What is a Google Core Algorithm Update?

Ashley Scharber – August 31, 2022

Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” That’s a pretty big job, which is why Google is constantly making tweaks and adjustments to improve its search results (and the way it evaluates and ranks content).

Some changes are minor and not noticeable, while others leave a lasting impact felt across industries and verticals (think Panda or Penguin). Sometimes Google publicly announces or confirms it has made an update, and other times it leaves us in the dark trying to sift through ranking changes on our own.

However, if there are specific actions Google feels site owners should take, they will confirm an update and may even give advance notice, like they did for the page speed update in 2018.

One type of update that has become a regular occurrence and one they always announce is a broad core update.

What is a Core Update?

Beginning in January 2020, Google began announcing “broad core updates” (which now happen a few times every year). Google has defined a core update as “significant, broad changes to our search algorithms and systems.”

Google announces when these updates roll out because they typically produce widely noticeable effects across industries.

However, although specific sites or pages on a site may be impacted by a core update, Google specifically states that “there’s nothing in a core update that targets specific pages or sites. Instead, the changes are about improving how our systems assess content overall.”

This means (to the dismay of many) there’s usually nothing for a site owner to “fix” if their rankings have been impacted by a core update.

Google uses a great analogy to explain how this works: consider if you published a list of the top 100 movies for 2018 and then updated that list in 2022; that list would be considerably different, not because anything changed with the movies, but because there are new movies that didn’t exist before that now should be included on the list.

This, Google says is how a core update works: updates to its algorithms surface new content that deserves visibility on the list (or search engine results page). In some cases, content that was previously under-rewarded may now be appropriately rewarded with improved rankings or visibility on the list.

Focus On Quality Content

Although Google always announces when a core update is rolling out, their announcements leave much to be desired for many site owners because they do not specify what changed and they share the exact same information every time.

Without fail they always direct site owners and content creators back to this same blog post from 2019 and reiterate that just because a site was negatively impacted by a core update does not mean there’s anything wrong with it, and therefore, there’s nothing that can be “fixed.”

Instead, they recommend focusing on providing quality content, which they say is what their algorithms seek to reward. They even provide a variety of questions content creators can ask themselves to evaluate if their content is high quality or not.

This information is explained in significant detail in Google’s search quality rater guidelines, which are a highly valuable resource that should be bookmarked by every digital content creator.

To summarize, Google considers high quality content to be content that demonstrates high expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (commonly referred to as E-A-T). Content with strong E-A-T:

  • Provides original information, reporting, research or analysis
  • Provides a comprehensive overview of the topic
  • Presents information in a way that makes the reader want to trust it (e.g. sources are cited, background information on the author is available, etc.)
  • Is written by an expert or enthusiast on the topic
  • Is on a website that is trustworthy and recognized as an authority on the topic
  • Is factually and grammatically correct
  • Provides substantial value to readers compared to other results
  • Is written for users, not search engines

If you suspect your site may have been impacted by a Google algorithm update or simply want to improve your organic visibility through the creation of high-quality content, contact us to learn more about how we can help.