March 2019 Core Update. How big is Big?

Steve Paine
Steve Paine
27. March 2019
Steve Paine
Steve Paine
Steve 'Chippy' Paine is the UK country manager for SISTRIX. "I've been learning about the Internet every day since 1988."

SEOs and Google always have a different perception of Google updates. Google’s focus is to improve the quality of the SERPs, regardless of the domain. SEOs on the other hand, are working to be a top-ranking domain for search queries. When Google implements changes to the Google algorithm it affects a large number of websites and therefore, all SEO professionals.

Panda and Penguin remain prime examples where the impact on businesses and SEOs was dramatic in comparison with the changes to SERPs. Panda was three times bigger than Penguin (where only 3% of SERPs were affected), but some Core updates are three times bigger than that.

How Big was the March 2019 Core Update?

Google said that the Core Update March 2019 “is far from being the biggest update Google has ever done” but perspective is everything. Google has a different view to SEOs who could be experiencing the toughest week of the year so far.

In order to get an Idea of how big the Core Update March 2019 was, we need to make it comparable from a SEO perspective. We analysed a total of 24000 winning and losing Websites affected by 6 core algorithm updates over the last 12 month, across 5 countries, (US, UK, DE, ES, IT). The chart shows the average and median percentage changes.

Compared to the other 5 updates it looks like the March update will be bigger than everything except the initial Medic update in August 2018 . What’s exceptional here is that the update has not finished rolling-out. The full impact on some domains could be bigger.

The analysis of the data also led us to another, very interesting discovery. Many domains got impacted more than once; Some 5 or even 6 times.

The Usual Suspects

While 40% of domains that got hit in the last 12 months were hit just once, 60% of the domains appearing in the sample were hit 2 or more times. Over one quarter of domains appearing across the whole sample had been hit 3 or more times.

It’s clear; Google is not convinced that 60% of the domains are offering the best content for the SERPs results. There are no obvious rules either – increases do not always follow decreases, and vice-versa. One thing is for sure. Google is trying to solve a problem that these domains have in common.

Did you know that there are many domains that never react to a Google update? Domains that have been consistently strong and stable over many years can serve as potential templates for the future.

Ever-Stable Domains

We’ve taken a look at 5 sectors and selected domains from each that have a proven track record.

Automotive

Ford.co.uk has ranked solidly for many years. While one can argue that they they own a lot of brands for which they will always retain SEO control, there are a huge range of non-brand keywords ranking. “commercial vehicle”, “cars for sale UK”, “vehicle” are just a few of the generic, high search-volume keywords that Ford.co.uk ranks for.

Healthcare and Beauty

This is a tough sector to work in. ‘Your Money, your life’ sites are continuously scrutinised and it wasn’t easy to find a well-known brand that’s never been hit. There are examples among the less-known domains though. Dermastor (below) and Seasalt are examples to take a look at.

Telecommunications

Ignoring some of the big brands again reveals the new, small and growing Speedify (a VPN service, graph shown below) and Juniper, the established Internet router manufacturer.

Tourism

The tourism industry is largely focused around e-commerce for holiday bookings. Hometogo is a great example that we’ve recently analysed but take a look too at officeholidays.com in the USA for a compact informational site. The domain has a 3 point visibility index for just 1281 URLs. 40% of all ranking keywords are positioned in page 1 of the SERPs.

Finance

The finance industry is another ‘your Money, your life’ sector and you can expect to find a lot of churn in the rankings here. Equifax, a company that has suffered with brand damage over the last 3 years, has a stable UK domain. Clearscore, a UK fintech service, is much newer and has achieved a visibility of 3.4 with just 425 ranking URLS. Strong keywords for the domain include competitive terms such as credit card, mortgage and loan.

Summary

When Google says “it’s not a big update” they might be taking a slightly different perspective on it to the average SEO. The recent core update has shown some domains got hit hard. We’ve also seen that the current update is having an impact over a longer period which is why it’s important to be able to follow visibility development on a frequent basis.

Our data has also exposed domains that live ‘close to the limit’ and are constantly being impacted by core algorithm changes. Over 25% of our sampled domains were hit 3 or more times over the last 12 months of core updates.

Finally, while these SEO storms create turbulence and worry, maybe it’s more important to learn from the domains that remain stable and strong. Follow them, study them, learn from them and you might find that you don’t need to worry as much in the future.

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Comments
Lukasz Zelezny   
27. March 2019, 18:04

“When Google says “it’s not a big update” they might be taking a slightly different perspective on it to the average SEO. ”

Very well said. Thanks a lot for analysis. Personally for me its one of the most exciting update in years. I see a lot of website improving due to proper onpage optimisation. Can’t obviously say that this is a dominant factor but it is definitely one of the contributing factor.

Once again thanks for analysis.

Alex   
28. March 2019, 12:01

Hello Steve,

I think your article is decent and provide some great screenshots of different niche website rankings.

I am no expert, but I feel these updates are rarely about targeting specific niches, but rather how specific niches perform based on what Google changes in its algorithm.
I am likely to believe that the update is very much based on User Experience as a whole and after reading this analysis http://www.mytrafficresearch.com/learn/march-2019-core-update/ (which I think you will also find interesting) it seems to confirm this.

For examples some factors “common” factors that affect sites:

– Adding keywords such as “review” to the complete sidebar
– Huge block of ads above content
– Over lay popups
– Full sidebar of ads
– Sever opt-ins
– Push notification pop ups
– Giant sticky ads
list goes on.

carlos   
28. March 2019, 20:15

Google does not stop playing, I have niches to be in the top 3, to disappear from the top100, I had never lived something like that, I do not understand anything.
As much as I look for answers.
I think a lot has to do E-A-T, and YMYL.

Sheikh Bilal   
5. April 2019, 10:31

Hey Steve,

I would say after months I am happy with this update it really turned the table for several of our clients and domains which were having a perfect On Page optimization we did everything from sitespeed to Web-P implementation to make the speed lightning fast as We hate AMP, but it paid off in a really good way.

Cheers

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