There were no official updates to Google Search ranking in November 2022, but some volatility in search results suggested that there were unconfirmed updates. Mordy Oberstein speculated on what could be causing these unconfirmed updates and imagined a future with no Google updates at all. A few days later, Google released new documentation on Google Search ranking systems, explaining that many updates were not updates, but “systems”. You can read about these developments below.
Also highlighted in November’s news an interview with Google’s VP of Search, Hyung-Jin Kim, which gives an interesting insight to the work and motivations of the team working on Google search algorithms. These are the people who decide, indirectly, whether your site ranks in Google’s results.
Although no updates were announced by Google in November, tools measuring the volatility of Google SERP results showed some distinct periods of turbulence in November.
The screen shot from Rank Ranger’s Rank Risk Index above, for example, shows lots of fluctuations from November 2nd to November 5th, November 11th to November 13th, November 18th, November 22nd and from November 25th to the end of the month. Note the 4th, 11th, 18th and 25th were all Fridays (the last one being Black Friday).
Rank Ranger also publishes a calendar of Google Updates including unofficial ones. This resource only identifies the November 18th fluctuations as a possible unconfirmed update. This is shown as the yellow background in the screenshot above.
The end of Google updates?
While we are contemplating a month without Google updates, Mordy Oberstein contemplates on a future without any Google updates at all.
In the article “Is Google headed towards a continuous “real-time” algorithm?” published in Search Engine Watch in November, he explains that the classic “Google hits a button” update may be a thing of the past as algorithms improve progressively thanks to artificial intelligence.
He goes on to speculate that some unconfirmed updates (like the one we noted on November 18th) could be the long-term effects of machine learning systems as they recalibrate. It is a very plausible theory, but it would be sad to have no news on Google updates in the future. Hopefully, Google’s AI will continue to inform humans when they make changes to algorithms even if they are just recalibrations.
SMX Next keynote with Hyung-Jin Kim, VP of Google Search.
On November 16th, Barry Schwartz opened the online SMX Next conference with a keynote interview with Hyung-Jin Kim, the Vice President of Google Search. It was a rare occasion to hear directly from someone who works on Google’s ranking algorithms about their work and motivations. Hyung-Jin definitely stressed that he wants Google to keep communication on improvements to the search engine to SEOs and webmasters.
The two important scoops in from this video are that Hyung-Jin Kim mentioned a previously unknown “Coati” Google update and he also seemed to confirm that EAT (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) is part of Google’s ranking systems.
Hyung-Jin Kim explained that Coati – a black and white South American mammal – replaced Panda as solution to combat low-quality content. Panda evolved into Coati and this was then integrated into Google’s core algorithm. The Coati update probably dates from 2015, but until this interview we had never heard its name mentioned before.
For more information on EAT, read our article, “Optimizing WordPress sites for Google EAT”. It is an important concept that Google uses to decide whether it can trust content found on the web. When our article was written in August 2020, we were speculating on whether EAT was coded in algorithms. This now seems to be confirmed with the extra information that it applies to every search query and not just sensitive YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) queries.
You can register to watch the keynote and other SMX Next presentations here: https://marketinglandevents.com/smx/next/
Mary Haynes also published a short clip from the Keynote featuring Hyung-Jin Kim’s comments on E-A-T that you can watch below:
Clip from SMX Next published by Dr Marie Haynes
New guide to Google Search ranking algorithms
Announced on November 21st by a blog post on Google Search Central, Google published an interesting new resource “A guide to Google Search ranking systems” the same day.
The blog post introduces the notion of “systems” and says that in the future Google will be careful to distinguish between the launch of new systems and updates to existing systems. For example, the August 2022 Helpful Content Update was actually the launch of the Helpful Content system and not an update to it.
The document identifies 5 systems used to produce search results as AI (artificial intelligence): BERT, MUM, Neural Matching, Passage Ranking and RankBrain. The MUM system, which is thought to be the most powerful, is only currently used for specific applications such as improving search results for COVID-19-related searches or checking consensus for information displayed in featured snippets. The document also mentions SpamBrain which is cited as AI in “How we fought Search spam on Google in 2021”. So that is 6 separate AI systems in total.
Systems identified as being used as ranking factors are Crisis Information, Deduplication, Exact Match Domain, Helpful Content, Link Analysis and PageRank, Local News, Original Content, Removal-Based Demotion, Page Experience, Product Reviews, Reliable Information and Site Diversity. One of the details given on these systems is that domain names are still an important ranking factor, but Google tries to detect when the domain name has been created to specifically target a keyword and will cancel the positive ranking factor if that is believed to be the case. It also confirms that PageRank and backlinks are still important to ranking in 2022, and that Google goes beyond simple keyword matching when analyzing content.
The document has been cited by a lot of sources because of the section that details retired systems, no longer used to rank pages. This list contains the 2 most famous historic Google updates Panda and Penguin. It also clarifies that the Mobile-Friendly Ranking, Page Speed and Secure Site systems were integrated into the Page Experience update launched in June 2021.
Published in English, the guide to Google Search ranking systems is progressively being translated into different languages. On the subject of languages, the document fails to note that some systems only work in English. This is the case of the Helpful Content system the Product Review system. It may be that some AI can only currently understand – or be trusted to understand – English. It also means that if you are working in another language, there are lots of Google updates to come in the future.
Google Spam Update and policy circumnavigation
Another document update from Google on November 21st was the addition of a Policy Circumvention section to the document “Spam policies for Google web search documentation” discussed last month in relation to the October 2022 Spam Update.
Adding to a long list of identified spam techniques, this section can be interpreted as saying that Google can detect previously penalized content even when it is published on a new site.
Again, with this text being added so closely after the update, it is easy to imagine that this could explain exactly what changes were made to this specific algorithm (or “system” as we should start calling it) late October.