Winners and losers of Google’s search update: ‘User Signals’ and trusted brands grow in importance

Mar 22, 2019 | Search engine marketing

The first major Google algorithm update of 2019 has caused major upheaval in the global search results. Searchmetrics has conducted an analysis of the types of sites that have been affected and why.

Google confirmed the updates in a tweet last week.

The summary below outlines the major results of the changes:

1) Google values trust and branding

One clear trend resulting from this update seems to be Google favouring websites, particularly when users are searching for sensitive Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) keywords, that are able to provide a higher level of trust. The main beneficiaries of this focus are websites with a strong brand profile and a broad topical focus. On the flipside, this has meant that niche websites dealing with these topics have seen their rankings fall.

Note:YMYL refers to industry niches in which Google takes the quality of each site very seriously, since poor information could have a significant impact on a searcher’s current or future well-being (physical, financial, safety, etc.) Examples include websites related to health or financial decisions.

2) User signals grow in importance

Google’s algorithm has increased its weighting of user signals when calculating rankings. The results show that website that improved their search performance following the Google Core Update have higher values for time on site and page views per visit, and lower bounce rates than their online competitors.

Time On Site Pages per Visit Bounce Rate
Winners 2:29 2.7 58%
Losers 1:58 2.4 65%

The update winners have an average time on site of 2:29 minutes – that’s 26 percent more than the update losers, which have an average time on site of 1:58 minutes. Similar differences can be found when analysing the pages per visit or the bounce rate.

User signals are some of the “hardest” ranking factors. If users spend longer on a domain, open more pages per visit and bounce less often back to the Google search results, then the page must be doing something right.

3) Big Changes for Health Websites

The Searchmetrics analysis shows that Google continues to fine-tune its search results for queries related to particularly sensitive topics, such as those dealing with health questions. Following the E-A-T Update in August 2018, which is also known as the Medic Update, and E-A-T Update No. 2 in early October 2018, we see that, once again, the March 2019 Google Core Update has had a large impact on websites in this industry.

Health websites that werer amongst the overall winners of last year from Searchmetrics 2018 Google winners and losers analysis, it can be seen that several of them are now amongst the biggest losers of this latest Google Update. For example, has suffered a drop of 9 percent in its SEO Visibility, and has fallen by 5 percent.

Malte Landwehr, VP Product at Searchmetrics summed up some key learnings from the latest Google update:
“Branding and user experience are becoming increasingly important for Google. Websites that aren’t positioned at the end of a transactional user journey have to offer more than just good, holistic content and crawler-friendly technical infrastructure.”

He says one of the key investments for website owners is building a brand and expertise in a topic segment so that users and Google trust the site. It also creates long-term user relationships and makes the website more independent of individual Google updates: More Direct Traffic, less dependency from organic search.

The Google search results are no different from any other place where users interact with brands – people are more likely to click on a result if they recognize a website than if they don’t. This creates improved user signals and can have a long-term positive impact on rankings, traffic and conversions. In this regard, it is possible for a website to establish itself as a well-known brand authority for subjects around a particular topic. Niche pages that are only dedicated to one keyword cluster are likely to struggle to compete long-term with larger, better-recognized brands.

For a more in-depth overview, including a list of the winners and losers that were affected in the week of the Core Google Update, visit the Searchmetrics blog at:

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