Google May 2020 Algorithm Update: 4 Key Changes and How to Adjust

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Google May 2020 Algorithm Update: 4 Key Changes and How to Adjust

Google has provided few announcements and official statements about the search engine core update in May. I assume more data is yet to come along, with evidence from webmasters.

Multiple articles online talk about the core update’s effect on industries by showing the decrease or increase in numbers. However, there is no clear overview of what the May 2020 core update is about. After examining Google’s latest publications as well as Google Search Console updates, I have prepared a few key points that I managed to discover. If you’re a website owner, this is something you might be interested in.

1. Core Web Vitals introduction

In early May, Google provided an official statement on their blog regarding the introduction of Core Web Vitals, which is a bunch of metrics (like speed, responsiveness, UX, etc.) related to desktop and mobile website performance.

According to Google, page-loading speed, interactivity, and content structure compose the basics of Core Web Vitals 2020.

Fundamental components of Core Web Vitals by Google

This is not completely new information since webmasters already know about the importance of page-loading speed as one of the ranking factors. Moreover, interactivity could be considered part of the RankBrain algorithm that measures user on-page behavior.

What is new is that Google Search Console got a separate report where webmasters can see how their website pages perform according to the Web Vitals. It makes the website owner’s life a bit easier since there is no need to scrutinize each component separately. There is a brilliant Google report for desktop and mobile pages performance:

This website requires a lot of changes. (Image courtesy of the author)

One more interesting comment has been shared by Google regarding Core Web Vitals, which is related to page ranking in particular:

“While all of the components of page experience are important, we will prioritize pages with the best information overall, even if some aspects of page experience are subpar. A good page experience doesn’t override having great, relevant content.”

2. Google confirmed the importance of E-A-T

Google states that they employ raters to verify the accuracy and relevancy of the SERP.

The rater’s job is to understand whether the content that ranks in the top ten Google results according to the new search engine algorithm complies with the E-A-T standards (expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness).

In March 2020 Google explicitly answered whether E-A-T is a ranking factor. Here is a link to the post, and here’s a short quote from it:

“Assessing your own content in terms of E-A-T criteria may help align it conceptually with the different signals that our automated systems use to rank content.” — Google Webmaster Central Blog

Here is a complete guide by Google for webmasters to understand what Google wants to see on websites in terms of quality. It was published in December 2019. It seems to be the latest version of the guide available since there is no announced update for it yet.

The guide is quite long, but it gives valuable insights into Google’s perception of characteristics for low-, middle-, high-, and highest-quality pages. (Apparently they see a big difference between high and highest E-A-T page quality.)

3. SERP with multiple search intents

Google suggested online marketers produce high-quality content that is easy to read, consistent, well structured, and delivers the message promised in the title. What has happened since then? Marketers started to produce long, really long, reads that go above and beyond user questions. I used to produce such blog posts as well, to outrank competitors, and show my “quality blog posts” to readers. Honestly, I consider long reads informative, and there is still evidence that fresh, long expert content with LSI keywords is liked by Google Bot.

However, May 2020 core update seems to change the way Google perceives quality content. According to Google, the recent update is about improving how the search algorithm evaluates the content to make SERP results more relevant to the user’s search intent. Consequently, there are logical questions: What is relevant content? And will Google consider long reads that used to stay on top positions as relevant? Here are a few thoughts about it.

High-quality vs. relevant content

The content relevance has been measured by marketers with the help of a bounce-rate metric, scrolling depths, time stayed on a page, engagement with the site through repeated links in posts, etc.

A two-minute article could be more relevant to a user’s search intent than a ten-minute long read. Users search for one question at a time, and thus an explicit answer is much more relevant to their intent than a complete guide.

Here is my thought regarding the May 2020 core update that we might very soon see in life: Google will not evaluate the content itself any longer. It will shift towards the evaluation of how users respond to that content.

Market Muse confirmed the shifting trend towards more relevant content as well: “This isn’t a new trend, but it is becoming more and more the phenomenon.”

4. Nofollow links are viewed as “hints” from now on

Google Bot used to ignore nofollow links. If a backlink from any website had a nofollow attribute, then it was most likely ignored by Google. It surely did not pass any of the link juice to your website that’s so important for a website to increase its domain authority.

However, the latest information from March 2020 confirms the rollout of this update. From now on, referral pages and nofollow links serve to better understand the context of your web page, which explicitly means that they are no longer ignored. Here is what Google states in its announcement:

“Links contain valuable information that can help us improve search, such as how the words within links describe content they point at. Looking at all the links we encounter can also help us better understand unnatural linking patterns. By shifting to a hint model, we no longer lose this important information, while still allowing site owners to indicate that some links shouldn’t be given the weight of a first-party endorsement.”

The update was announced in combination with two new link attributes:

  • rel=”sponsored” — It should be used for sponsored links, such as adverts, sponsored links, or posts.
  • rel=”UGC” — It should be used for any user-generated content (UGC), like comments.

If you wonder how to react to Google updates and the change in the link attributes, here is Google response:

“No need to change existing nofollow links. If you use nofollow now as a way to block sponsored links, or to signify that you don’t vouch for a page you link to, that will continue to be supported. There’s absolutely no need to change any nofollow links that you already have.”

Possibly in this way, Google is trying to combat the guest posting and paid link building that manipulate the SERP and influence website rankings.


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