August 1st Google Algorithm Update – How It Has Impacted Publishers

On August 1, 2018, Google implemented a “broad core” update to their algorithm. This is the latest shakeup from Google following their speed update in July and the earlier Ads Experience Report. Add to that list the introduction of ads.txt, Facebook’s news feed change, and GDPR, then 2018 can easily be defined as the year of the shakeups for digital publishers.

Announced via the Google SearchLiason Twitter account, saying the latest shakeup took the digital publishing industry by surprise would be an understatement.

While Google claim they make regular changes to their algorithm on a daily basis – and larger changes several times a year – this recent update has severely impacted a lot of publishers.

Google algorithm update’s impact on publishers

Our early results show that different types of publishers in varying verticals have been impacted, however sites that were hit the hardest are what Google’s QRG (Quality Rater Guidelines) refer to as YMYL (Your Money Your Life). This includes sites with a lot of health, medical, diet, nutrition, financial stability, or happiness content.

The most seriously impacted have seen calamitous traffic drops of 30-60% in some cases.

The initial results of the core update suggest that sites have not necessarily been punished. Instead, other websites have been rewarded with an SEO boost thereby absorbing the organic traffic of others as they’ve moved up Google’s ranking.

The impact has been severe for some, but other publishers have actually benefited from the change with a positive uptick in traffic after the update.

New update, no direction or warning from Google

In select updates to Google’s algorithm in the past, the search engine has forewarned the whole industry before making significant changes. This gave publishers the time to prepare and make the necessary adjustments to not be heavily impacted.

For example Google’s Speed Update on July 9, 2018 was announced to publishers on January 17, 2018 on the Google Webmaster Blog. The decision to implement HTTPS as a ranking signal was also heavily publicized on the Webmaster Central Blog and the Google I/O that summer.

However the update on August 1 was announced abruptly, similar to the previous major update in March. Just as they did in Q1 of 2018, Google simply explained the change was a “broad core update to their algorithm.”

When pressed for clarification for what publishers could do to leverage the changes made in the update or even remedy any negative SEO impact, Google has offered little insight, instead sticking to their “content is king” mantra and pointing to their QRG for guidance.

Algorithm update – what has changed?

The early signs indicate that the algorithm provides a ranking boost for YMYL sites with higher expertise, authority, and trustworthiness, according to Google’s definitions. Also known as E-A-T, this Google acronym covers several qualitative elements of a site that include:

  • The site should have a lot main content for a unique topic the user is searching for
  • The site has a positive reputation through user reviews
  • The content is authored by and associated with experts in that particular discipline or content area
  • The site has ample external and contextual information available on it such as an About page, Contact page, etc.

What possibly motivated Google’s algorithm update

They haven’t explicitly come out and said it, but one possible explanation behind Google’s algorithm update could be explained by the intention to protect and promote the safety of users. Considering that YMYL sites were the most heavily affected, key references can be found in Google’s QRG when addressing these sites:

2.3 Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) Pages

Some types of pages could potentially impact the future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety of users. We call
such pages β€œYour Money or Your Life” pages, or YMYL. The following are examples of YMYL pages:

● Shopping or financial transaction pages: webpages that allow users to make purchases, transfer money, pay
bills, etc. online (such as online stores and online banking pages).
● Financial information pages: webpages that provide advice or information about investments, taxes, retirement
planning, home purchase, paying for college, buying insurance, etc.
● Medical information pages: webpages that provide advice or information about health, drugs, specific diseases
or conditions, mental health, nutrition, etc.
● Legal information pages: webpages that provide legal advice or information on topics such as divorce, child
custody, creating a will, becoming a citizen, etc.
● News articles or public/official information pages important for having an informed citizenry: webpages
that include information about local/state/national government processes, policies, people, and laws; disaster
response services; government programs and social services; news about important topics such as international
events, business, politics, science, and technology; etc. Please use your judgment and knowledge of your locale.
Keep in mind that not all news articles are necessarily considered YMYL.
● Other: there are many other topics that you may consider YMYL, such as child adoption, car safety information,
etc. Please use your judgment.

We have very high Page Quality rating standards for YMYL pages because low quality YMYL pages could potentially
negatively impact users’ happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.

Google maintains that YMYL sites have the potential to impact a user’s “future happiness, health, financial stability, and safety.” Therefore a crucial change to their core algorithm that favours and rewards expertise, authority, and trustworthiness for these types of sites is actually consistent with Google’s documented principles.

At Marfeel, we’ll continue to investigate this update as it unfolds and shed some much needed light on it for all digital publishers within the ecosystem.

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