5 Strategies for Coping with a Core Algorithm Update

3 min read

Five Insights from Google Experts on Understanding Ranking Drops and Strategies for Recovery.

A core algorithm update can lead to changes in website rankings, and it’s only sometimes about the quality of content. Various elements can influence why the algorithm shifted and caused your site to drop rankings.

If you find yourself asking, ‘Why doesn’t it rank anymore? It used to!’ You should consider some of these potential factors.


1. Algorithmic Losses Are Not Necessarily Permanent


When a website is hit by a core algorithm update, including those focusing on helpful content, it doesn’t mean the impact is irreversible. Over the past decade, Google has introduced complex algorithms and systems that sometimes take months between update cycles, leaving affected sites in a frustrating limbo with no quick route back to previous rankings. This often creates the impression that the site has been blacklisted or permanently removed from good standing.

However, Google’s John Mueller addressed this concern, reassuring that being impacted by a core algorithm update is not a permanent condition. With effort and adjustments, a site can recover from a drop caused by an update. It may take time, but the adverse effects are not irreversible.


2. “Recovering” Is Not Quite Accurate


Many view “recovering” from a core algorithm update as returning a website’s rankings to their previous positions, essentially resetting the clock. However, in an answer shared on X (formerly Twitter), Google’s John Mueller indicated that this mindset needs to capture the full picture. Instead, he suggests that algorithm changes reflect an evolving web and shifting user expectations, meaning “recovery” is more about adapting to these new conditions rather than restoring the status quo. This requires continual adjustments to meet the evolving standards that Google’s algorithms are designed to enforce.


3. Understanding Thresholds and Ranking Formulas


John Mueller highlighted a crucial distinction between continuous algorithmic evaluation and ranking systems where changes require a complete update cycle to take effect. In the former, adjustments to your site can lead to immediate shifts in rankings as the algorithm reassesses in real time. However, with more complex ranking formulas, changes might not yield visible results until the next major algorithm update, making recovery feel less predictable. This underscores the importance of recognizing that some ranking impacts are tied to specific thresholds and update cycles, impacting how quickly a site can recover from ranking losses.


4. The Web & User Expectations Evolve


In a recent discussion on X, John Mueller emphasized the importance of staying attuned to user expectations as a key to success in SEO. He explained that users expect to see his preferred definition of relevance in search results. This has little to do with “semantic relevance” in a technical sense and everything to do with what users themselves find meaningful. Many SEOs and publishers need to focus more on the technical aspects of language, such as word meanings and phrases, while neglecting what matters most: user intent and expectations.

Mueller also highlighted this in response to why a website might rank highly in one country but underperform in another. He explained that user expectations can vary significantly across different regions, leading to variations in search rankings. The underlying message is that relevance isn’t solely about semantics or technical optimization but is primarily driven by user needs and cultural context. Keeping pace with these evolving user expectations is crucial for maintaining and improving search rankings.


5. Page-Level Signal with Site-Wide Considerations


Google’s SearchLiaison clarified that the Helpful Content aspect of the core algorithm mainly operates at the page level, though some site-wide signals are also factored in. His tweet referenced the Helpful Content Update FAQ, which states:

“Do Google’s core ranking systems evaluate the helpfulness of content at a page level or site-wide?

Our core ranking systems are primarily designed to function at the page level, using a variety of signals and systems to determine the helpfulness of individual pages. However, we do have some site-wide signals that are also considered.”

This response underscores that while the core algorithm often assesses pages individually, broader signals can influence a website’s overall ranking, making it crucial for site owners to consider both individual page content and site-wide quality.


Keep An Open Mind


Experiencing a drop in rankings after a core algorithm update can be incredibly frustrating. Having worked in SEO for over 25 years and conducting website audits since 2004, I’ve learned that keeping an open mind is crucial when diagnosing why a site is no longer ranking well.

Google’s core algorithm encompasses a wide range of signals. Some focus on the helpfulness of content, while others assess relevance to user queries, site quality, and overall user experience. Given this complexity, it’s important not to assume that a ranking loss is due to a single factor. The cause could be a combination of issues or something entirely unexpected.

If you need help determining what’s affecting your site’s rankings, consider our monthly SEO packages, where our team can guide you through the SEO and help you regain lost ground.

Shilpi Mathur
[email protected]