August 2018 Google Broad Core Algorithm Update – Traffic Gains and Losses

On August 1 and August 2, 2018, many webmasters around the globe felt the effects of Google’s latest “broad core” algorithm update. The update began rolling out on July 27th and is continuing throughout the first week of August.

I will be updating this page throughout this month as the events and conclusions unfold.

Initial observations of the August 2018 Algorithm Change

I’d like to start with a quick note.
I thank Google for their efforts in making the web a better place. I was online long before there were search engines (or even websites). The web is exploding with content, both good and bad. Nobody wants to sift through garbage to get to the answers they’re looking for, and Google most definitely doesn’t want to provide people with answers or websites which provide bad information. Algorithms have a long way to go but I do feel that most of the changes Google has made throughout 2018 have been fairly transparent or at least should have been expected. They’re not perfect – in fact, I just wrote an article the other day about Google allowing fake reviews in search results and ignoring spam reports. But, overall, they’re running their search engine fairly close to the way I’d operate mine if I owned one.

YMYL Sites:

YMYL pages have been hit hard during the August 2018 Google Broad Core Algorithm Update.
What is YMYL? Your Money or Your Life. In Google’s own words, YMYL pages are pages which “could potentially impact the future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety of users.” YMYL pages include but are not limited to shopping or financial transaction websites, financial information pages, medical information pages, legal information pages, news articles and much more. I don’t think the timing is a coincidence here. Google just released their latest “Quality Rater Guidelines” less than 2 weeks ago. Section 2.3 describes YMYL in further detail for anyone interested.

Bob shows us why YMYL is important.
People trust Google and websites they find in search (much more than they should). Let’s look at a hypothetical example. Bob has the warning signs for melanoma skin cancer. Bob searches Google for answers. Hopefully Bob finds a website like Mayo Clinic which provides content authored by a Doctor who advises him to see a dermatologist immediately. Using old, antiquated methods of ranking pages solely by “page rank” or “domain authority”, Bob could possibly land on a page telling him to “click here now to buy tea tree oil!!”.  Even though he would smell pretty, nobody wants Bob dead. If Bob dies, he won’t be able to click on any more AdWords ads, and everyone loses. Sorry Bob.

Moving on to the screenshots…
Even though I know you are dying for more of my hilarious analogies, I am moving on to the screenshots. Please note, traffic below is estimated via Semrush.

DrugAbuse.com lost 33% of their traffic 8/1/2018. They just came up in a list of sites I was checking about prescription drugs. That one is going to hurt in the morning. I wonder if they know about this yet or if they’ll find out next week. Ouch.

MedlinePlus.gov got a big boost July 27 and again August 1.
I have yet to see anyone discussing July 27, 2018, but I have seen several sites gain traffic on that date. Regardless, Semrush estimates that MedlinePlus just ratcheted their traffic up. Dang, that’s a lot of traffic. And I thought my dog blog was popular…

HealthLine.com gets a healthy boost.
Another site initially affected on July 27, HealthLine is getting a nice boost.

Additional observations:

    1. A lot of people have lost rankings and traffic.
      The activity I am seeing on Twitter alone tells me that a LOT of people have lost rankings. I’m talking about people who run personal blogs and websites here – not the huge sites above. Many people will be looking for a quick fix. I don’t think there is a band-aid, but rest assured websites can indeed be fixed and traffic can be gained.
    2. E-A-T.
      Again, I don’t think the timing is a coincidence here. Google just released their latest “Quality Rater Guidelines”. It’s hundreds of pages of good information. In a nutshell, the guidelines help raters rate websites, and their ratings provide feedback to Google’s engineers. Something raters take into account is EAT. E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness. Remember, Google wants Bob to get good information from a credible source.Throughout 2018, I have spoken to several webmasters who operate websites who have lost traffic after the last “broad core” algorithm update on March 9, 2018. Many of these sites served up general health, nutritional, medical or financial content, however sites delivering advice on things such as electronics were affected as well.
    3. User Experience & Intent.
      It’s easy to overlook these two simple yet critical items.
    4. Backlinks.
      I will update this section later, however, links contribute to the overall “authority” of a website, especially links which drive traffic from other reputable, topically relevant sources. As time goes on, I would expect that getting links to your dog food review site from random blogs which allow $50 guest posts will be less and less relevant. But, who knows, that could be 20 years away.
    5. Featured Snippets.
      Diagnosing the loss of traffic after the August 2018 algorithm update is going to be difficult for some people who were getting Featured Snippets and then lost them. As a note, these can come and go at any time with or without a big Google algorithm change. Here’s a screenshot of a single page on a site that lost a single Featured Snippet on March 29, 2018. As you can see, after the Featured Snippet was lost, so was approximately 85% of the traffic. As a side note, this Featured Snippet related to automobile safety.
    6. Rich snippets.
      One of the first things I noticed on one of the sites I personally work with was the return of rich snippets. The review snippets on this particular site are placed site-wide. This may not have had to do with the algorithm but they did come back on pages which have been recrawled on or after August 2, 2018.
    7. “Interesting Finds” in Mobile Local Searches.
      I am seeing “Interesting Finds” in searches for local businesses which I’ve never seen before. I am guessing that local businesses could experience a minor loss of traffic if they rank below “interesting finds” in organic search results.

Other Websites With Traffic Fluctuations

eCommerce sites, review sites, and sites of all types are feeling the effects. Here are a couple more screenshots… Again this is not completely accurate, just traffic estimates based on keyword positions:

Anonymous client
Here’s a site I work with. They are on a rollercoaster, although I am certain they’ll be happy:

Lifehacker.com
I see multiple potential issues on LifeHacker. I’m not going to mention them in this article. Did they lose traffic?

Ultimatepaleoguide.com:

Thepaleodiet.com:

The Official Google Announcement

The SEO world doesn’t always get an official announcement, but this was a broad core update and Google gave the world some insight via Twitter.

Google announced: This week we released a broad core algorithm update, as we do several times per year. Our guidance about such updates remains the same as in March, as we covered here:

Previous announcement (in March): Each day, Google usually releases one or more changes designed to improve our results. Some are focused around specific improvements. Some are broad changes. Last week, we released a broad core algorithm update. We do these routinely several times per year…. As with any update, some sites may note drops or gains. There’s nothing wrong with pages that may now perform less well. Instead, it’s that changes to our systems are benefiting pages that were previously under-rewarded…. There’s no “fix” for pages that may perform less well other than to remain focused on building great content. Over time, it may be that your content may rise relative to other pages.

Danny Sullivan of Google “clarified” later: Want to do better with a broad change? Have great content. Yeah, the same boring answer. But if you want a better idea of what we consider great content, read our raters guidelines. That’s like almost 200 pages of things to consider: goo.gl/hJmPrU

Confused?
Some people would find these answers vague and confusing or even irritating. My translation is this: Google changes something in their search results on a daily basis. The larger, “broad” changes to their “core algorithm” simply mean that Google is attempting to reward quality sites with quality content by making not one but a variety of tweaks.

Just create quality content? Ehh….
It’s not that simple. A lot of people hear this blanket statement, write an epic article about something, then are dismayed when they rank on page 31 and get zero traffic. As someone who creates great content for a living, I wish this were true, and maybe it will be sometime in my lifetime. But, as of 2018, links are still critical, and most importantly, this advice simply does not apply to all niches. So, if you have a blog about poodles, grilling accessories, paint colors, dog houses, kitchen appliances, hunting knives, vacuum cleaners, baking accessories, weed whackers or toolboxes, you can forget this advice, put out inaccurate content and rank just fine with links. I do not practice this or advise this and it’s not going to last forever… But, that’s the truth. Below, in my advice section, elaborate more and I’ll mention a niche which is dominated by incorrect information, and there are millions of sites just like it.

How is “Authority” Determined? Backlinks are playing a role.

Update 8/12/2018: For many years I have discussed the importance of topically relevant links and what a natural backlink portfolio should look like. In a nutshell, that means quality, relevant links to many internal pages using a variety of links. Natural links include the bare URL and the word “here”. When you’re getting natural links and not building them, that’s what it looks like.

Many of the medical, health and drug related websites impacted by this algorithm update either lacked great links, or they were receiving their links from other sites which were also negatively impacted.

I am just thinking out loud here, and none of this is known fact. But if I owned a search engine and I wanted my algorithm to display the most trusted results, how would I program it? It’s tough to measure expertise – anyone call call themselves a doctor. So, how do you teach the computer to measure trust and authority? A highly reputable site is going to attract links from other well known sites.

Looking at DrugAbuse.com, they have some great .EDU and .GOV links, however, they’re also missing links they need to compete with their competitors in a highly competitive niche.

Here’s DrugAbuse.com’s traffic estimate:

Want someone to examine your Analytics Data?

I normally charge to look at Google Analytics data, however, in an effort to collect as much data as possible to analyze algorithm changes, I will look over your data and provide basic feedback to you free of charge in exchange for basic read-only access to data for the sole purpose of analyzing algorithm changes. If it’s over my head, I’ll connect you with one of my recommended SEO consultants. NDAs are perfectly acceptable. I currently have Analytics data for over 100 websites, including the some of largest law firms in the USA, brands which are household names, publishers, and International eCommerce organizations. Your data will not be shared.

This is legitimately a limited time offer with no strings attached. You may email me here.

Actionable Advice for Sites Negatively Impacted by the August 1, 2018 Algorithm Update

Update 8/11/2012: I have much more information to add below and will do so around 8/20. But I will say I have now done an audit on multiple websites belonging to mental health, health rehabilitation clinic and other websites and in every case, there are a variety of issues.  Sometimes, there is old, stale content which hasn’t been updated, isn’t formatted nicely, has no clear author, has links from crummy websites and/or other issues.

As I alluded to above, there are so many different types of websites, it is really impossible to create a single “Here’s how to fix your website” chunk of text but I’ll give it a shot below.

If you get in over your head or need a second set of eyes on everything, you’re definitely going to want a professional audit done on your site. Feel free to contact me here and I’ll either connect you with one of my recommended SEO consultants or offer to audit your site. There are no (good) tools to audit a site and a seasoned consultant is often required to properly examine a website.

Google Quality Rater Guidelines
For some of us whop have been doing SEO and/or building out great websites for years, we’ve been focused on User Experience, quality content and users for so long, we’re relieved to see our hard work rewarded. For the average website owner who operates a single site, they may be totally confused as to what’s happening. Google’s 2018 Google Quality Rater Guidelines show you precisely what a quality website consists of. Examples:

  • Did a Doctor write this medical content?
  • Does this website have a privacy policy?
  • Is this site which accepts credit cards secure?
  • What is the site’s reputation?
  • Is the site selling something, and if so what is their customer service #?
  • Does a small business have an about page?

The guidelines discuss “low quality pages” in detail in section 6. Specifically, the describe “low quality” as  pages which:

  • Lack E-A-T
  • Low quality content
  • Unsatisfying amount of information about the content creator

The “lowest quality” pages are pages which:

  • Are missing content
  • Have copied content
  • Have auto-generated content
  • Have inaccessible or obstructed content
  • Have outdated content
  • Spread hate
  • etc.

Here is a news publisher I began working with after the February and March algorithm changes. Their site wasn’t secure, they had no author information, they were missing an address, there was no way to contact the editors, there was no phone number, they had too many ads above the fold and the site was slow. We secured the site, got it on a CDN, added contact information, added their (real) address, shuffled the ads around, gave bylines to authors, created author pages and more. They’re finally making progress:

This advice has not and will not change (for most bloggers and small businesses):
I look back at every site I’ve built from the 1990s until just last week and there’s one thing that never changes. (As I am typing I realize this is not as apparent to people who aren’t online as much as I am, but here it goes..) Just build nice, usable websites with great content (and get good links to that website). There is honestly no SEO article I’ve ever read in my entire life and no algorithm change which has ever changed or will ever change these simple facts. Sure, natural links occurred much easier in the 2000-2010 era than they do now and in some verticals you’re forced to build links, but most links may be built using white hat tactics. Of course, if you’re an affiliate, announce it. If you’re a business, make the business hours, location, and about page available so people know who you’re dealing with. If you’re a restaurant, provide a menu.

The writing is on the wall for future updates.
Search engines will be forced to more rigorously evaluate website quality and content quality as time goes on. Websites handling banking information should be secure. Medical content should be authored by a doctor. Search engines have a long way to go as millions of new web pages pop up every hour. Use common sense. If you only use the Internet an hour or two a week, hire a professional.

On the side, I recently began working on a website about German Shepherds. Someone has a head start on me, and their website is horrendous. The content is authored by someone who has obviously never even owned a dog of any type before, it’s written by someone who barely understands English, the site is plastered in ads, and, it gives out completely WRONG information. Now, I’m sure that this isn’t the top priority for Google, but a quality site with content authored by certified trainers, registered Veterinarians, dog groomers and other pet lovers should destroy the other site. Eventually, it will. When it does, I’ll share more here.

Share your experience.

We want to hear about your experience with the August 2018 Broad Core Algorithm update. Did you gain rankings? Did you lose traffic even though you shouldn’t have? Do you have a random website sitting on the back burner which is suddenly ranking? Were your local rankings or map pack results changed?

Len

President at Telapost
I create content and do SEO for law firms, small businesses and companies worldwide. I have been generating traffic online since 1992. I have owned multiple successful companies. I'm an organic eater, nature lover and German Shepherd owner. Feel free to contact me here.
22 Comments
  1. Hi Len,

    Can interstitials be causing a decrease in traffic also?

    • Well.. To be honest, most sites which have interstitials actually have “banner ads”, and the banner ads are usually what we’d call “intrusive”, and sites with intrusive banners generally have multiple things going on which frustrate users rather than providing a positive User Experience. So… The answer is “maybe”. If you’d like, shoot me an email and I’ll glance around a bit. Thanks Tom.

  2. Hi Len – our position fell from page 3 to page 6. Why can’t Google just take the results of the first ten pages and rotate each listing for every search? That would be fairer and Google can stop trying to pretend who the best sites are.

    • Thanks George. I knew many financial advice sites were hit, but I hadn’t considered sites about stock trading…

  3. I have perfect content. I had about 50 pages fall from #1 to down 5+ spots and some disappear. I have been operating a drug rehab for 12 years and was growing tall. Now I’m wondering if I’m going to survive.

    • Today I updated the actionable advice section; I hope you find something useful in there. I glanced at your site, and I can’t figure out where you’re located or who has written the content.. I don’t want to go into great detail here, but there are several things I would change with the site. These are all things I’d want to know if I were looking for a rehabilitation clinic…

  4. Hello Len, I have read the article and you have given wonderful information again. I am an SEO consultant living in Turkey. The information you give me is really useful. We lost many of our pages due to the update in March, so it was tied up in order. In the August update, we kept our texts up in the top rows, or a few rows up. I noticed that Google, Divorce Lawyer content, instead of Divorce Lawyer Recommendation, Divorce Attorney Proposal, such as the article outlined. The article I wrote for a backlink to a Forum is posted on the first page, but the content that I wrote is on page 3.

    I can reach a definite result and we can fix the mistakes we make It is really tiring to follow Google. SEO is getting harder day by day.

    • Hi Zeynep, thank you for the kind words and for swinging by once again. 🙂

  5. This update is killing my business if it stays like this. We have unique content, good coding, good backlinks etc. Now cheap-a** websites are outperforming us. I really don’t understand this.

  6. Hi Len, I think this update is just a testing operation, google wants to test new values for known and unknown “Algorithm’s secrets” ranking factors to enhance user experience, doing so search results had a big change and I think it will keep changing for a few more days, these changes will be just temporary for now. Do you agree?

    • I think what we’ve seen so far will stick. That’s because many of the sites impacted are now being outranked by other sites with better quality metrics.
      That said, yes, it could all change tomorrow. As Google mentioned, the rollout may take a few more days, so we may see more changes this week. And, as seen above, some sites are currently on a roller coaster.
      If the rollout continues, I’ll be sure to update the article as it occurs!
      Great comment, thank you.

  7. I was hoping the loss of traffic I experienced on August 3 & 4 was due to it being the weekend, but the traffic was lower than normal. It turns out this algorithm got me, also. I am down approximately 33% and very confused, but based on what you have above and by looking at competing sites which now rank better than mine, I think I see what I need to do. How quickly can I recover?

    • Hi Jack,

      I received your email but thought I would follow up here to your great questions as well.

      Yes, traffic loss can be often attributed to weekends and other ‘seasonal’ changes, but in your case you were definitely impacted by the algorithm. I have a new post coming out soon which will cover how this affected medical, health and nutrition websites and what (some) people can do.

      While this isn’t a “penalty” per se, websites which implement changes can indeed recover, however, there can be quite a waiting period. Once a site is fixed, it will take time. I added a screenshot above of a site which has begun gaining it’s traffic back – it was initially impacted February 2018, and recovered a bit with this latest refresh – so there was a solid 6 month waiting period.

      In your case, the changes to be made are best for users anyways which should help with conversions; hopefully that is some sort of consolation in the meantime…

  8. Is the core update over now? I can not find anything on the internet! Did Google already comment on that?

  9. My site has medical content, but I interview medical professionals for my posts and quote them, identify them and link back their site. How does Google know I’m not a doctor? Had my posts all concluded with, “By Jane Doe, MD,” would the algo update have rewarded me rather than punished me? Just because the author isn’t a doctor doesn’t mean it’s low EAT. Does Google expect DOCTORS to write big blogs? Many doctors can’t write, and of those who can, they don’t have the time. So just what does Google expect? I have a privacy page, email contact, big “About page,” yet I lost 45% traffic. Many articles contain “says Dr. So-and-So” after their quoted statement. Makes no sense. Meanwhile according to what others are saying, crappy sites were rewarded. And how does Google know content is updated? For instance if the EVAR technique for aortic stenosis repair is no longer groundbreaking, how would G’s crawlers know this?

    • Hi Kristtine,
      I have now examined dozens of health related websites, and every time I am spotting a dozen or so real problems. I am also seeing some patterns and will be adding more info to this page in the very near future. It’s much more than adding an author byline.

    • PS – I do not pretend to have all of the answers. I don’t have them.

      Search Engines don’t always get it right, either. And, there is still plenty of spam and garbage in the search results.

      As for knowing when an article was last updated, refer to open graph datetime.

  10. Hi Len, any more updates?

    • Hi Jack,

      I am seeing tons of sites like yours which lost ranking positions. It is crazy how many were niche specific.

      There is definitely a bit of mystery to this update.

      I did a little update on 8/12 above, be sure to refresh the page if you don’t see it. I am traveling right now but plan to update it more again soon as I get more data. This is all very interesting to me.

      Right now I think health related sites lacking high authority, niche specific links are taking a hit.

      But some sites getting whacked do indeed need help with UX and have too many ads.

      In cases like that I’d work on fixing everything.

      Also, while I haven’t dug through your site in depth, I do know if there is any medical content on your site which contradicts scientific consensus, it’s not good. In the QRG Google calls this the lowest quality content.

      I’m not sure how they would weed that out though… Which is why I say there is some mystery to this algo change.

  11. Our website has been up for around 10 years. We sell natural soaps oils and teas online around New Zealand. Around the start of the month sales began dropping and checking the serps for our keywords realised that most had dropped out of sight. Some were at a hard fought number one position. My partner is a qualified Clinical Medical Herbalist – qualifying nearly twenty years ago. This is said on our About Us page. I have heard that natural therapy sites have been affected but products like soap and lip balms-why. Basically, over night our business has been flattened. It seems since my partner isn’t a Medical Doctor her expertise doesn’t count. Any suggestions to reclaiming our livelihood would be greatly appreciated.

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