The Impact of the March 2019 Google Core Algorithm Update

Google currently makes up to 1,000 algorithm changes each year. Some are very minor and appear to be no more than basic A/B tests for specific searches while others tend to affect more significant portions of Google’s search results. These significant changes are referred to as core algorithm updates. There was a core algorithm update in March of 2019 that has had a widespread impact on rankings across industries. Before your team spirals into a panic about the changes in ranking, here’s what you need to know and how you can combat the changes.

What is a Core Google Algorithm Update?

The core algorithm update and the ranking changes, which started en masse on March 12, 2019, were actually seen by some sites as early as the first week in February 2019. Before this core algorithm update in March, the last core updates were in August and September of 2018. Last September’s update focused on the neural matching algorithm, specifically on deep relevance rankings. The August 2018 update, deemed the “Medic Update,” majorly affected the medical and healthcare industries.

Many of the domains that lost position and visibility from the March 2019 core update were actually winners after the core updates in August and September of 2018. This is a great reminder that even if a company benefited from past core algorithm changes, they are not guaranteed to benefit from future updates. It is an ongoing process of understanding how you can best match high-quality content to specific user intent, all with the right context. Sounds like a lot right? To make it more tangible, here are a few things that the winners of the March algorithm update had in common.

Winners tended to have pages with high-quality unique content and strong site reputations, as well as high scores on the “needs met” rating scorer from Google.

Google Needs Met Ratings

Needs met ratings are a component of Google’s Algorithm based mainly on how well content matches the user’s search query intent and falls into one of the following categories:

Fully Meets (FullyM)

FullyM is where all or almost all users would be immediately and fully satisfied by the content on the page and would not need to view other results to satisfy their need. Let’s say a person is searching for the query “Ratings for the Samsung 10 phone.” A FullyM page would give a user not only detailed ratings for the phone but additional information that they may need during the buyer’s journey, such as pricing, carriers it runs on and competitive comparison of the phone vs. previous Samsung phones, as well as other flagship phones currently on the market.

Highly Meets (HM)

Highly Meets, or HM, indicates very helpful pages for many or most users. In the case of HM pages, some users may wish to see additional results from other websites. In the instance of a search for “Ratings for the Samsung 10 phone,” if a page offered a detailed rating for the phone and described how they determined the rating score, but nothing else, the user would most likely leave the site after reading the review to look for more information as they move along the buyer’s journey.

Moderately Meets (MM)

A Moderately Meets, or MM, rank is helpful for many users or very helpful for some users. In the case of a page ranked as MM, some or many users may wish to see additional results. In the case of the query “Ratings for the Samsung 10 phone,” if the results page they land on listed a rating from another brand or website with no additional information, the user would most likely return to the SERP and end up visiting other pages.

Slightly Meets (SM)

Those pages getting a Slightly Meets, or SM, ranking offer a connection between the query and the result, but not a strong or satisfying one. Most users wouldn’t get enough information from the page. If that Samsung buyer landed here, they may find rankings for other phones, a reference to the Samsung 10 phone, but the rankings and reviews would not be specific for that model phone. In this case, the user will most likely return to the SERP for additional options.

Fails to Meet (FailsM)

Those pages which receive a FailsM rating usually completely lack the content to meet the needs of users. If you were casually talking about this type of page, you might say it’s an #epicfail. Users would find little to no value in the page and its content, ultimately leading them back to the search results. If our buyer landed on this page and it was mainly about iPhones and briefly referred to the Samsung 10, it would not meet the expected intent of the search. The user would leave almost immediately to either refine their search or look at other options.

From early results after the March 2019 core algorithm update, we see that sites which offer well-structured topic clusters with pages that are focused on thoroughly answering the intent of their primary and secondary keywords (especially long tail keywords) are doing well. Pages which are focused on “head” terms and have been driving significant long tail search traffic to broadly focused pages generally do not do a good job answering the specific user intent of those long tail keywords and are losing rank.

How to Beat the March 2019 Google Update

If you are losing organic rankings and traffic to your content pages that focus on broad topics, consider creating additional supporting pages leveraging long tail keywords. If you are unsure of the long-tail content to create, look at the “People Also Ask” results of your primary broad topic keywords. For a Samsung 10 search, you might create content based on the following Quick Answers:

You’ll want to create these pages under the URL directory structure of your broad topic pages. For example, your broad topic page (or pillar page as we like to call it) on the Samsung 10 may have the URL: PhoneCompany.com/Samsung-10 Your supporting page would live under that with a URL like this: PhoneCompany.com/Samsung-10/Best-New-Samsung-Phone.

You can also add summary or “teaser” content to the main broad topic page that links to the supporting page and directs the user to the content they need.

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