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7 min read

May Google Algorithm Updates & Search Industry News

This article was updated on: 07.02.2022

With each new month comes new opportunities and updates in the world of SEO. In April we received more information from Google on how to implement structured data, as well as updated information on the evolving value of backlinks. Most significantly, however, was the confirmed core algorithm update began rolling out worldwide on May 4. We cover all these updates below.

May 2020 Core Algorithm Update 

On May the 4th 2020, Google announced their second broad algorithm update of 2020. Ahead of the SEO community, Google coined the update to be referred to as the “May 2020 Core Update” to avoid any confusion within the industry.

As usual, these updates can take between one to two weeks to fully roll out and stabilise within the SERPs, but chatters in the industry have seen volatility and fluctuations across a range of industries, including News, Online Communities and the Gaming sectors. It’s worth taking this with a pinch of salt, as we’re analysing this at the very beginning of the core update, and we will continue to monitor any further developments and update this post accordingly.

John Mueller responded to a question on a recent Webmaster Hangouts (May 1st 2020) around where on a landing page do links hold the most amount of value. Mueller stresses how content should be optimised for the users first and search engines second, and as a result recommends wherever is best for the user. 

He details how usually links within the main content would be the main focus, as that makes the most amount of sense from a user perspective when reading the content. However, Google does still value and take into more static content, such as navigation and footers of a site. 

Key takeaway – when optimising your internal linking strategy, put yourself in the shoes of your consumer. Ensure your website works seamlessly for them as part of their user journey and Google’s algorithm will review accordingly. 

Brodie Clark at SEJ flagged that a small group of search queries triggered Featured Snippet results that do not appear in the topic organic position. Based on the data, these new Featured Snippets are a replacement for the similar search results that used to appear on the right-hand side of desktop SERPs. 

When analysing the data for millions of search queries, Clark found that the most regular placement for this new Featured Snippet was either positions 2-3. For some queries, the new Featured Snippet could be as low as Position 7. Compared to a standard Featured Snippet that aims to answer a user’s query, Clark found these new types of Featured Snippet to be triggered by queries that were not questions.

The new Featured snippets have the below features

  • A title that might not be generated by the search result’s on-page content
  • Often grouped with the “People Also Search For” result
  • Sit anywhere between positions 2-7

In his research, Clark found that this change had altered a very minor percentage of search queries. Here at Impression, we have not seen these new Featured Snippets when researching or for our clients yet. This indicates that the change should not be too concerning or need an immediate action to tackle.

To check if this change has impacted you or your clients, It would beneficial to review the ranking history of your keywords that currently own or trigger featured snippets and have a look at whether the SERPs have changed or not over time.

New research published on how people read online

The Nielsen Norman Group published the 2nd edition of their report on How People Read Online in early April. The report looks at 5 eye tracking studies that were conducted to trace how online reading behaviour has changed over the years. Researchers used eye tracking equipment to track participants’ gazes as they used an interface, involving over 500 participants and over 750 hours of eyetracking time.

This 2nd edition found that many of their original findings were true, even after 23 years. Here’s some key findings from the report: 

  • Users often process on-page formatting in a “lawn-mower pattern”, where they methodically shift their gaze back and forth between each side whilst gradually moving down the page
  • Users scan the SERPs less linearly than they used to, which is likely due to SERPs features on Google and Bing
  • Users in Beijing had almost identical eye tracking patterns and behaviours to American users, indicating worldwide similarities
  • People primarily scan on-page copy, rather than read all content completely or linearly. 

Whilst this is not a specific search industry update, it is important for all SEOs and anyone creating on-page content. We recommend creating content that supports the way that users scan copy by using clear headings and subheadings, front-loading important information, bullet-point lists, bold text for emphasis and plain, concise language.

Finally some guidance on structured data from Google

Google has provided guidelines on how to implement structured data using Google Tag Manager. This is an incredibly useful resource and relevant if you or your clients have restrictive CMS or long lead times on development resource. 

Structured data can help Google display your website with rich search results, such as product reviews, in stock/out of stock, price range and more. The list is endless

There is not too much to report on this update, other than it is a handy guide to have in your arsenal and share with your colleagues who might want to implement structured data without calling on developers.

Google’s John Mueller confirmed that the value of inbound links does not depreciate with age. In a Google Webmaster Central hangout held on May 1, Mueller revealed that the search engine does not assign a value to a link based on its age. He did add, however, that a link’s value can change over time, not because of its age but rather because of how the linking site evolves over time.

For example, a link would increase in value if the site on which it was found also grew in authority over time, especially if the linking page also grew in authority. Contrastingly, a link from an online publication would decrease in value over time as the linking page was moved further and further down the site architecture, consequently being seen as less relevant in the eyes of Google’s crawlers.

Ranking for adult results does not exclude normal results 

On April 23, John Mueller confirmed that a site will not experience general ranking problems if negative SEO succeeds in making the site rank for adult content. The Google spokesperson was answering a question on whether ranking for adult keywords would make the site less likely to rank for its target keywords, and confirmed that it did not exclude the site from ranking for other queries.

However, Mueller did not go as far to say that the site’s ranking for normal queries would not be affected, hinting at the fact that negative SEO could make rankings drop at least slightly for normal queries. Mueller did suggest disavowing the harmful links. Some SEOs did question the fact that a site could be made to rank for adult terms purely based on backlinks, while having no content on the site targeting these terms. 

This is certainly suspect, as it suggests that anchor text is a particularly strong signal when weighted against other algorithm factors such as neural matching, RankBrain, BERT, and natural language processing. The key takeaway is that if your site ranks for queries you do not wish to be showing up for, it is unlikely that these will affect your rankings for your core queries. Nevertheless, you should also disavow the links to reduce the likelihood of a negative impact.