Investigating February’s Organic Rankings Volatility

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Brock Murray
Co-Founder / COO

Graphic of the corner of a computer monitor on the standard seoplus+ blue triangle background that has a red arrow showing downward rankings.
Graphic of the corner of a computer monitor on the standard seoplus+ blue triangle background that has a red arrow showing downward rankings.

If you monitor your search engine rankings like a hawk, you may have noticed that there’s been a lot of movement in organic rankings in the last few days. The volatility has got news wires in the SEO community heating up today, with SEMRush and SERoundTable spreading the word about another possible Google algorithm update. There’s been no word from any Google reps yet, but this is often par for the course with algorithm updates as SEOs await confirmation of their observations.

All has been relatively quiet on the algorithm front since the long-anticipated Penguin 4.0 update back in late September. The biggest news was that Penguin would now be a rolling, real-time update. Check out what our SEO Specialist had to say about the update at the time:

With a rolling, real-time Penguin update, it means that sites can benefit from backlink clean-up the next time Google crawls your site. If your backlink profile still isn’t up to par, you can clean it up by disavowing links and starting a link building/outreach strategy, and see it pay dividends very quickly. With real-time updates to the algorithm, it could be a game-changer. 

Both Penguin (think: links) and Panda (think: content) are now part of Google’s core algorithm and now factor in each and every time a site is recrawled and reindexed, rather than only upon a Penguin/Panda refresh.

Is this volatility linked to a tweak in the link valuation aspect of the algorithm? Has Google changed their interpretation of spammy, or low-value links (or vice versa, increase their valuation of high-authority links to your site)? What about content valuation? It’s hard to say at this point without concrete confirmation from Google. In his article on the topic, Barry Schwartz writes that spammy links were targeted in an update last week, but that they likely aren’t tied to this change.

It’s equally possible that the recent volatility is tied to the switch to mobile-first indexing. Search Engine Watch reports that Google’s mobile search has been glitchy lately, indexing desktop sites even if the mobile version is available. It’s not clear if this is tied into rankings movement, but it’s definitely something to watch as the switch to mobile-first indexing has not been as smooth as anticipated, even if your site has a fully optimized mobile setup. Barry Schwartz doesn’t buy this theory, because most tracking software only tracks desktop search so mobile bugs are irrelevant.

What does this mean for you?

Like every update, all you can do to put your site in the best position to succeed is to do things the right way. Prioritize exceptional content, a lean and clean layout, blazing fast site speed, and a robust, high-quality link profile. At the end of the day, Google updates are about putting the spotlight on the most trustworthy, most valuable sites that best answer the searcher’s query. You can try hard to game the system, but as the algorithm’s intelligence and accuracy improves, the best game of all is to do it right.

Avatar for Brock Murray

Brock Murray

Brock Murray is the COO and co-founder of seoplus+ digital marketing agency. As the driving force behind this award-winning, full-service agency, Brock's passion is helping businesses establish, grow, and maintain their online presence. With the help of SEO, PPC, social media, content marketing, and more, Brock and his team help clients of varying sizes and verticals, from small, local retailers to large, multinational enterprise companies.

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