Updated on Apr 23, 2018: John Mueller confirmed that this update was primarily about relevance. This makes sense to us. Now, after reviewing several sites that were negatively affected by this update, we can see that many of them had issues where they were not the most relevant site to a query. More on this below.

Updated on Mar 23, 2018: This month has been crazy. We have now seen significant updates on March 3, 9, 14 and 23. It looks like Google is tweaking a lot of things. We will likely see even more turbulence over the next couple of weeks.

Updated on March 20, 2018: Google confirmed that this update started rolling out on March 7, 2018. While we don't have a name for the update, I'm still going to call it March 9 as this is the day on which I saw a lot of changes. 

 

 

Google doesn't confirm a lot of algorithm updates these days, but they did confirm that they made a significant change to their core quality algorithm last week.

I have been traveling as I am speaking at SMX West this week. (Coincidentally, I will be speaking on Google algorithm updates.) When I finally found time to check my data, I was thrilled to see several sites for whom we have done site quality reviews, with incredible improvements. I don't have clearance to share direct Google Analytics data for each of these, but here are some screenshots from SEMRush.

 

This first site was one that was hit hard in an algorithm update on February 7, 2017. In my opinion, that update was primarily about demoting sites that lacked good E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trust). We have been working with them to improve their E-A-T and it appears to be helping!

mar 9 quality update

 

This next site is an eCommerce site that has been gradually improving content over the years. We did a link audit for them a few years ago and they saw a beautiful increase with Penguin 4.0. They saw a significant increase on March 9 as well. I believe this increase is likely due to site quality rather than links:

 

March 9 quality update

 

This is an eCommerce site that we reviewed that was absolutely loaded with quality issues. We recommended a large amount of canonicalization, and removal of huge amounts of thin content plus quite a few other things. So far those changes seem to be helping quite nicely:

 

March 9 Quality update

 

And here is one final one. This site is in one of the most competitive verticals on the internet. In our review of the site we found a bunch of user frustration issues, ad problems and also significant E-A-T issues. They have been working really hard to improve the site dramatically and the results are showing. Wheeeeee!

mar 9 google update

 

We have several more clients as well that saw good or modest gains starting on March 9, 2018.

What Google says about the Mar 9 algorithm update

Our new Google Search Liaison, Danny Sullivan had this to say about the changes:

So, we know that this was a "broad core algorithm update". While Google does make several changes a day to the algorithm, every now and then they make bigger changes like this one.

 

I found this tweet interesting. What Google is telling us here is that Google found more ways to identify high quality.

Danny also confirmed what most of us already know and that is that there are significant algorithm updates that Google pushes out a few times a year:

He also said that this was a "broader general change to the core algorithm":

And finally, Danny shared with us that Google is not giving this algorithm a name. It will be interesting to see whether the search community ends up giving it a name as it really was a big update:

What kind of sites were hit by this update?

I find it interesting that in my data so far, I am seeing some big wins, but very few obvious losses. While the braggy side of me would like to say that that is because all of our clients is winning, in reality this doesn't make sense as I also have access to a lot of Google Analytics profiles for sites that I know are low quality and have not made any changes.

I did see a few losses in my GA data, but they were all mild.

The few sites that I saw that had hits looked like this:

March 9 update hit

This makes sense to me as Danny said previously that this algorithm change was not one that punished websites, but rather, one that benefitted high quality websites. As such, those who are seeing losses are not likely seeing losses across the board. Instead, they are likely losing a position or two to on just some keywords, to sites that were recognized as higher quality.

I also spent time reviewing that last 24 hours of posts in the Google help forum and did not find anyone crying about being negatively affected by an algorithm change.

If you were significantly negatively affected by this update, I would love for you to either leave a comment below or to share the site with me.

 

Added April 23, 2018: Google confirms that this update had to do with relevancy

John Mueller said the following in a hangout:

"The updates that we made are more about relevance where we’re trying to figure out which sites relevant for certain queries and and not so much quality overall. It doesn’t means its a bad sign, we may just be finding that your site isn’t relevant for these particular queries.

Since originally publishing this article, the team and I have been able to review several sites that were hit on March 9. We noticed an interesting pattern. Many of them were relatively big brands that lost rankings across the board on articles that were "near duplicates" of other site's content. For example, one site existed almost completely of rewriting content that was found on Reddit. Another was a job site that contained listings that you could find on many other job sites.

I am fairly certain that what Google did here was make it harder for sites to rank well unless they truly have the most helpful content on the web.

 

What do you do if you were negatively affected by the March 9, 2018 Google update

As Danny Sullivan mentioned, this is not a situation where your site was demoted. Also, it's not like you can fix a couple of things and expect to see improvement. The drops you are seeing are likely because Google recognized quality in one or more of your competitors. As such, in my opinion, the only way to recover from this is not really to recover, but to improve your site greatly so that it truly is the best option for searchers.

Here are my thoughts on how to make those improvements:

  • Start with a site audit. While we don't know whether this update focused on technical issues, many technical issues can frustrate users. If you have broken links, redirect loops and page speed issues, then these are all things that must be fixed!
  • Read through the entire Quality Raters' Guidelines. Yes, the QRG are 160 pages long. It's worth the read though. These guidelines teach Google Quality Raters how to determine which websites are high quality. If you have E-A-T issues, this book has pages and pages of advice on what Google considers high E-A-T. There is also information here on what ads are considered annoying and what types of pages are considered high or low quality.If you don't want to read through all 160 pages, I have written a book on the Quality Raters' Guidelines that summarizes the important points and also includes the checklist that my team and I use to assess websites for quality.
  • Have someone who is not intimately familiar with your website do some competitor comparisons. It is really hard for you to assess your own website to determine whether it serves users better than your competitors do. One of the best ways to determine if you truly are the best site out there is to ask actual users for their opinions.Ask your volunteers to look at three competitors that are ranking well, plus your site and tell you which site they would be likely to buy from. If they don't always choose your site, then figure out why. What can you add to your pages that will make users want to buy from you? Could you make a buying guide, add a video, add reviews, or do something else to help the user in their journey? If you are not an eCommerce store is there content, tools or images/video that you could add to your pages to help searchers get more information on the subject?
  • If you have a lot of "near duplicate" content that is sourced from other places, beef it up substantially. It is not enough to just reword content. As you look at your articles, look at the site that is ranking #1 for your terms and ask yourself, "Is my article dramatically better?". If the answer is no, then big changes in content creation need to happen.

When improving site quality, it is important to know that you can't just be a "little bit better" than your competitors and expect Google to rank you better. Google wants to rank sites that truly are the best choice. Our clients who have seen nice improvements with this update all worked extremely hard at improving overall site quality. In the past, if you knew enough SEO tricks and loopholes you could rank well. But, with every update Google is getting better at closing loopholes that don't actually improve the user experience.

What about links?

At the time of writing this, I do not think that this update is related to link quality. As this is a boosting algorithm rather than a demoting one, it does not look like Google demoted sites for having unnatural links. If you were hit by this change, doing extra disavow work is not likely to help.

 

Need help?

If you were negatively affected by this update feel free to leave a comment below and I'd be happy to take a quick look at your site.  Or, you can contact me to request a site review.


Want to stay up to date on Google algorithm changes?

Our newsletter will keep you posted each week (every Monday) on the latest Google algorithm activity from the previous week, including real-world examples of the impacts we're seeing with our clients and fresh insights on what may have changed with Google's algorithms.


 

Google update newsletter

Want an update when Google makes a big algorithm change or other announcement? Sign up here!

This is a weekly newsletter. We will never send spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit