On the 27th of September 2018, the date of Google’s 20th birthday, some search algorithm changes were introduced. Search Engine Roundtable refers to these changes as the Google Birthday Update because of when they were released. For Search Engine Optimisers these updates can make or break their strategy for search. A good ranking in Google brings many benefits for businesses and marketers try to reverse engineer Google’s algorithms to move to the top of results. With Google constantly refining their search results, for many second-guessing Google has become a fruitless task. In recent years Google has turned to automation and AI software to rank websites. Rankbrain is Google’s machine learning software and is used to provide their users with personalisation and determine user intent. Perhaps more controversial has been it’s extended use to determine the quality of content. However, with the worldwide web continuing to grow automation makes sense. The days of humanly reviewed websites are from a bygone past. But sometimes webmaster disagree with what Google’s AI sees as quality.
The Details of the Update and Impact on Search Rankings
Danny Sullivan, Google’s public search liaison, confirmed the Birthday Update in a tweet on 29th September 2018. He stated: “We haven’t had a major update of that nature, but we did have a smaller one this week.” By referring to these changes as “smaller”, this is not in reference to the potential impact it will have on sites, but instead alludes to the fact that not as many sites will be affected by this update compared to the previous Google Medic Update.
Some website owners found this confusing, as the impact of the Google Birthday Update on their website traffic has been significant. But as described previously, the size of the algorithm update is purely a measure of how many sites it affects. It is not a measure of the scale of its influence on the ones that are affected, which is why so many people are stating that the update “feels” big to them.
Google updates are a closely guarded secret and whilst many speculate often this is unproductive. Whilst in the past webmaster knew that gaining links to their websites could be beneficial to their search rankings, now there are believed to be over 200 different factors determining placement. Some positively determine position whilst other factors negatively affect a site. Its likely that Rankbrain has become an increasing factor in automisation of site rankings as results on user behaviour, content quality as well as audience location are fed back into the core algorithm. Today Google is more likely to feed ranking factors back into its machine learning software than to take direct action on a search result that “gets it wrong”.
Was Google Wrong with this Update?
Traffic has dropped at alarming rates for some people, and this has yet to recover since it happened on around the 27th September 2018. If this has hurt your website’s performance, it is worth keeping up-to-date on any further announcements in regards to this particular update as our understanding improves. While some people are calling for a reversal or reclamation on their lost organic traffic, it does not look like this will be imminent.