In this in-depth analysis, Marie discusses her findings and thoughts on the May 2022 core update following the completion of the rollout.
- What’s important to know about the May 2022 core update?
- What happened with featured snippets? Why was there so much volatility?
- How were video-heavy sites impacted by the update?
- How were affiliate-centric sites impacted by the update?
- Was link quality a component of the update?
- What sites did well with the update?
- If I’ve been negatively impacted by the May 2022 core update, is recovery possible?
About Marie Haynes
Marie is the founder of MHC, a digital marketing agency that specializes in understanding and improving website quality in Google’s eyes. MHC is known for their work on improving E-A-T and all other aspects of site quality.
Google announced a new core update release on May 25, 2022. This update impacted many sites across varied verticals. A core update happens when Google makes significant, broad changes to their search algorithms and systems. This was a big one!
As with all core updates, this is an update to Google’s core ranking system, meaning that no one thing has been targeted unlike, say, the link spam update. Instead, core updates involve changes being made on a global basis to how Google indexes and ranks content, with the ultimate goal being to drive search forward to produce results that:
- Better match searcher intent.
- Are more relevant for the users’ query.
- More closely resemble the quality standards laid out by Google in documents such as the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines and Google’s blog post on Core Updates.
From Google’s blog post announcing the May core update on May 25, 2022:
- The update finished rolling out on June 9, 2022. However, there has been significant SERP turbulence in the days following, so there is still a lot of volatility.
- If impacted, Google recommends reading their blog post on what site owners should know about core updates. This is the post that shares 20 questions similar to the Amit Singhal Panda questions.
- The update is not about violating the webmaster guidelines. It does not penalize link building. Nor is it a manual or algorithmic action. The changes are about improving how Google assesses content overall and how they understand what kind of content best matches the intent of a query.
- Google links to a Google help forum thread discussing this update.
There's so much in this one paragraph on Google's post about the May core update
➡️Pages are not penalized – previously unrewarded pages may do better
➡️Not about violating the webmaster guidelines
➡️Doesn't target specific pages or sites
➡️Core is about how G assesses content pic.twitter.com/5rKR5dgMJD
— Dr. Marie Haynes🐧 (@Marie_Haynes) June 3, 2022
Following the update, many site owners reported fully losing all of their featured snippet rankings. This is not that unusual for a core update because losing organic rankings will make it harder to rank in a featured snippet. What is unusual though is that sites were losing featured snippets but not dropping in organic rankings.
Monday News: More sites being hit by “Snippetgeddon” in this Core Update ✂️
where Google seemingly excludes entire sites from appearing in featured snippets ❌
An example targeted in previous updates is;
GamerJournalist(.)com. Lost all of its featured snippets 😞 pic.twitter.com/qSZxayP4NG
— Ted French (@TedFrench) May 30, 2022
It is possible Google has raised the bar on what level of E-A-T is required to rank for a featured snippet. It is also possible that Google is using Natural Language Processing to better understand whether the content is relevant and trustworthy enough to rank in this position.
We don’t know exactly why so many sites lost featured snippets without losing organic rankings. If you have theories on this or a case you’d like to share, you can reach out to Marie on Twitter to help us investigate further. Or, you can contact the MHC team to have us study and consult specifically on your site’s situation.
Video heavy sites appear to be doing well. Malte Landwehr reported that several video-heavy sites, especially TikTok did well following the may core update:
In the video space, there are basically only winners.
TikTok grew a staggering 99%. And Youtube – already one of the most dominant websites in Google`s organic rankings- grew another 23%!😲
In total, video websites gained 25% during this update.
— Malte Landwehr (@MalteLandwehr) May 30, 2022
This is not surprising. Core updates, amongst other things, try to better match searcher intent, and intent is a shifting target. We think it’s safe to say that more and more people are interested in consuming video content. The ability of Google to match queries with relevant video content could suggest they have integrated more machine learning around parsing out video content.
We expect we will see more sites rewarded in the future for having original, helpful video and image content, especially when Google fully integrates MUM. Google says “MUM is multimodal, so it understands information across text and images and, in the future, can expand to more modalities like video and audio.”
We saw many reports of sites created for affiliate sales being negatively impacted by the May core update. Many of the sites sent to us for review were ones that write about products and use affiliate links to monetize.
Google has documentation on what is important if you run an affiliate heavy website. Here are some key points from that document:
- Sites featuring mostly content from affiliate networks can suffer in Google’s search rankings because they do not have enough added value content that differentiates them from other sites on the web.
- A “thin” affiliate site often contains pages with product affiliate links on which the product descriptions and reviews are copied directly from the original merchant without any original content or added value. Also, the majority of the site is made for affiliation and contains a limited amount of original content or added value for users.
They do point out that not all affiliate sites are thin. “A good affiliate site can add value by offering original product reviews, ratings, navigation of products or categories, and product comparisons.”
If you run an affiliate site, we would also recommend paying close attention to Google’s recommendations for sites that write product reviews. Many product review websites and e-commerce sites were also impacted by this update.
There is much more advice in the blog post, so if you run an affiliate website, it is recommended you thoroughly study it.
Google ends this article by reminding affiliate marketers to be mindful of their guidelines in regard to paid links.
Google has told us in the past that core updates are not related to demoting sites because of a spammy or paid link profile. Here is a quote from John Mueller in a Google help hangout:
“In general, with the core updates, if you’re seeing changes there, usually that’s more related to trying to figure out what the relevance of a site is, overall, and less related to things like spammy links. So that’s something where I wouldn’t expect any reaction in a core update based on random spammy links that go to your website.”
Google’s Gary Illyes has also said that core updates are not related to the quality of your backlink profile.
However, there is no denying that many of the sites that were impacted negatively by the May core update had been involved in building links for the purpose of SEO.
Here is an example. This site has been thriving and growing since its launch. Despite lacking real-world expertise, the site has good content and has attracted some links naturally. But most of the links pointing at this site are ones that were manufactured in mostly “white hat” ways – HARO mentions, relationships with journalists who need quotes, getting content published on authoritative websites, etc. These links were good links, but were not true recommendations. They were the result of the hard work of skilled link builders.
You can see that the number of links pointing to this site have been steadily increasing:
Referring domains as exported from Ahrefs.com
Traffic was growing nicely until the May Core update hit.
Estimated organic traffic as exported from Ahrefs.com
This was a common pattern we saw when analyzing many of the sites that suffered with this update. While some may conclude that Google has penalized these sites for link building, we think there is a better explanation.
As Google improves their ability to understand language, they get better at understanding which content is truly helpful and authoritative. In doing so, they may be able to put less emphasis on PageRank when it comes to determining authoritativeness. If true, this means that links that used to help support rankings may not be as valuable.
We expect that disavowing these links will not help this site improve. This situation is very similar to the November 8, 2019 unannounced Google update that we initially thought was related to link quality. In hindsight, that update followed on the heels of Google’s announcement about using BERT to understand searches better than ever before. BERT is particularly useful in understanding the intent behind a query.
Google tells us that BERT applies to both ranking models and featured snippets: “For featured snippets, we’re using a BERT model to improve featured snippets in the two dozen countries where this feature is available.”
We have been learning about Google’s increased semantic abilities. As Google better understands language, they get much better at surfacing relevant and helpful content. Here is more information from Marie and the MHC team as we have been learning more about Google’s semantic search capabilities:
Marie discusses semantic search on the Search News You Can Use podcast. As well as,
Marie’s SMX talk on using knowledge of semantic search to improve E-A-T.
In this Twitter thread, Marie discusses some of MHC’s current and past clients that saw nice increases following the May core update.
Here are some of the sites we monitor that did well following the May core update and the tremors that followed. A little thread with what these sites cover and why they may have done well.
— Dr. Marie Haynes🐧 (@Marie_Haynes) June 14, 2022
Years ago, we could often analyze an update and put together theories on the specifics of what Google had changed. Perhaps alternative medical sites were affected, or government sites were rewarded. While there can be some value in looking at which sites won and lost with an update, we feel we are unlikely to be able to pinpoint any specific thing that changed or is to blame for core update losses.
The May core update impacted sites across many verticals. Here are some patterns we noticed amongst sites that did well.
- Real world expertise where appropriate for the query
- Well structured pages with good use of headings and easily skimmable text
- Truly valuable and trustworthy content
John Mueller commented in an October 2021 Google help hangout that core updates do not tend to be about technical issues, but rather, “the focus of the content, the way you’re presenting things, the way you’re making it clear to users what’s behind the content, like what the sources are, all of these things. “
Google is likely using machine learning to determine which factors to weigh when ranking sites for some queries. As John Mueller has said in the past, “With machine learning what [Google] can essentially do is say well this is the outcome that we want to have achieved and machine learning algorithms should figure out these weights on their own.”
Recovery from a core update hit is certainly possible! At MHC, we specialize in helping sites improve their quality in ways that Google will reward.
Our recommendations are as follows:
- Thoroughly review the questions Google says to ask yourself in their blog post on core updates. For example: Do you have original reporting, research and analysis? Is it insightful and interesting? Are there any easily verified factual errors? Are you known as an authority on your topic?
- Improve your E-A-T. In the core update blog post Google says, “assessing your own content in terms of E-A-T criteria may help align it conceptually with the different signals that [their] automated systems use to rank content. Improving E-A-T can involve getting links and mentions on authoritative sites and improving Google’s understanding of the entities associated with your brand. Schema use can help. External recommendations from other authorities in your field are the most powerful. But if you lack real first hand expertise that can be corroborated online, you may find that improving E-A-T is difficult.
- Do all you can to have a technically sound site. While technical fixes will not usually reverse a core update hit, tech issues that make your content difficult to crawl or read are definitely worth fixing.
- Consider trimming, consolidating or improving thin content. If you have a large amount of content on your site that is not the best of its kind and helpful to searchers, this can possibly make it difficult for Google to determine the topical relevance of your content.
- Read the Search Quality Evaluator guidelines (or you can buy our QRG book containing the things that the MHC team reviews when analyzing sites).
- Most importantly, review the pages that started to outrank you following the May core update. Ask yourself critically why a searcher may find them more helpful. Can they find their answer more quickly? Is the answer more accurate or more trustworthy (i.e. better referenced)? Do they have more substantial information? Or perhaps do they have more concise but helpful information?
It can be difficult to assess your own content in this way. The MHC team spends much of our time doing what we call “page comparisons” to help our clients improve in as many ways as possible. If you are interested in hiring us to help, you can contact us here or use the form below.