish itself as a well-known brand authority for subjects around a particular topic. Niche pages that are only dedicated to one keyword cluster are likely to struggle to compete long-term with larger, better-recognized brands.
2. Follow Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines
Most of the readers of this blog are probably already familiar with Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines. Google publishes these as recommendations for testers who are tasked with the manual evaluation of the quality of websites appearing in the search results. But, hand on heart, who of you has actually read and memorized all 164 pages of the document? It is worth doing, because this is where Google has clearly formulated guidelines that describe the kinds of search results it considers desirable, making the Quality Rater Guidelines a valuable source of numerous tips for website owners.
3. Optimize for user intent
Does my page meet user expectations? Do I provide precisely those answers that users are looking for? To ensure that the answer to both of these questions is a definitive “yes”, you need to do more than optimize for one or two main keywords. However, covering a topic holistically won’t always be successful either. Theoretically, every topic and every search query demands its own kind of answer. The expectations users have when searching for a particular topic, the kinds of related questions that users are asking and the intent – navigational, informational or transactional – that is motivating the search query – are best analyzed with the aid of a dedicated software solution.