A Volatile Friday the 13th Weekend for Google

Whether or not it was a coincidence, when Friday, October 13th, 2023 rolled around, many witnessed wild volatility in Google’s search ranking algorithms. What were the reasons for this, and are there any preventative measures to take?

What’s the cause for this extreme volatility?

Reports, graphs, and other data covering the weekend’s volatility have been matched by what Barry Schwartz, writing for Search Engine Roundtable, calls “SEO industry chatter,” consisting of posts from panic-stricken businesses. Mr. Schwartz believes this activity stems primarily from a core update that Google initially launched earlier on October 10th, with lesser impact from a corresponding spam update. Ever since this most recent core update, ranking activity and volatility have been fluctuating at extreme degrees. And some of what is happening is beyond being unfair.

The “high quality content” issue

Among the many comments that accompanied Mr. Schwartz’ article concerns scrapers—those who harvest URLs from other sites, as well as descriptions or other information. Adding insult to this injury is how the information that has been scraped and applied to other sites have resulted in outranking the original and genuine website. This is the unfortunate result of when a site that was classified as being of “high quality content” loses this standing after a core update has been implemented. Now is the time where being proactive about website maintenance matters as it never has been before for checking and improving its quality.

Steps to take to improve website quality

Once a core update to Google has been made, webmasters should to audit the sites they maintain. As Hank Shaw points out in Hanesy, when the rankings drop after a core update, it is a sign that improvements to a website’s E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) signals are needed. Additional measures may be taken that—while not being magic fixes—will help ensure that the site will “stay in the game,” however low it may rank, post-core update.

  • Auditing the website’s link profile as a preventative measure against possible suspicious activity.
  • Auditing website content in its entirety by checking for and fixing duplicate content and 404 error messages, among other liabilities that hurt performance.

A reminder about White Hat and Black Hat SEO

One point that bears repeating is for webmasters to promote White Hat SEO practices—and especially guard against Black Hat SEO.

  • White Hat SEO: Includes the implementation of internal links and the creation and maintain of quality content. This may include answering and addressing questions and needs of visitors to a site.
  • Black Hat SEO: Includes keyword stuffing, invisible text (hidden in content but visible in SEO rankings), and “cloaking” (where visitors click on a URL with the expectation of going to a page they want to see but are redirected somewhere else).

The reason for this reminder concerns what is known as Gray Hat SEO. This is a devious practice that seemingly abides by the Google Webmaster Guidelines in the promotion of White Hat SEO, but then buys backlinks to it—a clear sign of Black Hat SEO. Ultimately, as Mr. Shaw states, the purpose of Gray Hat SEO is to manipulate rankings.

If you noticed recent extreme unfavorable shifts in the rankings for your website, the EGC Group may be able to be of service. We can help you navigate and improve your SEO performance. Contact us to find out how.

Don’t let the latest volatility overwhelm you. As Michael DiMarco, SEO Director at EGC explains in this video, SEO “is a marathon—not a sprint.”