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Google Algorithm Update – Covid-19 Core Update May 2020

By Tim Brown
Updated May 26, 2020
one Comment

Coronavirus - May 2020 - Core Algorithm Google Update
Tim Brown
Tim Brown

Tim Brown is the owner of Hook Agency, an SEO and Web Design company focused primarily on driving traffic and leads for small businesses, roofers and construction companies.

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Google changes the way it ranks sites from time to time – and it shakes up search results and website rankings. Rather than get mad about it if you were negatively affected, I find it important to dig into what changed, try to figure out why, and in that way predict what’s coming next – and how you can stay ahead of the curve (usually by increasing the user experience, quality of content and authority of links to your site over time.)

But what if you get hit by a Google Update and experience a rankings drop? Google’s generic advice can feel like a slap in the face:

What Google always says during Algorithm Updates:

Google algo update - generic tweet


May 2020

COVID-19 Google Update

In a questionable (but ultimately understandable) move by Google – a May core algorithm update was rolled out, benefitting many reputable sites, big brands, and app stores. This reflects the appetites that are currently higher for these types of content in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coronavirus - May 2020 - Core Algorithm Google Update

  • Local Search / Maps
  • Medical / corona related shakeups
  • Thin Content is losing (not unusual)

It takes a while to really analyze this… the algorithm update took a week or two Google said, and it just finished rolling out 2 days ago. For shifts in general, a good way to assess damages and fix them:

  • Look at month over month data – and look what pages lost out
  • Identify how that might represent algorithmic shifts
  • Apply what you learn from the losers – improve upon it and spread the love

Post pandemic digital re-think

I sat down to chat with Jarrett Thomas of iPullRank, and Lee Gaul about what they’re seeing and how we might think about these shifts / what to do about it.

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PHYSICAL ONLY = WEAKNESS: I need my systems in place for getting leads without physical stuff

ECOM WINS: Obviously eCommerce boomed and retail suffered, I’d say 30-50% of those ppl stick w new options they found (because convenience)

IS IT HARDER NOW? Love this quote from Steve Toth “A lot of people think is getting harder because of how much Google has advanced. When really there are two main reasons: an increasingly cluttered SERP with lower CTRs and the fact that more and more people are producing amazing content (especially on established sites).

The moral: build links or you will have no chance 1-2 years from now.”

Early November 2019

Turkey Google Update

For us and several other sites – the November 2019 was volatile, and in many cases painful. First, we saw an un-natural 30% increase in traffic and next a drop 30% below what our normal average had been. What caused a large rankings drop of 30% overnight? Literally no clue. But pundits across the web weighed in with all kinds of guesses. It’s un-natural links! It’s BERT’s language processing! It’s keyword stuffing. The only thing that wins out in the end, probably Google’s Ad platform. Normally updates swing us up or swing us down, and in this case – in a seemingly random fashion, it was a downswing. It’s important to note, our clients mostly have light upticks month over month, and there are no real obvious negatives.

Turkey Algorithm Update

Recovering From The November 2019 Google Update:

  • John Mueller has suggested getting rid of links in widgets if they’re done unnaturally, disavowing them if you can’t remove, or removing the page that the link is going to. But is John Mueller really saying something of substance? He often contradicts himself – previously saying that they simply ignore unnatural links – so much flip-flopping!
  • 2 Different experts suggested getting rid of any site-wide links, and trimming exact-match keyword usage – site-wide links are getting devalued, consider making sure you don’t have a lot of these. Based on BERT and newer language processing systems within Google, consider lowering the amount of keyword usage on your pages. Yes, Google has previously said to not ‘keyword stuff’ but it’s algorithm seemed to still prefer it sometimes – though now, I’ve seen some evidence that it actually no longer does. Perhaps the algorithm is finally catching up in that regard to Google’s aspiration.
  • In the end – we’ll all just have to play around with different things, in what feels like a rain-dance. 100’s of SEO professionals on forums are complaining of the seeming “mistake” of an algorithm shift in early November 2019. I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to agree – as our site was hit with a bit of bomb.

But then again – that’s the game we play, and some things may have worked before and may not now. Certainly, I’ll update this page if there are any more pieces of information we get or if we’re able to recover that 20-30% lost traffic. Here’s to hoping!

If you’re not into hoping – feel free to send me a message at and I’ll tell you if I found the holy grail – I’ll certainly be searching for a fix pretty vigorously over the next few weeks.

Late October 2019

BERT Update

Bert is supposedly the largest Google search update in 5 years since it introduced ‘RankBrain’ – and this newest big update focused around improving natural human language processing. It will affect up to 10% of search queries towards the beginning.

Bert Algorithm Update - October 2019

  • It is Google’s neural network-based technique for natural language processing (NLP) pre-training. BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers.
  • Because this is a ‘language understanding’ update SEO’s can’t really optimize for RankBrain – and therefore, this BERT update to RankBrain. Just write content for users not for search engines. It matters because it’s Google getting better, but not necessarily for your SEO strategy (unless it was severely outdated.)
  • Do check this next week and compare week over week traffic in Search Console, to ensure that you’re not being hit hard by the update, but it’s in my professional opinion – that very few of you, who have been following content marketing and SEO closely, will have any severe issues related to this update.
  • An example of the change includes – if you had searched “2019 brazil traveler to USA need a visa,” the word “to”  wouldn’t be understood before and would return results about U.S. citizens traveling to Brazil. “With BERT, Search is able to grasp this nuance and know that the very common word “to” actually matters a lot here.

Bert Algorithm Update Example


According to Google:

“These improvements are oriented around improving language understanding, particularly for more natural language/conversational queries, as BERT is able to help Search better understand the nuance and context of words in Searches and better match those queries with helpful results.

Particularly for longer, more conversational queries, or searches where prepositions like “for” and “to” matter a lot to the meaning, Search will be able to understand the context of the words in your query. You can search in a way that feels natural for you.”


Early March 2019

Florida 2 Update

Florida 2 is categorized as a broad core update (named because it happened around the ‘Pubcon Summit’ and the first Florida Update as also around that time of year), though this update is unlikely to be as intense as that one.

Florida 2 - Early March 2019 - Google Algorithm Update

Based on what I have been told, this update is important. The information that I was given is that this update is one of the biggest updates in years.” – Roger Montti, from Search Engine Journal, said.

Here’s what we know:

  • The last update – The Medic Update – incorporated a new method ‘Neural Matching’ – a way to use AI to connect words to concepts, or as Danny Sullivan of Google called them ‘Super Synonyms’ – that’s now affecting 30% of search queries, and it’s likely that this updated something just as profound – though it’s unclear what that technology is as of yet.  Danny Sullivan Tweet 2
  • A broad core update is not intended necessarily to affect one niche or group of niches in particular – and according to Google representatives, this was classified as a broad core update. However – more volatility was reported in healthcare and the pet industry niches.
  • Some people in the industry are calling this a reversal of the Medic update, and a lot of medical or health sites had gains – according to multiple sources in SEO Groups on Facebook that I’m apart of (we saw little to no volatility on client sites either positive or negative – fortunately or unfortunately.)
  • Many many people on Twitter were rejoicing with big gains overnight – and I was jealous! Unfortunately, it seems if your sites hadn’t been hit hard by the medic update then the Florida 2 Algorithm update didn’t have that kind of effect on your sites.

Florida 2 Algorithm Update

  • We’ll be sharing any more information about this update (and future algorithm updates) here as we get them.


Late July – Early August 2018

Medic Update

Experts I’ve consulted with are calling this late July – early August 2018 Google Algorithm update a win for sites that have been “doing SEO right.”

Medic Algorithm Update

  • Sites with long-term style SEO with in-depth content and high-quality links have had measurable increases in traffic.
  • Health sites took a big hit (like Prevention and LiveStrong)
  • Moz is suggesting that Google might be changing it’s quality rater guidelines, to more deeply favor E-A-TExpertise, Authoritativeness and Trust’ – meaning if manual reviewers can find evidence of these things that Google would favor the site, and perhaps the algorithm shift is in this direction as well. 
  • The Medic Google Algorithm Update is potentially still rolling out, and we will continue to report on its effect across industries.

Growth for our site:

I haven’t seen this much Google traffic growth for our site in a long time, as it has generally plateaued. That being said – we’ve diligently been doing P.R. focused SEO, and publishing quality content regularly – so going from a weekly average high in the 500’s to now over 800 clicks from Google on a good day, was a welcome surprise and was the first big thing that tipped me off that this algorithm change was big.

Google Algorithm Update

Light uptick in our small business client sites:

Much less dramatic – but still a testament to our diligence, we found a lighter uptick in less content heavy client sites that have built quality resources and built authoritative, and solid backlink profiles.

Small business - Google algorithm update volatility

Other awesome articles on the ‘Medic’ Late-July 2018, Early August Google Algorithm Update:

  • Moz talks Medic Algorithm Update and impact on certain verticals
  • Search Engine Land talks about the impact to YMYL – Your Money, Your Life verticals (As we said above, Google said there is nothing you can do. There is no fix. That is not so helpful, is it? But Google has been suggesting that you can continue to work on improving your website, make better content, make a better overall user experience and ultimately, the next update may lead to your site ranking better.)
  • Glenn Gabe talks about how to fix your site if it was negatively effected – The core algorithm update that rolled out on August 1, 2018 was massive and many sites across the web were impacted. Although there were a lot of health sites impacted, many others in non-YMYL categories were affected as well. If you have been negatively impacted by the 8/1 update, then it’s important to objectively analyze your site to find ways to improve. And remember, there’s never one smoking gun. There’s usually a battery of them. So go find them now.
  • Bright Local says YMYL niches, and FORUMS got hit with E-A-T related updates –  This latest algorithm update, if what we’re seeing from the community is to be believed, may well have been focused on demoting YMYL pages with low E-A-T. Whilst this will definitely impact websites like forums with low-quality advice, it should be noted that local businesses are just as at risk (as shown by Joy and Marie above) from providing advice that doesn’t come from a place of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.

Some thoughts on the August 1 Algorithm Update Straight from Google:



Thank you for reading!


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Tim Brown
Tim Brown

Tim Brown is the owner of Hook Agency, an SEO and Web Design company focused primarily on driving traffic and leads for small businesses, roofers and construction companies.

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Nick Stamoulis
Nick Stamoulis
3 months ago

Whenever Google makes an algorithm change it is always a good idea to monitor the situation. Not every core update will affect our websites, but it is important to keep an eye out in case something needs to be adjusted.

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