Google makes hundreds of updates and adjustments to its search ranking algorithms each year, and most of these often go unnoticed. Core updates, however, tend to produce widely felt effects and as a result, Google typically confirms when these are rolling out. Such was the case for the recent November core update.
Google has long said that core updates do not target specific websites or even types of sites. Still, whenever pages rise, others must fall – such is the nature of a live ranking algorithm. And, given that core updates are by Google’s own definition, “significant, broad changes to our search algorithms and systems,” the impact can be substantial for those affected.
Let’s take a look at some of the industry experiences being reported around the recent November core update.
When Was the November Google Search Core Update?
Google announced the morning of November 17, 2021, that it was releasing a broad core update that day.
Later today, we are releasing a broad core update, as we do several times per year. It is called the November 2021 Core Update. Our guidance about such updates is here:https://t.co/0LAL28ueDq
— Google Search Central (@googlesearchc) November 17, 2021
Immediately, people began reporting fluctuations in search rankings and wondering whether this core update could be responsible.
However, as Google Search Advocate John Mueller said, “That seems unlikely, usually this takes 1-2 weeks to fully roll out even after we start.”
It is also important to note that Google’s help resource on core updates – the one the search engine team included in the above November core update announcement – states that:
“Of course, no improvement we make to Search is perfect. This is why we keep updating. We take in more feedback, do more testing, and keep working to improve our ranking systems. This work on our end can mean that content might recover in the future, even if a content owner makes no changes.”
Monitoring and measuring fluctuations in search rankings and site traffic is an important part of your local SEO strategy. It can be difficult to pinpoint whether it’s an update or some other factor that is causing the changes you’re seeing. Typically, core updates will not cause the sort of dramatic, immediate rankings drop you might see with a manual action such as a penalty.
What Happened in the November Core Update?
Google isn’t saying which algorithms or systems were impacted by the November core update, and that’s perfectly normal. To gain more context, we turn to industry reports and the experiences of other SEO professionals who shared what they noticed in the wake of this update.
November Core Update Considerably More Volatile Than July Update
Barry Schwartz at SearchEngineLand.com asked data companies that track Google search rankings to share their data from around the time of the update and wrote about the more interesting findings.
Semrush’s analysis showed a high amount of SERP volatility during the rollout, with a rapid dropoff to a normal degree of volatility. Their data also showed that search engine rankings were about 12% more volatile during the November update than in July with the health, autos, and vehicles, and beauty and fitness verticals showing far more volatility and movement this time around.
RankRanger also shared their data and insights, this time focusing on which search results saw the greatest degree of change. In both July and November, there was a high degree of volatility in search positions 1 to 10 – 98% and 97%, respectively. But the November update demonstrated more movement in positions 1 to 5, which rose from a volatility of 53% in July to 73% in November.
SEOclarity noted that HomeDepot made big gains in top three positioning with a 19% increase in keywords in positions 1 to 3, while Walmart rose 10%. Bed Bath & Beyond shot up 45% in its Top 3 rankings.
Wayfair and eBay, meanwhile, experienced a significant drop in Top 3 rankings during the rollout but bounced back almost immediately. “Don’t panic! Initial fluctuations are not where many will end up as Wayfair and Ebay have shown,” SEOclarity’s Mitul Gandhi reminded Schwartz. Learn more about each of the above analyses in his article, Google’s November 2021 core update hit fast and hard.
Reference Materials & Ecommerce Sites Got a Boost
Amsive Digital used the Sistrix Visibility Scores of over 1,400 domains to track changes in ranking between the day before the rollout (November 16) and one week later, November 23.
Wikis, dictionaries, informational sites such IMDB.com, and other sites classified jointly as “reference materials” saw the greatest gains in visibility, according to Amsive’s analysis. News sites including Forbes and AP, social networks Pinterest and LinkedIn, and video sharing platform YouTube were among the biggest losers.
In her analysis, Lily Ray, Senior Director of SEO & Head of Organic Research, also wrote that ecommerce stores seem to have benefitted. “Perhaps it was a good thing that Google launched this core update in advance of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, because it seems to be benefitting many e-commerce sites,” she said.
“Of course, Google’s goal is to satisfy user intent, so it makes sense that these retailers would rank more prominently during the holiday shopping season,” Ray added. You’ll find the full set of insights and Ray’s commentary on it in Google November 2021 Core Update: Winners, Losers & Analysis.
What to do if Your Site was Impacted by the Update
As Gandhi said above, do not panic. Ranking changes caused by a core update may be corrected when the next one comes out. Sometimes, there are improvements that can be made in your site’s content, architecture, and optimization. Google recommends that you ask yourself a series of questions in these key areas as you evaluate the impact of a core update. Click through on each list item to see the recommended questions:
- Content and quality questions
- Expertise questions
- Presentation and production questions
- Comparative questions
Google also recommends that you get to know its Search Quality Raters Guidelines and the concept of E-A-T, which stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trust. These are not ranking factors, but give us critical insight into what Google considers “quality” in any given piece of content.
Still uncertain of whether the rankings changes you’re seeing could be attributed to a core algorithm update or perhaps another factor?
Get in touch with your Account Director if you’re a current Rio SEO client, we’re happy to help. Not a Rio SEO client? We can still support you.
Make sure you download our free Gearing Up for Google Updates Ebook for a deeper dive into best practices and good ongoing SEO strategies that can help keep your rankings stable and climbing regardless of fluctuations caused by updates.