Happy New Algorithm! - Google's January Update Explained

James Foote
James Foote
Head of SEO 24 Jan 20204 minutes read

Google has started the year with a bang, releasing a core algorithm update fresh out of the box. Our Head of SEO James Foote shares his thoughts on the January 2020 algorithm update, the potential impact for SEO and what we should be doing to build a resilient approach for 2020.

New Year, new me, new algorithm!?

Unlike most of us who have already broken their new year resolution of being a fitter, healthier me by week two, Google has started the new year with a bang and released an algorithm update.

You may think “how will this update affect my website’s organic traffic?” and “how do/will I know if I have been penalised?” or “am I at risk?”.

Like any algorithm, by constantly learning and adapting, it provides a better experience for their customers through their search engine.

Details are still thin on the ground, but such updates as these are nothing new. Similar features and characteristics allow us to hypothesise areas of interest.

“January 2020 Core Update”

All of Google’s updates since 2018 have been around “core quality”, though they have been disguised under various names.

Every core quality update has however shared the same underlying goal, to better develop Google’s understanding of human-based searcher experiences, content language directional matching (BERT) and E-A-T (expertise, authority and trust).

How does it work?

One way to think of how a core update operates is to imagine you made a list of the top 100 movies in 2015. 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 realize they deserved a higher place on the list than they had before


The update will affect the whole search landscape as a broad algorithm enhancement. It will focus on a variety of areas, such as strong alignment to the search quality evaluator guidelines and the core factors of E-A-T.

Both subject areas can be very complicated and difficult to understand (the guideline document is over 160 pages). However, the focus of these guidelines are around gaining an understanding of:

What does it affect?

In a simple word, relevancy.

(Source: Google)

Intent is key and something Google has been working on for many years using its massive data corpus. Factors such as query meaning, user needs and ease of task completion lend themselves to a number of areas outside of SEO, but are very important for the user experience and have a positive impact on search ranking positions.

Using the above criteria, we can start to understand the sentiment behind these core updates as Google’s way of rearranging the index. Over time a website may lose its relevance for a search query based around intent.

How will I know if I have been hit? (and how can I find out)

To get initial indication use Google’s own free tools and monitoring organic traffic levels - Google Search Console and Google Analytics. Check periodically throughout the next four weeks. If there have been any traffic dips, you can investigate further with an enterprise-level tool. However, these can be costly.

If I have been hit what can I do?

Google’s line on this is “you have done nothing wrong, you are just not as relevant”.

We appreciate this may not sound too helpful! So what can you practically look at or question to bounce back from this update?

As this is a broad update, it means that there is no silver bullet “quick fix” answer, however, you need to ensure you pay close attention to the core areas mentioned and the guidelines set by Google -- “what webmasters should know about Google’s core updates”. We recommend focussing your attention on the following areas:

If you could do with some further insight on this subject, why not contact us or drop us an email and grab lunch with one of our team. We are sure you would love a free lunch and we love to help!