Google’s Danny Sullivan recently confirmed a new update to the search engine’s core algorithm, which was implemented on March 12. It has since been dubbed the Florida 2 update, and some SEO professionals are already calling it Google’s “biggest update in years”. What’s behind all the hype, and is it justified?
Here’s what we know about Florida 2 so far.
What’s in a Name?
First off, the name of the update has certainly caused a bit of confusion, with some SEOs believing it may be related to the Florida algorithm update that rolled out back in November 2003. In fact, the two are not related.
The name Florida 2 was coined by Brett Tabke, owner of the WebmasterWorld forum and founder and CEO of the Pubcon conference. Tabke and WebmasterWorld have a history of giving Google updates their “official” names, which become widely adopted throughout the community.
What’s the reason behind the name Florida 2? The original 2003 Florida update got its name because it coincided with Tabke running a Pubcon conference in Florida USA. The March 2019 update happened just one week after another Florida-based Pubcon conference was held. Apart from that, there are no similarities.
The name is certainly a nod to the original, but the two updates are actually very different. Search is continuously evolving, and the way Google updated its search ranking algorithm in 2003 – more than 15 years ago – will naturally differ significantly from their more recent update strategies.
The Basics of Florida 2
Florida 2 is a broad update of the core algorithm, meaning that Google isn’t targeting any one specific niche or vertical, or any particular signals (such as page quality). Sullivan assured the SEO community of this via Twitter, stating:
“We do some type of focused update nearly daily. A broad core algorithm update happens several times per year. We also have lots of updates focused on specific little things each day that go into the core algorithm. This is a broader general change to the core algorithm.”
It’s important to note that while several broad ranking algorithm updates do take place each year, Google only confirms the updates that they believe will have widespread impact. With Florida 2 officially confirmed and labelled a broad core update, the search community is on alert, paying close attention to Florida 2 and its implications.
Possible Effects of the Update
So what exactly are those implications? There are a lot of theories going around online as industry insiders around the world speculate about the possible effects of the March update.
So far, the impact seems to be something of a mixed bag. Some site owners have reported significant dips in traffic (even dropping to zero in some cases), others have noticed a significant increase, and others have not seen any sort of significant change.
Google SearchLiaison, Sullivan’s official Twitter account, tweeted the following information about what to expect:
“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.”
While it’s still too early to really say in detail what the effects of Florida 2 will be, some agencies are reporting the following observations:
- Worldwide impact (no specific niche targeted);
- Changes in site traffic and ranking;
- Short-term keyword ranking changes;
- Traffic increases for site owners who prioritise both content quality and page speed.
Busting some Myths
Naturally, with some site owners noticing such significant changes and others reporting business as usual, speculation about the update has been rife. One theory proposed that Florida 2 was related to the 2012 Penguin update, which resulted in hefty penalties for many sites worldwide.
New York-based SEO Barry Schwartz got in touch with the folks at Google directly, to ask them about the community’s biggest questions. Their answers may help to ease some concerns around the update.
Google denies that the update is related to Penguin, saying explicitly, “This wasn’t a Penguin update, because we no longer have those.”
The update isn’t related to neural matching. Google tells Schwartz, “Neural matching has been part of our core ranking system for over half a year. None of the core updates we have confirmed coincided with some new use of neural matching.”
Google agrees that the update is notable, but says it certainly isn’t their biggest ever – by a long shot. “This was a noticeable update that we felt warranted confirming… but it is far from being the biggest update Google has ever done.”
A Rollback or a Step Forward?
It’s also been suggested by some – including Tabke himself – that Florida 2 is a rollback of the search engine’s past few updates. Many SEOs have felt like the sites that felt negative effects from 2018’s key updates are now bouncing back following the introduction of Florida 2.
However, it seems that the majority of these reports are anecdotal. Roger Montti writes for Search Engine Journal:
“Because so many previous losers appear to be winning, it gives the impression that this update is a rollback. I don’t believe Google rolls back updates. What I have been told in the past by search engineers is that Google fine tunes their algorithm. So although this may look like a rollback, it’s highly unlikely.”
It’s more likely that each new Google update makes incremental changes and improvements to past updates, to correct things if they go too far in a specific direction.
Search at Lilo Post-Florida 2
The good news is, despite the uncertainty that came along with Florida 2, we at Lilo have not seen any negative impact on our clients as a result of the algo update. Our SEO Manager, Pierson Joubert, has this to say about our findings:
“Following the implementation of the Florida 2 update, we reviewed keyword rankings for all our clients. We saw a minimal decline in their rankings, while some definitely improved and even experienced a surge in organic traffic.
With SEO we always believe in following best practices to avoid getting penalised by new updates – create clear, relevant content that appeals to users, and only build high-quality authoritative links that can benefit the client site. If you’re going to cut corners in SEO, you’re going to run into problems with Google.”
Content is key when it comes to SEO best practices, but it’s important to consider all the different factors at play when optimising a website. At Lilo, we work to ensure that every client site has the following:
- Strong site design that guides users towards conversion;
- Excellent usability and fast performance, ensuring a positive user experience;
- Well-written onsite content featuring carefully-selected keywords;
- Skilled link-building, placing ethical, relevant links to the client site on high-authority external sites.
Our team of SEO experts, digital marketers, designers and developers work together to create well-rounded websites that satisfy human users and search engines.
Staying Ahead of the Curve
Google rolls out hundreds of “minor”, more focused updates each year, in addition to the occasional broad algo update. If you aren’t prepared, you can see your traffic and conversion rates take a serious knock as a result.
What are some of the best ways to prepare for (or to recover from) a Google algorithm update?
- First and foremost, don’t be tempted to take short cuts – these can come back to haunt you in the long run. Focus more on building up your site’s brand, with well-written press releases, legitimate links, and user engagement.
- Put your users first, and make sure they are satisfied. A good user experience will turn them into ambassadors for your website. Look for ways to add value and solve user problems.
- Engage with the site’s target audience in ways that encourage customers to promote it, driving traffic to the site from social media and online forums.
- Bear in mind that if the popularity of your site is well-established, more of your traffic will come from these non-Google sources, and algorithm changes will have a smaller impact on your site overall.
- Look for ways to cross-promote with other relevant websites, through strategies like co-sponsorship and content swapping.
- Be sure to continually update and refresh your outdated onsite content, and fix any errors.
- More and more users are accessing sites via mobile devices. Make sure your site is responsive and able to offer a good user experience across multiple platforms.
- Keep a log of the changes you make to your site. Sometimes a change can trigger something that already exists in the algorithm, but the resulting drop in traffic might lead you to think you’re dealing with an algo update. If you have a log of exactly what you changed and when, you can often trace your way back to the cause of the issue – and save yourself a lot of stress.
- Look out for early signs. If you know the “rhythms” of your site’s performance throughout the month, you’ll be attuned to things that are out of the norm. Keep a close watch and check your analytics regularly – sometimes can catch hints of an update days or even weeks before it happens. This means you can start tackling any potential issues in good time.
- Stay away from “black hat” tactics. Spamming or keyword stuffing might get you short-term rankings, but it won’t be long before Google cracks down, affecting not just your onsite presence, but your reputation as well.
What are the best ways to respond when a Google update takes place?
- It might be easier said than done, but this is an important one – don’t panic! The approach of an algorithm update can be stressful, especially with all the rumours and theories that tend to fly around online. But try to put your time and energy towards productive research and problem-solving instead – you might be worrying for nothing in the end.
- Wait before you react – any changes you make to your site at this point could be a waste of effort. First, look for concrete evidence that your site has been impacted. If you’ve been following best practices, you might not notice any negative effects, or you might even see an improvement in some cases.
- Do your homework before rushing to make adjustments. Read insights from credible sources, like the Google Webmaster Blog. Find out whether the update is targeting anything specific, and use that information to inform your changes. Remember, in the case of a broad core update like Florida 2, there might not be anything to “fix”, and you may need to wait out the traffic fluctuations.
Google’s aim is to give their searchers the best possible answers to their online queries. In order to do this, they are constantly updating their algorithm and cracking down on unethical, spammy SEO. Updates aren’t designed to make your life difficult as an SEO – they’re intended to push you to create better websites, higher quality content and more satisfying user experiences.
In the wake of Florida 2, have you been experiencing any fluctuations in traffic to your clients’ websites? Have you noticed any notable positive or negative trends, or are things carrying on largely unaffected by the update? Share your thoughts on Florida 2 with the Lilo team and the SEO community – we’re keen to hear about your experiences and takeaways from this latest big shakeup from Google.