The Truth Behind Google’s Alleged Halloween Algorithm Update

Rumor has it, Google implemented a significant algorithm update on October 16 of this year (2018). The rumor began when multiple people across the world noticed a fluctuation in ranking via automated SEO tracking tools. The flux affected multiple industries and both mobile and desktop searches. One person reported page one rankings but zero traffic. Various people in the SEO online communities noticed certain keywords had new positions (up and down), and some corporate sites took the lead for keywords outside that corporation’s niche.

Any change in Google’s algorithm causes concern, especially when those changes significantly reduce organic traffic. Many businesses rely on organic traffic for income and use SEO strategies to stay on top. Ultimately, SEO is a lead generation tool, and organic traffic has been one of the most reliable ways to generate leads. If a business can’t generate organic traffic in Google, they’re going to fall behind. Google is the dominant search engine, and can’t be ignored. According to Bambrick Media, Google processes more than 40,000 searches every second. That’s over 3.5 billion searches in a day. From those searches, 88% turn up organic results.

Google hasn’t confirmed an algorithm update

Although Google denies a major update, it’s clear something happened. Rankings don’t fluctuate dramatically for no reason, but is it really an algorithm update?

Historically, Google has come forward several times a year to announce the rollout of major algorithm updates. These major updates are referred to as a “Broad Core Algorithm Updates.” Google denies having made a core update on or around October 16. However, core updates aren’t the only algorithm updates made by Google.

Google acknowledges making small changes to their algorithm daily. They also make updates when there’s a problem, which aren’t considered core updates. For instance, Google’s algorithm updates that have names like “Penguin,” “Panda,” and “Pigeon” are not core updates and are implemented to address specific issues. For example, Penguin was released to remedy link spam and Pigeon was released to stop local SEO spam.

With these named updates, Google publicly announces what has changed, giving webmasters the opportunity to tweak their websites. With core updates, no explanation is given. As Ryan Jones from Search Engine Journal explains, a core update is a tweak or change to the main search algorithm; it’s an update that changes the importance, order, weights, or values of Google’s 500 ranking signals. They can’t explain what’s changed in a core update without revealing algorithm secrets.

In the absence of acknowledging an official update, there are other possibilities for the flux. The biggest possibility is rooted in machine learning.

Is Google experimenting with machine learning and AI?

Google might be implementing small, temporary experimental changes to test how users will react to certain types of content. It could be an experimental phase before implementing a permanent change.

Another possibility is Google might be running its own type of A/B split testing campaign with search results. Many users have noticed their sites get a major boost (300%+) and then two months later their site rank drops below where they started but somehow recover all their traffic.

These ideas can’t be proven, but they are a possibility.

Did Google make changes due to feedback from quality raters?

Here’s another possibility: Google may have tweaked their search algorithm to improve search results based on feedback from quality raters. These tweaks may have been part of the daily updates we never hear about.

Google employs over 10,000 people worldwide to rate the quality of search results. These people are called “Search Quality Raters.” Raters are asked to perform specific searches and rate the quality of pages that appear in the top results. How they rate search results doesn’t affect websites directly. However, if raters determine a search generates poor quality results, Google may make changes to improve the relevance and quality of those results for that specific search.

If you’re not familiar with what quality raters are asked to do, read this article from The SEM Post. Raters aren’t just asked to casually browse top results – they’re required to thoroughly investigate each site’s content including the creator’s reputation.

Stay focused on producing quality content

The truth is, nobody knows all of the factors that contribute to Google’s algorithm changes, and we may never know what happened on October 16, 2018. Sites go up and down on a whim. The best you can do is produce high-quality content and generate an audience across multiple social media platforms including Facebook and YouTube. You may find yourself falling in rank due to algorithm changes, but a loyal audience will spread the word outside of Google.

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