Any time a few website owners see their SERP ranks do the Google dance, they immediately jump to an online forum and ask each other: "Is an update happening?"
Often, search engine bloggers hungry for content monitor those forums and immediately decide to run an article with a title like: "Online Buzz Indicates a Possible Google Update."
And the rumor mill churns.
It's easy to tune out the boys who repeatedly cry wolf, but this time the gossip has some merit.
There Really Was an Update
There was an update. It happened on the Friday before Labor Day weekend.
We know there was an update because Google has confirmed that there was an update.
During a Google+ live hangout on Tuesday morning, Google's John Mueller fielded the following top question: "There has been a lot of chatter regarding an update over the weekend, can you confirm if this was Penguin-related or another core algorithm update?"
Here's how Mueller replied: "It wasn't Penguin, but we do roll out a lot of updates over time. Sometimes, multiple updates even come, timewise, kind of simultaneously when you see the effect. So, this is something that isn't really the kind of update that we would announce individually."
So Mueller admitted that there was, indeed, an update.
There are a couple of things to point out about the update, though.
It Wasn't Penguin-Related
Some of the rumor-mongering about the update was that it was related to the Penguin algorithm. That's the part of the Google search code aimed at busting web spammers - people who try to manipulate the search engines to rank a site.
Over at BlackHatWorld, somebody who goes by the name of "yugejackpots" suggested immediately that the update was related to Penguin. Others in that community agreed.
That's why it's a bad idea to take online rumors about Google updates seriously. Even when they're right about the update, they're wrong about the specifics.
In this case, the Google update had nothing to do with Penguin. It seems to be a core search update.
A Core Search Update?
Google's "core" search algorithm is the main base of the Google code that doesn't change much over time. It looks like it changed this time, though.
The "core" of the search algorithm consists of logic that's no longer experimental. You can think of it as a collection of components that Google has decided will absolutely, positively, definitely be part of the code that determines where sites rank for a particular keyword.
For example, PageRank is part of the core search algorithm. That's still true even though PageRank is no longer visible to those of us outside of Google's ivory tower in Mountain View, California.
The Panda algorithm is also part of Google's core search. That's the part of the Google logic aimed at reducing the rank of "low quality" sites.
Whatever happened on Friday, it appears to have affected the core search code. Many people feel it was the Panda portion of the algorithm.
Local Search Was Affected As Well
Following the recent update, some SEOs reported noticeable changes to local search results.
One person wrote the following on a Local Search Forum: "I'm seeing a lot of ranking changes in the Local Pack here in the Netherlands on numerous of keywords I'm tracking. Anyone else who's seeing a lot of movement?"
Clearly, others were. One person replied: "I've only checked one pack so far but I've been watching Seattle Chiropractor for years and today there are all kinds of Chiros I've never seen before in the 3 pack and Finder!"
Another observed: "I'm seeing huge swings and many new faces in the Local Pack this morning. Must be a big update going on."
So whatever the nature of the change, it does appear to have affected local rankings in addition to organic rankings in the search engine results pages.
It looks like Google has been busy cleaning up some spam in the local index. That's good news for people who play by the rules.
However, as Barry Schwartz pointed out: "Not all are convinced this is purely a quality update but rather an update [to] the local ranking algorithm."
A Mixed Bag
What's the net effect of the latest algorithm update? There's some good news and some bad news.
Some people saw their sites increase in rank, while others noticed a drop in rank (our site Ignite Visibility saw some big increases for example).
In some cases, the change in rank was significant.
"A noticeable move in our vertical over night in the UK,"wrote one SEO on a message board. "Almost all large players including ourselves took a hit in page 1 visibility. We've noticed over time more and more national players are being displaced with strong local sites (eg local newspaper classifieds etc)."
He wasn't alone.
"There's a blog of mine which is approximately 4 months old, and from the last 45 days my blog ranks on 3rd rank for a keyword," wrote another. "Today morning when I checked the SERP, I didn't found my blog. After searching for it; I found it to be on #80."
Wrapping It Up
As Mueller indicated, Google rolls out algorithm updates all the time. The latest update seems to have resulted in significant rank changes, though.
The best advice for any SEO is to always keep in mind the top ranking signals: inbound links and content quality. Focus on building a healthy backlink profile while producing amazing, shareable content and you'll rank well in spite of algorithm changes.