Short answer: Do the right things right. That’s Google’s frustrating advice for how to recover from a broad core update in a nutshell, but what does it mean?
What Is a Broad Core Update?
First, let’s review how Google has structured some of its largest algorithm updates over the last few years. Rather than targeting specific negative actions like building a bunch of spammy links or creating lots of pages with little valuable content, these broad core updates seek to improve the rankings for pages that offer strong content, authority, and user experience.
How Often Do Broad Core Updates Happen?
Broad core updates are just larger versions of the daily algorithm tweaks that happen without much fanfare. Google releases thousands of changes to its algorithm each year. Google only announces the updates that it feels change performance significantly, like the broad core updates.
Google releases these larger broad core updates three to four times a year, ostensibly on a quarterly cadence. In 2021 there were three, but so far in 2022, we’ve only seen one. The last two years’ worth of Broad Core Updates were released in:
- May 2022 Broad Core Update: Launched May 25 and finished rolling out June 9, 2022;
- November 2021 Broad Core Update: Launched November 17 and hit the Black Friday selling season hard;
- July 2021 Broad Core Update: Launched July 1 and finished rolling out July 12, 2021;
- June 2021 Broad Core Update: Launched June 2 and finished rolling out June 2, 2021.
How to Recover from a Broad Core Update
First, let’s look at Google’s take on what to do if your site has been negatively impacted by a broad core algorithm update:
“We know those with sites that experience drops will be looking for a fix, and we want to ensure they don’t try to fix the wrong things. Moreover, there might not be anything to fix at all. There’s nothing wrong with pages that may perform less well in a core update. They haven’t violated our webmaster guidelines nor been subjected to a manual or algorithmic action, as can happen to pages that do violate those guidelines. In fact, there’s nothing in a core update that targets specific pages or sites. Instead, the changes are about improving how our systems assess content overall. These changes may cause some pages that were previously under-rewarded to do better.” — Google Search Central Blog
Honestly, that’s a very frustrating statement for sites that rely on organic search traffic to sell products or drive ad revenue. However, it is the reality of the Internet age that Google giveth and Google taketh away.
Still, we aren’t helpless. Google rewards sites with rankings for doing the right things right in its algorithmic view. So to determine what to do, we need to analyze the sites that Google has determined are doing things “right.”
Review the search results for some of the important queries you lost ground in and try to determine what makes the newly risen stronger in ways that Google says they value. Again, Google says they value:
- Depth and accuracy of content;
- Expertise of content, authors, and links;
- Customer experience metrics like Core Web Vitals and mobile usability.
When you get to specifics, though, things get very subjective very quickly when you’re a human. You’ve spent good money and time on your website and its content, and you’re proud of it. You think it’s the best content to be ranked highly in search results because you’re proud of the way that you do business. And you need organic search to work for you. I get it.
Search engines, however, have to work in a more regimented, colder way. Try to assume the mindset of the search engine and the information it has to work from.
Let’s take depth of content, for example. Google’s measurements draw information from pages from all over the internet to determine what needs to be included to be considered “complete” information. Accuracy of content can only be determined algorithmically by consensus of opinion among sources that are considered authoritative — again, algorithmically. Authority is computed algorithmically in part using links and mentions in other authoritative sources, much like you would cite an authoritative source in a report.
None of these things take into account your validity as a business or the sincerity of your desire to provide customers with a great site.
To try to bridge the gap between the cold, hard reality of their algorithms and your subjective human nature, Google put together a list of questions to ask yourself. These questions are designed to help you see the differences between your site and those you compete with more objectively. As you read them, try to put yourself in the place of a searcher who knows nothing about your business or your website. This is a subset of the questions I find most helpful. See Google’s blog post for the complete list.
- “Does the content provide a substantial, complete, or comprehensive description of the topic?”
- “Does the content provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?”
- “If the content draws on other sources, does it avoid simply copying or rewriting those sources and instead provide substantial additional value and originality?”
- “Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?”
- “Does the content present information in a way that makes you want to trust it, such as clear sourcing, evidence of the expertise involved, background about the author or the site that publishes it, such as through links to an author page or a site’s About page?”
- “Was the content produced well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?”
- “Does the content provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?”
Google’s broad core updates can feel like a punishment when your site has been negatively impacted. Rather than shaking your fist at Google, though, try to think more objectively about your site and the ways that other sites might appear better to Google. Emulating and improving upon the strategies that those sites employ is the answer to regaining your share of organic search results.