Turmoil in the Google SERPs

Since 2008 we make the degree of how visible domains are on Google’s result lists transparent. Last month saw the largest distortions we have measured in many years. In this blog post we will measure the extend of the changes, show what is causing them and explain how you can deal with the changes.

SEO has not been this exciting in quite a while. Google is running a number of large changes in parallel and is thereby causing noticeable bedlam in the SERPs all over the world.

In order to place these changes we best take a look at the scope of the changes to the SERPs:

Scope of Changes in the SERPs

Changes in the SERPs are generally caused by two sources: adjustments are made either the domain operators or Google.

Most changes come about from the website owners themselves. In order to put this into numbers, I checked how many additional changes are currently caused by Google, by looking at the visibility index values for a large number of domains and comparing them to the values of the previous week.

The following chart shows the percentage of domains as a time series, where the (desktop) visibility index value has changed by at least 30 percent. We evaluated all domains in the UK index with at least 0.5 points of visibility:

Domains with more than 30% change in visibility - Desktop Spain

It is easy to see that March 2018 shows the largest amount of changes within the UK SERPs for more than three years: six weeks ago, 7% of all large domains showed visibility changes of at least 30%. Usually, these values are around 2 to 4%.

Once we dig deeper into the data for these weeks, it quickly becomes apparent that there was not one big update that are responsible for the turmoil but a number of updates from Google – some of which went live in parallel, others close on the heels of each other. Let’s talk about the changes, one by one:

Introduction of Google’s Mobile-First Indexing

After a long delay, Google finally announced that they are switching their website crawling from using the desktop- to the mobile version of a page.

The announcement makes a note that they are only talking about the crawling – this does not (currently) result in changes to their algorithm and rankings.

Google also plans to only move those websites over to the mobile-first crawling, that did their homework and are therefore “Mobile-First-Ready”. Due to these two restrictions, there should currently be no large changes in the SERPs. When we look at our mobile visibility index data, we see no data that would suggest otherwise.

Google Core Update

The large Google Core Update that landed in Mid-March is already much more of a trouble-maker for the SERPs: not only did the the initial go-live cause a lot of change, the days and week after show additional changes, which point to Google further rolling out the update or quickly iterating and adjusting the dials.

There are a number of recognisable Domains that show a noticeable gain or loss in visibility. Let’s take a look at the visibility index curves for a number of domains and zoom into the past few month.

On the winning side, we have domains like pricespy.co.uk and marieclaire.co.uk, which both manage increases upwards of 50%:

Anytime domains manage to win visibility, others have to give it up. In this case we have mirror.co.uk and serenataflowers.com as representatives of those domains, that did not fare well during the last Google Core Update:

For all of them we see a large jump in the data around the 19th of March and a less pronounced, continuous movement the week thereafter. The later is a good indicator that Google did indeed make quick adjustments after the initil roll-out.

Rise of the Porn Domains

If you paid close attention to our winner- and loser lists within the Toolbox, you will surely have noticed: Google is massively shifting visibility in the adult entertainment sector.

Many of the winners and some of the losing domains dominate the winner and loser charts. Here – uncensored but also unlinked – are the largest winners for the last few weeks for this sector, including their gain in absolute visibility points:

Adult-Entertainment-Domains with a noticeable boost in visibility
DomainVisibiltiy on March 19thVisibility on April 2ndIncrease (absolute)

When we evaluate the daily visibility index values for these domains, it quickly becomes apparent that this change is not part of the Core-Update. Both winners and losers show up noticeably after the winners/losers for the Core-Update. It seems that Google has apparently rolled out additional algorithm changes (for this sector).

How do I identify the Updates?

Google keeps up the suspense: due to numerous parallel updates and algorithm changes it is often not directly clear what caused a domain to win or lose visibility. Here a classification:

  • Google has promised to send you a Google Search Console notification when they changed your domains’ crawling to the mobile crawler. Something that currently does not seem to happen in the wild.
  • If the changes happened between the 9th and 18th of March, then the Core-Update is a strong contender.
  • Domains within the adult entertainment market (as well forums and projects that are closely related) started to see changes from the 24th of March – a noticeable delay to the Core-Update.
Related posts