What to do if your website is hit by a search engine core update

All search engines regularly update their algorithm as they constantly strive to deliver more relevant and closely matched results to user searches. Google alone makes thousands of changes to their algorithm every year.

Many of these updates are small and are unlikely to have a big impact on a website’s rankings or general visibility in the SERPs, but every so often, search engines might introduce a core update that makes a noticeable negative difference to your organic results. These usually occur around 3-4 times a year.

This can work both ways, of course. Some websites will see organic traffic and visibility dip when others will see improved performance after a core update.

In this article, we look at how you can find out if your site has been negatively impacted by a core update and, if so, what you can do about it to try and recover any lost performance.

How to know if you’ve been affected by a search engine update

If your website traffic has ever dropped off a cliff overnight for seemingly no reason, especially if narrowed down to traffic from one specific search engine (check your site analytics data), there is a strong possibility that you might have been affected by an update to the search engine algorithm.

It might not be as dramatic as this. Your organic traffic may not completely tank, but you might notice that over time, search engine traffic is down somewhat to what you’d expect and there might be other indications that things have changed e.g. rankings that you track may have fallen and reported impressions and clicks may have dropped in Google Search Console.

It’s important to look at whether the drop you have experienced is site-wide (i.e. affects the website as a whole) or is limited to certain pages on your site. This can give you strong clues as to whether it’s due to a particular search engine update (if the dates match up between update roll-out and your changes in performance) and this will also help to indicate what action you might need to take.

How to find out which core search engine update has affected your website

If you’ve already narrowed the issue down to one specific search engine e.g. Google or Bing, and you have a good idea of when your site started to be affected, you can usually work out which specific update has made the difference.

Google usually announce upcoming major updates via their blog and Twitter, although there isn’t always a huge amount of time between announcements and roll out. However, it can help businesses know to be on the lookout for any changes in performance.

Google report the completed search ranking updates they make here, and Bing usually talk about updates on their search blog.

It’s also usually a good idea to follow social media posts and conversations from the people at Google who usually communicate on these topics, such as Google’s public liaison for search, Danny Sullivan, and Google search advocate, John Mueller.

Sometimes, updates run really close together, which can make things harder to work out. For example, Google finished rolling out their helpful content update on 9th September 2022, and almost immediately followed this with a core update and then a product reviews update. All three of these occurred within a few weeks, but it should still be possible to work out which update specifically affected your results by reading up on each update to see what the intention of it was or what search or site characteristics it relates to and working it out by process of elimination.

How to recover from a Google core update?

Here’s some of the things you need to do, so you can get your website back on track:

Don’t panic – instead, take time to understand what happened

The first advice we can give you is not to panic – although that’s easy to say when it’s not your website that is affected.

Sometimes update rollouts can result in strange traffic patterns that are only temporary and organic traffic that disappears instantly can start to recover a few days later without any action being needed.

If your website has been hit negatively by an update, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve done anything wrong. It’s worth reading up as much as you can from the sources mentioned already and social media conversations on the topic to see who else is experiencing similar issues and why people think that is.

Better to wait and have all the information you can before formulating a plan rather than trying different things straight away that could potentially make things worse.

Review your pages for relevancy and authority – then make a plan of action

Core updates are all about improving the relevancy, authority and quality of search results, so checking your website against these measures is a good place to start. We recommend:

  • Looking for specific pages of your site that seem to have dropped significant traffic. You can do this using Google Analytics, Google Search Console and if you use a third-party rank tracking platform, such as SEMrush or Ahrefs.
  • Review the content on these pages for their relevancy for users and general “authority”. If these pages have dropped below the equivalent for some of your competitors in rankings, ask yourself: what are they doing differently? How can you make your pages more relevant for users than anyone else’s?
  • Update any information that could be seen as old or out-of-date and make sure they are accurate.
  • Ensure that you’re offering users something of value that no one else is. That might be expert opinion, it might be detailed instructions, or it might simply be the depth of useful information. Don’t include things for the sake of it though, it needs to be usable to have value to end-users (that’s what Google will always reward).
  • Align your pages and content back to the user journey and what people want to achieve when they land on your website (over and above what you want them to achieve). Ensuring your pages meet their needs in the context of user experience is essential.
  • Check your content against Google’s benchmarks for useful content, outlined in the graphic below.

Google helpful content update checklist

  • Check that the on-page elements of the page are spot-on. Does it have an optimised page title, meta description and use the correct H tags to signify different sections of content?
  • Check your link profile, its health/toxicity, and whether pages that have dropped in organic performance have safe/good authoritative links pointing to them from other websites. If not, incorporate earning relevant links and gaining meaningful citations into your strategy going forward, such as with Digital PR services
  • Get under the skin of your website – take a deep dive into Google Search Console, and run a technical SEO audit to check things like Core Web Vitals (CWV) performance, page speed, sitemaps, structured data and any other fundamentals are all on point.
  • Come up with a new content plan that delivers optimised pieces with high relevancy for the user journey and that you can make unique and useful. These can support existing pages as well as provide value in their own right.

Beyond the most obvious things we’ve already mentioned, there’s a million and one things to analyse to get a full understanding and appreciation of what to do. Sometimes that means you’ll need help from an SEO agency – and our team of tech SEO’s and content experts are here to help!

Track performance, but give it time

Once you’ve taken some action and amended pages or produced new content, it’s easy to get a bit obsessed with monitoring performance to look for improvements and incremental signs of recovery. But it’s important to be realistic and when it comes to SEO – most things take time to have an impact on results (sometimes up to 6 months).

By ensuring that you’re following best practice guidelines in every area of your website, from UX design through to technical SEO, content and earning good quality authoritative links – you’re putting yourself in the best possible position to reap the rewards further down the line.

If you’d like to know more about the No Brainer approach to SEO, we’d love to discuss how we can help your business with your organic visibility. Get in touch using the form below.

Picture of Laura Rudd

Laura Rudd

I’ve worked in digital and content marketing for over 20 years, specialising in SEO since its inception. My career has spanned both agency-side and in-house roles, working alongside brands like HomeServe, Taking Care, Checkatrade, and AO.com. My expertise centres on SEO and content marketing, where I’m passionate about audience-first strategies that drive long-term organic performance.

Table of Contents

Share this article

Want to chat?

Leave your details and one of our experts will contact you!