Google’s December 2020 Update: Another Content-Focused Refresher

Google is ruining SEOs’ Christmases everywhere with a December Core Update. In the 10 days since the announcement, results have been all over the place, with Google rankings fluctuating up to 10 spots on the SERP and back. 
bernie sanders wearing a google bucket hat with a caption "I am once again asking you to focus on content"

Sick of reading about and not doing anything?

Google is ruining SEOs’ Christmases everywhere with a December Core Update. In the 10 days since the announcement, results have been all over the place, with Google rankings fluctuating up to 10 spots on the SERP and back. 


As with all core updates, it’ll take a little while for it to settle and for “definitive” rankings to take place — with experts saying they’ll settle within this coming week. We think MozCast sums this update up pretty nicely. 


MozCast weather report showing stormy 84 degree weather


Yes, Thursday, the 3rd December was 112°.


So, what does the update mean? Well, would you believe it, Google is —yet again— asking us to focus on the quality of our content. 


The SEO industry is kind of pissed.


The whole SEO industry is pissed — probably barring those who’ve come out on top. Obviously Google has to constantly update their algorithms and systems to keep their search engine working at the capacity it does. 


SEOs just think it’s a little harsh to throw a core update out there in… peak…. Christmas shopping and sales season. They did wait for Black Friday to end though, so that’s nice. 



SEOs are also reporting massive drops in their client’s rankings, while citing that the websites who’ve taken out those top spots don’t have content that reflects that position. (They’re saying the sites in those positions are less quality.)

Or, as one Daniel Kay said:


Screenshot that reads "GOOGLES WORST UPDATE WITH EXAMPLE WHY - DISGUSTING !!! Can someone from Google please explain to me why the search results in my niche have turned into a complete JOKE !!! EXAMPLE OF GOOGLE SEARCH FOR THE SEARCH TERMS"


Those affected by this update are going to be experiencing a decent decline in rankings and traffic regardless, which is less than ideal during the holiday season. 


“I don’t know, from my side it feels like a reasonable time,” John Mueller told Barry Schwartz of the decision to run the update through the holiday season. 


“But it’s like, not really in the holiday season and kind of after the whole Thanksgiving rush. So it felt like, I didn’t— at least from my point of view, it wasn’t something that I would have flagged and said, ‘oh you need to watch out for this.’”


All my rankings have dropped. What should I do?!


There’s a good chance you’re here because your rankings have dropped and you’re STRESSED. Don’t worry we’ve all been there. In fact, we’ve probably all been there with this specific core update already. 


Our best advice is to always give core updates a month. Don’t change or edit content, don’t make dramatic changes to your landing pages, don’t rewrite blogs.


Just leave your website alone for a month — barring your typical content. These core updates have a tendency to aggressively throw rankings up into the air, they usually land back in a similar spot though. 


If you wait the whole month and your rankings have still absolutely carked it… Then read on.


So, what’s this update all about then?


Classic Google, it’s another effort to make us optimise content better. Obviously, we had the major algo update back in May: The Google Experience Update


The experience update was all about User Experience — how pages load, the experience they offer, the speed they load in, and a number of other UX-themed metrics. 


This core update isn’t technically as significant as the May one but the results have been hectic.


It’s all about content and its quality. 


“There’s nothing wrong with pages that may perform less well in a core update,” Google assures us. 


“They haven’t violated our webmaster guidelines nor been subjected to a manual or algorithmic action, as can happen to pages that do violate those guidelines.”


SEMrush reckons online communities, shopping, and news are the biggest losers in this update.


Meanwhile, Ignite Visibility notes RankRanger reported a 98 per cent volatility metric for Google’s top 10 results, citing a 93 per cent figure for the update back in May. 


More specifically, this is how Google reckons you can check your content.


We’ve heard it a thousand times already but Google says, “We understand those who do less well after a core update change may still feel they need to do something. 


“We suggest focusing on ensuring you’re offering the best content you can. That’s what our algorithms seek to reward.”


Fresh, Original Content


A big part of Google’s commitment to quality content is originality. They want new takes, new opinions, and well-researched content. 


Google says to ask of your content whether it “provides original information, reporting, research or analysis.” And whether it provides “insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious.”


What they’re especially targeting here is the fast news cycle trend where the same article is rewritten over and over again. 


Which is where this qualifier for your content comes in. “If the content draws on other sources,” says Google. “Does it avoid simply copying or rewriting those sources and instead provide substantial additional value and originality?”


Eat your heart out, Daily Mail


They’re asking us to avoid clickbait too. “Does the headline and/or page title provide a descriptive, helpful summary of the content?” they ask. 


Further to that, they question, “Does the headline and/or page title avoid being exaggerating or shocking in nature?”


Which is essentially Google’s way of asking if your headline matches your content. An example of an exaggerated or shocking headline would be if we titled this blog post: “Google’s Shocking Christmas Update: Are YOU Among The Losers Dropping 40 Positions?”


The problem with this kind of headline is that it mongers fear, it baits clicks from scared business owners, and it’s not ~really~ factual. It doesn’t quite sum up what the blog post is about. 


Would you consider the content quality? What about credibility?


Google encourages you to use your own radar for quality content. They tell you to ask yourself, “Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?”


Judging your own content as critically as you would a competitor’s is going to serve your content better.


They ask if you’d expect to see the content featured in or referenced in a print magazine, book, or an encyclopedia. 


“Does the content provide a substantial, complete or comprehensive description of the topic?” they ask. 


It’s not essential that every blog post you write is the same standard of a scholarly article. But, if you’re seeking to educate and create an authoritative piece of content, then it will be. 


Other bits & pieces


As well as all those points, they have a few hard and fast rules. 

  • No spelling & grammatical errors
  • No stylistic issues
  • Don’t flood it with ads
  • No factual errors that are easily verified


Common sense definitely needs to be applied to these rules. A blog post about working out if your tyre is flat doesn’t need to be as heavily cited as a long-form piece on the state of Australia’s economy — it’s all relative. 


Content needs to be refreshed and updated working heading


SEOs talk about “evergreen content” a lot. We’re sure there are examples of truly, forever, evergreen content in how to guides, historical pieces, and the like. 


But there’ll almost always be new information and research, updated data, and technological advancements that lead to this content needing to be updated — even if it is 10 years after the fact. 


Especially with your content that isn’t evergreen, say a post about your favourite digital tools for your industry or a how to for a specific process in your role — it’ll need to be updated. 


The links you reference will break, new data will come, your favourite tools will evolve (or go the opposite way), and your content will age. 


Google gave us a perfect example of why content needs to be refreshed as we go. 


“One way to think of how a core update operates is to imagine you made a list of the top 100 movies in 2015,” they said


“A few years later in 2019, you refresh the list. It’s going to naturally change. Some new and wonderful movies that never existed before will now be candidates for inclusion. 


“You might also reassess some films and realise they deserved a higher place on the list than they had before.” 


Our tips for refreshing outdated content


So, we’ve established content needs to be updated to stay relevant most of the time. But how? How do you choose which posts to update? How do you identify which parts to update? 


Start with the most important content


What do we mean by important? Well, look at which posts are earning the most traffic and backlinks. They’ll be the content you should value the most in this exercise. 


We’d also recommend prioritising the pages that are close to ranking, to see if you can give them a little bump up Page One with your content refreshment. 


Remember: there’s no need to waste time updating blogs that don’t need it. With these, we just give them a quick read-through and ensure all of our internal and outgoing links are still in-tact and relevant.


Organise all the links in order of their importance and begin working through them. 


Only do it as needed


There is definitely such a thing as over-optimisation in SEO. You don’t need to update your content every week or month. We recommend checking over your backlog once a year. 


Depending on how much content you have, you could structure it by blocking out a week in January to go through a year’s worth of content, then another in March, and another in June, as an example. 


Update the links


Whether it’s who you’re referencing or links to your own content, there’s a steady chance your content will benefit from having its links updated. Find newer, more relevant content to refer to while you’re updating. 


There might be newer key search terms worth targeting


It’s never a bad idea to do new keyword research around the terms your old content is targeting. Update the keywords you’re targeting and refresh the content in line with new SEO best practices. 


Remember, it’s about quality content. Try and focus on the experience the reader has, the education and value you’re offering, and how enjoyable it is to consume. Rather than your keyword densities and anchor text. 


To repost, edit, or build on?


There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to updating content. We will say that reposting is probably the least valuable way to refresh your content — because this will typically involve creating a new link, losing any rankings you’d created. 


Let’s say you wrote a blog in 2019 about web design trends. You can’t necessarily update this with 2020 trends. You could, however, rewrite the blog as something like “How 2019’s web design trends blended into 2020”. You could write a new blog about 2020 trends and link to the update in the 2019 blog. 


Maybe you wrote a piece about what the future of web design looks like back in 2018. You could leave the content in its original form and go through each point and add an “UPDATED” stamp with the date. Then, you’d comment on how your prediction panned out. 


Have some “ehhhh” content?


You can find the blog posts you’re feeling “ehh” about, pick the nuggets out, and consolidate all the best bits to create a fresh, quality piece of content.

Let’s go!