Marketing 8 min read

How the May 2020 Core Update Affected SERP so far

Sammby / Shutterstock.com

Sammby / Shutterstock.com

It’s nearly a month since Google rolled out its May 2020 core update. For over three weeks, SEO experts have continuously monitored any changes to SERP to know how the recent update would affect websites around the world.

The May broad core algorithm update was Google’s second this year. The first was rolled out last January and had reportedly affected websites under major categories. These include health, arts & entertainment, games, news, online communities, finance, and food & drink sites, to name a few.

Google has always been secretive of what its algorithm updates are all about. As far as the search engine giant is concerned, these updates are meant to improve the experience of Google Search users. More specifically, to ensure that people only get the most relevant results to their queries.

Some Google Search updates have no severe impact on SERP rankings. However, there are those like the Medic Update last August 2018 that gravely affected about 42-50 percent of websites globally.

Was the May core update, now labeled as the Pandemic Update,” the same as the “Medic Update?” The following were some insights that we gathered from renowned marketing analytics firms and our very own resident SEO strategists, Stephanie Nicholl and Joana Sinel.

Initial Analysis by EDGY

An initial analysis of EDGY’s client sites showed that there were no major changes in clicks, impressions, or CTR in the first couple of weeks after the update. However, EDGY’s SEO Strategists Stephanie Nicholl and Joana Sinel both reported significant improvements in search traffic.

This graph shows a significant increase in traffic following the May core 2020 update.
This graph shows a significant increase in traffic following the May core 2020 update. | Image credit Stephanie Nicoll
This graph showed a significant improvement in this site's organic traffic on the day the algo update was released.
This graph shows a considerable improvement in this site’s organic traffic on the day the algo update was released. | Image credit Joana Sinel

According to Nicholl, there’s no concrete proof yet that the increase in traffic was caused by Google’s recent update. But, the data post algorithm update looks promising. She said:

“We are seeing an increase in traffic following this core algo update. It is too early to determine if this is purely driven by the algo update or by a shift in consumer behavior. Regardless, the traffic is very promising post algo.”

YMYL Websites Disproportionately Affected by Core Update

In an analysis report published by Path Interactive, YMYL (your money, your life) websites appear to be disproportionately affected by the update. According to SEO expert Lily Ray, the other categories that saw significant changes in organic viability include:

  • nutrition and recipes
  • fitness
  • news
  • drugs, alcohol, and rehab
  • science and medical news
  • banking and finance
  • music and entertainment
  • natural medicine
  • history

In Path Interactive’s list, Pinterest.com, Lexico.com, TheFreeDictionary.com, and WashingtonPost.com were among the sites that enjoyed overall visibility increases. Meanwhile, Spotify.com, NYPost.com, AZLyrics.com, and TheGuardian.com were the biggest losers by visibility decreases.

May 2020 core update Biggest Winners by Overall Visibility Increases
Biggest Winners by Overall Visibility Increases | Image credit: Path Interactive

According to Ray, the impact of Google’s recent update would continuously affect websites in the coming weeks. At the moment, however, it appears to be affecting YMYL websites the most.

May 2020 Core Update More Uniform Across Niches

RankRanger‘s Mordy Oberstein referred to Google’s recent update as one of the strongest and most impactful updates to date. RankRanger’s risk index revealed high levels of SERP volatility on May 6th, the second day of the update.

The said rank fluctuations, according to Oberstein, showed how impactful the May 2020 core update was. In his report, Oberstein broke down the volatility increase of four major niches: travel, retail, finance, and health.

RankRanger’s data showed that there were equal volatility increases on YMYL (health and finance) and non-YMYL niches (e-commerce) at the SERP’s 1st to 3rd positions. Oberstein noted that this uniformity among niches made this update unique.

rank volatility increase may 2020 core update
Image Credit: RankRanger

The same uniformity was also observed in niches past the top three results on the SERP. In RankRanger’s data, the finance niche appeared to be the most volatile among the four niches.

Now, with data showing high volatility in the finance niche, is there any truth to claims that the May core update was an attempt to censor cryptocurrency sites?

Google Core Update Censors Cryptocurrency

Following the release of Google’s May algorithm update, technical on-chain analyst Christopher Jaszczynski accused Google of shadowbanning cryptocurrency-related YouTube channels.

“This is public knowledge,” Jaszczynski was quoted as saying. “Since Google owns YouTube this is also escalating from media outlets that rely on Google traffic to bitcoin and crypto YouTubers. All big bitcoin YouTuber’s’s including our MMCrypto channel are now being shadowbanned.”

Aside from his YouTube channel, Jaszczynski claimed that other channels like The Moon, Ivan on Tech, and Altcoin Daily had reported a decline in views following the May core update. The Moon AB founder, Carl Martin Runefelt, also aired the same sentiments. Runefelt told Forbes:

“This latest development regarding YouTube censorship against bitcoin-videos is very alarming. Youtube is now clearly deliberately limiting the reach of my videos when I put the word bitcoin in the title.”

According to Jaszczynski, if Google continues with its crypto censorship, he will be forced to use other video streaming platforms. At the moment, some crypto YouTubers have moved to self-hosting to protect themselves from Google’s updates.

The Core Update and COVID-19

Google launched its last core update in the second week of January 2020, before coronavirus and COVID-19 was on anyone’s radar. But, the world has changed since then.

The WHO declared the coronavirus a pandemic, and governments implemented partial or full lockdowns. As you can imagine, these events led to a significant shift in users’ search behavior.

According to Google, there have never been many searches for a single topic as they have been for COVID-19. So it begs the question: Was the May 2020 Core Update about COVID-19?

It’s not a simple “Yes” or “No” answer. Core Updates are rarely about a single factor. However, according to RankRanger, COVID-19 may have played a unique role in the May 2020 Core Update.

Here’s why.

The Core Update’s Timing

For the past two years, Google has released a core update in March. Unfortunately, March of 2020 was particularly challenging for several companies, including Google.

Search engine users’ search behavior quickly changed after the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11th. As a result, a core update never happened.

Instead, Google was trying to get a grasp of things and orient itself to the new topical information and search behavior. That way, the company won’t have to run multiple updates to correct its course.

According to RankRanger, running a core update back in March would have been illogical and harmful. So, Google pushed it off, and it became what we now call the May 2020 Core Update.

The Role of Authority Health Sites

When COVID-19 officially became a pandemic in March, Google dedicated parts of its SERP to super-authority health sites. These include the CDC and the WHO.

Over the past two months, these websites have moved up and down the search engine result page based on users’ queries. However, the May 2020 core update has reportedly slowed things down.

Some of these super-authority health sites have now lost the ranking position that they had in the past. According to RankRanger, sites like the WHO and the CDC have had visibility losses of 4 to 7 percent.

But why?

RankRanger speculates that COVID-19 has played itself out as a hot new topic on the internet. Now, Google has a better understanding of the subject as well as the user intent that comes with it.

As a result, the search engine no longer has to rely entirely on the super-authority websites on the topic. It can now speak for itself.

How the Update Affected E-Commerce Sites

Rank Ranger’s Oberstein noted that the May 2020 Core Update has varying effects on eCommerce sites. While sites like goedekers.com and ajmadison.com recorded traffic increase, other appliance sites like abt.com got the opposite.

So, what’s responsible for the strange pattern?

According to Oberstein, the difference could be due to the way these sites handle the COVID-19.

Indeed, all the analyzed sites had a message about the pandemic on their homepage. However, the websites that recorded a rise in ranking — goedekers.com, and ajmadison.com — also discussed the topics on delivery pages.

For example, these sites provided detail on how the company is handling deliveries safely during COVID-19.

We already know that Google wants businesses to be specific in the COVID-19 information they offer. That’s why the search giant introduced new announcements to GMB and local service ads to enable companies to provide this information.

It won’t be such a stretch that Google would want companies to be just as transparent in regards to shipping.

With that said, Oberstein pointed out that he only analyzed five websites. So, while the pattern is noteworthy, it’s far from conclusive.

Was your website badly hit by the May 2020 Core Update? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comment section below!

Read More: Page Experience To Become A Google Ranking Signal Soon

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