Google December 2020 core update

This core algorithm update from Google is the first since May 2020. Officially, the core update was released around 8am on 3rd December 2020 and was fully rolled out in the following two weeks. Some SEO’s noticed fluctuations early in the week commencing 2nd December, causing rumours of an update, however, these were deemed to be unrelated to the December 2020 core update.

Some initial noteworthy observations from fellow SEO’s are:

  • Client sites which have worked hard on E-A-T have seen some great gains.
  • The automotive industry has seen some improvements.


Google has published a new FAQ page which answers questions about ranking, various site architectures, AMP and more

The FAQs which include Core Web Vitals, performance metrics for user experience and the upcoming Page Experience Update roll out in May 2021 with noteworthy takeaways including:

  • Page experience signals for ranking only apply to mobile search: When producing scores these can differ between mobile and desktop, it is best to use the mobile scores as a guide going forward.
  • If you’re on AMP you should be prepared for the update: “There is a high likelihood that AMP pages will meet the thresholds”. Sites can still meet or exceed the thresholds without AMP for sites that don’t use it such as sites relying on display ads.
  • Follow Core Web Vitals guidance for progressive web and single page apps: “Core Web Vitals measure the end-user experience of a particular web page and don’t take into account the technologies and architectures involved in delivering that experience”. This basically means Google prioritises the observed user experience above everything else rather than looking into the technicalities in the backend. Still, it is worthy of note that the quality of the content on the actual page is still more important than page experience.


Google core update - second wave

A second spike of SERP volatility was seen on 10 December which contrasts with 'normal' core updates, where much of the volatility happens in the first few days.

All of the common SERP tracking tools saw increased volatility on 10 December so, ensure you keep a close eye on performance as rankings could reshuffle again before the update is fully rolled out.


Google no-indexed pages can impact core web vitals

Core web vitals will become a ranking factor in the first half of 2021 and, John Mueller has said that noindexed pages will be taken into account when evaluating a site's overall web vitals scores.

Muller said that this is because they still make up part of the site and can still influence user perception of whether the site is fast or not. It's unclear yet whether there is any way to opt certain pages out of the web vitals analysis.

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Structured data is an extremely light signal

Mueller has also said that structured data isn't a strong ranking factor or influence in page relevance. Rich results (RR) structured data is more likely to have a direct impact since it helps features to appear in the SERP and non-RR structured data can be helpful and clarifying to add but in a "limited way".

Structured data, RR or non-RR, can be particularly helpful for data that is hard to parse, such as event details or contact numbers.

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Google’s core update is now fully rolled out

On 16th December, Google has confirmed through its Twitter account that the December 2020 broad core update that began rolling out on the 3rd December is now completely rolled out.

Like all core updates, this was a global update and was not specific to any region, language or category of web sites.

It is a classic “broad core update” that Google releases every few months. In this case, it was the longest stretch since previous confirmed broad core update, which took just under seven-months, as opposed to the typical three-month time frame.

This update, according to many of the tool providers and the SEO community was a very big update. Many who were either negatively or positively impacted saw gains or declines of 10% to over 100% of their previous levels of organic search traffic.

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Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool is moving to a new domain

Only 5 months ago Google depreciated the Structured Data Testing Tool, a decision that was made after moving its main features over to the Rich Results Test Tool. The loss of the Structured Data Testing Tool didn’t sit well with SEO community and site owners, and their disapproval was heard loud and clear.

Google mentions user feedback as the main motivating factor behind their latest announcement where Google said that they are “refocusing the Structured Data Testing Tool and migrating it to a new domain serving the community by April 2021.”

Google also explained that “the main purpose of the tool will be to check syntax and compliance of markup with standards.” However, going forward Structured Data Testing tool will no longer check for Google search rich result types.

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Google’s John Mueller on keyword heavy titles

Google’s John Mueller has also discussed keyword-heavy titles and descriptions topic at Google Search Central SEO live stream. Mueller has been asked why keyword saturated titles and descriptions are so widespread in search results, and whether or not they’re against Google’s webmaster guidelines.

Mueller says creating a keyword-heavy meta title and description is not against Google’s guidelines. It’s not even something Google considers to be problematic. That’s not to say Google recommends this practice either, as filling the title and description with keywords can make it more difficult to understand what the page is actually relevant for. Mueller says the biggest improvement a site could hope to see by rewriting those titles and descriptions is a better click-through rate. He repeatedly recommends writing better meta tags to improve click-through rate, but never suggests doing so to improve rankings.

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2020 Google Algorithm Updates

Here is a run down of all the Google updates from 2020 and some detail around each one:

  • January 2020 Core Update – Mostly hitting YMYL sites
  • May 2020 Core Update – EAT related core update, it was seen as a big and broad update across all industries
  • December 2020 Core Update – The update was very big and substantial, even bigger than the May 2020 Core Update. It showed even more changes in ranking positions, especially in the top three results. Most affected sectors: health, finance, retail and travel. It is assumed, this update was EAT related as well.
  • Google BERT expands to all queries – BERT was introduced in 2019 for about 10% of all queries and has been rolled out across almost 100% of all English-language queries. According to Google, BERT has helped improve search results on specific searches by 7%.
  • Passage Indexing – Helps Google to zone into specific passages of content on a page and rank those parts. This is rather a change on how Google will rank content and not a change as to how Google indexes content. It will be especially helpful for pages that are not well optimised for search. Passage Indexing is still not live yet but expected sometime early in 2021.
  • Page Experience – Announced in May 2020, it is expected Google will launch Page experience as ranking factor in May 2021. Signals included are mobile-friendliness, page speed, HTTPS ranking boost, intrusive interstitials penalty and safe browsing penalty as well as some new signals in the form of Google’s new core web vitals.

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Google Search Console brings back request indexing tool

After being disabled for 69 days in 2020, Google has reenabled the tool again. However, Google has also “reminded” everyone that for large number of URLs a sitemap should be submitted instead of requesting indexing in GSC. Furthermore, there is no guarantee a page will be included in Google’s index just because of using the tool.

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