On March 13th, 2019, Google SearchLiaison announced the release of their broad core algorithm update – ‘March 2019 Core Update’ – via a tweet. While Google makes around 500-600 minor algorithm changes every year, the search engine giant only rolls out core algorithm updates occasionally.
Referred to as ‘Florida 2’, this update – like all major algorithm updates by Google – has left SEO experts and online marketers scratching their heads. As Google algorithms are a complex means of data retrieval from its vast search index, algorithm updates can also signal a change in ranking factors.
However, since Google does not release the details of its algorithm changes, it is usually up to marketers to understand how each update affects their SEO efforts.
Why Make Core Updates?
A broad core update usually results in changes that do not target any specific niche. SEO experts speculate that Google focuses on certain industries when rolling out updates, but John Mueller, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst, has consistently denied this claim.
The main purpose of a broad core update is to make improvements to Google’s overall algorithm, in order to better understand search queries and webpages. These improvements allow Google to provide accurate results to search queries, thereby improving their overall user experience.
Changes in Florida 2 Affecting SEO and SERPs
When Florida 2 rolled out, site owners noticed a massive boost in their traffic, and welcomed the update with open arms – while others uncovered a number of issues that were affecting their site’s performance.
Despite being formally announced; Google has kept its tradition of not providing many details about the update. This means that as usual, marketers and SEO experts don’t know for sure which search verticals and site attributes have been directly impacted.
However, according to Brett Tabke, founder of the WebmasterWorld online forum, there are certain conclusions we can draw about the update; for example, despite being called one of the biggest updates in a very long time, Florida 2 has not changed many aspects of SEO. Tabke has also speculated that this core update seems to be a rollback of previous updates.
Some of the basic early observations made of the update include:
- The update has not brought about major changes, and is quite similar to many run of the mill, unannounced Google updates
- All the countries usually tracked for updates were affected, but Germany, France, and Italy lagged behind by a day
- The update patterns were almost similar on both desktop and mobile
- The most affected categories of webpages were health, automobiles, and pets & animals
Increased Impact on Websites Related to ‘Your Money, Your Life’ Topics
Following through with the changes made in the August and October 2018 updates, Florida 2 also seemed to have a significant affect on certain sites – especially sites that deal with sensitive topics such as healthcare, finance, and education.
Websites with Strong Engagement Metrics Favoured
This further emphasises the idea that the core update was based on data gathered by Google from the previous year’s updates. Websites with higher engagement were brought to the forefront, which further drives home the concept of strong, relevant content being a necessity.
Strong Branding and Trustworthy Websites are Given Preference
Due to the importance given to websites based around ‘your money, your life’ themes, it seems clear that user trust remains a major ranking factor. Larger brands that are established as industry authorities also experienced a boost in rankings.
Reactions by Webmasters on Losses and Gains
As evident in different Webmaster forums, people are celebrating this latest update, as more gains than losses have been reported. Many websites that suffered after the Penguin update seem to have bounced back in the SERPs, even after people had given up on them. Traffic was significantly increased, and there were even affiliate earnings on those sites for the first time in over a year.
However, people noted that web sites that ran on automated link building are going downhill, and pages with extensive anchor text optimisation are also falling in the SERPs. While there has been a significant boost observed in some keywords rankings, others have significantly declined.
The best way to have answers regarding the update is to continue producing quality content, and keep an eye on how rankings are affected.
Riding out the Florida 2 Wave
Google’s advice to online marketers remains the same; publish high-quality content that provides value to users. This is in line with the emphasis placed on delivering content based on the principles of EAT – Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness, which help delivers a better user experience.
Hence, marketers need to constantly update and maintain their websites, and publish current data to rank higher on the SERPs. To maximise visibility, Webmasters also need to focus on building brand equity by creating a well-rounded experience for users – there is really no shortcut around this anymore.