It’s only January, and Google has already had a busy year

Sam Spalton



Let’s face it, heading back to the office after the Christmas break is always a struggle. If you’re like me, there’s three long months of winter commuting, a refreshed gym membership, and a fridge full of kale to contend with. It’s a difficult time. But for SEOs and Search teams, there’s also the added stress of Google updates.

In mid-January, Google announced it was releasing its ‘January Core’ update. A relatively bland and non-descript name if there ever was one, with no cuddly animal-inspired codename from days gone by.

If that wasn’t enough, a week later Google also released a major change for featured snippets. It stated that a webpage can no longer rank in the featured snippet and the first page of search results, in an attempt to “deduplicate” what they show to users.

Source: Google Search Liaison on Twitter

January Core update

While Google hasn’t announced if the update was targeted to specific sectors, it’s clear the biggest impact belonged to Health, Finance, Gaming or News industries. That’s not to say, however, other websites weren’t affected.

As with previous Google updates, some SEOs have claimed that ‘YMYL’ pages (‘Your Money or Your Life’, aka pages that can impact your happiness, health, or wealth) also saw big changes in rankings. This comes as Google looks to crack down on thin content and penalise sites who are unable to assert authority in their relevant field.

Google’s advice hasn’t changed. They are unwavering in their message that high-quality, helpful content is an integral factor in ranking well.

Ads blending with organic results

Much of the backlash to Google’s changes has been to how paid adverts are displayed. The box around the word ‘Ad’ has disappeared and, instead, the text is bold.

Some SEOs claim this means ads blend in more with organic results. There are arguments for both sides here. However, most businesses use a combined Paid and Organic Search approach to balance the scales.

Plus, this isn’t new. Google has been continuously updating the way adverts are displayed in search results by streamlining and simplifying its design (until 2013, ads had a different background shading).


Favicons have been on the scene since 1999. For those unfamiliar with favicons, they are essentially a small image (16 x 16 pixels), usually a company logo, used to represent a website.

You can find them on the tab of your browser, but Google has now decided to include these, along with site domain names, in SERPs. Mirroring mobile results, they maintain it “helps people more quickly see where information is coming from” and puts a website’s branding “front and centre” (Source: Google Search Liaison on Twitter).

Are favicons important? Well, I guess it depends on who you ask. In my opinion, businesses usually dedicate a lot of time and resources to promoting their brand, so anything that can help to build increased visibility has to be good.

Source: Google Search Liaison on Twitter

Featured snippets

Further surprise came a week later, when Google’s public search liaison Danny Sullivan replied to a tweet concerning featured snippets:

Source: Danny Sullivan on Twitter

First things first, let’s cover the basics. A featured snippet appears above the rest of the search results, answering the user’s intent. It allows users to quickly find the answer to their question.

Source: Google Blog

Featured snippets will no longer be repeated in the rest of the search results. Google now classes featured snippets as #1, not #0.

Looking at Danny’s tweets and replies, it’s fair to say that this hasn’t gone unnoticed or unchallenged in the SEO community, with many people questioning whether they will lose traffic. Google are adamant that users do click on featured snippets and the new search results “declutter the results and helps users locate relevant information more easily.” (Source: Google Search Liaison on Twitter)

This has both pros and cons. The advantages are that it evens the playing field, so that one site doesn’t dominate the first page of search results. On the other hand, some websites have been negatively impacted and lost rankings, as they previously secured both featured snippets and #1 in the search results.

This change doesn’t currently include the knowledge graph or other rich results, such as ‘People also ask’ or image carousels. This is specific to URLs, not domains, so a specific landing/service/blog page could still earn the featured snippet. The homepage could also earn position #2, theoretically.

If all of this wasn’t enough to keep us on our toes, Google has announced on-going experimentation, with some users seeing different search results to others.

Source: Google Search Liaison on Twitter

Creating content for SEO

Google has consistently stated that pages with high-quality content that answers a user’s query will rank well. Previous Google updates, such as E.A.T in August 2018, focused on expertise, authoritative and trustworthiness factors in content.

The B.E.R.T update in November 2019 allowed Google’s bots to better understand conversational queries, especially where prepositions (such as “for” and “to”) have an impact on the meaning. For example, in the query “2019 brazil traveller to USA need a visa” concerns someone travelling to the U.S, not from – but previously, Google returned information relevant to U.S travellers visiting Brazil:

Source: Google Blog

SEO as part of digital marketing

So, what does all this mean? Well, one thing is for sure, SEO should be at the forefront of your digital marketing strategy. It’s not something you can implement as a one-off project and then leave by the wayside in the hope that your rankings will remain the same.

SEO and content go hand-in-hand. The former can’t work well without strong, authoritative content.

Here at Big Brand Ideas, we are an integrated, end-to-end agency, meaning we handle the full digital marketing spectrum, including SEO, content, social media, branding, design, and web development.

If you need someone to make sense of your SEO, or you’ve been negatively affected by Google’s updates, speak to our Performance team. Compromised of both Organic and Paid Search experts, they can give you the advice and support you need to rank well, earn traffic and convert users into leads.