Google is often criticized for being a “black box” in terms of the way they generate search results. Users type in a query, and Google gives them search results, but no one (other than Google) can accurately explain how the process works. This secrecy is necessary to prevent other companies from copying Google’s algorithm. Additionally, it makes it harder for website owners and SEO marketers to manipulate the system. Last week, Google updated its guidance for website owners about their recent core algorithm updates.

Google makes hundreds, sometimes thousands, of the changes to its algorithm every year. Some of these changes address specific issues, such as the updates that added speed and mobile-friendly design as ranking factors. However, Google also releases core updates where it’s less clear to website owners what has changed.

To combat some of the confusion this creates, Google posted a blog that tells webmasters what they need to know about “core updates.” The company hopes that by explaining things, they can prevent website owners from unnecessarily messing up their sites in an attempt to improve them.

In the blog post offering the guidance, Google’s Danny Sullivan wrote, “We confirm broad core updates because they typically produce some widely notable effects. Some sites may note drops or gains during them. We know those with sites that experience drops will be looking for a fix, and we want to ensure they don’t try to fix the wrong things. Moreover, there might not be anything to fix at all.”

Unlike updates that are meant to address a specific issue, core updates make more general changes to reflect new trends in search. Sullivan gave an excellent example using a Top 100 movie list. The rankings would change after a few years as new movies were created, and public tastes changed over time. It doesn’t mean the older movies from the list are bad or need to be remade. Similarly, a drop in search ranking following a core update doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the site.

However, websites aren’t like movies. A website is expected to continually bring in new visitors, whereas a film is only expected to command attention for a few weeks until the next big thing is released. So website owners have more reason to consider modifying their website and content if their rankings drop following a core update.

Google also included some tips that can help website owners who want to update their content after the core update. It’s like a movie studio remaking their old classics to be more appealing to a modern audience.

The post states that Google’s algorithm ranks content using many different factors. However, there are four things to consider if you want to know if your content is good enough to rank high on the search engine. The algorithm questions the content and quality of the webpage, the expertise of the writer, the quality of the presentation and production, and how well it compares to pages with similar content.

The Danny Sullivan post goes into much greater detail about the way these factors are judged, so it’s worth reading the entire post. For more recent information about Google, read this article on the new “Swipe-to-View” feature for AMP pages.