Five search marketers share their perspectives on the December 2020 Google Core Algorithm Update.
Five search marketers contribute to the opinion of the core update in December 2020 Google. Observations offer interesting feedback about what might happen.
In my opinion, Google updates are less a little bit about ranking factors and more about improving how questions and web pages are understood.
Some have offered the opinion that Google is scrambling the search results to fool those who try to reverse the Google Engineer algorithm.
I did not share that opinion.
Certain algorithm features are difficult to detect in search results. It’s not easy to show the search results and say it is ranked because the bert algorithm or nerve matching.
But it’s easy to point to backlinks, e-A-T or user experience as an excuse to explain why sites are ranked or not rank if it’s sticking out, even when actual reasons may be more related to Bert.
So the search engine results page (SERP) may seem confusing and random for those who examine the SERP looking for traditional old school ranking factors to explain why the ranking page or why they lose rankings in the update.
Of course the Google Updates may appear to be inscrutable. The reasons why web pages rank have dramatically changed over the past few years because of technologies like natural language processing.
What if Google Updates and Nobody Sees What Changed?
It happened in the past that Google had changed something and the SEO community did not pay attention.
For example, when Google adds an algorithm like a lot that cannot detect what has changed.
Now, what if Google adds something like the Smith algorithm? How will the SEO community detect it?
Smith was explained in Google’s research papers published in April 2020 and was revised in October 2020. What Smith owned is making it easier to understand the length of the content, outperform Bert.
Here is what it says:
“In recent years, self-attention based models like Transformers and BERT have achieved state-of-the-art performance in the task of text matching.
These models, however, are still limited to short text like a few sentences or one paragraph due to the quadratic computational complexity of self-attention with respect to input text length.
In this paper, we address the issue by proposing the Siamese Multi-depth Transformer-based Hierarchical (SMITH) Encoder for long-form document matching.
Our experimental results on several benchmark datasets for long-form document matching show that our proposed SMITH model outperforms the previous state-of-the-art models including hierarchical attention, multi-depth attention-based hierarchical recurrent neural network, and BERT.
Comparing to BERT based baselines, our model is able to increase maximum input text length from 512 to 2048.”
I am not saying that Google has introduced the Smith (PDF) algorithm or related to the article algorithm.
What I show is that the core update 2020 December contains quality changes that appear to be observed.
If Google adds a new AI-based feature or updating existing features such as BER, can the search marketing community detect it? Probably not.
And it is a quality of changes that cannot be observed which can show that what changes might have something to do with how Google understands the demand for web and web pages.
If it’s the problem, it can mean that instead of spinning wheels on the usual ranking factors that are easily observed (links from scraper sites, site speeds, etc.), that it might be useful to retreat and consider that it might be something more profound rather than the usual ranking factor that has changed.
Insights into Google December 2020 Core Update
I thank those who had time to contribute their opinions, they provided excellent information that may help you to put Google’s December Core Algorithm Update into perspective.
Dave Davies (@oohloo)
Beanstalk Internet Marketing
Dave puts this update in the context of what Google has said was coming soon to the algorithm and how that might play a role in the fluctuations.
“The December 2020 Core Update was a unique one to watch roll out. Many sites we work with started with losses and ended with wins, and vice-versa.
So clearly it had something to do with a signal or signals that cascade. That is, where the change caused one result, but once that new calculation worked its way through the system, it produced another. Like PageRank recalculating, though this one likely had nothing to do with PageRank.
Alternatively, Google may have made adjustments on the fly, or made other changes during the rollout, but I find that less likely.
If we think about the timing, and how it ties to the rolling out of passage indexing and that it’s a Core Update, I suspect it ties to content interpretation systems and not links or signals along those lines.
We also know that Core Web Vitals are entering the algorithm in May of 2021 so there may be elements to support that in the update, but those would not be producing the impact we’ve all been seeing presently given that Web Vitals should technically be inert as a signal at this stage so at the very least, there would be more to the update than that.
As far as general community reaction, this one has been difficult to gauge past “it was big.” As one can expect in any zero-sum scenario, when one person is complaining about a loss, another is smiling all the way up the SERPs.
I suspect that before the end of January it’ll become clear exactly what they were rolling out and why. I believe it has to do with future features and capabilities, but I’ve been around long enough to know I could be wrong, and I need to watch closely.”
Steven Kang (@SEOSignalsLab)
Steven Kang, founder of the popular SEO Signals Lab Facebook group notes that nothing appears to stand out in terms of commonalities or symptoms between the winners and losers.
“This one seems to be tricky. I’m finding gains and losses. I would need to wait more for this one.”
Daniel K Cheung (@danielkcheung)
Team Lead, Prosperity Media
Daniel believes that it’s helpful to step back and view Google updates from the big picture view of the forest rather than the tree of the latest update, and to put these updates into the context of what we know is going on in Search.
One example is the apparent drop in reports of manual actions in Google Search Console. The implication is, does that mean Google is better at ranking sites where they belong, without having to resort to punitive manual actions?
This is how Daniel views the latest core algorithm update from Google:
“I think we as Search/Discoverability people need to stop thinking about Core Updates as individual events and instead look at Core Updates as a continuum of ongoing tests and ‘improvements’ to what we see in the SERPs.
So when I refer to the December core update, I want to stress that it is just one event of many.
For example, some affiliate marketers and analysts have found sites that were previously ‘hit’ by the May 2020 update to have recovered in the December rollout. However, this has not been consistent.
And again, here is the problem, we can’t talk about sites that have won or lost because it’s all about individual URLs.
So looking at pure visibility across an entire website doesn’t really give us any clues.
There are murmurs of 301 redirects, PBNs, low-quality backlinks and poor content being reasons why some sites have been pushed from page 1 to page 6-10 of the SERPs (practically invisible).
But these practices have always been susceptible to the daily fluctuations of the algorithm.
What’s been really interesting throughout 2020 is that there have been very few reports of manual penalties within GSC.
This has been eerily replaced with impression and click graphs jumping off a cliff without the site being de-indexed.
In my humble opinion, core updates are becoming less about targeting a specific selection of practices, but rather, an incremental opportunity for the algorithm to mature.
Now, I’m not saying that Google gets it right 100% of the time – the algorithm clearly doesn’t and I don’t think it ever will (due to humanity’s curiosity).”
What Happened in Google December 2020 Core Update?
The perspectives on what happened in Google’s core algorithm update vary. What most observers seem to agree is that no obvious factors or changes seem to stand out.
And that’s an interesting observation because it could mean that something related to AI or Natural Language Processing was refined or introduced. But that’s just speculation until Google explicitly rules it out or in.
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