A lot of volatility in Google search results in October was outside the dates of the only official update, the October 2022 Spam Update. The biggest changes to ranking were recorded on October 13th, a week before the Spam Update started and on October 22nd, a day after the Spam Update had rolled out. The volatility on October 22nd was very probably linked to the Spam Update but the changes on October 13th remain unexplained. Although it was also the date on which Google replaced its Google Webmaster Guidelines with a new SEO guide called Google Search Essentials. But, surely, this is just a coincidence.
October 19th – Official October 2022 Spam Update
Announced on the @googlesearchc Twitter account on October 19th, the October 2022 Spam Update was rolled out over 3 days. If you noticed ranking changes from October 19th to October 22nd, you may have been hit by this update.
Australian SEO Brodie Clark shared a screenshot from Google Search Console showing the massive drop in visibility and traffic caused by the update to a client’s website. To be extra clear, Brodie added the text “Spam Update” and the red arrow to the screen shot to illustrate the drop in clicks and impressions.
The brutal impact of Google's October 2022 Spam Update… Thankfully, this site owner understands where they went wrong with this specific domain. I don't necessarily think Google did the wrong thing, but the result is certainly devastating for the owner. pic.twitter.com/2iPUN9V7sy
— Brodie Clark (@brodieseo) October 27, 2022
The article Google Search spam updates and your site released by Google to accompany the update explains that it marks a notable change to SpamBrain – the AI-based spam-prevention system built into Google’s search results.
Google invites website owners to review Spam Policies detailed on this new page to understand what type of spam could cause sites to lose rank or disappear completely from Google search results.
The full list of spam techniques listed are cloaking, doorway pages, hacked content, hidden text and links, keyword stuffing, link spam, machine-generated traffic, malware, misleading functionalities, scraped content, sneaky redirects, spammy automatically generated content, thin affiliate pages, user generated spam content and fraud (including pretending to be a legitimate business or service provider). It also gives information on how Google will act on removal requests.
It is not clear if the October 2022 Spam Update acts on one or many of these techniques, but it is interesting to note that Google has just added sections to its guidelines about misleading functionality, fraud and removal requests (more about changes to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines below). Could this be a clue to what changes were made to SpamBrain in October?
Unconfirmed update on October 13th
The official Spam Update rolled out from October 19th to October 21st. Rank tracking solutions (like SEMRush Sensor pictured below) showed little activity over this period although there was a spike in rank volatility on October 22nd. Although this happened a day after the update, it is very possible that rank changes were linked to the deployment of the Spam Update.
It is interesting to note, however, that a higher level of volatility in search results was recorded on October 13th. Google has not communicated on an update at or around this date, but update specialist Marie Haynes has reported that Google appears to have made some big indexing changes leading up to October 13th. So ranking changes may have been caused not by an update to Google Search algorithms, but by a change to the index of web pages those algorithms use to deliver search results. Ideally Google should ignore this nuance and communicate on every major change to Google Search results whether the change was to the algorithm, the index or the presentation of results.
Google Search Essentials
October 13th was also the date that Google launched a new guidelines section in English for website owners called Google Search Essentials. This new documentation has replaced the “Google Webmaster Guidelines,” which were first published 20 years ago. New languages have been added since – the French version was released on October 24th.
As well as a change in name, new features include a new introduction to the guidelines, a new section on Technical requirements and a new section on Spam policies (which was referenced by the news of the Spam Update released a week later).
New pages have also been added to explain the most recent Google updates
- Core updates – a series of updates released regularly to improve search result quality. The latest one was released in September 2022.
- Helpful Content updates – released for English-language pages in August 2022.
- Product Reviews updates – a series of updates for English-language pages only. The latest one was released in September 2022.
- Spam updates – a series of updates addressing spam violation. The latest one was released this month (see above)
These pages are now also referenced in Google’s List of ranking updates – This page gives the history of official Google search ranking updates going back to January 2020.
Site names in mobile results
On October 14th, Google made a change to mobile search results adding a site name above the URL for searches in English, French, Japanese, and German. Although this is not a ranking update, it is worth noting that changes to SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages) can influence how much traffic a site gets from Google. If a site name associated to a site looks strange, then you may experience a lower click-thru-rate and get less traffic.
In the document Provide a site name to Google Search, Google explains that it generates site names automatically using information provided by each website. The WebSite schema is the preferred method, but Google can also use data provided in Open Graph tags (the “og:site_name” property in particular) or extract a site name from the TITLE tags and H1 tags found on most pages.
SEOPress automatically generates a WebSite schema for your WordPress site. From version 6.1, this includes the name and alternateName properties. The values used are Site title and Alternative site title defined in the Home section of the SEO > Titles & Metas screen.
Reacting to comments on this new feature in search results, Google later clarified that site names are associated to a domain not subdomains. This may be a problem if you host more than one site on the same domain name.