This Week In SEO 108
The March 2019 Google Core Algorithm Update Extravaganza

Are you guys still talking about the March 12th Algorithm Update? Obsessed much?

Yes, we just cannot stop reading about, studying, and poking this new update with a stick. Why?

Because “write good content and follow all the rules” is shitty SEO advice, and much too general. There’s more to SEO than good content + spamming everyone in your industry with outreach email. If you really pay attention to who’s ranking best for your most-coveted keywords and monitor what they are doing (constantly changing H1 titles? Experimenting with structured data? Constantly updating the “published’ date? etc.) and what happens to them when a big update like this hits, you can start seeing see what kind of stuff Google’s algorithm is prioritizing for your niche (because it can vary by niche, and it can be more than just one cut-and-dry thing).

So, two things you should do constantly and especially when a big update rolls out:

1. Track, monitor, and stalk the top spots in your niche.

2. Pay attention to what the SEO experts publish and talk about, if you can find ones that you trust and who are trusted by others.

Hope your site came through the update OK–or better than OK. We’re still studying all the movement we’ve been seeing in the second half of March: some big movement during the week of the 12th, and then steady waves of fluctuation over the last week, week and a half as Google tweaks their algorithm.

Here’s what you look like doing SEO in 2019 when you DON’T dig into and study these updates:

These are the best and most interesting Hot Takes we’ve found (so far) analyzing this update. Enjoy!

A ‘Softening’ of the Medic Update?

Glenn Gabe is my main go-to when it comes to a big-bad update blowing our SEO houses down. He is cautious, never too quick to post something definitive, and really uses a lot of data and examples in his summaries.

His take on this March 2019 core update is nuanced and thorough, so it’d be hard to summarize his every point here. I absolutely recommend checking his post out and considering how it applies to your niche, but here is one of the core ideas of his post–not a “Medic” reversal, but a softening of the algorithm:

I mentioned the idea of a Medic reversal earlier in the post and how I don’t believe there was a full reversal. But that doesn’t mean Google couldn’t have softened some of the algorithms it used in the August update. Again, there were many sites seeing improvement during the March update that got hammered during the August update.

I was able to ask John Mueller this exact question during a recent webmaster hangout video. John gave a vague answer, but he did explain that Google sometimes goes too far with an update and needs to pull it back. He also said this can work the other way around, where Google didn’t go as far as they should, so they strengthen their algos.

Toward the end of the post, Glenn gets into specific sites (never revealing the domain name like a true OG) but talking size of site and general industry, including the work he did on a site, or the good advice that a site ignored, and how they fared with previous and current updates:

The next example is a YMYL site focuses heavily on health. It surged during the Medic Update and then even more during the September update.

But it just got crushed during the March 12 update. There are a number of problems across the site that are hard to ignore. First, much of the content has no author listed, so it’s impossible to know if it’s written by a doctor or a kid in high school. Author expertise is extremely important, especially for YMYL content.

Good stuff.


An Inconclusive Survey About Those Affected

SEO’s a funny industry, because people typically don’t want to share much data about what’s working/not working for them, as it only makes things harder. Makes sense.

So while this isn’t the largest data set ever, it’s really interesting to see at least this much data on how the update has impacted a selection of site owners.

It’s not really… conclusive data (as the author apologizes for in the post), but it’s still data, so do with it what you will.

I personally went through each site submitted and I honestly didn’t see any pattern in terms of only really low quality sites were impacted. Or low quality content, or spammy links or technical SEO issues. I did NOT do deep dives on each of the 500+ sites to run link analysis on each and every one or go through thousands of the pages on each of the sites. I did a quick scan of each site submitted to see quick obvious patterns and did not see anything obvious.



A Bunch of Good Ideas About the March 2019 Update

This is an interesting posts that gets down and dirty with some data, and considers several things I haven’t read about on other sites. Here’s an example:

This graph clearly shows that the update increased the rankings of the entire site while keeping the quantity of organic keywords the same.

While sites will usually rank for more keywords as they increase in overall power (and rank score), it was particularly interesting to find a site that didn’t.

The reason it’s an important discovery is because this indicates that sites are increasing in traffic because of higher rankings… and NOT because they are explicitly ranking for more keywords.

The indication that the keywords remained reinforces the claim that Google did NOT make any significant modifications to it’s neuro-linguistic engine.

TL;DR that quote: sites are ranking better for the keywords they were already ranking for, and not necessarily getting more traffic because they are ranking for MORE keywords.

There are many other interesting points in this post, such as whether this might have been a site-wide consideration vs. individual pages, whether a reversal of the “Medic” might have indeed happened (the author basically agrees with Glenn Gabe’s point that it might have been a softening, not in those exact words), and just… a bunch more points. Really dig in to this post, there’s some really great points.

Hit us up in the comments and let us know how your site did, or if you’ve found anything particularly interesting about sites that you monitor.

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Sean Markey

Sean Markey

Obsessive consumer of SEO news and strategies, writes the This Week in SEO column. Loves playing drums and writing fiction. Bets you he can throw a football over them mountains.
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