Google’s done it again.
The search giant has rolled out yet another algorithm update, and marketers around the web are feeling its impact.
Here’s what we know so far.
Update: November 2019 Confirmed as Local Update
The latest in the November 2019 saga is that it’s officially been confirmed as a Google Local Update. This is the first time the search engine has confirmed a local update.
Google has since dubbed it the November 2019 Local Update.
So, what does a local update mean, exactly? It means that the update largely affected local search queries.
How? By implementing neural matching.
Neural matching, which I explain more in-depth in this article, is an AI algorithm used to more closely connect words to concepts. Essentially, it means that Google has gotten much better at understanding synonyms and the main ideas behind a piece of content, without it having to be spelled out so blatantly through keywords.
The intention is to help Google better understand what users are searching for, even if the words they use don’t always match their intent.
Neural matching rolled out to general search results last year, but the November 2019 Local Update brought the AI to local search results.
So, while neural matching isn’t new AI to Google or its search results, it is new to local listings and will affect features like the map pack, Google My Business listings. etc.
Google has confirmed that this was indeed a global launch, affecting all languages.
Another key takeaway from Google is that proximity doesn’t factor into this update, and the basics of how to rank in a local search still hold true. This update, specifically, is all about language and surfacing content that most closely matches the intent of a search.
The content evaluated by Google will include the information in a company’s GMB listing as well as content written about it around the web.
The goal of the update isn’t to target any specific spam or undesirable methods of ranking; rather, Google’s Danny Sullivan reiterates that the update is about better understanding overall. That said, he does add that neural matching could help alleviate some existing spammy practices like over-optimizing business names, descriptions, etc. with keywords.
As of now, the update is fully rolled out and most of the bigger changes in rankings should have settled. But you can still expect to see some fluctuations as Google continues to improve upon its neural matching AI. And as always, Google will be introducing other updates into the mix, which could cause more movement in the SERPs.
Google does insist that there’s nothing businesses need to change if they were affected by the update. Rather, they should continue to follow its guidelines regarding high-quality content.
Early Warning Signs
The first signs of an update came on November 7th and 8th, which continued through the weekend.
Some were hesitant to label it a Google update, as Google itself had not announced a planned update. But, as news continued to spread and site rankings continued to fluctuate, Google finally confirmed on November 12 that it did, in fact, roll out an update to Google Search.
So, why was this one kept under wraps? Because according to Google, this was just one of several updates released over the week, as is usual.
In a tweet, Google explained that on any given week it could (and does) release several updates, most of which go largely unnoticed.
This leads us to believe that in Google’s eyes, this was a relatively minor update. Generally speaking, Google will give a little advanced notice if they expect an update to have a significant impact on the SERPs.
Google had this to say in another tweet “Sometimes, a particular update might be broadly noticeable. We share about those when we feel there is actionable guidance for content owners. For example, when our Speed Update happened, we gave months of advanced notice and advice….”
What is the Effect of the November 7 Google Update?
Whether intended or not, the latest November 7 update certainly had an impact.
As reported by Search Engine Roundtable, some saw traffic swing as much as 30%-50%.
So far, it appears that the update has affected niches and industries across the board. Search Engine Roundtable also noted that both White Hat and Black Hat forums were incredibly active with those hit by the update, making it hard to pinpoint any direct cause.
Interestingly, most SEO tracking tools did not pick up on the update.
But despite that, some sites were hit hard.
The biggest issue for many is Google’s unsatisfactory response (and lack of warning) to what turned out to be a substantial hit to a huge number of websites.
Is The November 2019 Update Related to BERT?
As you likely know, Google introduced the BERT update just a few weeks ago, and it was expected to affect 1 in 10 searches.
The BERT update was all about relevance and is intended to help Google better understand a searcher’s intent and match it with the most relevant answers in the search results.
Given how recently BERT hit, many speculated that this latest update was a tie-in or expansion of BERT.
According to Danny Sullivan, that isn’t the case. In a tweet, he responded that he didn’t believe there had been any changes to BERT, and that the public would likely be notified if any were to take place.
Still, some still see a possible correlation between the November 2019 Google Update and BERT.
Recently, Danny Sullivan confirmed that the November update was unrelated to BERT.
What Can Marketers do to Recover?
Google’s never been great about dishing out direct advice, especially when it comes to these smaller or broad core updates.
This update was certainly no exception, and many marketers were left extremely unsatisfied with Google’s lack of guidance, especially considering how widely felt this particular update was across the web.
Many marketers whose content had held steady in rankings and quality for years suddenly saw major slips, and as of now, we don’t have any clear answers as to why.
Instead, Google fell back on its usual response: focus on great content, and familiarize yourself with the quality rater and E.A.T. guidelines. Google offers more on that here.
While that doesn’t give marketers all that much to work with, it does mean that continuing to refine your content remains a top priority.
Though we can’t say for sure what may have caused some sites rankings to suffer, some are speculating that relevance and keyword use may have played a part.
We saw something similar with Google’s September 2019 Core Update. It appeared as though Google was refining the terms websites ranked for, and cracking down on those that may not be entirely relevant to a site’s content.
Given that and the recency of the BERT update, it’s possible that this update could also have to do with the overall relevance of a site’s content and the keywords it ranks for.
Again, this is still rolling out, and we can’t say for sure what the November Google Update intended to target.
Wrapping Up the November Google Update
It’s still too soon to tell what the lasting effects of the update will be.
For now, I recommend you keep an eye on your rankings over the next few weeks. Often, these updates cause an initial fluctuation in ranking but even out over time.
We’ll keep this post updated as new information comes in. Have any questions? Don’t hesitate to contact us.