September 2019 Google Core Update: Our Observations from 100+ Sites
On September 25th, Google rolled out its latest core update.
Core updates can always be a stressful time for SEOs since you never know what’ll happen. You might gain a ton of traffic, you might lose a bunch, or you might just stay the same.
One of the great privileges of working on the SEO for tons of different sites is that we get an unusually broad look at what might have happened with each update. We can currently look at the Google Analytics data for ~100 sites, and we’re adding new ones each month.
Now that it's been a few weeks since the Google update, we’ve had a chance to dig through some of those sites and come up with some hypotheses on what might have happened in the September 2019 core update.
Some Wins for Health Sites
First, many health and wellness related sites saw nice gains, especially ones that were hurt by past updates.
Here are a few screenshots of sites we’re watching in the health, wellness, and lifestyle spaces:
Site 1: 10.80% Gain
Site 2: 14.31% Gain
Site 3: 12.44% Gain
Site 4: 9.72% Gain
It doesn't seem to have helped everyone, though. Sites like Wellness Mama, Examine, and Dr. Axe that got hit particularly hard are still at a fraction of their peak traffic 😔.
One theory is that Google wasn't happy with the results of the last few core updates which destroyed some health sites, so they rolled back some of these changes.
We're inclined to agree with that theory.
From the data we can see of sites in the health, wellness, food, and even some finance and lifestyle sites, many that were hurt by past updates regained some of their traffic.
Not all of it, but some, and especially the ones that had a product site that was punished.
One feel-good example is Harkla, a company that makes products for special needs children, who has regained almost 100% of the traffic they lost:
Does this mean E-A-T is less important than we thought?
One theory we have: Google still wants high EAT, but is more okay with product sites ranking for non-product terms. As one example, Harkla lost the top spot for "cbd oil for autism" in March, then regained it with this update:
When I reached out to the founder, Casey, about the Harkla recovery he mentioned a few things they did including removing all Amazon affiliate links:
It’s possible that Google has been devaluing content, especially health related content, that has affiliate links in it just like it seems to be devaluing health content on product sites.
What About Finance?
Financial sites were another topic area that had been hit particularly hard in past updates. Most of those sites negatively impacted in the past were "Your Money or Your Life" aggressive sales sites, but some general financial blogs lost traffic as well.
We saw some nice gains on a couple of the financial sites we’re watching with this update. They had pretty flat traffic for the last few months, then almost doubled with the new update:
Another financial site we’ve been working on was having a slower start with it’s traffic, then started to grow quite a bit faster after the update. It’s hard to say if this was from the update or just from the time it takes for sites to start to rank, though:
Looking at a third, much larger site focusing on personal finance and credit cards has stayed surprisingly flat through all of this:
And when we look around the public data on ahrefs, we didn’t see any clear trends in other financial sites.
Sad Day for Some Food Sites
So who got hit? One of the sites we saw lose the most traffic was one of our own, cupandleaf.com.
Thankfully, though, it was mostly low-converting traffic, so the sales didn’t change much. Most of the keywords that dropped were related to health terms, which fits with our theory about Google continuing to de-emphasize product sites that are talking about health and wellness:
Cup & Leaf had the largest drop of any of the sites we’re monitoring. The only other site where we saw a significant drop was another food related health site, and it was for similar health-related keywords:
But, many of the health and food sites we’re watching stayed flat or went up too, so it’s hard to say how much of a factor the niche really was.
Our Takeaways from the September 2019 Core Update
What can we infer from looking at the sites we have access to then?
- It seems like there’s been a slight reversal of the changes back in July, based on the sites we saw recover.
- Product sites may still be losing rankings to information sites that aren’t affiliated with specific products.
- Google is a mystery and, as usual, it’s hard to say what’s really going on.
And what does that mean for what to do going forward?
As always, quality content and backlinks remain supreme, and there’s no sign of that changing.
When we think about doing SEO work we try to do it from the lens of “what would Google change to provide a better search experience?” and while it’s likely that links will become less important over time, it’s unlikely Google will ever stop prioritizing content quality.
So if you got hit by this update, or if you want to prevent being hurt by future updates:
- Keep creating really really good content.
- Keep building links to your content.
- Keep trying to create an experience that’s unlikely to cause someone to go back to Google after they land on your site.
- Avoid being too pushy with products and affiliate links, consider removing affiliate links if you were hit.
- Find ways to increase the credibility of your content, through improvements like better author data, credible citations, and accurate, detailed information.
And as always, if you want to talk with us about helping grow your business through SEO, you can contact us here.
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