Few things can cause such a stir in the SEO world as a significant change in Google rankings, not least because such changes are so unusual. However, this is exactly what many commentators are reporting to have happened on 1st or 2nd September 2016. But what exactly has happened, and what does it mean for SEO professionals and businesses that rely heavily on their online traffic?
Was there a Google update?
While Google has not commented definitively, many experts are convinced that two different updates took place around the date in question.
The most significant was thought to be around core web search. A number of threads sprang into life on Twitter and other fora discussing significant changes in ranking, with sites seeing shifts of more than 100 places up or down from specific keyword searches.
The second issue was around local Google rankings, where similar SEO discussions reported the biggest change to local rankings that had been seen in a long time.
Google has not confirmed that any update took place at all, and this in itself is causing further debate within the general search community. What is certain is that something caused some significant changes to rankings and that it was seen across all industries and verticals.
Or was it something else? Ask Google!
If it was not an update, then what else could have caused this phenomenon?
Three days after all the excitement, Google reported that a system error dropped all Search Analytics data from 01 September to 06 September. But while some experts were still forming the words “That explains it!” others were quick to point out that this issue could not be related to the fluctuations in rankings.
Google also confirmed categorically that the rumoured update was not Penguin related. Google’s John Mueller stated on both YouTube and Twitter that Google is constantly updating, but that in terms of any update on 1st or 2nd September, Penguin could definitely be “ruled out” – the penguin is sleeping!
How much does it matter anyway?
While the updates, non-updates or system errors have provided plenty of fuel for speculation, some in the community feel that the whole thing is a non-issue.
Marketing professional and online commentator Larry Madill noted that the majority of Search Engine Results Page (SERP) results that he monitors returned close to their previous positions after a few days.
He felt that the incident followed a familiar pattern that he had seen many times before following an update (whether acknowledged as such or not). The phenomenon he reported was that the SERPS “get tossed around for about four days then slowly go back to normal.”
Bizarrely, Madill noted that it was the larger names in retail that took the biggest hits from the phenomenon, with companies such as Home Depot and Amazon losing several places on two significant SERPs.
This has led to some giving the phenomenon the nickname “The Big Brand Update.”
The only thing that is known for certain is that chatter was still rife long after the effects had all but disappeared.