2019 has been a year of change in the world of organic rankings. If you are working on any SEO tactics for your website, you would know just how much Google has changed over the last six months of the year and how it has rocked our digital world.

Here is a summary of Google updates and rollouts that FIRST has been tracking since the second half of 2019:


  • Possum 2.0 – This started around 05 Nov. Google doubled down on its biggest local ranking factor – proximity. It affected both map rankings and organic search rankings. The results of Possum 2.0 put an even bigger emphasis on “near me” queries (for both local SEO & voice), and also increases the importance of geographically relevant backlinks.
  • Core Update – This happened around the end of the month and is said to be related to link quality.


  • BERT – Google released one of its biggest known updates called BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers). The update was announced on 19 Oct, which is said to have a gradual roll out affecting at least 1 in 10 results. This update is dedicated to improving the understanding of queries formulated in a natural language. 


  • No Follow Changes – Google rolled out the “no follow” changes on 10 Sept, where previous links with nofollows were always ignored, now Google decides for itself. 
  • Starmaggedon – On 18 Sept, Google rolled out an update which applies stricter rules for showing reviews in search results. The most significant change is that reviews that are only present on the website of the business itself will be ignored.
  • Core Update – On 24 Sept,Google rolled out a core update.


  • Maverick Update – There were fluctuations in rankings sometime mid-July but there was no confirmation from Google of an update. The community calls it Maverick (in honour of the trailer release of the new Top Gun movie) – given the update was stealthy and precise.


What You Need to Do:

As with Google’s previous advice for any core update, website owners should focus on making websites better by improving content, user experience and overall performance. 

Use 2020 as an opportunity to review your link building tactics – focus more on creating local citations and targeting local business directories. Schedule a regular backlink audit and disavow irrelevant and potentially harmful links.

Take the time to do a content audit. You should be able to catch any reviews that have the review schema markup – this signals Google that it is a review. If those marked up reviews are not present anywhere else other than your site, we suggest removing the schema mark up on them.

Your content audit should also be taking a look at your existing content – are they unique? Are they relevant to what your audience is searching for? The BERT update is essentially a new way for Google to better understand words in context with search queries. There is no real way to “deal” with this, other than churning out content that is actually useful for your audience in different stages of the buying process.

Lastly, if your business is not yet on Google My Business it should be (more on that in another blog post, so watch out for it).


What’s Happening in 2020?

A cool little non-Google update was announced by Chinese tech giant Baidu. They just came up with a new language understanding and evaluation model to take the crown from Google’s BERT update.

Want to guess what they’re calling it? ERNIE! Enhanced Representation through kNowledge IntEgration was named after the Sesame Street character. ERNIE actually scored 90% versus BERT’s 87% on the 100-point language test which challenges the AI’s ability to understand context, proper names and other aspects of language. This is the first AI to score that high.

As for Google, they pre-announced on 13 January that it will be rolling out a broad core algorithm update – the first for the year, aptly called the January 2020 Core Update. The guidance remains the same as before. Here is Google’s general guidelines for core updates and everything you should know about them.

Good luck rolling with the punches in 2020. If you would like FIRST Digital to help you create strategies so your brand could better adapt to search engine changes, give us a shout and we’d be happy to help.