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Sofiann McKerrell
19th Jan, 2016

Another round of fluctuations in search rankings this weekend got SEOs and webmasters rattled again. And once again, Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed that it was “core algorithm. Not penguin”.

There were reports of massive ranking changes in Google over the weekend stating that social media and the forums were a mess. Everyone speculated about whether the search engine is testing Penguin or rolling out a Penguin update itself. But to the question, “Google testing or #penguinupdate”, Illyes’ confirmation on Twitter put any speculation to rest.

Why ranking changes are often perceived as Penguin is because webmasters have been expecting for a Google Penguin update to happen early this year, particularly at the start of 2016. But twice it turned out to be not Penguin, but another core algorithm update.

Similar to the updates of the week before, fluctuations in search rankings showed on automated tools that track such changes. Mozcast forecasted very warm weather for the past 30 days, which means significant changes in ranking are happening. Algoroo, DEJAN’s Google algorithm tracking tool, also showed spikes in Search Quality Update, but nothing is more irregular than what RankRanger showed in its Google Desktop SERP Fluctuations for the last 30 days.

Image of 3 graphs from Mozcast, Algoroo, and RankRanger showing the fluctuations of search rankings.

It was a volatile weekend overall.

It is unclear what changed after the core algorithm update, but SEO and content marketing analysis firm, SearchMetrics, published a list of winners and losers that showed how the weekend update last 9 and 10 January affected certain websites. Ranking positions of most news sites changed for specific brand terms. In the U.S., publisher websites with ranking content based on brand entities and keywords suffered heavy losses in visibility, while brands have a boost in ranking.

The Atlantic is one of the biggest losers for the keywords Google, YouTube and Netflix. The New Yorker lost for the brand queries AOL, eBay, YouTube, Fox News and Dropbox.

Image showing the news websites that suffered the biggest loss following Google’s core algorithm update

Vanity Fair, Ars Technica, and Ultimate Guitar got to round up the top 5 losers. The trend is still not noticeable in international markets, which means that the core algorithm update has not been rolled out globally. Because of how brands have been affected, Bartosz of SEO Agency Goralewicz, dubbed it as Google’s brand bidding algorithm.

Google updates like Panda or Penguin either decrease rankings or enable websites to recover from a previous drop. This is mainly because it works on a page or domain level.

Core algorithm updates, such as Knowledge Graph or Rank Brain, will modify how Google comprehends a search query or a website’s ranking based on a given query. Ranking fluctuations would still be visible, but only if a website’s page ranks for keywords affected by the update on core algorithm.