Google January Core Update: Analysis and Tips

Google has released the first core update of January and […]

Google SEO Updates

Google has released the first core update of January and named it “Google January Core Update.” It was a big update that impacted all niches, industries, and locations.

I’m actively following all Google Updates from the last few years. That helps me successfully recover our client’s websites from the adverse effects of these algorithmic updates as well as plan the right strategy for our clients. (will share some studies later in this post).

So, I continued my study and analyzed this core update. I have found some interesting data about this Google Core Update that I am going to share with you in this post.

I did two things to analyze this Core Update;

  • A survey of more than a thousand sites asked the webmasters and SEOs to share the impacts on their websites.
  • Analyzed around 100 websites manually. (I randomly chose sites from the different niches)

In our survey, we got more than one thousand responses from webmasters, SEOs, etc. also, we asked some fellow bloggers, and SEOs about the impact of the Core update.

Here is the Survey Report’s Data:

Positive Impact (boost): 50%
Negative Impact (ranking drop): 36%
Neutral (no Negative or Positive Impact): 14%

50% of our survey takers saw ranking boosts during the Google January Core Update. Most of them were negatively impacted by previous core updates like the June Core Update or the Sept. Core Update. The majority of them have improved their website content and user-experience (UI, Pagespeed, etc.). Only a few webmasters said that they focused on high-quality link building before the January update and saw a boost.

Survey screenshot loudgrowth
Survey Entry Screenshot

The majority of the people who have noticed a negative impact on their rankings were also negatively hit by previous (one or more) Google Core Updates like Google June Update, Sept. Update, and Oct. Update. Some webmasters have not changed anything on their websites. But others have tried everything like publishing long-form detailed content, cleaning up their link profiles, technical issues, etc. But I still have noticed ranking drops.

I didn’t focus much on finding the most impacted niches, locations, and other similar insights because it was a core update and has affected all niches, locations, etc. 

Note: I’m not covering the Impact of the Google Featured Snippet Deduplication Update.

Also, I have manually analyzed more than 100 sites from various niches like health-fitness, business-marketing, tech, news, and other popular niches. I also analyzed our competitors (my sites & our clients’) because I’ve been tracking their sites for a long while and already know about their websites and activities. So it was a good idea to analyze their sites to find out some insights about this update.

I also asked some of my SEOs & blogger friends about the impact of the January Update. But most of them have little to no impact on their rankings. 

What did I find?

I found that the Google January Core Update has impacted thin-content pages and re-evaluated the YMYL pages. It looks like this update or a major part of this update is related to Google BERT. Because, in my analysis, I found that most impacted sites or pages have issues related to content like:

  • Un-specific content 
  • Unsatisfied search intent
  • Thin content 
  • Over-optimized

Many websites have updated their website content after Google’s BERT update. Some have improved their content and published long-form detailed content. But they still got traffic drops because they have important content issues that Google BERT doesn’t like.

(The red-box is the time when Google rolled-out Google BERT update.)

Google Bert Update Drop

On the other side, I found some sites that were impacted during the Google BERT update. After that, they have updated their content and saw a positive impact on their rankings.

Like this one:

Ahrefs organic traffic screenshot

I’m not saying that Google BERT is the only reason for ranking drops. I’m highlighting it because it looks like a major & important part of this update that impacted the rankings. Other SEO & technical issues are the reasons for ranking drops.

Some popular websites like WPBegginer have gained a boost during the January update as well as during all previous major updates. There are some reasons for that. They have everything to the mark like:

  • To the Point Content- They didn’t have much focus on the length of their content. Their content is very topic-specific and to the point.
  • Good Backlink Profile: Their Backlink profile is a good and natural-looking backlink profile. According to the Ahrefs data, they have around 40k RDs in their Backlink Profile.
  • Technical Issues: WPBeginner doesn’t have any serious technical issues.

If you are thinking that WPBeginner is a popular website having 40,000 RDs, including sites like NYTimes, WSJ, and others. But then you should analyze the other sites with the same level of Powerful Backlink Profile and in the same niche as ShoutMeLoud. They have seen various drops during the previous Google Core Updates. 

On the other hand, WPBeginner has not noticed any drop. Most of the major updates have boosted their rankings. 

The major reason that I found between both sites is the content of both sites. It doesn’t mean that SML has low-quality content. It does mean that WPbeginner has more focused content.

We offered free consultation or advice to those webmasters who were negatively impacted during the update while taking our survey. For that, we also analyzed their sites. 

Also, I have done some experiments. I have replaced the content for some webpages, and their rankings boosted during the update.

Like these:

  • climbed #2 from the 2nd page.
  • From 3rd page to 8th position
Google GSC screenshot

Also, some previously updated pages started to rank on the first page of Google. There were no other changes on both sites and no off-page activities. 

Tips to Recover Website Traffic and keep yourself safe from Future Updates

Google has a single solution for core update impacted sites, and that is to improve your website to provide maximum value to users. There is no solution to Google’s core updates to recover. 

If you are noticing any decline, then, first of all, ensure that the Google Update impacts you. Here is a brief idea to do that;

Check your GSC and GA. If yes, then search your some declined keywords on Google and verify your decline rankings and try to find your website till the last page. If you have lost your positions, then analyze the SERP if there is any new search feature coming up on SERPs (like featured snippet). Analyze both SERP results; those are not impacted, and those who started ranking and outranked your site.

(If you are sure that your traffic has decreased, then don’t change anything immediately on your website. You should wait for some weeks before doing anything.)

Here are some tips that can help you recover from Google Core updates and get a boost during future updates:

Note: Before making any changes, ensure that you actually need to make those changes. If you are not sure, then don’t do any major change and consult with an SEO expert. (or at least backup/save old versions and note down your changes in a list)

SEO Audit

You must start with an SEO audit to find all the issues that your website has. 

Start from the Minor Issues

If you found some issues or think that your website has some problems, then you should start by making minor changes first. Don’t start with the major changes that you feel are impacting your website rankings. 

Many times small improvements help you to recover your website rankings. At least it will help you analyze your website during future updates.

Bonus tip: Only make one change at a time and wait for some time to see the results. Don’t make multiple changes at a time. 

Search Intent

Google uses AI technologies like Google BERT to understand content and queries like humans. To get to the top positions on Google, you must also understand the intent of the keyword. 

Users perform various searches on Google to achieve different goals like get a solution, know about a person/product, or buy something. That’s why you need to understand the intent of the keyword first and then create a web page and content according to the intent of that keyword. 

For example, if someone searches for an “SEO” phrase, then it means that the user wants to know what SEO is. But if someone searches for “SEO Services” then it means the user wants to hire someone to do SEO of their website.

Be Specific

I have found this issue with many sites that their content is not specific. If you want to make your website Google BERT friendly, then you need to be very specific in your content, don’t cover 20 different things in one article.

For example, if you are writing about SUV Cars, then don’t talk about sedans in your content. Be very specific in your content.

But if you don’t, then Google will not penalize you, but your competitors will outrank you.

Avoid Keywords density

Don’t think about keyword stuffing. It doesn’t have much impact on ranking. 

Now Google is smarter than before and can understand many things like humans. Keyword stuffing and other activities can’t help you to rank.  

If you have noticed, then you will see that top results have natural meta descriptions than before, a website that does these kinds of activities doesn’t rank well in the long term.

If you are thinking about the future, then avoid these activities and write naturally in a way that helps your audience.

Long-form is not Quality Content 

You have heard most of the SEOs saying that lengthier content ranks well. But it is not true.

Word count is not a ranking factor. But because of this myth, many webmasters try to create longer content and add a lot of info that reduces the quality of the content. 


It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t publish long-form content. But you should create long-form content if you think that it is required and will be useful for the users. Otherwise, choose a topic and answer (cover) that very clearly, and that will be useful for the users.

Branded SEO & EAT

“Brands are the solutions.“ 

Google likes Brands. If you are in YMYL niches, then you should focus more on EAT and branded SEO. Plan your SEO strategy to establish your business as a Brand. 

It is a future proof strategy that can help you in the long-term. You should focus on improving your brand queries and branded SEO. Brand queries are a major but hidden ranking signal to Google. 

Build A Brand Authority around your business. It will increase your business more than SEO efforts In the Long-term. 

Final Words

Google is releasing more broad core updates than before. It means Google is improving itself more than hitting websites with penalties. And the latest technology like AI and NLP is helping Google to be smarter than before.
It is also changing the way to optimize a website and getting top positions. As I said before in my post that now Google prefers to rank natural websites. So, if you want to rank for a long-term period on Google then ensure that your website is natural.

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