Google’s December Core Update: What We Know So Far

Seven months after its last core update, Google has rolled out a new algorithm update. The search giant announced the change on Twitter on December 3, 2020. Later today, we are...

Anissa Maligat
Anissa Maligat December 18, 2020

Seven months after its last core update, Google has rolled out a new algorithm update. The search giant announced the change on Twitter on December 3, 2020.

Google released the latest core update at 1 PM ET, two and a half hours after its announcement. Since it was a global change, it wasn’t limited to specific regions, languages, or website types. The change wasn’t unprecedented either: just two weeks ago, Google gave a heads-up that the new update would roll out soon.

Just last May, Google released a core update that had a huge impact on search rankings. However, SEO experts describe the latest Google update as an even broader update than the last. Let’s take a look at how this new core update has shaken up the entire search landscape, and what it could mean for your website.

Assessing the Impact

Google’s December core update came a few days after Thanksgiving, just on the heels of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. So the big change might’ve taken some online businesses by surprise — especially those with huge pre-holiday sales.

With that said, how did the new Google algorithm update affect website rankings after its initial launch?

A Huge Shake-Up in Average Positions

RankRanger reports that shifts within Google’s top 20 average positions increased two-fold. As you can see in the chart below, the average position changed from 1.53 in May to 3.45 this December.

Screenshot from RankRanger via Search Engine Land

On top of that, the latest Google update brought relatively even shifts across the health, finance, and retail sectors.

Screenshot from RankRanger via Search Engine Land

Winners & Losers Across Niches

Since we’re on the topic of different niches, some came out victorious after the update, while others faced losses.

But remember that we won’t feel the update’s full impact until the Christmas season starts, so you still have time to give your current rankings a boost.

Screenshot from SEMrush via Search Engine Land

SEMrush shares some insights on the effect of the update on different industries. In terms of average SERP volatility, the firm recorded a rate of 9.4 for SERPs under most site categories. Furthermore, SEMrush identified the most affected industries from Google’s latest algorithm update. Here’s the full list:

SEMrush also listed businesses on the winning and losing end following the update. Check them out below.

The Winners

The Losers

The Effect on Expertise & Content-Heavy Industries

Searchmetrics shares some insights on the effect of the update on expertise and content-heavy niches like music, news, health, and E-commerce. Music and health-related sites recorded major drops in visibility but it’s still too early on to call the pattern a steady trend.

Data from SISTRIX examines the core update’s impact on retail and news websites. For instance, Amazon’s rankings went down significantly after the latest update. This loss was felt across some of the retail giant’s global domains, including its UK and US websites.

Screenshot from SISTRIX

Bad news from Amazon aside, several E-commerce websites in the UK came out on top. Ebay’s UK and US domains led the pack, with retailers like Curry’s, Sports Direct, and Superdrug behind them.

Screenshot from SISTRIX

Google’s algorithm update shook the digital news landscape, as well. In the chart below, you’ll see Forbes on top with a visibility index (VI) score of 17.65. The core update has also given UK news sites a solid boost — The Irish Times, Sky News, Sky Sports, and the London Evening Standard followed closely behind Bloomberg and USA Today.

Screenshot from SISTRIX

Meanwhile, websites like the Daily Star, the New York Times, and the Daily Mail suffered losses after the core update. The Guardian’s VI score of -26.52 made it the weakest link among UK search’s top news websites.

Other Changes Across Industries


Screenshot from Searchmetrics

Searchmetrics reported positive shifts in search visibility for financial websites, including Credit Karma and The Balance. Both websites grew by 16.6% and 12.3% in search visibility, respectively.

Job Listing Sites

Screenshot from Searchmetrics

Job listing websites experienced both positive and negative changes after the core update. For example, data from Searchmetrics shows remarkable growth for sites like LinkedIn and Monster. However, other sites weren’t as lucky. Glassdoor and Indeed, for instance, are two sites that recorded a negative growth percentage.

Dictionaries & Encyclopedias

In Mid-October, Google revised its Search Quality Rater Guidelines and changed its approach in ranking online dictionaries and encyclopedias. All things considered, Google explained that these websites no longer meet the user’s intention.

Screenshot from SISTRIX

The December core update reflected this change, and several dictionaries were hit hard.

Screenshot from SISTRIX


However, three dictionaries that didn’t drop in rankings were Collins, Britannica, and Merriam-Webster.

The Next Steps

With the new Google search update slowly in effect, you might’ve noticed a dip in your website rankings. But don’t give up just yet: your rankings may still change for the better when the update has been fully rolled out. So stay prepared for other changes after Google’s next update.

When all is said and done, the impact of a core update can be positive or negative. And based on the data we’ve gathered, a website could dip in rankings if it fails to optimize its content properly. So if you pay attention to ranking signals, Google might just reward you with a rankings boost.

If this teaches us anything, it’s that you should take a closer look at how your website performs right after a core Google update. That way, you can more easily identify areas of improvement on your site and score more wins.

How Marketers Can Bounce Back

Google doesn’t recommend any specific actions to recover your rankings before the core update. But SEO experts share that publishing optimized content can go a long way in helping you recover lost ground. Here’s how you can deliver content that’ll help give your rankings that much-needed boost.

Assess the Quality of Your Content

If you’re keen on creating better content, assess the quality of your content. Consider asking yourself these questions:

The key takeaway is that your content should touch on factors like originality, substance, and shareability.

Examine the Authority of Your Content

Google also encourages webmasters to assess the expertise of your content. Some of these questions include:

If you want to learn more, Google Search Central’s blog post about core updates covers the full list in greater detail.

Familiarize Yourself with Quality Rater Guidelines

Want more advice on how to create great content? Review Google’s search quality rater guidelines. A strong indicator of quality is Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (E-A-T) and Google uses this criteria to evaluate web content.

In a nutshell, E-A-T plays a key role in evaluating topics about news, law, finance, and health. If you’re interested in Google’s search guidelines and E-A-T, you may want to take a look at its online handbook for more info.

Bring Back Your Search Momentum with Great Content

Google algorithm changes can make or break your search rankings. And if they’ve hit you hard, improving your content is one of the best ways to help your site recover.

Assessing your content is a great first step toward better rankings, and it’s also an opportunity to craft a winning content marketing strategy. With top-quality, relevant content, you can stay on top and reap the benefits of Google’s core updates.

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