March 2018 Google Algorithm Update: Quick Answer Section
Was there an algorthm update in March 2018?
Yes, Google has confirmed an algorithm update that was rolled out on the 7th of March 2018.
What was the scope of the update?
It wasn’t focused on a single SEO area. It was rather broad.
I was hit by the March 2018 algorithm update. Why?
This update wasn’t one that punished websites. The rumor has it that it has turned the spotlight to sites that were underestimated before.
I saw an increase in traffic. Will it persist?
Usually, most sites recover after being hit by an update. While in this case no sites were intentionally hit, it can be expected that the SERP will bounce back to “normal”, after sites that were hit get re-optimized.
Google has been updating their algorithms many times before, however, there hasn’t yet been an update quite as the one that found place around the 7-19th of March 2018.
Important About the Update
What is special about it, is that it isn’t the usual type of algorithm update punishing bad quality sites. As Marie Haynes was able to report, the change targeted and rewarded pages that were underestimated before. Therefore, many webmasters, managing smaller quality sites can now celebrate an increase in traffic.
On the other hand, more established publishers can experience drops in traffic due to the fact that competition for top positions in search has increased. However, it isn’t all bad news. In fact, many publishers report drop in traffic but increase in conversions (this is also exemplified in the data-section of this post).
What is frustrating about this update, is that there isn’t any clear answer to why you were hit. As long as you experienced an increase in traffic, you should just continue doing what you are doing now. If you are one of those that lost traffic, there is no easy way out of this.
The March algorithm update, which is described as a broad core update by Danny Sullivan, doesn’t hit a “focused” SEO area. Instead, it “rethinks” the way websites are ranked. This makes it very difficult to identify the SEO-issue your site was affected by and work on it, simply because we are talking about factors outside of your reach. The new quality definition of the algorithm places importance on such factors that before were considered irrelevant, as long as the site wasn’t established, thus giving a SEO boost to less known sites.
While the smaller quality publishers might see an increase in traffic, there is still a general problem for unestablished websites, as @jessyseonoob notices: Google tries to optimize its crawling activities and content libraries by avoiding to index content that is too similar to already indexed entries. While this is originally meant as a way to avoid indexing duplicate content on the same site, it can lead to new sites being rejected due to the fact that there already are lots of pages on the exactly same topics indexed.
In addition, it’s no secret that new sites have been struggling quite a lot for survival in the past 4 years due to the fact that Google tried to fight spam by keeping all unestablished sites off the map. WP Blogging Nerd was also once one of the new kids on the block and had almost no traffic in its first 2 years online. This all started with an algorithm update back in 2014 that (probably unintentionally) hit such new sites hard, due to lack of backlinks and overall trust in form of interactions and traffic records.
The algorithm update on the 7th of March 2018 gives a little hope to new site owners but overexcitement isn’t well placed here.
Interesting Data Shifts
What makes the March 2018 update interesting, is that it affects all numbers in your analytics, some negatively and others positively.
The data here is from a site I manage and exemplifies perfectly the way data is affected. The first changes in traffic for this site were recorded on March 17th.
A drop in traffic of between 10% and 19% was recorded for each day during the week of March 17th. While this is in itself peculiar, it becomes even more interesting, given that this site has seen persistent growth in traffic since July last year, when it was launched.
This comes to confirm that the new update isn’t likely to be punishing specific sites but rather pushing them down as a natural result of pushing other sites up. The fact that the drop in traffic seems to also persist day after day during the last week, can be interpreted as caused by a boost in rankings, affecting a steady number of other websites, competing for spots on the same SERPs as the website above.
However, it is only a rumor that the March 2018 update gives some sites a boost based on new quality criteria. Performance data of the website above suggests that we might be talking about Google becoming better to understand and answer searchers’ queries with more relevant results.
As you can see, ALL but one conversion metrics have improved with about the same percentage the traffic has decreased with. It’s important to note that both time on site and pageviews increased, regardless that there have been noticeably fewer site visitors. Session duration and bounce rate also improved with respectively 6.3% and 7%, as the first screenshot above shows.
This conclusion is also supported by data from Google Search Console, showing an increase in clicks, average CTR, and position, despite of decrease in impressions. In fact, the number of impressions started falling already on the 3th of March, which wasn’t noticeable in Google Analytics due to increased CTR that compensated for the fewer impressions.
All this makes it quite likely that the March 2018 algorithm update affected not so much specific websites but rather the way pages are ranked in relation to specific queries, resulting in higher conversion rates, more time on site, and more pageviews.
In fact, some webmasters started seeing similar patterns already in February 2018, which leaves us wondering, whether this is an update that has been rolled out slowly around the world or whether Google is working on major makeover for its search algorithms that results in frequent fluctuations in website performance.
While this algorithm update might leave you wondering, what you should do better, it isn’t all that surprising that such a tweak leading to a more relevant SERP is implemented now.
Since 2015, Google has been working with AI to improve the processing of data and serve more relevant search results. AI is today a part of the core of Google’s services, including its algorithms. To most webmasters, AI is known as RankBrain, even though its reach and capabilities have never been made public.
The algorithm update this March hasn’t officially been linked to RankBrain but a lot points to eventual connection, given that RankBrain’s main purpose is to make the SERP better and more relevant to internet users, matching intent with search results.
Because the data we examined here, suggests that a number of irrelevant site visits have been filtered out, giving a boost to session duration and conversions, it is only logical to assume that RankBrain is involved.
Are you experiencing this algorithm update differently? Please share it with us.