Google This Week: Algorithm Update, Link Value and Local News and More

by | May 8, 2020

Google Search and Tool Updates
16 min read

Again, this week has been absolutely jam packed with news from Google, including a big core algorithm update. Google is also rolling out tests to Shopping Ads and have created a new tool for users to explore rising retail trends across different locations. ICYMI, here’s what happened at Google This Week.

May 2020 Core Algorithm Update

The Google May 2020 Core update is causing some huge fluctuations in rankings for many sites. The update was rolled out on May 4th and we’re now seeing significant shifts. This is a big one! Check out the comments from SEOs and site owners at Search Engine Roundtable. While many have been reporting significant drops in traffic of up to 60 percent. Some are showing positive signs of growth.

Links in Primary Content Have More Value

On May 1st, during a Google Webmaster Central hangout Google’s John Mueller suggested that links in your primary content are valued greater than those outside the main content (footer etc.). However, as always, it was pointed out that instead of trying to game the system, you should simply focus on your users. This is what Google wants. That being said, Mueller went on to say,

“So with this specific situation – usually what happens here is we do focus on the primary content on the page. And that’s something that make sense from a user point of view.”

Source: Search Engine Journal

Does Link Value Change with Age?

In the same Google Webmaster Central hangout, Mueller was asked whether link value changes with age. While link value evolves over time, Google does not exactly keep track of how old a link is and assign value based on age. Instead, it’s all about relevance.

For example, a highly relevant link in a news article will hold a lot of value while the news is still current. With age, the value will decrease. Therefore, link value can deprecate over time.

“So it’s not so much that the link itself is aging, but rather that the website where that link was has evolved. And over time that place where the link was is no longer as relevant as it used to be.”

That being said, it’s important to note that this doesn’t happen with all links. A highly relevant link in an evergreen article, for example, will hold its value over time.

Source: Search Engine Journal

What SEOs Can Learn from COVID-19

Never before have we seen just how much search behaviour can affect rankings. The disruption to rankings caused by COVID-19 is unprecedented. During Live with Search Engine Land’s Search Disruption session, Rank Ranger’s Mordy Oberstein stated,

“Outside of the core updates, you haven’t really seen this much volatility [in such a short timeframe],”.

Oberstein, search consultant Marie Haynes, Olga Andrienko of SEMRush, Dr. Pete Meyers of Moz and Search Engine Land News Editor Barry Schwartz talked about how the drastic shift in search behaviour potentially prompting Google’s algorithms, resulted in weeks of volatility. Haynes stated,

“What we initially thought was a Google update, turned out that the whole world had changed their search patterns, if you are seeing changes, it’s either related to changes in search traffic patterns by the world or Google adapting to that and I don’t think they’ve written a specific algorithm for [the coronavirus] — they’re adapting to how the world changes their searches, and I think the trick for us now is in trying to interpret what’s happening.”

Last year Google confirmed that it would give more weight to EAT (expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness) for YMYL (Your Money, Your Life) pages. Due to the pandemic, it would make sense for Google to again, double down on these efforts. Myers said,

“And now, this crisis comes along and I wonder if it is triggering all that work they’ve done over the last six months with core updates to a degree maybe that they didn’t even anticipate . . . it’s almost like they set the stage for reworking the algorithm around these problems and then this is their live test.”

What should you do? As search behaviour begins to shift back to normal, you should keep data on how this time affected you, but also keep in mind that this data may not be hugely relevant when comparing YoY. Annotating these fluctuations in Google Analytics and Google Search Console can help you keep track.

More Local News in Top Stories Carousel

Google is now displaying more local news in the top stories carousel.

“Last month, we made a change to help local content surface better within our Top Stories box.”

Google has also added a new “Local News” box in order to show more local and relevant content in relation to COVID-19 searches. There’s nothing for you to do to make the most of the change.

“For publishers, there’s no particular change to make. We already review a number of signals to understand if content seems particularly relevant to a location. Our change is simply to ensure we’re better balancing those signals to match local content to those searching for it…”

As always, mine and Google’s advice is to make sure you’re providing the most relevant content for users.

Source: Search Engine Roundtable

Reports and Tools Added to Search Console for SpecialAnnouncement

Google Search Console has added reports and tools for SpecialAnnouncement structured data. Google began supporting SpecialAnnouncement schema last month and has already added features for Search Console. The Enhancement report, Performance report and Rich Results Test now all support the new structured data.

If you’re a government, medical or health site, you can now filter your Performance report in Search Appearance to see how your SpecialAnnouncement schema is performing. You may also see a new link in your Enhancements report to debug the structured data. You’ll also be able to test your SpecialAnnouncement structured data in the rich results testing tool for improved and more real-time debugging.

Reports and Tools Added to Search Console for SpecialAnnouncementSource: Search Engine Roundtable

Google Smart Shopping Beta Testing New Customer Only Goal

Google is now testing a new customer only goal in Google Smart Shopping. The new beta allows users to set up a new conversion goal that focusses solely on new customer acquisition. Current smart shopping campaigns focus on remarketing to your existing audience, with new customer acquisition usually set as a secondary goal.

The new goal is called ‘New customer acquisition’ (NCA). NCA will allow you to optimise for new customers as well as online sales. What should you do? If you want to set up NCA, you’ll need to check the new customer conversion goal and set a new customer value. You can also upload a customer list to help define new customers and help with matching and bidding.

Google Smart Shopping Beta Testing New Customer Only GoalSource: Search Engine Journal

Suggested Searches Based on Recent Activity

Google is now suggesting searches based on your recent search history. The suggestion appears as a link below the search bar. The personalised suggestions were first reported by Android Police.

George Nguyen over at Search Engine Land tested it out starting with the query “google home”, then searching for “noise cancelling headphones”. Based on the two results, the suggested search was “noise cancelling headphones with google assistant”. I tried to recreate the search however am not personally seeing the suggested search as yet.

Suggested Searches Based on Recent Activity

Google Trends Adds Rising Retail Categories

Amid the Coronavirus pandemic, consumer behaviour is changing rapidly and unpredictably. In response, Google has added rising retail categories to trends. You can use the tool to understand fast-rising retail categories in Google Search, including their locations and associated queries.

For example, we can see that the top trending retail category in the United States is “Swimming Pools” which has grown over 300%. In Australia the top trending category is “Paper Napkins” which has grown over 200%, closely followed by “Patio Heaters” and “Fireplaces”.

Google Trends Adds Rising Retail Categories

Google’s Testing a New Shopping Ad

Google is testing a new ad text block below shopping ads. This is an interesting test for Google because it blends formats in such a way that not all users will understand that the text is an ad and not an organic listing. SEMrush spotted the test on Thursday.

In the screenshot, you can see the ad text block below the product listing ad with a blue linked headline and description. While the text is still technically inside the ads card, the average user is probably not going to realise it’s part of the ad. Google is pulling the text from the company’s Showcase Shopping landing page. This is a very small test for now.

Source: Search Engine Land 

Google Search Removals vs Deindexation

This week LinkedIn dropped off Google Search. While we don’t exactly know why the SEO community has had what is probably a pretty accurate guess which caused Google to confirm how they handle removals vs de-indexation.

What happened? On Wednesday, LinkedIn dropped out of Google Search results for about 10 hours. But they came back really quickly, leaving many to ask, how did they do it? While we don’t know for sure what LinkedIn did, our best guess is that they accidentally requested a removal of the www domain in Google Search Console. This doesn’t technically remove the pages from Google Search, instead, it simply hides them.

Once LinkedIn (again probably) unflagged the pages to be removed from search, they came back quickly because they were never actually deindexed. If they had been, then Google would have to reprocess the pages which would have taken a lot longer. Gary Illyes from Google explained,


“Not shown in SERPs: click a button, site’s back.” But “Deindexed: wait until all pages are crawled again, selected to index, and then propagated to serving clusters.”

Source: Search Engine Roundtable


Thank You for Reading

Have you noticed any changes from Google this week and how were you affected by the algorithm update?

Check back in next week for the latest from Google This Week.

Paul Hewett

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