Including core updates to BERT, we’re summarizing the big algorithm changes that shook up search rankings in 2019.
The acceleration of Google’s tweaking and updating Search has accelerated dramatically — it completed 3,200 changes to Search in 2018 alone, up from about 400 changes back in 2010. Those that draw substantial attention provide insights into the kinds of content that Google prioritizes and ranks well.
This year witnessed a number of admitted core and other search algorithm updates. Among the many changes of 2019, Google recognized a naming convention for core updates and transported natural language understanding to search results.
2019 Core Updates
Core search updates occur a few times a year and create noticeable rankings volatility. Some sites could rebound from a previous update. However, this year there were few discernible patterns to the core updates. One big modification in 2019 was that Google began notifying users of the core updates. It also began naming them.
March 2019 Core Update. In addition to being the first major algorithm change of the year, this update was the first to follow Google’s new naming convention referring to the type of update and the date it occurred.
June 2019 Core Update. Making history, Google pre-announced its June 2019 Core Update on June 2, 24 hours ahead of the rollout. The update took over a five-day roll out, during which, the unrelated Diversity update also occurred.
September 2019 Core Update. Google announced the September 2019 Core Update on September 24, a few hours before the launch. This update seemed to heavily affect rankings for Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) sites. The sway was not as significant as the June core update, according to data from various SEO toolset providers.
Google presented the BERT on October 25, an algorithm to search. BERT is an open-sourced technique for natural language understanding Google feels will improve the search engine’s understanding of queries — principally longer spoken or written queries. Flaunted as the biggest change to its search system since RankBrain back in 2015, Google said that BERT would impact 1 in 10 queries.
BERT contrasts from other neural network-based systems in its ability to train language models based on the entire set of words within a sentence or query, permitting those language models to learn word context based on adjacent words, not just the words that precede or follow a given word.
Within the context of search, BERT helps Google understand “longer, more conversational queries, or searches where prepositions like ‘for’ and ‘to’ matter a lot to the meaning,” the company has said.
BERT’s natural language processing capabilities are also applied to all Bing queries globally. Bing’s BERT implementation pre-dates Google’s by six months but the company didn’t tout it until after Google’s announcement.
Although it is a considerable update for search engines, its impact may be difficult to gauge since many tracking tools primarily measure shorter queries and site owners often do not track long-tail queries.
Other confirmed updates
YMYL queries. In fighting disinformation, Google published a white paper explaining how it gives more weight in its ranking algorithms to signals that indicate Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (EAT) for queries in which results may have an impact on a user’s well-being — otherwise known as Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) queries.
Diversity update. Google’s Diversity update launched as the June Core Update was rolling out, but they were not related. The purpose of this update is to increase domain diversity in search results by limiting a single domain from having more than two listings within the top search results for a query. The update also counts subdomain URLs as part of the root domain.
More timely featured snippets. An update in August was designed to ensure featured snippets feature current information. “For queries where fresh information is important, our systems will try to find the most useful and up-to-date featured snippets,” Google said.
Emphasizing original reporting. In September, a week after Google updated its Search Quality Raters guidelines to underscore the importance of vetting news sources, the company announced that it had been rolling out algorithm updates to give more preference to original reporting.
Unconfirmed but detected volatility
Google has stated in the past that it makes changes to its search algorithms daily and most don’t get announced. Some, however, do generate chatter within the community. Their advice is to focus on ensuring you’re offering the best content you can and that’s what their algorithms seek to reward.