When Google makes a change to the Google Search algorithm, especially a core update that will fundamentally impact the SERPs, webmasters fear the worst.
The new Google core algorithm update in May 2020 is no different, leading to many frustrated and confused SEOs and webmasters venting on Twitter.
With the latest update, a lot of local businesses, smaller news sites, and forums are feeling the pain.
But you don’t have to, because we created this guide with everything you need to know.
We will break down the Google May 2020 Core Update, evaluate the changes, how they might affect your rankings, and how you can pivot to maintain or improve them.
Google May 2020 Core Update – The Official Story
The new core algorithm update was announced on the official Google SearchLiaison Twitter account on May 4, 2020.
Over a period of two weeks, they introduced the changes in a number of smaller updates to the algorithm.
On May 18, they announced that the broad core update rollout was complete, and the changes were fully implemented.
Google hinted that the update was related to their E-A-T principles (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) by linking to an earlier blog post.
The initial core update related to E-A-T has been released in June 2019).
So far, there are mixed signals as to whether or not the update has successfully improved the E-A-T weighting.
Some early anecdotal evidence (covered in detail below) indicates that authority is everything, with eCommerce and social media giants conquering many SERPs. In some cases, they even get multiple pages ranked for a single keyword.
Other stories appear to show signs that expertise and trustworthiness are now more important than simple content volume and site authority.
As always, Google has gone light on details for the algorithm change. After all, they don’t want to give away the recipe to unscrupulous SEOs.
So, as usual, there’s no official feedback to confirm which data interpretations or narrative is correct (but there’s plenty of funny illustrations, like the one below!).
To really see the true impact of the update we have to look at third-party sources and real webmaster stories.
Let’s start by looking at some of the biggest winners of the new update.
Google Search Algorithm Update Winners: Social Media, News, and eCommerce Giants
The aftermath of the completed core update rollout was anything but quiet.
Early on, SEOs and webmasters took to Twitter and complained that it seemed social media and eCommerce giants got an unfair advantage.
One person even went so far as to dub the core update the “social media update” in an angry tweet:
He claimed that many major sites were ranking for search terms with very limited content, and not a single backlink, outranking quality content from dedicated authority sites.
Other early feedback showed that news sites (even spammy ones) with lots of pages seemed to be winning high-volume keywords — even if their content didn’t match the intent.
In this example, news websites in Turkey were able to instantly conquer top SERP positions by simply utilizing their existing domain authority and status as news websites.
The new Google algorithm update seems to have initially increased the weight of authority in the E-A-T balance. After all, lower-quality content is now ranking purely based on the strength of the domain.
And it doesn’t stop there.
eCommerce giants also enjoyed the new update, often getting as many as 3 different pages listed for a single keyword.
While it might be a major blow to affiliate marketers that rely mostly on SEO, it’s likely closer in line with user search intent for commercial searches than niche content.
Google’s response to this feedback seems to indicate that they are happy with the new results in this case. Likely because, as of July 21, 2020, many commercial search terms are still dominated by multiple pages from giants like Amazon and eBay.
For example, the term mentioned in the original tweet “fishing game” still shows two Amazon category pages as the top results.
The Google algorithm update also brought changes to the world of mobile apps and games.
The leading App stores, Google Play, and Apple Store, were huge winners, with a 93% and 45% SERP ranking improvement respectively.
Again, this is a sign of an update to the ranking algorithm to better utilize intent when ranking SERPs.
In this case, when users are specifically looking for apps, rather than blog posts or other content, showcasing app store results directly makes more sense.
All in all, it seems like established websites and companies in many fields are winning big.
Directory-style sites that don’t necessarily include in-depth or high-quality content, but which may be more in line with the search intent on commercial keywords, have seen significant rankings across the board.
But the update itself isn’t the only factor affecting the Google rankings as of late.
Let’s explore the context of this update.
Post-COVID-19 eCommerce Search Trends and Behaviour May Be Affecting SERPs
We must not forget that the May 2020 core algorithm update didn’t happen in a vacuum.
The Coronavirus-related social distancing policies (and the aftermath) have also had a major impact on the search behaviour of consumers.
As searchers prefer to avoid local brick and mortar stores, eCommerce giants have enjoyed a healthy uptick in search volume.
For example, look at the branded search trends for Etsy:
The crisis-related peak is actually taller and much more sustained than 2019’s Christmas season, indicating a sharp increase in general search interest.
The reason is probably two-fold — consumers looking for products because they can’t visit local flea markets, thrift stores, and workshops, and people looking for an extra source of income in uncertain times.
More standard eCommerce retailers also saw an increase in search demand.
Just take a look at Amazon’s Google trends over the past year:
The initial post-lockdown spike was almost as high as the 2019 holiday season peak, though not as pronounced as Etsy’s.
Still, it’s an indicator of increased search demand in the months leading up to the latest Google algorithm update.
If more people are looking to purchase products online, users will click eCommerce results more often, leading to CTR-related SERP boosts on top of any update effects.
As of July 21, 2020, Etsy and Amazon are still enjoying double and triple positions in the SERPs for commercial keywords.
For example, Etsy has “handmade fishing flies” covered with the first and second spots on lock.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to outrank the giants for commercial terms. But long-form content or related FAQs is no longer as important as matching search intent.
If this trend continues, creating high-quality category pages that showcase multiple products could be an even bigger key to eCommerce SEO moving forward.
Outside the world of eCommerce, the update has given smaller sites a fighting chance to grab top SERPs and valuable traffic.
Let’s take a closer look.
E-A-T Update? Expertise and Content Quality May Beat Authority
The changes to Google’s algorithm aren’t all bad news for smaller sites and businesses.
While established websites with millions of pages and a lot of authority, like social media sites and eCommerce giants, improved search visibility on average, this wasn’t the case for all keywords.
Marie Haynes Consulting tracked the SERP rankings of their clients following the May 2020 Google update, and found some interesting results for SMBs.
After the May core update, a medical information site that was negatively impacted by last year’s June update (introducing E-A-T) saw great results.
The organic traffic almost rebounded to the site’s original levels, for the first time in almost a year.
The initial E-A-T update focused more on the A (Authority) than other factors, leading to significant reductions in organic traffic for smaller players.
But with the new May update, much of the damage done by the first update seems to be gone.
And it’s not just MHC that noticed this trend.
Marcus Pentzek, Chief SEO Consultant at Searchmetrics, also noticed indications of a change to E-A-T in his initial research. In an interview, he mentions that you no longer need to be an authority site with high DA to rank content, as long as you’ve got E-A-T on lock.
“You don’t have to be one of the strongest of the strong as long as you have a solid E-A-T base.
In my opinion, this seems to have been Google’s way of correcting for E-A-T.”
Marcus Pentzek, Chief SEO Consultant at Searchmetrics,
Thanks to this latest Google core update, E-A-T is finally becoming a significant ranking factor.
As a result, sites that focus on creating high-quality content with credible experts have shown significant gains.
For example, Parents.com, one of Moz’s top five “update winners”, showed impressive improvement in SEO visibility across the board:
In most of its articles, rather than just parents’ opinions and stories, Parents.com also features input from recognized child psychologists.
Of course, they also have a great page experience, lightning-fast loading speeds, and minimal duplicate content.
Search engine algorithms are evolving past basic signals like the number of backlinks, and it’s increasingly important to provide high-quality content written by actual experts.
If you put off tackling E-A-T when it first arrived in June last year, now is the time to pivot if you want to improve your rankings.
All in all, it could prove to be a major update in favor of dedicated whitehat SEOs.
Potential Google Core Update Rollback: June 23
After first releasing the broad core algorithm update in May, it was clear to see the impact in the SERPs.
The second most notable peak since then happened on June 23.
Typically, this would mean another hidden update — the timing hinting at a rollback of some kind.
Data from Cognitive SEO also indicates a peak in SERP result changes on June 23 and the following days.
You don’t need to be an SEO expert to deduce that something happened behind the scenes.
Many webmasters reported a return to normal, or at least ranking improvements, which mostly confirmed that it was a partial rollback.
It’s still unclear to which extent the update was rolled back, and there have been no official Google comments to confirm or deny it.
Non-English SERP Issue – Multiple Country Pages Displayed for Same Search Query
But the update wasn’t without its issues.
In some languages, like Spanish, where multiple country pages target the same query, Google SERPs were displaying many virtually identical pages for a single keyword.
The problem was especially prominent with social media sites — Pinterest, in particular.
As of July 21, 2020, the Spanish search terms still appear to have this issue where Pinterest pages from different countries occupy most of the top rankings.
This is not a new issue, having first been reported in June 2019, following their first major E-A-T algorithm update.
But things appear to have gotten even worse following the May 2020 update, specifically for Pinterest and other large social media sites.
Thankfully, English search terms appear to be free from these kinds of duplicate results.
Google Search Algorithm 2020 Core Update: Conclusion
To make sure that they don’t relinquish any of their dominant market share, Google is continually working towards a higher quality search result for any keyword.
Sometimes, like in May 2020, that means releasing updates that irk more SEOs and webmasters than it pleases.
Although this was by no means a Penguin update or Panda update in scale, it affected a wide range of smaller affiliates and authority sites.
If you were hit, luckily, you have a roadmap to claw your way back into the SERPs.
Work with the E-A-T framework, feature more experts, and mold your content to better fit search intent.
Do it well, and you just might start beating out established authority sites, without needing to pay big for backlinks or wait years for DA to develop.