Google’s May 4th 2020 Algorithm Update

googles star wars update

Google launched another far-reaching and dramatic Core Update on May 4th 2020.

Due to the timing, various SEOs and webmasters are naming it the “Pandemic Update” or the “Force Update”.

In MediaOne, we name it the “Star Wars Update” because we feel its not about the pandemic, and its not about the Force. Its about a “war” within a real world “war” with the COVID-19 pandemic raging on in the background. “War” because the impact has been mainly been quite devastating across the board.

Many business owners and agencies question the timing of such a powerful and significant update especially at a time when many are struggling to hold on to their businesses.

But it seems there is no holding back the steam-roller.

According to Searchengineland, webmasters and SEOs have variously commented on the update:

  • Health: “We lost in May 2018, we lost in August 2018 (Med). But this update is the worst update (for us) I ever saw in my years of SEO. We lost everything again. At this moment we got hit harder then 2018.” Sofie77 via WebmasterWorld Forum
  • Tech: “It’s getting rough…. – 40% Traffic compared with last week. Tech related website.” ChokenBako via WebmasterWorld Forum
  • Finance & Health: “Okay, now I am seeing crazy swings. Monitoring KWs in various verticals, and so far, the volatility appears massive. Some major national brands that were rank at the top for very competitive financial KWs dropped 10+ rankings. Seeing massive swings in health as well. This looks big so far.” HereWeGo123 via WebmasterWorld Forum
  • Dating: “Over 40% down so far for a relationship advice site.” Dantes100 via WebmasterWorld Forum

As usual, Google remains mum about their Core Updates, always demurring to the usual cookie-cutter reply:

“Pages that drop after a core update don’t have anything wrong to fix. This said, we understand those who do less well after a core update change may still feel they need to do something. We suggest focusing on ensuring you’re offering the best content you can. That’s what our algorithms seek to reward.” See full text here.

Here at MediaOne, our R&D centre has always been able to decipher the cryptic messages that Google likes to send out. We are able to do this because we have a sophisticated tracking mechanism to observe what Google is up. The MediaOne tracking involves over 200 campaigns we have in our portfolio and detecting the minute movements. A way to understand this is like having a large spider web with 200 points of reference. When certain points move in a certain direction, we are able to cross reference with other static points and determine what changed. We then further cross reference with Semrush’s awesome seismometer: https://www.semrush.com/sensor/.

From our MediaOne R&D, we were able to detect the Dynamic Meta-Description algorithm that came to life mid-2017 when Google decided to index and display more congruent lines of text in the content in favour of the fixed meta description. We knew we were one of the first to discover this phenomenon because all the top search engine forums were silent on this at the time of our discovery. (by being the first to know, and our experience with link sculpting and optimisation MediaOne was able to help turn this apparent disadvantage into a very distinct advantage for all MediaOne clients)

Wind of our cutting edge R&D reached Ruane, Cunniff & Goldfarb which manages the USD30B Sequoia Fund. In 2019 Ruane, Cunniff & Goldfarb contacted MediaOne to advise on its intended purchase of a USD4B car portal. We were able to provide very technical advisement which helped them were the many digital agencies they consulted in the US could not.

So, what are the core characteristics of this 4 May 2020 “Star Wars Update”? Here are MediaOne’s findings:

Pagespeed

There is an even sharper focus on pagespeed. For years Google had insisted on greater pages download speeds because it found that 2/3 of searches were being conducted online.

Most Singapore websites load between 6-8s on mobile.

There was a Mobilegeddon update in 2015 which severely inflicted pain on slow sites, but the Star Wars update punished further still. Now having a site faster than the 6-8s is not enough. There is a heavy penalty for being slower than 3s.

We noticed the higher ranked sites were some of the fastest on the 1st page of Google Search Results Pages (SERPs).

MediaOne’s Advice

MediaOne advises all webmasters and owners to improve the Pagespeed by:

  • minifying and lazy-loading scripts and images
  • use CDNs like CloudFlare which is free for the basic package
  • get a faster server; if you can avoid it avoid the first-level shared hosting packages which are normally priced at $9.99 in favour of the business plans which retail for $25-$50 per month
  • installing, for those using WordPress:
    1. WP Rocket
    2. Asset Cleanup
    3. Robin Image Optimizer
    4. A4 Lazy Load
    5. Async Javascript
    6. AMP

We had implemented for some client websites and pagespeeds that were hovering around 8-9s could be brought down to 2-3s immediately.

Use these tools to test pagespeed:

Spam Score

While the previous Google algorithms tolerated spam – in this case is the repetition of exact match keywords – to degrees of up to 10% of overall text content, the new one is far less tolerant.

MediaOne found that lowering a page’s keyword density from 9% to 4% produced a 1/2 page jump on SERPs.

MediaOne’s Advice

Manually check your most important pages and reduce the keyword density.

Use this tool to check keyword density:

Goodbye Keyword Stuffing In Accordions

SEO agencies long had always fought with website owners over the amount of text and keywords. While SEO’s insisted on heavy text and keyword stuffing, website owners hated it because it cluttered the pages and reduced the visual appeal as well as user experience (UX). A compromise was had whereby SEOs introduced accordions which cleverly squared away those unsightly SEO content. And that worked amazingly well.

Until Star Wars that is…

Now, Google has greatly devalued the content in accordions. This caused significant falls in rankings for websites that had used accordions for such purposes.

MediaOne’s Advice

Basically the party is over. For significant keywords, webmasters now have to include them in standard static display. Everybody now has to make sure that the keywords are smartly included in the overall displayed content of the site – in plain sight. That will involve a lot of replanning and rewriting across the board. No shortcuts there!

Greater Diversity

There was a Diversity Update which took place on June 2019. It mandated that for the same keyword, the same domain can only offer up two (2) page URLs on Google SERPs. This was to make the playing ground a little bit more fair.

This was in response to various complaints prior that some dominant websites like Wikipedia and Indeed were hogging first page in many instances.

Google wanted to make it more diverse and open up the playing field in order to offer a more diverse choice. After all someone querying for “software engineer” may not necessarily be looking for software engineer jobs, salaries, training etc. but to understand what a software engineer does and that are the trends in software engineering that a professional should aim if he wants to have career advancement.

MediaOne noticed from its client portfolio and other industry tracking that many dominant websites have lost keywords and traffic by as much as 40%. These websites had played the “game” right by Google all these years and yet were devastated by the Star Wars Update overnight. We noticed a lot more smaller players picking up the crumbs which had fallen off these great mountains.

It is abundantly clear that Google does not want single pages to “occupy” rich hordes of keywords and want to make space for the large mass of smaller players.

Whether its for a more diverse set of opinion or its Google giving smaller players a big leg up in order for some of them to become successful to provide great value to their individual communities and industries is anyone’s guess, outside of Google’s secret planning rooms that is.

MediaOne’s Advice

Do not put all your eggs in one basket.

Gone are the days where you can build up a massively powerful page via content and backlinks. Then score for hundreds of high yielding keywords that brought in rich returns.

get google ranking ad

To illustrate, in the past you could write a blog on “digital marketing” and rank up for all kinds of related terms like “email marketing”, “search engine optimisation”, “social media marketing”, but that is not possible now. You need to make sure the content is strongly focused on that topic / keyword. And the keyword is strongly represented in the meta-data, headers and key areas of the content as the central focal topic. Share the limelight and you may see the ranking of that keyword consigned to lower rankings. This is not a new phenomenon, it has been always been around earlier in recent years, but this Star Wars algorithm really make it quite non-negotiable. 

Its now better to start multiple pages, whether these are service pages or blog article pages, in order to score for different keyword variations that have fallen out of favour with Google. Then take the time to cultivate and rank up these individual pages.

Chin up because while you may have lost ground, it also means your competitors likely have as well. Its then your opportunity to hunt for these keywords and set up new pages.

Use these tools to find keywords which are unique or in common between you and your competitors:

Local Search

This new Google Star Wars Update is far more sensitive to local ranking.

Many websites which has had a wide and far reaching ranking in many countries have found that their ranking share in those markets shrink significantly. This is especially so when Google audits and find that the websites have no significant impact and relevance to those countries.

Google is again trying to help the smaller players, this time in the local markets find their voice against the dominant international websites.

MediaOne’s Advice

There is nothing to do if you don’t need any foreign and international business. Getting more traffic and reaching people who have absolutely no interest in your brand or doing business with you is just a massive ego-trip. If you are in the game long term to get leads and sales on Google you should really leave your ego at the door because this Internet behemoth will trample on it again and again – and its a no-win battle because you are playing by their house rules.

However if you do need international traffic then do this:

  • list all local offices, subsidiaries, partners, distributors as clearly as possible in your contact and about us pages; include their entire contact information: Name, Address, Phone number (NAP) and website URLs
  • Make sure that your overseas entities also mention you and link back to you
  • Make sure that your overseas entities have a well setup Google My Business
  • build local citations (especially in association, government, media mentions)
  • build local links (especially from local directories and guides)
  • for countries that are especially dear to you
    1. build sub-directories (e.g. my/abc.com) each being a standalone sub-website by itself with predominantly unique content;
    2. for each country sub-directory setup hreflang and install local language and nuanced business/cultural references;
    3. set up individual Google Search Consoles for each sub-directories and declare to Google your country-targeting.

Backlinks

This new Google Star Wars Algorithm seems to place even more emphasis on backlinks. Even blindly so we might add. We caught sight of many shallow pages ranked high with nary a virtue (i.e. none of the E-A-T expounded loudly by the Google Search team) except for tens of thousands of backlinks of questionable quality.

Worst of all, this algorithm appears to give more credit to the quantity rather than quality than its predecessor forms.

Backlinks remain a central pillar in Google’s algorithm. In MediaOne’s opinion, until the day the search engine can take greater account of mentions, references in a positive, negative or neutral way that many social listening tools are aspiring to do, Google will continue to be strongly dependent on the quantity and quality of backlinks as a key ranking factor.

MediaOne’s Advice

  • continue to build backlinks as a core SEO activity
  • focus on both quality and quantity because we are confident Google will again swing the favour back to quality again
  • actively seek out opportunities to guest post, get listed in relevant directories, take part in forums and comments with link-back opportunities, send out press releases at least twice a year to score for high authority media links
  • post high quality content to attract backlinks, bookmarks and mentions which Google tracks
  • unfortunately or fortunately, footer links still have value low as they may be but powerful in large quantities; so if you are a designer or developer or such you can ask for a footer link which can translate to thousands of backlinks from a single grateful website owner alone

Conclusion

There you have it. Solid workable and proven advice straight from MediaOne’s R&D Centre.

You won’t find these baubles anywhere in the world, not in Google’ Q&A platforms, SEO forums and journals anywhere in the world.

You heard it first and only from MediaOne.

If you need any MediaOne advice and customised consultation, please do not hesitate to contact us at (65) 6789 9852 or email us at [email protected]

Author Bio

Tom Koh is widely recognised as a leading SEO consultant in Asia who has worked to transform the online visibility of the leading organisations such as SingTel, Capitaland, Maybank, P&G, WWF, etc. Recently he was instrumental in consulting for a New York-based US$30B fund in an US$4Bn acquisition. Tom is a Computational Science graduate of the National University of Singapore. In his free time he performs pro-bono community work and traveling.
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May 23, 2020

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