30 September 2022
The Month That Was August 2022
Much like the summer of updates we saw last year, 2022 has been just as busy. Between August and September, there were three pretty significant algorithm updates rolled out in relative succession:
One of the trickiest hurdles to clear when so many heavy hitters are rolled out so close together, is it makes it difficult to understand the impact and outcome each of them had. Google have even said as much, slap bang in the middle of three updates, two of which ended on the same day!
In particular, the September core update and the Product Reviews update (the fifth we’ve seen now in eighteen months) were so close together, isolating any volatility in organic rankings across September and in October will be nigh on impossible.
Check out Google’s helpful list of updates to stay on top of each one!
What is (relatively) fair to assume, is that the Product Reviews update should only impact sites that contain product reviews, as the name would suggest.
That isn’t to say that all five of them, individually and collectively, shouldn’t be taken seriously though. Glenn Gabe, all-round knowledge and industry wizard, pointed out that all three affect the whole site, not just individual pages. Just like a core update, lovely.
For those with reviews on-site, this just further backs up the uncertainty of whether negative or positive impact came from the core, product review or helpful content update.
Why prattle on about the unpredictability of volatility readings at times like this? It’s better to point out we only have the tools at our disposal to measure and make assumptions. But they are just that; assumptions.
We can but listen to the data, keep your site in lane, and try to stay sane.
Using a combination of the Sistrix visibility index and content category labels from Similarweb, analysing the initial impact of the September update is doable, if not complicated. This comparison looks at over 1,800 winning and losing domains from U.S. search, comparing overall visibility between September 12 and 27, 2022.
Before we look at how site categories factor into the equation and we begin drawing patterns, let us look simply at who lost the most visibility, and who were rewarded post-September.
Movement among ecommerce sites was actually kind of mixed, whilst there were absolutely improvements, some sites saw a drop after the core update.
The 56% change for the category boils down to the cataclysmic growth witnessed by Amazon. After seeing an absolute increase of 238 points on the Sistrix index, alongside lots of smaller incremental gains seen by other ecommerce giants, the overall category of ‘Ecommerce & Shopping’ saw the biggest increase as a result. Major winners of previous updates, like Walmart, Target, and eBay saw declines this time around.
Arguably two of the biggest retailers online, there are stark differences between Amazon & eBay. When we look at traffic stats, Amazon has about 1.2 billion visits per month, eBay has around 159 million (SEMrush October 2022). One site has a whole delivery and distribution network as part of the company, the other is the world’s most popular auction site.
The September update was a ‘content quality’ update, a broadcore update that focuses on the overall experience and quality of a webpage. The two sites have different experiences from a mobile and desktop perspective, and the content is controlled largely by sellers.
There might be a case made that Amazon listings are better optimised for search, as a larger proportion of sellers are businesses, which could give us an insight into why they did so well. But bare in mind, we’ve had the helpful content update, as well as the product reviews update in September.
Is Amazon’s content more helpful than eBay’s? Their listings are certainly often longer and more detailed, they’re also more permanent than eBay products. And if we take product reviews into consideration? Well, Amazon has over 250 million of them.
Rewind to Feb 2019. Google released official documentation on how it combats disinformation. In particular, how the A in E-A-T matters more during times of crisis, like a pandemic, or, a war… So began the trend of Google weighting government and medical authority sites during times of hardship, rewarding authority-over-recency.
Let’s skip back to Sep 2022 then, and it seems the core update has further amplified the trend in rewarding authoritativeness, with .gov sites making widespread jumps of +30%, and sites like the Dept of Justice seeing climbs of over 40%.
Firstly, it’s worth pointing out that analysing rankings for news sites is notoriously tricky, my precious. Consider, a news article that discusses an event that is actively happening will always have more visibility initially, but those rankings will wane over time as the news becomes stale.
Secondly, it could be that the September update has reduced the number of news-related results for any given query, negatively impacting the Sistrix visibility index for associated news sites. This goes against the ‘Query Deserves Freshness‘ approach of ranking news, but could be a result of repetitive news stories, or the update penalising outlets offering less authority than others.
Some UK News sites also made the cut, with Metro, Mirror and Daily Mail all seeing significant losses in visibility. However, not everyone saw drops, the New York Times, Pew Research, The Guardian, Today, and Time magazine all saw increases in visibility – the majority of which aren’t considered tabloid press, and instead are more respected sources of news.
Alas, the small increases witnessed by a handful of news sites were grossly outweighed by the losses of news giants like CNN. Just a couple of positions dropped on a big-money/high-volume news query is reflected in a big visibility drop in the index. The aggregate losses for the News category in this study was -137 points.
As we’ve already said, with the three updates rolling out in quick succession, and all the focusing on content quality to a greater or lesser degree, figuring out who benefitted from the product review update is tricky.
The first stage is to take those sites that feature product reviews as part of their core offering, relying on them for site traffic. Take those sites, and then see who gained or lost visibility across our date range. Could they have been impacted by the Core or Helpful Content System updates as well? Yeah, definitely, but the theory still stands.
We’ve written another article about the Helpful Content Update and what you need to know for 2023 – head over for a more detailed analysis of the impact they both had.
In short, it’s too early to tell. There was a lot of noise and chatter in the community that the Helpful Content System sounded big, really big, like, Panda big. But honestly, volatility so far points to it being pretty mild, but it is still early days.
What we do have are Google’s guidelines on what constitutes unhelpful content, and a chunk of sites from the Sistrix analysis that certainly fit that bill!
Like most digital channels and processes, SEO is ever-changing and developing. We stay up-to-date and provide genuine insight into the topics that matter.
You can check back into our blog month on month for the most recent insights and developments in organic search, paid advertising and much more, as well as checking out our suite of SEO services to see how we can grow your organic presence.
30 September 2022
The Month That Was August 2022
Still the same great data driven services, but now with a different name