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Teck Wong - 06.11.2020

May 2020 Google Core Update

What happened?

On May 4th, Google released a broad core algorithm update. This was a global update that changed a significant part of the algorithm, impacting search results all over the web. Naturally, this caused an uproar among webmasters, especially considering the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted internet traffic across multiple industries.

What was the impact of the May 2020 Core Update?

Based on SEMrush Sensor, which monitors the level of volatility of search results in Google, we observed high volatility as a result of this update. A high level of volatility indicates that Google search engine results page ranking positions are shifting drastically. This means that the high ranking keywords you traditionally had might be significantly lowered which negatively impacts organic traffic to your site. Conversely, it could (hopefully) mean the opposite where your lower-ranking keywords are now performing better! 

The best practice is to constantly monitor your keyword rankings and organic traffic, especially after a Google algorithm update. You can monitor your keyword ranking performance for free via Google Search Console’s Performance Report, selecting the date range, and exporting the data.

SEMrush Sensor mid-April to mid-May Chart

SEMRush data showed the industries were: 

  • Travel

  • Real Estate

  • Health

  • Pets & Animals, and 

  • People & Society. 

Here is the chart of breakdown volatility by industry from SEMRush:

SEMrush chart on the categories affected by May 2020 Core Update

What have we learned about the May Core Update (so far)?

1. Financial Sites that Gives User Direct Access to Main Content Perform Better

Rank Ranger’s study of the core update indicated financial sites that give the user direct access to the main content performed better. Conversely, sites that have design elements like boxes to navigate over suffered in the rankings. Check out the visual example cited in the study below:

The Ascent Credit Card Page Close

The Ascent which has such navigation boxes above the fold before the main content loss rankings for the keyword “best credit card” to landing pages like the Forbes article below. As you can see, the article dives right into the meat of the content without the need to scroll to get to it. 

Forbes Best Credit Cards Page        Checkmark

In the age of increasing mobile use and Mobile Indexing, Google’s logic to reward site templates that take users immediately to the informational content they are looking for makes perfect sense.

2. Thin content powered by off-page SEO factors are losing

Search Engine Journal’s preliminary observations find landing pages with thin content, numerous backlinks, and have good internal linking dynamics are losing rankings for competitive keywords. Thin content is content that lacks in quality with little use or value to the reader.

To avoid thin content, Sagepath recommends the following:

  • Audit your content using a scraping tool like Screaming Frog

  • Focus first on pages with the least amount of words - compare the word count with the performance of the page in terms of keyword rankings and organic traffic

  • Typically, the pages that have the least amount of content rank the worst and have a low traffic volume

  • Determine the purpose of that landing page and decide if it is worth keeping from a business lens

  • If no, redirect that page to the one most similar to it (often the parent category page)

  • If yes, beef up the content with a strong keyword strategy and make sure that the content is relevant and useful to your users

3. Local Search Engine Results favor sites with strong and recent backlink profiles

A study referenced in the Search Engine Journal article by MarketMuse data points to the influence of links in the local search rankings. Here are some of their findings:

  1. Sites with a high rate of link acquisitions are winning in the search results, especially if the links are newly acquired suggesting both quantity and recency of links play a factor

  2. Low-quality sites with an aggressive high rate of link acquisitions in less competitive areas were also winners.

  3. Aggregators and directories in these markets also had wins in the same competitive landscapes.


If your business has a brick and mortar presence, it is essential to ensure that your local citations are claimed and optimized. They influence consumer discovery and local search engine rankings. Core local business data platforms to target include Google My Business, Facebook, Acxiom, Localeze/Neustar, and Infogroup. There are hundreds of geo and industry-specific platforms to claim, such as the chamber of commerce, professional associations, etc. For scalability and efficiency, we encourage our clients to use third-party citation management platforms like BrightLocal, MozLocal. If you have numerous locations, we recommend more robust, full-service platforms like RioSEO or Yext.

4. Websites that have more SEO technical errors are impacted

Websites that had more SEO technical errors – particularly duplicate title tags and meta descriptions – suffered from the Algo update according to Neil Patel’s study. Per best practice, you should use relevant targeted keywords that speak to the topic of the landing page within the title tag as well as avoid duplications of title tags and meta descriptions as it creates more work for search engines to figure out which page to display, harming keyword rankings. 

Key Takeaways

Make text content visible above the fold. Websites with thin content suffered ranking losses. That is no surprise. The greater revelation was landing pages with informational text that had a quicker path to the user improved ranking performance. This is something to take into consideration when designing templates in your next site redesign.

Link recency and volume are bigger factors. The relevancy and quality of links remain important; however, the May 2020 Core Update is informing us that the recency and volume of those links are now a factor, especially for local search. Organizations should be proactive in maintaining and procuring new links - one of the best and most natural ways to do that is to continuously produce well-crafted content that your users will find valuable. Another best practice is to revisit and refresh your existing content. Use supplemental images, graphs, videos, or infographics, when appropriate. Maximize your social media platforms and leverage email to amplify the visibility of these content pieces. 

If you have a brick and mortar presence, make sure you claim all possible local citations. Use third-party platforms for efficiency, scalability, and reach.

Technical SEO continues to be important. If Google has trouble accessing, crawling, and indexing your site, it will be impossible to rank well for your targeted keywords. The May 2020 Core Update is penalizing sites that have duplicate title tags and meta descriptions. Check your website to make sure you do not have either - especially duplicate title tags - and make corrections if you do.

Final Note

Google's ability to evolve and advance in its understanding of websites and their content continues to grow. With the May 2020 Core update, Google is trying to further analyze web pages and sites, digging deeper into how sites align to user intent and what signals to make that determination. To win in SEO today is to provide the best experience for your users. If you have that focus and goal in mind, you will fare better than your competition, regardless of algorithm updates. 

For any questions about this article or if you would like to find out more information on how Sagepath can help you with SEO and other digital marketing strategies and execution, please reach out to hello@sagepath.com.