Why You Shouldn’t Panic About Unofficial Google Updates

Google has a habit of not confirming updates to their algorithm even though web publishers see that the search result are changing. Is Google purposely hiding what they are doing in order to protect their algorithm? I have collected evidence that arguably shows there is an answer to explain why Google denies something is going on when publishers insist nothing unusual is happening.

Facts Point to Updates

Every time there is an unofficial update, there are generally four symptoms that seemingly indicate an update is happening:

  1. SERP weather reports indicate ranking changes
  2. eCommerce retailers testify to ranking changes
  3. Black hat affiliate publishers report lost rankings
  4. SEO professionals publish reports of possible quality issues affected by the rankings

Those are four signs that an update to Google’s algorithm has happened. Yet in almost every one of those so-called “Phantom” events, Google has denied that anything important has updated with the algorithm. Given that so many publishers and SEOs report that an update has happened, it’s almost certain that Google is denying an update in order to protect their algorithm. It’s the logical conclusion.

Google is Protecting their Algorithm is the Logical Conclusion

Centuries ago it was understood that the sun revolved around the earth. You could see it with your own eyes. The idea that sun revolved around the earth was a logical conclusion supported by the evidence. The problem of course was that, unknown to medieval citizens, there was a considerable amount of evidence missing. So the 100% logical conclusion that the sun revolved around the sun was wrong.

As the true history about our understanding about the suns orbit illustrates, logical conclusions can be wrong. It’s also a scientific fact that logical conclusions can be wrong.

Understanding that logical conclusions are unreliable will help further the understanding that perhaps Google is telling the truth and not trying to protect their algorithm.

1. SEO Weather Reports are Unreliable

It is a proven fact that SEO weather reports are unreliable. Every single SEO Weather Report missed the rollout of Google’s Panda Algorithm. The introduction of the Panda algorithm was one of Google’s most disruptive algorithm updates ever. Yet SEO weather reports at the time missed it.

SERoundtable published an article featuring comments from both John Mueller and Gary Illyes stating that SEO weather reports are inaccurate and that SEO weather tools are inadvertently amplifying small effects because of the methodology used.

2. eCommerce Retailers Experience Ranking Changes

It is a fact that that on every day of every month there are sites losing rankings. There is volatility in the SERPs every single day, 365 days of the years. WebmasterWorld.com has for the past several years hosted a monthly Google Update discussion where web publishers discuss their ranking changes.  Not a day goes by, year after year, without a web publisher sharing that their rankings have changed. You can verify this on Google’s own product forum as well.

3. “Black Hat” Affiliate Sites Lost Rankings

The business model of so-called “black hat” affiliate websites is to rank sites with methods that violate Google’s guidelines, and keep creating new sites as the older sites lose rankings. This is called the churn and burn business model. It’s similar to how fish reproduce in the wild, by producing millions of eggs to compensate for the loss of most of them to predation.

It’s not notable if a so-called “black hat” affiliate site loses ranking. What’s notable is if a single day goes by and a “black hat” site does not bite the dust. The chatter of sites losing rankings does not cease. Chatter on black hat forums about ranking losses are a daily occurence, not the exception. So it cannot be cited as evidence of a Google update. You can tell because there is almost always disagreement as to whether it was links or content that Google was targeting.

Bill Slawski, a leading search marketing professional (of GoFishDigital.com) had this to say about diagnosing effects from a Google update:

Most Times it’s not Google. I remember at Cre8asiteforums, when an update at Google would be announced, how many people would show up with some slow traffic, and ask if they were penalized.

It often leads to asking them if they had made any changes to their site, if their competitors had made changes to their sites, if the industry had changed in some way (or people started searching using different language or wordings.)

The last thing to look at was whether the impact was due to a change on the search engines level, because it rarely was.

4. Anecdotal SEO Agency Reports

When a so-called update happens, SEO professionals publish reports based on the issues reported by clients coming to them for help. This is an unreliable source of data because it’s a self-selecting sample.

Remember, Google updates their algorithm every single day. There are tests. There are refinements to existing algorithms. Most major algorithm updates only affect low single digit percentages close to one percent or less.

Thus, it’s easy to assume that most of the daily refinements to Google’s algorithm likely affect a limited amount of queries close to a fraction of one percent and at worst, in the low single digits percentage-wise.

Is Google Protecting their Algorithm?

Google has traditionally been open about algorithm updates. Every major infrastructure and algorithm change has been announced after it was implemented. Tellingly, except for update Penguin and Update Florida, most Google udpates passed unnoticed until they were announced.

Evidence for Phantom Updates

It’s obvious that many of these updates are, as Googlers have insisted, false reports. Google updates and refines their algorithm every single day. Web publishers experience ranking changes every single day. SEO Weather reports are unreliable. The evidence that the so-called Phantom Updates were not actual updates is compelling.

What to Do if Your Rankings Change?

The first thing to do is understand what a Core Algo Ranking Update is and how to diagnose ranking changes. Some of the changes could be due to a test and often the search results return to normal within ten days, sometimes as long as a month. The important thing is to not panic and start making changes before a proper diagnosis of what actually changed.


Images by Shutterstock, Modified by Author

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