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How to recover from a Google Core Update (October 2023)

google core updates

When Google releases a Core Update, its effects can have massive implications for businesses that rely heavily on organic traffic; Google, after all, handles more than 96.38% of web search queries, so the impact can be large.

Some businesses experience large drops in website traffic as a result of a core update; This obviously has very negative implications for the profitability, or even viability, of many companies.

But there is good news: there are steps you can take to gradually improve the situation and give your site the best possible chance of regaining its lost visibility.

But before we get into this recovery checklist, it’s important to be very clear about what a Google Core Update actually is . Even so, throughout this article I will refer interchangeably as “Core Update”, “Central Update”, “Broad Core Update” or as “Core Update” to exactly the same thing: an update to the Google ranking system .

So, let’s start with the definition.

What is a Google Core Update?

Google’s various search systems are updated all the time; In fact, almost every day, according to Google, adjustments are made to their ranking systems. The vast majority of the time the effects are not noticeable; However, sometimes these unconfirmed updates are so important that they alter the rankings.

Latest major updates from Google, marked with a G
Latest major updates from Google, marked with a G

When was the last Google update done?

However, sometimes Google makes big changes to its systems, and these are called “major updates.” The most recent of these, the aptly named ‘October 2023 Core Update’, was released on October 5, 2023.

Other important updates from Google are listed on the Google Search Central website , in the recently launched Confirmed Updates panel .

Google Confirmed Updates Dashboard
Google Confirmed Updates Dashboard

Here’s how Google describes the extensive major updates:

Several times a year, Google introduces significant changes to its  algorithms and search systems  across the board. When any of these changes occur, which we call  major updates , we post a notice to our  Google Search ranking updates list . The goal of the major updates is to ensure that we are generally fulfilling our mission of providing useful and reliable results to users.

source: Top updates to Google Search and your website

While this introduction sounds a little vague, if you pay attention, you’ll see that it contains two pretty important clues as to why a site may have been demoted in Google’s index: Google perceived that it was having problems with its relevance and authority .

The question is: can you really solve these problems?

And if so, how?

Let’s find out what Google has to say about it.

Google’s opinion on the recovery of a core update

For many years, Google has given rather mixed messages about the chances of recovering after being hit by a major update, at least until the next one is rolled out.

At the same time, the support materials for major updates stated quite explicitly that “pages that crash after a major update have nothing wrong to fix.”

This advice became a little more ambiguous in May 2022:

Because we know that site owners who have worse rankings will want to correct this situation, we want to make sure they don’t try to fix it incorrectly. In fact, there may be nothing to correct.

source: May 2022 Major Update Released for Google Search

The implication here is, of course, that there ARE corrections that can be made.

John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, a key public face of the company when it comes to advising site owners on SEO, has indicated several times that it is, in fact, possible to make changes to your site that can cause losses.

In his videos, from Google Search Central’s defunct “SEO Office Hours,” Mueller said that after a core update, there are several “incremental improvements” that can be implemented to recover from a drop in rankings.

The video below contains a particularly clear statement from Mueller on this, in the first few minutes, where Search Engine Roundtable ‘s Barry Schwartz discusses the topic of a Core Update recovery.

But what are these ‘incremental improvements’ that can potentially get you out of a traffic slump?

Well, there is no definitive answer to this question, because Google keeps the vast majority of the internal workings of its systems secret.

However, based on the experience of dealing with algorithm updates, and the tips that Google offers for creating quality content, you can identify steps that, over time , can definitely help.

The first and foremost is… stay calm .

1. Don’t be scared

When you’re faced with a huge drop or even a complete collapse in your site traffic, freaking out is a totally understandable reaction.

However, it can also be counterproductive if you start implementing many changes to your site and its content without thinking it through , without any clear strategy. In turn, if the traffic gets even worse or, on the contrary, if it recovers, you will not know which of all the actions has caused this effect.

One important thing to remember about Google updates is that they typically take a couple of weeks to roll out . In fact, some recent Google updates, including the ‘ useful content update ‘ and ‘ spam link update ‘ that were released in December 2022, took more than a month to roll out .

During Google updates, search results often experience wild, but temporary , changes in rankings, known as the ‘Google Dance’.

Many of these initial ranking changes may not be permanent , and if you’re lucky, traffic may return to its original level within a couple of weeks (or, in some cases, even increase).

Therefore, making sweeping, cross-cutting changes to your site in the middle of a core update can be a big gamble, and could negatively impact aspects of your content that Google actually approves of.

So, stay calm and wait until you confirm that the core update rollout is complete and your organic traffic has definitely been negatively affected before taking action on your site.

Tip : You can find out when a major update ends rolling out through Google SearchLiaison ‘s Twitter feed updates and Google’s official algorithm update list . The Search Engine Roundtable and Search Engine Land websites are also good places to look for news about the progress of a major Google update, or my Confirmed or Unconfirmed Google Updates page.

2. Use data to identify content that needs improvement

As I always say: “data kills story.” Once the deployment of a Core Update is complete, it’s time to identify which content has been particularly affected by it based on the data you can collect.

If you use an SEO tool like Ahrefs or Semrush, you may already have position tracking set up, which can help you spot which content has received the most impact from the update.

Google Search Console and Google Analytics can also be of great help in identifying pages that have suffered significant drops in traffic.

Using data from these tools, compile a spreadsheet of “problem pages” that have seen a particularly sharp drop in traffic.


3. Improve the relevance of your problem pages

At this point, it is good to remember what Google details about the main updates:

“…are designed to meet our goal: to show users relevant and trustworthy content in search results.”

What website owners should know about the major update

As I mentioned above, this basically explains why the content of the list of your “problem pages” that you just put together has lost visibility in Google’s organic results: the content of those URLs is now considered less relevant and authoritative than that of your competitors.

Let’s address the relevance aspect first. How can you make your content more relevant than your competition?

Make sure your pages and posts are up to date

Google has been pretty clear about the fact that it uses the “freshness” of content as a way to determine relevance.

In fact, already in 2010 he publicly announced that he had created an algorithm specifically to evaluate the freshness of content, and allow faster indexing of new content: ” Caffeine “, perhaps one of the most important updates in the history of the search engine. .

However, it’s easy to confuse ‘freshness’ with ‘I should produce new content’. While publishing new posts periodically is important, it’s not going to solve your immediate problem in this matter of freshness: the fact that your existing pages and posts now receive less traffic.

So, take a look at your existing “problem pages” and correct any outdated or inaccurate information they contain .

This is particularly important if you run a review site: products and services can change over time, and for reviews to remain relevant, they should ideally reflect these changes as soon as possible.

Make sure you cover the topics in depth

Generally speaking, content that performs well in Google search results covers topics in a very in-depth way: blog posts that cover a topic in depth tend to perform better than ‘thin’ content .

Therefore, it is advisable to analyze the pages and publications that now surpass yours and ask yourself:

  • Do they mention an aspect of a topic that you forgot?
  • Do they go into more detail about a particular topic?

While you should be careful not to go overboard on the “long” side of things, a good way to improve the performance of pages that have lost traffic is to ensure that your content covers its topic in considerable detail .

However, readers often want digestible information as much as a deep dive, so think about ways you can cater to both types of readers—those who want a quick answer and those who want to learn about a topic at hand. depth.

Sometimes summaries or “quick answer” boxes at the top of a page can help square this circle.

Make sure your content is written with users in mind, not search engines.

Many content creators end up obsessing over ‘ranking signals’ – some real, others just SEO myths – and end up producing things they think the search engine will like more.

But it’s vital to remember that, at the end of the day, both you and the search engines, in their choice of what to display in results, aim to present content that is highly relevant to users .

Google has been emphasizing the need to focus its content creation efforts on ‘real’ people rather than search engines for some time now, but with its recent helpful content updates , this has become more important than ever.)

Consequently, be sure to put user experience at the center of any content you’re trying to improve.

Here are three key ways to do this:

  • Make the content easy to read and easy to trust.
  • Don’t fill it with keywords.
  • If it’s a long-form piece of content, make it easy to scan and/or navigate.

Suggestion: try with user testing

As part of the process of improving your content, consider conducting some user testing .

You can do this by encouraging members of your content’s target audience to read and comment on existing content and any revised versions.

This can help you identify areas that need work and validate improvements.

Review your underperforming pages against Google relevance questions

Google has a list of questions it encourages you to ask yourself when trying to improve content that has been affected by a major update.

Those that focus on improving the quality and relevance of content are the following:

  • Does the content offer original information, reporting data, research or analysis?
  • Does the content provide a substantial, complete or exhaustive description of the topic it addresses?
  • Does the content provide interesting, non-trivial information, or does it discuss a topic with useful perspective?
  • If the content cites other sources, does it provide sufficient value and originality or, on the contrary, is it simply copying or rewriting information included in those sources?
  • Is the content or page title useful and descriptive?
  • Are exaggerations or shocking expressions avoided in the content or page title?
  • Is this the kind of page you would want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend to someone?
  • Would you expect to see this content in a magazine, encyclopedia, or book, even just for reference?
  • Does the content provide valuable information when compared to other pages that appear in search results?
  • Does the content have spelling or style errors?
  • Does it look like time and effort has been put into creating the content, or does it seem sloppy or hastily created?
  • Is the content generated en masse by a large number of writers or spread across a wide network of sites, so that each individual page or site does not receive much attention or care?

Source: Create Helpful, Trustworthy, People-Centric Content , which I also mentioned in my article on Google’s Helpful Content Update .

Answer all of these questions (honestly!) and craft your content based on those answers.

To sum up:

  • A large number of low-quality or entry pages may indicate a site-wide quality problem , even if you think the pages are valuable. Evaluate whether Google would consider them unhelpful. Google reminds us in this documentation about link pages:
    «Here are a series of questions that should be asked to determine if a page can be considered a gateway page:

    • Is your goal to optimize for search engines and funnel visitors to the part of the site that is actually usable or truly relevant? Or is it an integral part of the user experience of the site?
    • Is the page designed to appear when searching for generic terms, but the content is very specific?
    • Does the page duplicate useful aggregations of elements (locations, products, etc.) that already exist on the site, with the goal of capturing more search traffic?
    • Is the page created for the sole purpose of attracting affiliate traffic and sending users without creating true unique value in the content or functionality?
    • Is this page on an “island”? Is it difficult or impossible to navigate from other parts of the site? Are links to this page created from other pages on the site or in the network of sites for search engines only?
      source: New quality guidelines for door pages
  • Reusing information from other sites on thousands of pages, just to have more content, is often counterproductive. You have to focus on unique and useful content.
  • Unintentionally creating thousands of low-value pages (such as tag files) can be a problem. Perform regular searches on your own site to identify problems.
  • Using high-volume keyword patterns to mass generate pages, even if they are optimized, is risky. Google has probably already seen this content many times.
  • Just because competitors haven’t been affected yet doesn’t mean you should continue producing low-quality content. Fix problems now, before updates arrive.
  • To recover from the blow of an algorithm update , you need to understand that your strategy may not have been as valuable, even if it used to work. Provides truly unique value .

4. Improve your pages from an authority point of view

When it comes to improving the authority of a page or post, there are generally two things to keep in mind: ‘on-page’ authority and ‘off-page’ authority .

Improve ‘on page’ authority

By page authority I mean how trustworthy the content is in its own right.

Google is quite open about what constitutes trusted content: its Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines document published in December 2022 describes, in considerable depth, the characteristics associated with a piece of authoritative content.

This document contains a series of ‘ experience, knowledge, authority and reliability ‘ (or ‘EEAT’) benchmarks that can be used to determine whether a page should be considered an authoritative source of information on a particular topic.

It’s worth reading the entire document to get a full picture of these benchmarks, but some key points for improving the authority of a page or post are as follows:

  • Make sure your website is hosted on a secure website (i.e. an ‘https’ one).
  • Make sure it is clear who the author of a piece of content is and that there is a clear link to the author bio (a bio that describes their credentials and experience) available on the page or post.
  • Make sure the main content of the page is covered in depth , factually accurate, grammatically correct, and easy to understand.
  • If possible, make sure the content is created by well-known writers/journalists who have a good reputation in their niche.
  • When you make a quote, back it up with a reference (and ideally a link) to an authoritative source.
  • When possible, do your own research on a topic and cite it.
  • Provide an “About” page and clear contact details (phone numbers, addresses, contact forms) on your site.
  • Reference and clearly display any relevant awards, citations, credentials or qualifications associated with your work/business.

In addition to the Search Quality Rater guidelines document mentioned above, Google has published a set of questions to help you determine if there are any authority/quality issues with a piece of content. Definitely worth reading and, again, answering honestly.

We recommend that you focus on ensuring you are delivering the best content possible, as that is what our algorithms seek to reward.

source: Major updates to Google Search and your website

Improve off-page authority

Once you’ve done everything you can to improve the on-page authority of content that has suffered as a result of a core update, it’s time to see what you can do for it “off site.”

This is because Google doesn’t trust pages based solely on the content of the page itself; It also analyzes how much other pages trust them.

The most obvious example of off-site trust is generated by links : it’s no secret that if many high-quality pages link to your content, you have a much better chance of performing well in organic results.

However, it’s worth noting here that Google’s John Mueller has said that top updates have more to do with the quality and authority of the content than the quality of your backlink profile:

So, core updates are really more about understanding the overall quality and relevance of your site, and less about technical issues and spam.

source: English Google SEO office-hours of November 5, 2021

So I wouldn’t necessarily assume that getting rid of a bunch of low-quality links will solve the problems caused by an update.

But that said, if you have a large number of questionable links pointing to your site, particularly those links that you have probably paid for or those that are the result of dubious link schemes, then you have a good reason to remove them.

While this is unlikely to completely reverse a drop in visibility related to a major update, it can nevertheless help you gain some traffic and mitigate its effect.

So, if you’ve noticed a drop in traffic to a particular page, check its backlink profile in detail, to make sure that:

  • There are a lot of links to it from authoritative websites.
  • There are no suspiciously unnatural links pointing to that URL.

If you find that the backlink profile of a particular piece of content is quite thin, it might be time to consider starting some (strictly white hat) link building and online PR campaigns to boost it.

If you find numerous unnatural links pointing to one of your pages with organic traffic problems, try removing them or consider disavowing them using Google’s disavow tool , although this is not always necessary, as Google ignores the most obvious spam links .

Create authority through brand mentions

Another way you can help Google view your content as authoritative is to look for mentions of your brand on other sites.

Google has made it pretty clear that this can really help with rankings, when Gary Illyes commented at the conference:

«If you publish high-quality content that is highly cited on the internet – and I’m not just talking about links, but also mentions on social networks and people talking about your brand, nonsense like that -. “So you are doing very well.”

source: Gary Illyes – Keynote, Brighton SEO on Search Engine Watch

You can increase brand mentions by:

  • Be interviewed in relevant publications/podcasts
  • Increase the number of followers on social networks and publish more content on them
  • Encourage social shares (this can be done by adding sharing calls to action in your content, tools to help readers share, etc.)
  • Contribute to forums, add comments to blog posts, etc.
  • Speaking at events – This can lead to people mentioning your brand on social media, blog posts, etc.

You could also consider a guest posting campaign, but I would focus on doing this only on high-quality blogs. Google is not a big fan of these types of contributions, especially when the goal is mainly to get a backlink.

As with any SEO tactic, it’s important not to go overboard with brand mentions – you need to be selective about where to look for them. Always focus on quality over quantity and avoid any spam tactics.

5. Conduct a competitive analysis

If one of your pages drops in search results and a competitor’s rises, this is not due to magic, it is because your competitor is doing something better than you .

The good news is that there are now many SEO tools available to help you discover what that “better thing” is.

For example, using apps like Semrush, you can find out:

  • Which keywords are more present in a competitor’s version than in yours.
  • Who is linking to that content.
  • Who is mentioning that brand.

All of this information can help you redesign your content from a relevance standpoint and build authority by engaging with the right people to get links and brand mentions.

However, it is important not to rely solely on the software to determine what is wrong with your content; As mentioned above, Google wants to reward content that humans like .

Therefore, always do an in-depth personal inspection of the pages and posts that are now outperforming yours, to see if they are easier to read and use; more pleasing to the eye; or more shareable.

Then, use this research and any information obtained to improve your own content.

6. Review your technical SEO basics

As I’ve mentioned throughout this post, and as Google has said repeatedly, core updates deal primarily with the aspects of content that give it relevance and authority.

Now, this might lead you to think that recovering from a Google Core update won’t really involve solving technical SEO problems like mobile usability, page speed , or Core Web Vitals .

And in general, you’re probably right. These aspects are very weak positioning signals (if any).

However, what you need to remember about technical SEO is that a good technical setup helps generate a positive user experience , which in turn can make a page seem more relevant or authoritative.

Let’s say a user reads two articles about design:

  • one that loads slowly, doesn’t appear correctly on a mobile device, and is packed with ads that make content skip and make scrolling difficult; and
  • one that loads super fast on a mobile device and contains no intrusive ads or pop-ups.

Which one do you think the user and Google will trust more?

Which is most likely to be shared or linked?

Well yes, it’s the second!

Therefore, as part of any recovery process from a core update, it makes sense to address key SEO technical issues that are negatively impacting your user experience.

Consider making improvements to:

  • Page loading times
  • Core Web Vitals Metrics
  • Headers, page titles and meta descriptions
  • Navigation architecture
  • Internal and external links (make sure there are no broken links or redirect chains)
  • SSL
  • XML sitemaps
  • robots.txt files
  • Marking with structured data

Even if these improvements don’t have a very direct impact on relevance and authority, they still have the potential to help you improve traffic levels overall, something that can, at the very least, somewhat offset the drop in organic traffic caused by a core update.

7. Compensate for your lost traffic by publishing new content

So far we’ve discussed what you can do with your existing content to help you regain traffic after a Google algorithm change.

However, there is also the option of publishing new content to your website as a way to get more search traffic.

By publishing more pages and posts on your site, you will give Google more opportunities for Googlebot to visit your website, index content and present it to users.

You’re also giving users more content they can link to and share. All of this can help generate new organic traffic that can make up for the visits you’ve lost.

You might consider using fresh content as a way to establish “ topic authority ” for your site; As the name of this tactic suggests, this involves covering all aspects of a particular topic in considerable depth, thus sending a signal to Google that you are an expert on that topic.

Keyword research is important here: you’ll need to make an effort to find out what people in your niche are really searching for and identify the type of phrases you can realistically rank for, and create content based on this data. Tools like Moz, SEMrush or Ahrefs can help with this process.

However, the key here is to put quality at the center of your new pages and posts, to ensure that any new content contains the relevance and authority signals that I have discussed throughout this article.

And I would definitely view this step as a ‘phase B’ tactic – it’s best to resolve any issues with existing content before publishing a lot of new stuff!

As a closing

I hope you found this guide helpful for recovering from a major Google update!

Good luck improving your ranking, and if you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section below – I’ll address them all and do my best to answer any queries you may have.

Finally, share this content if you think it would be useful to others.

How to Recover from a Google Major Update: Frequently Asked Questions

What is a basic update?

A core update is a major and broad change to Google’s search algorithms and systems. It typically focuses on the relevance and authority of the website’s content, rewarding pages and posts that show up with better search results and demoting those that don’t.

When was the most recent major update?

The most recent update to Google’s core algorithm took place in March 2023 . You can see a full list of publicly announced major updates, along with other types of unconfirmed updates, on my Google algorithms and system updates page .

How do I recover from a major update?

Recovering from a major update usually involves researching which sites that now surpass yours are doing better than you; make significant improvements to the quality of your content from a relevance and authority standpoint; look for higher quality links and brand mentions; and publish more content.

How do I know when a Google Core Update has started?

Google announces all of its updates in its search ranking updates list . I also usually announce them on the Google SearchLiaison Twitter account , or on my Senior SEO Twitter account @nicockier , on Mastodon , or more recently on Threads:  @nicockier .

How do I know when a major update has finished rolling out?

In the same way that you announce the start, through the same channels you announce the end of your updates in your list of search ranking updates . He also usually announces them on the Google SearchLiaison Twitter account , or on my account @nicockier , on Mastodon , or on Threads:  @nicockier .

How long does it take to recover from a major update?

Google has indicated that making improvements to your content can result in gradual improvements in rankings over time. However, you’ll usually have to wait until the next major update rolls out to see the full effects of any improvements you’ve made.

Information sources:

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