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Google Algorithm Updates vs. Core Updates: What’s the Difference?

Between algorithm and core updates, Google is updating the search landscape everyday. Learn the difference between these updates and when you should care.

March 2021 will see a huge change to the way Google is indexing the World Wide Web with mobile-first indexing. But Google won’t just be rolling out their mobile-first indexing update — they’ll remove all desktop-only sites from their index entirely.

This update seems enormous — and it is! And while it’s easy to focus on large updates like mobile-first indexing and the recent SMITH rollout, Google actually updates their algorithm every single day. So, let’s pull back the curtain to reveal and understand the differences between core updates and algorithm updates.

What Is a Google Algorithm Update?

Google’s algorithm is the system it uses to pull from its vast index of data and deliver the most relevant search results for a search query. With mountains of new data being indexed by Google every day, it’s important that the system is tweaked to ensure it is always delivering the best results possible. And this is where Google’s algorithm updates come in.

Google algorithm updates can happen several times a day and even thousands of times a year. These frequent changes are typically small and hardly noticeable, and Google will usually not announce when algorithm updates occur, making it difficult to know what exactly goes into these updates.

Though algorithm updates are small, they are not insignificant. Algorithm updates help keep Google’s search results as relevant as possible amidst the unfathomable amounts of data the company houses and processes on a second-to-second basis.

What Is a Google Core Update?

A Google core update is usually a pretty big deal. Unlike small, unannounced algorithm updates, Google notifies, acknowledges, and even names their core updates each time a new one is released.

A core update will typically include several changes to the algorithm that can impact things like SEO ranking factors, site traffic, how search results are delivered, how data is processed and understood by Google, and even how that data is displayed on the search engine results page.

Oftentimes, Google announces the overarching purpose of a core update. In the past, Google core updates included things like:

  • Ranking pages based on the quality of the content
  • Identifying spammy link-building techniques when ranking pages
  • Identifying user intent of a search query when delivering results
  • Providing search query answers directly on the SERP
  • Ranking results based on a page’s layout
  • Delivering more accurately curated results based on a searcher’s location

When Should You Care About Google Updates?

Since many of Google’s algorithm updates are so small, they typically don’t have a significant impact on the majority of people. This means you can build your SEO strategy and spare yourself the concern of frequent, daily Google algorithm updates. However, this doesn’t mean you can bury your head in your SEO sandbox and disregard every update Google sends out.

You should care about a Google update when Google is telling you about it. As mentioned earlier, Google won’t announce small algorithm changes but will announce larger core updates. And while Google hasn’t quite adopted the “explain it to me like I’m five” concept, it’s important to do your best to understand the meat of the update when it is announced.

By learning what Google is planning to do through the update, you can better adjust your SEO strategy pre-update instead of having to react to potential ranking and traffic losses post-update.

Best Practices are Best Practices for a Reason

These days, it seems keeping an up-to-date SEO strategy alongside each Google update is getting more and more involved. What once started out as simple keyword stuffing has now graduated to a complex strategy of technical SEO optimizations that searchers will most likely never see.

Additionally, the ever-changing landscape of Google’s ranking algorithm can make prioritizing SEO techniques feel like a guessing game. Add in a Google core update and it can feel like your robust SEO strategy is being completely upended every couple of months.

But no matter what Google is updating, it’s essential to stick to SEO best practices, such as publishing rich and informative content, using quality (and legitimate) link-building tactics, establishing unique local pages, optimizing your images and meta information, and focusing on mobile-first indexing.

If your search-optimized content strategy needs a leg up or you’re looking to build out your local search presence, let us know. We’re here to help you navigate those rough SERP seas, climb that tall local search mountain, swim up that algorithm stream, and provide all the success metaphors you didn’t know you needed.

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