Nothing throws a wrench into SEO mechanics better than a broad Google core algo update, such as the one we all experienced come 2020. Not just for SEO pros but various SEO tools as well.
In case you are already up to date with all the latest details, and just want to know how to track Google following the January changes, you can hop there right now:
So, here are the details for those who want the quick summary:
Google has arguably made one of the most noticeable changes in recent years with the latest batch of updates. More websites than usual were affected this time around.
The January Core update has shifted search results and caused significant volatility in rankings across multiple niches. The Featured Snippets with their respective organic search results were condensed to show only one URL on the 1st page (instead of the old duplicity model).
We’ll start with the good news: the updates are done rolling out for the most part. The bad news is there might have been a negative impact on your websites.. But this is just how Google plays this game, and most SEO experts are surely used to the occasional ranking drop by now.
January Core update
Unlike the usual Google updates which target specific content or subjects, such as the various mobile speed updates and YMYL content updates, this one is targeting all search results. This change means no one was entirely “safe” from its influence, and again the rules of SEO will require some adjustments.
Google tweeted about the update:
Later today, we are releasing a broad core algorithm update, as we do several times per year. It is called the January 2020 Core Update. Our guidance about such updates remains as we’ve covered before. Please see this blog post for more about that:https://t.co/e5ZQUA3RC6
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) January 13, 2020
The general chatter on SEO communities seems to suggest rank drops were noted for many diverse niches from YMYL to common lighter niches. Our tool detected volatility and shifts virtually in any niche that we monitor. But the most emphatic changes seem to be focused on YMYL niches and the 1st page of Google (The top10 search results).
The changes have impacted rankings based on Google’s own ‘subjective’ and obscure measures. Websites they deem “more relevant” will be ranked higher. What does that mean exactly? Well, Google made this (annoyingly unhelpful) analogy in their blog a while back:
One way to think of how a core update operates is to imagine you made a list of the top 100 movies in 2015. A few years later in 2019, you refresh the list. It’s going to naturally change. Some new and wonderful movies that never existed before will now be candidates for inclusion. You might also reassess some films and realize they deserved a higher place on the list than they had before.
Google wants to treat their search index like IMDB treats its Top250 charts, which at least in theory sounds like a good direction. The problem here is that Google is becoming a sort of ‘content dictatorship’ as some tech journalists have correctly predicted. What Google deems as “good content” will rise higher, while websites that flourished and have become established in their own right will have their ranks demoted, just because they are seen as “out of date” by Google’s ever-changing guidelines.
Sometimes this is justified because webmasters don’t always update their websites to improve user experience and overall content quality. As a result, Google’s algo decides to demote positions for such websites. On the flip side, some websites follow the rules and still suffer demotion disproportionately, and ostensibly arbitrarily.
The shift we’re seeing is more towards going by Google’s playbook of content standards. SEO shortcuts that are often promoted by various ‘gurus’ are losing credibility at a rapid pace.
The Featured Snippets change
This one struck an unpleasant chord for many SEOs and webmasters.
Google decided to consolidate all the search results that had Featured Snippets (some referred to it as ‘position zero’) with an organic position, into a single search result on the 1st page.
We’ll try to clear some of the confusion.
How it used to be – Some websites were featured in a Snippet and in addition had the same website featured as a regular search result below the snippet on the 1st page. This situation was the case for several years.
How it is now – Either the snippet OR a regular organic search result will be featured in the 1st page but NOT both. So, if you achieved having your URL as a featured snippet, the corresponding regular non-snippet search results will no longer show up right below it.
This update changes the playing field entirely and will naturally require some time to adjust.
If a web page listing is elevated into the featured snippet position, we no longer repeat the listing in the search results. This declutters the results & helps users locate relevant information more easily. Featured snippets count as one of the ten web page listings we show.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) January 22, 2020
Google’s SearchLiaison published on Twitter a few insights into the mechanics of the new snippet SERP change:
- The featured snippets will now count as actual positions and not ‘rank 0’. For example, the official 1st page listings can show a Featured Snippet + 9 listings as the 1st page.
- Google refers to this as ‘Deduplication‘.
- There will be no more Snippet duplicity on the 1st page. If your URL shows up as a snippet, it will not be listed as an additional URL on the 1st page.
- The corresponding duplicate URL can still appear on the 2nd page, but this isn’t guaranteed, nor is it an intentional design. Plus it also depends on how the user has set up their Google default view settings (for example, some users see the top100 search results in the 1st page).
- Duplicate URLs will most likely be removed from the SERP entirely at some point. This seems to be the general direction, and only a matter of time until it happens.
- The change affects all search results globally.
- Deduplication will not apply for all Featured Snippets. The Video Carousel, Top Stories and Interesting Finds will not be affected.
How to track your organic Google rank post-January updates (PRT)
There is still a great deal of uncertainty around this change, especially what happens if you lose your Featured Snippet position?
Like with all updates, it will take time before more details are discovered and revealed.
Luckily this is where PRT comes into play! We have already adjusted our system to support the change. You might not have the solution at this point, but at least you will know your EXACT organic position, with a Featured Snippet or without it.
You will be able to track your ranks as usual, but since Featured Snippets will simply be counted as a regular organic rank, you will only need a visual cue to tell the two apart.
If your URL is ranked 1st as a Featured Snippet (of all types), it will look like this:
We also updated the change for all our ranking reports and daily charts. Whenever a search result becomes a snippet or stops being one, you will see a system note on the Daily Breakdown report. Alternatively, you can also generate a Notes Report and see the system note.
How to track your organic Google rank post-January updates (Rankitor)
Rankitor is our light SERP tracker, and it uses the same infrastructure PRT does, so the changes we mentioned above also apply to everything that Rankitor can track on Google.
Tracked position with a Featured Snippet as the rank:
Gaining insights from SERP tracking CORRECTLY
We always stress on our blog how important it is to monitor your organic ranks properly and divide everything by their relevant ranking types.
Google updates can impact overall organic ranks (like we have seen in this updated batch) or be isolated to specific SERP features such as the Local Pack and Video Carousel.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg since the general organic rankings are where it can seem chaotic and complicated. Especially if you are not yet fully familiar with how Google populated their search index.
Sometimes certain rank types shows more volatility than others. For example, some updates impact only mobile rankings, while others both desktop and mobile.
Some updates will mostly cause volatility in local search results and impact only specific regions. In contrast, other updates are international and affect all search results worldwide (such as the current batch of updates).
Google updates all the time and not just in huge ranking quakes. Every little daily update they make can end up impacting one of your terms for better or worse.
The most basic example we can show you on how to gain insight from detailed tracking is the differentiation between Google’s various mobile and desktop SERPs. There are five major ranking factors to consider when tracking URLs on Google’s regular search results.
- Geo-targeted Location – Will show you how well you rank in any given location (relevant for all user types). This information will allow you to see if any specific regional ranking changes occurred. Let’s say your rankings dropped in a New York area, but remained the same for users in L.A. You will be able to notice this and reach better conclusions.
- Desktop or Mobile device – Depending on which device is used the rankings will be different. In the past, Google made several major mobile updates that caused volatility for mobile users but impacted desktop users only mildly.
- Mobile OS type – Depending on which OS the user has when searching Google will determine what search results, they will see. This one is still an unexplored frontier SEO-wise. We don’t yet know why certain ranking types are influenced based on mobile OS type. You might rank well on mobile for Android users but not so well for iOS users.
- Mobile device type – Phone users and tablet users also see different search results based on their device types, and the same principles as OS types apply here as well.
- Default UI language – Google users also see tailored search results based on what is set up as their default UI language. There were no major official updates that have impacted ranks based on UI language. But if there ever will be, you will be among the first to catch them! This one is more important for anyone who has translated webpages and operates internationally.
Other than that, Local Pack positions, GMB ranks and the Video Carousel need to be tracked separately since they have their own ranking rules.
Setting up everything correctly will allow you to know exactly for which SERP type you lost or gained the most visibility in.
For a more detailed breakdown, please read our full article about Google’s ranking layers.
Setting up notifications
One of our most important features.
After adding your websites for rank tracking with all the correct and relevant ranking types, you will need to set up ‘guards’, or ‘triggers’ for any upcoming changes, positive or negative.
You can set up specific triggers to alert you whenever an important change happened. For example, if you suffer from a sudden drop in ranks, or on a brighter note, your website reaching the 1st page of Google.
Here are all the notifications that you can set for every term that you track:
By setting up notifications correctly, you can get alerted before you notice a drop in organic traffic and revenue.
Observing the entire niche with Full SERPs can register update quakes
Full SERPS is one of the best tools we have for observing organic SEO progress. You can use this feature to gain insights on the entire top100 niche search results.
For example, this is how volatile it can get during an update period:
This tool is, of course, also one of the best ways to keep regular track of your competitors. For every term of yours that you track, you can also follow the entire top100 search results for that term.
Full SERPS is the most comprehensive and affordable competitor tracking solution on the market.
The best summary we can give is this: As long as you track everything in the most detailed way possible the better you will be able to see what the update has changed, and possibly even predict where the trends are headed for your website and niche.
As time goes by, more details will be revealed, but this is an important lesson to track everything correctly and never forget to set up notifications.
This update may be significant, but it isn’t the last one! It’s only a matter of time until the next update hits. Google never sleeps.
Finally make sure you are subscribed to our blog, so you stay up to date with important news and SEO tips. Also read our full SEO resource guide, where you will find our top places to get updated on anything to do with search engines.
How to try Pro Rank Tracker (PRT) for FREE
Other SEO tools may buckle under the algo update threat, but not us! We make sure to be always on point when it comes to sudden algo updates. PRT is the most updated SERP tracker on the market. We monitor Google 24/7.
PRT is intended for advanced SEO and eCommerce monitoring, which includes FULL niche competitor tracking, Keyword research tools, and more than 11 types of white label SEO ranking reports (that come with an unlimited quota!).
We offer a FREE 7-day trial that requires no credit card details to activate!
We only ask in return that you give us an honest try and don’t set up multiple free trials. You can even set up a Skype Session with one of our account managers to make sure you set up everything correctly.
Our monthly plans are currently the most affordable on the market. No one even comes close.
For $25 you can track 200 of your terms plus the ENTIRE top100 search results for that term (this means up to 19,800 competing URLs!). Active for all supported search engines:
FULL Google ranking layers (with GMB and video ranks) | Yahoo! and Bing (with local ranks) | Yandex.com and .ru | YouTube | Amazon (with local versions)
How to try Rankitor for FREE
Rankitor is intended for light SEO and eCommerce monitoring.
This tool is an excellent solution for small Amazon sellers, SEO freelancers and webmasters that just want to monitor their organic ranks themselves reliably, and don’t need in-depth niche and competitor research features.
Free 7-day trial with no credit card details required to activate.
Monthly plans start at only $4.5 a month!
Pro Tip! You can try both PRT and Rankitor and decide which one suits you best.