Google’s done it again! On May 4th, 2020, the world’s largest search engine released confirmation of a core algorithm update, known as the “May 2020 Core Update.”
May 2020 has left many companies downright queasy as they watch their traffic, rankings, and visibility spiral like a moth that’s hit a candle’s flame. It hasn’t been pretty.
The second core update of the year, it has stirred things up in the SEO world. There have been plenty of significant winners and losers, and gone is the hope that Google might leave well enough alone amid a pandemic.
Fortunately, our case study on recovering after 4th May Google algorithm update shows you can regain lost footing. Let’s deep dive into how our premium SEO services have helped one client turn an absolute SEO disaster into a means for reacquiring and even gaining new rankings.
Google’s May 2020 Core Update
Before we dive headlong into our case study, let’s explore why Google deemed it necessary to make these changes. After all, many had hoped the search engine giant might sit on further updates a bit while the COVID-19 crisis resolved.
Instead, coronavirus has proven a major driver for this update. According to Google, it has never seen more searches than for COVID-19, making an update inevitable.
The virus itself has changed what people need from Google’s search results. Whether we’re talking about people seeking:
- Information about the disease
- Places that offer remote services
- Assistance finding needed products online
Coronavirus has disrupted just about every corner of the planet, and this proves no less true when it comes to SEO. Things are gaining relevancy that we would never have searched for even three months ago. Conversely, categories once commonly searched have fallen into disuse.
For example, live entertainment, in-person events, travel, and tourism have all fallen off the SEO map. These categories were once massive drivers of traffic. Of course, they’re but a few of the many areas where coronavirus has dramatically altered search patterns.
And these changes have all occurred rapidly.
The May 2020 Core Update represents Google’s attempt to catch up with how the world is suddenly searching. Whether or not these changes will make finding the most relevant information easier remains up in the air.
The Latest Google Algorithm Winners and Losers
To give you a better sense of how sweeping the update is, let’s take a quick look at some of the biggest winners and losers. As you’ll see, seismic shifts have occurred, even for well-established brands.
Sistrix has done some fantastic early work on documenting how the algorithmic shakeup has impacted websites. They’ve found with the German market, for example, that health-related sites are among the top losers. In the UK, it’s music-related sites.
Nonetheless, no websites are immune. Consider Sistrix’s list of the biggest losers so far:
- Allmusic.com -39.03 percent
- Last.fm -38.03 percent
- NYPost.com -36.21 percent
- WordPress.org -33.84 percent
- Huffpost.com -33.06 percent
How about the winners? They include sites such as:
- Businesswire.com +60.72 percent
- People.com +75.64 percent
- Topgear.com +85.59 percent
- Carbuyer.co.uk +90.09 percent
- News-medical.net +116.27 percent
These are but a small sampling of the many recipients of new traffic. As you can see, some companies are enjoying sizable wins.
What May 2020’s Winners and Losers Indicate
Path Interactive has also analyzed winners and losers associated with the algorithmic change. Relying on the Sistrix US Visibility Index, patterns have emerged about the areas of the web enveloped in the highest volatility.
The industries who have seen the most considerable SERP changes include:
- Nutrition and recipes
- Science and medical news
- Drugs, alcohol, and rehab
- Banking and finance
- Music and entertainment
- Natural medicine
To better understand what’s going on, let’s examine music sites for a moment. For a while now, people have been moving away from streaming music.
But does this trend correlate to the big drops we’ve seen in visibility for sites like Spotify -13.27 percent, Last.fm -15.33 percent, and Pandora -2.95 percent? So, far Google Trends doesn’t support this theory. Spotify and Pandora continue to hold steady in terms search volume.
So, what’s going on? Let’s drill down into the factors impacting rankings to understand the profound changes we see across SERPs.
Factors Impacting Rankings Since May 4th
When you continue to dig more deeply into the changes that have occurred, a fascinating picture emerges. For example, when you look at media rankings, they show:
- Newsmax.com -3.87 percent
- FoxNews.com -4.58 percent
- Health.USNEWS.com -7.56 percent
- Politico.com -8.00 percent
- Msnc.com -14.37 percent
- Snopes.com -19.20 percent
- RealClearPolitics.com -20.20 percent
- NYPost.com -21.54 percent
Or, consider the following updates from health, fitness, and recipe websites:
- Health-Street.net -15.50 percent
- NaturalMedicinalHerbs.net -15.38 percent
- DailyBurn.com -54.94 percent
- PlanetFitness.com -42.74 percent
- OrangeTheoryFitness.com -31.31 percent
- Food.com -5.16 percent
- Skinnytaste.com -52.92 percent
What do the ranking changes above tell us about the current SEO updates? For starters, thin content has become a whole lot more harmful to websites. For example, landing pages that once relied on off-page factors to maintain rankings are now falling off the map.
But that’s not all. SERPs with multiple search intents are also getting walloped, as are local search and SERP features.
The Analytical Takeaway
Although this Google search update remains in its infancy, here’s what we’ve learned about it so far. The impact on health sites indicates that there have been adjustments related to user search intent.
What’s more, the current volatility associated with news site rankings shows that Google has made updates dealing with issues of accuracy and credibility.
For websites that are losing out right now, the sudden drop in traffic isn’t necessarily indicative of site deficiencies. In many cases, it merely means other websites perform better.
News websites that have lost rankings aren’t necessarily inaccurate or less credible. But Google has determined that competitor sites are even more reliable and accurate. There’s an essential lesson to be learned from all of this.
When attempting to understand why your site has lost rankings, it isn’t always about identifying deficiencies. Instead, it’s about understanding the strengths of other websites and why they’ve gained rankings.
Of course, this brings us to the big question. How do you get your website off the biggest loser list and onto that of the winners? Let’s take a look at how we’re helping one client do just that.
Case Study on Recovering After 4th May Google Algorithm Update
Like many companies within the fitness and nutritional sphere, one of our newest clients took a massive hit due to the May 2020 update. Almost overnight, their website’s visibility tanked by nearly 60 percent.
Suddenly, they realized SEO needed to not only be in their budget, but it needed to be at the very top priority. After all, nosediving visibility put them on the fastback to a figurative crash. They needed us to help them out of that tailspin.
We started with a simple yet proven way to diagnose the problem. A three-pronged approach that included:
- An SEO audit
- Creating content
- Building links
Here’s how we’ve used this approach to stem traffic loss, putting our client back in the SERPs game.
Crafting a Plan of Attack
We started with two goals, to build our client’s website authority and to push its rankings to the first page for high volume terms. That said, our biggest obstacle remained our client’s very competitive niche. After all, it doesn’t get much more cutthroat than fitness and nutrition.
Our client must regularly go toe-to-toe with massive brands like Healthline that dominate:
- Google Ads results
- Sponsored product results
- Featured snippets
- People Also Ask boxes
Nonetheless, years of experience with competitive SEO have taught us that there are always ways to compete, even with the big brand. In this case, we noticed that major fitness and nutrition websites were relying primarily on domain authority to garner traffic.
Of course, their reliance on domain authority meant many of these websites saw spectacular losses because of May 2020. Ironically, the latest update provided a solid foothold for our client to come back strong and even gain a competitive edge.
Here’s how we approached the problems hampering our client’s website and the approach we’re taking to rectify these issues.
Step One: Keyword Research
When working with a new client, we always begin with a detailed analysis of keyword research. So, we started by asking the client for a list of the seed keywords they felt were vital. Then, we used the Keyword Shitter tool to expand upon the list. (Catchy name, right?)
From there, we further broadened the list with the help of AnswerThePublic. Why was this step so important? Because voice-assisted search continues to change how people look for things.
Instead of speaking keywords to Siri and Alexxa, people ask full questions using why, how, can, etc.
Relying on these two tools allowed us to understand how and what their target demographic searched for. But before we could get a clear picture, we had to refine and clean the data, removing duplicate and similar terms.
We also needed to map out topic clusters of keywords with similar topics, keeping in mind which “types” of keywords to focus on. What do we mean by “types” of keywords?
We decided to focus on the following categories:
- Money keywords that drive sales
- Generic keywords related to our client’s various product offerings
- Informational keywords related to pros and cons and information
Of course, none of this would’ve gotten out client very far if we didn’t keep search intent paramount in all that we did. This focus guided us as we selected keywords.
We remained ever conscious of avoiding keywords that would return different user intent than our client’s website could provide. After adding additional information gathered from Google Keyword Planner, we created a spreadsheet to use as our rank tracker.
Throughout this process, we also paid close attention to the SERPs associated with each keyword. We pulled each one up and kept a list of the highest rating competitors. The information proved essential to the next step.
Step Two: Competitor Research
This next step, competitor analysis, proved critical to our success. After all, our client’s website was in good shape. Their topics proved relevant, and they matched the site’s user intent.
What did this show us? That it wasn’t so much a deficiency of our client’s website that dampened their successes but rather things that their competitors were doing even better.
As we explored their competitor websites, we made observations about:
- Page purpose and intent
- Content length
- How strong the domains were
- What types of pages rank
- Page layout
The result? We used competitor analysis to determine what Google’s machine learning algorithm expects to see from top-ranking pages. With that knowledge, we went back to our client to help them deliver.
Step Three: Content and Technical SEO Audit
Once we had a solid handle on what our client needed to do, we examined the materials we had to work with. That’s where a content and technical SEO audit came into play.
We conducted a comprehensive onsite audit, resulting in a 30+ page document that covered everything that Google’s algorithm would be looking for and expecting to see from our client’s website. The audit included factors such as:
- Site structure
- Page speed
- Duplicate content
- Index management
- Internal redirects
- Trust signals
- Internal linking
The audit revealed deficiencies undermining our client, including a predominance of fundamental technical SEO issues that proved cinch to fix. We also found more pervasive problems associated with their current content depth and quality.
Fixing the Problems
After working through issues with page speed load times, duplicate content, internal redirects, etc., it was time to tackle one of our client’s biggest problems: thin content.
For example, we found that well over 50 percent of their pages featured less than 500 words. These word counts had a substantial negative impact on our client’s rankings. While every industry is different, the fitness and nutrition industry is very content heavy.
Because Google rewards fresh, long-form content that gets at the heart of user intent, we made content generation a top priority. For example, we increased their home page text from 1,000 words to more than 10,000 by adding 25 FAQs based on the products they sell.
As for other content pages? We ramped up word count from 500 to an average of 2,000+ words per page.
How to Compete Despite Google’s Latest Shakedown
While we’re still in the early stages of this endeavor, we’d love to tell you what we’ve found so far. We’ve gained serious traction for our client in just a couple of weeks.
We’ve helped them regain more than 60 percent of their lost rankings. And we’ve also seen very promising recent traffic spikes. All told, our client feels more confident about the future, and they’re happy to report growing sales once more.
Are you ready to work with an agency that can help you regain what you’ve lost due to May 2020 as well as expand much further? As you can see from our case study on recovering after 4th May Google algorithm update, we’ve got the know-how to get you stellar results.
Contact us to discuss how we can help you in the aftermath of May 2020 as well as how we can help shock-proof your website for the next Google update.