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Google Confirms A Smaller Update as SEOs Report Turbulence, Changes

It is happening again: Google confirmed another update to their search algorithm that took place around September 27, 2018, though it appears to be much smaller than August’s E-A-T update.

Google’s Danny Sullivan confirmed that, unlike the E-A-T/Medic update, the September 27 update wasn’t major:

Of course, just because Google doesn’t see it as a major update doesn’t mean that it didn’t have an impact.

What Happened?

Rolling out on September 27 (Google’s 20th birthday, hence the affectionate nickname “the Birthday Update”), the update was relatively small compared to the broad core updates earlier this year.

While this “smaller” update may have impacted fewer sites than past algorithm changes, it certainly felt significant to those hit hardest by it. SEO folks around the globe reported significant spikes and drops in traffic, with one standout theme:

Most of the sites hit hardest back in August now seem to be recovering.

While it’s entirely possible that these gains are the result of diligent work to bring sites in line with the last update, it’s more likely that Google’s changes are responsible for these big shifts.

This could mean that Google’s Birthday Update was a direct tweak of whatever changes they made in August. As we know from past analyses, the August E-A-T update focused on those three key factors: expertise, authority, and trust.

Google’s process for evaluating these factors usually involves analyzing links, mentions, and other references.

With this in mind, trust, and Google’s approach to assessing it, might have been the biggest impact in this update, causing several reversals and course corrections in sites impacted by the August update.

Glenn Gabe’s analysis found significant reversals with the update. He also noted “tremors” in early October, potentially signalling further tweaks to the algorithm. These reversals and changes could very well be Google altering how it assesses how trustworthy a link or site might be.

Rollercoaster of Changes

Though Google described this update as “small,” even the smallest change can make the biggest impact. The rollercoaster rise and fall in rankings and traffic following this update show that there was plenty going on.

So was this just a tweak to the E-A-T update, a reversal, or a roll-back? Most analyses point to a tweak more than anything else. Looking at some of the available data, it’s easy to spot the pattern:

A graph of organic traffic sessions showing a decline following an algorithm update in late September.

Organic traffic took another hit following the Birthday Update.

Steve Paine at Sistrix had some very interesting observations about YMYL sites that directly point to this being an addendum to the E-A-T/Medic update, too:

A chart of winners and losers from the recent Google algorithm updates, courtesy of Steve Paine from Sistrix.

Note the inverted relationship between the winners and losers. Chart by Steve Paine at Sistrix.com.

Note the “u” and “n” shapes in these graphs and the timestamps. The “losers” in August—those sites hit hardest by the E-A-T update—see a sharp upswing with the Birthday update. August’s “winners,” meanwhile, show almost the complete opposite: immediate, impressive gains followed by a sharp drop in late September.

Marie Haynes’ in-depth analysis also found surprising correlations between update winners and various trust factors. Her research uncovered plenty of evidence to suggest that trust was the biggest factor affected by this update. This gels with Glenn Gabe’s own findings, as he emphasized the role of trust signals.

Understanding Trust

How does Google analyze something as broad as trust?

It is, after all, hard to define, especially in the context of the web. Thankfully, Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines offer a direct look into what the company considers trustworthy. In fact, the QRG are frequently pointed to by Danny Sullivan and others at Google as a “how-to” guide for creating the sorts of sites Google is looking for.

While it is easy to dismiss these guidelines as “make good websites,” they include serious, actionable intel available for SEOs and webmasters. If you want to improve your site’s trustworthiness, there’s plenty you can do.

Social media, brand mentions, and reputation management all play a significant role in developing trustworthiness. Links should not be overlooked, either! A good link profile can make the difference between SEO success and failure, and trusted, reliable sources and information appear to be more important than ever.

This also leads us to believe that these off-site signals play a significant role in Google’s analysis of a site’s trustworthiness. Reviews, reputation, and of course the E and A in E-A-T, cannot be overlooked.

Reviews and Reputation

Your business’ reputation is a valuable asset, even in the realm of online reviews. Google’s QRG specifically mention negative reviews on the Better Business Bureau as an example of something that could easily impact E-A-T, and it goes without saying that Google My Business reviews also play a role.

Simply put, reviews are a clear signal Google looks for to determine if your site is trustworthy or not based on your reputation. The opinions of your customers are typically the most impartial information presented to the public regarding your business.

Google surfaces and centralizes these opinions in Google My Business review listings, which pop up when users search for your business or click on your business’ description in SERPs.

Assuming your reviews are all positive, you’re golden, but of course, nothing is ever quite that simple. Reputation management works to maintain positive relationships with your customers while addressing their complaints and concerns.

Don’t leave negative reviews to sit unanswered! They’re an opportunity for you to follow up and address the situation. By reaching out in such a public space, you’re demonstrating that you at least care enough to make things right.

An example of a Google Business snippet.

SEO TWIST’s own business snippet, as featured on Google Search – note that reviews get plenty of space!

Positive reviews translate into a positive reputation, as do media mentions and your social presence. Do not overlook them!

Demonstrated Expertise and Authority

The E and A in E-A-T are closely linked to Trustworthiness. It goes without saying that demonstrating your expertise and authority in a given niche, vertical, or industry are vital towards developing trust.

But how do you develop these things?

It’s a challenge, to be sure. We recommend a strong content strategy to help develop unique, winning material that you can then push via social and digital channels. As always, the hardest part is getting noticed, but once you’ve built a following and earned a few mentions and links elsewhere, it’s easy to build and grow.

But still, you can’t just become an expert overnight. Highlight the people in your organization and focus on the knowledge. Bring that bear in conjunction with your content strategy (especially in YMYL industries!) and you should start to see gains.

There’s still no quick fix for any of the impacts these updates have, but with some careful planning and the right approach, you can rebuild rankings, regain lost traffic, and get a better handle on the ins and outs of Google search.

Check back in the coming weeks for more updates on the October rollercoasters and volatility, leading up to the Halloween Update on the 31st!