Google Update: Massive SERP Volatility Continues – January 2016

Google Update Massive SERP Volatility Continues

This weekend, all the SERP trackers are off the charts.  Very significant changes are still  happening, and chatter in the community about the fluctuations are at an all time high.

The last few weeks have been wild, and if you look at the big picture, the volatility has been present since November 19th.  We got an indication that the fluctuations during December were an extension of the November 19th Update, but it seems things have just got much worse.

We know that Google Penguin is imminent, and there was a false alarm raised about this on the 6th January when the SERP volatility first started.

What Google has to Say:

Google doesn’t always like to comment on Updates, but sometimes despite that, information can leak out that can adequately explain the situation.  There is a conversation currently going on between John Mueller, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, and various SEO’s on Twitter.  Here is what John Mueller had to say:

We think that the key part of the conversation is when John Mueller said “w/o specifics (“generic query X; results much worse now”) there’s not much to say. Things always change 🙂“.  This clearly indicates that the testing Google has been doing has not been the most successful.

We would suggest that you do not worry about the Google Algorithm changes at the present time.  We think that until the volatility settles down, nothing is set in stone.  John Mueller, who clearly has some influence, is not happy with the results of these tests, and as such we suspect some elements of the update will be rolled back in due course.

In a more recent update (11th January 2016) John Mueller was a little cryptic over whether it was related to Penguin, preferring to take the line that they will not confirm whether it is or isn’t.  It is possible that some elements of the testing they have been carrying out are related to Penguin:

Gary Illyes, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, has also been chiming in with his thoughts:

Clearly Gary Illyes suspects this is not Google Penguin, but that being said, he doesn’t seem to be in the loop just yet on what is going on.

SERP Trackers

Before we start to delve into all the chatter in the SEO community (to see if there are any indications on what was being tested), let us take a look at the SERP Trackers:

Rank Risk Index

This shows just how volatile December 2015 and the beginning of January 2016 has been.  It is interesting that the biggest spike over the last 30 days took place on the 9th January.

Rank risk index google update January 2016


Mozcast shows the biggest spike on the 8th January, with considerable movement commencing on the 4th January.  After the previous reports of a possible Penguin update on the 6th January, they did post a tweet indicating that the data was wrong.  However, they seem to have fallen silent on that point, and kept the data as-is.  Perhaps, the nature of the movement (are there multiple datasets \ algorithms being tested?) caused them to initially doubt the validity of the data.

MozCast The Google Algorithm Weather Report


Algaroo shows a massive spike on the 10th January, with first signs of major movement on the 9th.


What are Webmasters saying about the Update?

The most in-depth discussions are at Webmasterworld.  In particular, there are several references to Penguin Algorithm, and that they do not believe it is related.

I’m not seeing anything positive on my 80 ish percent Penguin released site. In fact I’m not seeing any changes at all in my UK niche. Is it still going on?
I am seeing a large increase in traffic on a squeaky clean USA site that has been around for a couple years. There are three links the site acquired throughout this time, and Google traffic changes to it is a good indicator of non-penguin updates for me. The industry the site is in is also clean with no spammers I know of in it. If what Google is doing is penguin, I would not expect any of the sites in this industry to move.
I agree – this is not (only) Penguin, but imho a refresh or update of the core algo.
This doesn’t feel like a Penguin-only update. We never saw a drop of 25% during a Penguin update (we’re seeing a 25% increase). On the other hand, we could have moved up because of new penalties – but the increase seems too big for that..

Another interesting comment is that the updates seem to be country specific.  This seems to indicate that whatever is being tested is being limited to specific countries.  Certainly, we are seeing more movement with the keywords we track on the US SERPS, and very little movement in the UK SERPS:

The flux is very country-specific. If you check serpwatch or accuranker where you can filter by country, you’ll see that the UK is barely seeing anything at all. Whereas the US, Canada, Australia and parts of Europe are off the chart. I guess the UK is coming soon…

On Blackhatworld, there are multiple posts complaining about Personal Blog Networks being deindexed:

Fairly new sites should be seeing a boost here, as I’m seeing another round of deindexing of a lot of the older PBN (paid) links some of my niche sites have. This effect would drop older sites down who owned the PBN links, while it misses newer sites who’s PBN links are newer and not on any Google hit list yet.
I agree. I just lost a mini network (less than 20) and a site or two on some networks so I guess it’s a roll-out of a deindexing campaign.

We are not sure what to say about this, except, we advise to focus on White Hat SEO techniques.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, while the chatter in the community indicates it is not Penguin, John Mueller is giving some cryptic clues that perhaps it might be, but they won’t confirm either way.  Gary Illyes, says that he believes it is not Penguin, but that he doesn’t know for sure.

We suspect that they are testing multiple things and that any coherent summary of the changes will be virtually impossible until the volatility settles down.  The changes they are testing is certainly not limited to algorithm changes.  We have seen rich snippet rating stars change color from yellow, to blue and even gray intermittently.

Are your rankings changing?  Have you previously suffered from Penguin?  Please let us know.

Update 12th January 2016 – Google has now confirmed that the update is not Penguin related.

  1. Reply Peter January 14, 2016 at 11:57 pm

    Most of my sites were hit on january 4th. I’ve lost 50% of google traffic and still going down.Never seen something like this. (warning, adult site in signature)

    • Reply James February 19, 2016 at 9:23 am

      I felt the same…. since then part (not all; the most I worked on) ranking keywords going down and down slowly, instead of going forwards 🙁

      I swapped to httpS few days ago, did all necessary 301 and canonical stuff, added the new https in webmaster tools, and now some of the keywords I have ranked are out of the index.

      All I was doing was web20, and some blog posting links. Any thoughts?

  2. Reply jawadsatti January 11, 2016 at 10:26 pm

    i think it’s a test from google team i see ranking updown 2 days ago but today i see same sites back to same positions it’s not real time Penguin still.

  3. Reply Taylor Davidson January 11, 2016 at 1:56 am

    It definitely is a real-time penguin update. LRT, SEJ, MOZ, DEJANSEO etc all are talking about the same. Massive change in SERP indeed

    • Reply Jonathan Griffin January 11, 2016 at 8:36 am

      Without confirmation from Google, and lack of community forums indicating that it is Penguin, I don’t think we can say for definite just yet. I have just updated the post with some more cryptic clues from John Mueller that indicate that they may be testing something related to Penguin, but again John Mueller won’t confirm for definite.

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