November 10, 2016 Google Algorithm Update – Was It A Core Ranking Update, The Mobile-first Index Being Tested, or Both? (Updated)

Glenn Gabe

algorithm-updates, google, seo

November 10, 2016 Google Algorithm Update

{Update: Saturday, November 19, 2016 – I saw reversals starting yesterday, November 18 (both recoveries and drops), which supports my theory that this was the mobile-first index being tested. I have provided more information below at the end of this post about what I’m seeing — including screenshots.}

The fall of 2016 has been one of the most volatile ones I have seen in a long time algorithm update-wise. We started with a local spam update and a quality update on 8/31 (simultaneously), then we had Penguin 4 roll out in multiple stages in September and early October, and then I picked up two more core ranking updates (which I hope to write about soon). But now we have another update that started around 11/10, and some sites are seeing significant movement (either up or down).

I’ve been digging into sites that have been impacted in order to analyze each situation. Here are some screenshots of the movement I’m seeing search visibility-wise:

Surge during November 10, 2016 Google Algorithm Update

Drop during the November 10, 2016 Google Algorithm Update

Drop during the November 10, 2016 Google Algorithm Update

When checking the search history of various sites that have been impacted, I am seeing a lot of connection to previous quality updates. For example, here is a site impacted on 11/10/16 that was also impacted by several other quality updates.

The connection between the November 10, 2016 update and other quality updates.

Now, based on what I’ve seen, it’s hard to say if this was just a quality update, or if there is another component at work. One thing is for sure, I kept surfacing an interesting finding across sites that were impacted – and it involved mobile. And with Google announcing on 11/4 (just days before we saw this update) that they were beginning to test a mobile-first index, the timing is very, very interesting.

The Connection Between Mobile Problems and Negative Impact
So, during the June quality update, I mentioned that I saw sites recovering that had improved their mobile setup. I speculated that maybe Google was handling the mobile version of the urls differently than the desktop (which would be a huge change). Here’s that segment from my June post:

Interesting Situation -> Desktop Horrible, Mobile OK
I checked one site that saw a major increase during the June update that got hit by the November 2015 update. When checking the desktop version of the site, it looked like minor changes had been made. That had me wondering why the site recovered. In other words, it still wasn’t a great user experience. But, checking on mobile yielded a much smoother, less aggressive approach. I’m not saying this was 100% why they surged back, but we know mobile is incredibly important, and their user experience and advertising situation was much, much better on mobile than desktop. Just an interesting side note.

Well, when checking pages that dropped across sites negatively impacted by the November 10, 2016 update, I saw a lot of mobile problems. That included popups, interstitials, render problems, UIs breaking, thinner and disorganized content on mobile urls, and more.

For example, here’s a nice one that smacked me in the face when checking the page on mobile:

Mobile interstitial.

And if you’re thinking, hey, Google’s coming out with a mobile popup algo on January 10, so that can’t be the case now! Think again. With the mobile-first index, Google will index the mobile page as the canonical url, and if you’re providing a popup or interstitial, Google can see that as your primary content. I confirmed that with Google’s John Mueller last night. See the tweet below.

John Mueller about mobile interstitials.

Beyond popups and interstitials, I came across numerous situations where the mobile UI was breaking. For example, the content would render, but the user could move that entire block of content around (by swiping). That was clearly a tech problem. And when you did that, here’s what the viewport could look like:

Mobile UI problems.

Anyway, I saw enough mobile problems on sites negatively impacted that it had me thinking we could be seeing the mobile-first index in action. I can’t say for sure that’s the case, but the timing makes sense, the problems I’m seeing make sense, etc.

Sites Seeing Positive Movement = Solid Mobile Setup
On the flip side, I analyzed a number of sites seeing positive movement during the 11/10/16 Google update, and they provided a clean and strong mobile setup. Many were responsive, did not provide crazy popups or interstitials, did not have UI problems, etc.

Here is the search visibility from a site seeing an increase during this update (and it provides a solid mobile setup):

Site with solid mobile setup surging during November 10, 2016 Google algorithm update.
And here is an example of rankings jumping for another site seeing positive movement based on the update. Some rankings jumped +80, +41, +31, etc.

Rankings increase based on the November 10, 2016 algorithm update.

Important Update: Reversals Starting On Friday, November 18:
I have seen reversals of the impact from the November 10, 2016 algorithm update starting on Friday, November 18. Sites that surged are dropping back down and sites that dropped are recovering. This supports my theory that the mobile-first index was being tested. Here are two examples of reversals:

A large drop on November 10 and then recovery on November 18

A surge on November 10 and then a drop on November 18.

A drop on November 10 and then a recovery on November 18.

So if this test tells us anything it’s that the mobile-first index can indeed cause significant movement in the SERPs. I highly  recommend checking your mobile setup (as I explain below) and making sure your mobile pages contain sufficient content, don’t have render issues, etc. We don’t know the exact date of the full rollout of the mobile-first index, but it’s clearly getting close. Stay tuned.

Core Ranking Update, Mobile-first Index, or Both??
With the amount of volatility this fall, it’s hard to say that the November 10, 2016 update is ONLY the mobile-first index in action. But, it very well could be part of what’s going on. For example, there could have been a core ranking algo update, in addition to, more testing of the mobile-first index. And maybe the sites I’m seeing with major mobile problems are being impacted by the mobile-first piece. Again, hard to say for sure.

I’ll try and post more as I analyze additional sites impacted by the 11/10 update. In the meantime, I recommend checking your stats to see if you’ve been impacted (either positively or negatively). And if you’ve been negatively impacted, check your mobile setup. Are there barriers, broken UIs, content problems, or other issues you are presenting to users? And content-wise, make sure you are providing the full content on your mobile page (if you are using separate mobile urls).

One thing is for sure, this has been a very interesting update to analyze. The timing, and findings, lead me to think we just might be seeing the mobile-first index in action. Stay tuned. :)



33 thoughts on “November 10, 2016 Google Algorithm Update – Was It A Core Ranking Update, The Mobile-first Index Being Tested, or Both? (Updated)”

  1. Hello Glenn, great article! Do you think the website in the screenshots affected by the November 10 update, or maybe earlier? This website lost %70 traffic and SE visibility after the January core update. We cleaned half of the forum threads (deleted, merged, noindex, canonical), and have been improving the rest for 8 months. We also reduced the number of ad banners. In GA reports, we see a gradual increase for Google organic traffic. Before the January core update our search visibility score was about 35.000, then it decreased down to 8500, now it increased up to 23.000 in three weeks. Is it related to improving the overall quality or due to Penguin?

    • Thanks Mavi! I’m glad you found my post helpful.

      Regarding your site, it’s hard to say without knowing the domain, analyzing the site, etc. But based on what you explained, and the screenshots you provided, it looks like you’ve seen an increase in search visibility based on multiple updates.

      The increase in mid-September could have been from Penguin 4. I saw the first signs of Penguin 4 right around that time. Then the latest increase looks based on the 11/10 update. And note, I also saw movement in late October on a number of sites (and it looks like you did too). That looked like a core ranking algo update to me. So I think you are seeing a mixture of things (all good though). :) I hope that helps.

      • Thank you! Since I dropped the index count to half, I wonder if the site gets more Google organic traffic; with less, but more quality content. In this way (noindex low quality pages) maybe, some of my high quality pages which are currently ranked at 6th-7th, may go up to 2nd or 3rd place.

  2. Interesting info, Glenn. I was checking some of the sites I manage. All looked normal except for this one. Seeing a drop, but it’s a little tricky b/c there was a big bump just before from the election (and a newsletter). However, traffic has been up consistently about 20% year over year. After the 10th, it’s down about 20%.

    Maybe a little too early to say for sure, but looks like something for sure.

    Interestingly enough, this bad condition Mobile wise. Some parts are mobile friendly, but much of it isn’t. Sites w/ no drop are in very good shape wrt mobile friendliness. Would have been nice to see a bump.

  3. Hi Glenn, thanks for another great article.

    I’ve been reading a lot about the Mobile-First Index, and one thing that is spoken about, and you mention briefly, is making sure the content on your mobile site is the same as your desktop site – so your mobile content doesn’t appear ‘thinner’ than your desktop content.

    We have a responsive site, so I’ve been confident that we are providing the right UX and content on mobile. However with the mobile-first index, I’m wondering if ‘hiding’ things on mobile is going to be a bad move. When I say ‘hide’, I’m referring to using ‘display:none;’ to hide certain elements that aren’t strictly relative to a page: a right hand column for example. Our right hand column is much like yours, outlining the latest content across the site – it doesn’t contain anything specific to the current pages content though. We hide the right hand column on mobile in an effort to shorten the length of the page, while also requiring less assets on the page load (each ‘bit’ in our right column is fed in from another URL).

    However with the mobile-first index on it’s way, would it be safer to not hide this content, and other content like it, on mobile pages? I notice that when I view your site in a responsive view, the right hand column remains, appearing below the main content.

    Would love to know your thoughts/recommendations.


      • So regardless of whether it’s hidden on mobile or not, it’s going to be given full weight in a mobile-first index. I guess, as always, the key is making sure the content is there to help the visitor – which I believe our does.

        Appreciate your response Glenn.

  4. Hi Glenn,

    First of all: Thanks for great updates. Been reading this for the past year – they are some of the bests out there.

    Now to my question: How do I know if Google can index my popup or not according to the statement by John? Two cases could be with OptinMonster and MailMunch. They are not seperates pages popping up, but simply lightboxes displayed.

    Best regards

    • Thanks Peter! I’m glad you’ve found my posts valuable. Regarding your question, I highly recommend using fetch and render in Google Search Console. Select Mobile:Smartphone to compare how users see your site versus Googlebot.

      But beyond that, I would not use a large popup or interstitial on the visit directly from Search. That’s what Google’s mobile popup algorithm launching on 1/10/17 will target. It’s fine to do it on pages after a user hits your site (deeper into the visit), but I would steer clear of that on visits directly from Search.

      So there are two elements at play here. 1) the mobile popup algo can demote urls using a popup or interstitial and 2) Googlebot can see that popup or interstitial as the main content (with the mobile-first index). Both are problematic. I hope that helps.

      • Hi Glenn,

        Thanks for your quick reply. You sum it up pretty well.

        However, if popup isn’t an option. Will Google have the same issues with slide ins, fixed topbar and other ways to get people to sign up for lets say newsletter?

        I guess my question: Would you wait until second page view to display any of this stuff?

        Best regards,


  5. Hi Glenn, always appreciate your posts on these updates. Just in regards to your point about the mobile-first index – could that impact desktop traffic or would we only be seeing organic mobile hurt? My understanding was Google treats these separate – is that looking to change?

    We track a site that passes Google’s mobile friendly test but only does enough to scrape by, the design and UX on mobile is terrible so will be interested to see if there’s a noticeable shift.

    • Great question. The mobile popup algo launching on 1/10/17 can demote urls in the mobile search results. But with the mobile-first index, Google will use the mobile url as the primay url (and use that for ranking purposes). So with the mobile-first index, the mobile page will be used for ranking on desktop too. So yes, Googlebot seeing a popup or interstitial as the main content could impact desktop rankings.

  6. Hello Glenn,
    The traffic to one my websites dropped by 20 to 30% from 8th Nov. The keyword positions didn’t change. I suspected cloudflare to be responsible for the drop because I signed up for cloudflare on 6th nov and changed my DNS to that provided by cloudfare. While my site was using cloudflare NS, page speed tools reported of high TTFB. After the traffic drop, I switched back to the old name severs. I then opened the Google search console and found that the mobile search queries were down to 20 to 30%. According to rank tracking tools such as SEMRUSH, SearchMetrics, the rankings of all the keywords that brought traffic to my site didn’t change a bit. One thing I noticed was my website was showing a 300 x 250 ad banner on 1st screen of mobile device. If this is the reason for the traffic drop, why the keyword rankings didn’t change at all?

    • The timing sounds right for the update, but it also sounds like you had a lot going on at that time! What was the actual traffic decline between 11/8 and 11/18? The update looks like it was reversed on 11/18 (see the update in my post above about 11/18). The sites I analyzed that were negatively impacted absolutely lost rankings, and then subsequent traffic. I hope that helps.

      Regarding the banner, where was it showing on mobile? Was it at the top and taking up a significant portion of the viewport? Ads are ok to have, but you definitely don’t want a popup or interstitial on the first page from Search (when the mobile popup algo launches in January 10, 2017).

  7. Great post thanks for the good info.. hope now my website will rank high in Google search Engine and earn more more more from Adsense thanks once again ;)

  8. Our site was affected by the Nov 18 Reversals update, 50% of the organic traffic was decrease. And i don’t think its a mobile first related update, since our sites was a mobile friendly and passed the google Mobile-Friendly Test. What i observe in the google regional serp is that almost all local company that was rank on that keywords are now gone and international website occupy the first page instead, which makes the google serp irrelevant for those who search foe that certain keywords.

    • Very interesting. Thanks for sharing. Note, just being mobile-friendly doesn’t mean the mobile-first index can’t impact you. Mobile urls are mobile-friendly, but if they don’t contain the same content, or provide a worse user experience, then the urls can still be impacted negatively.

      Almost every site I saw impacted on 11/10 reversed on 11/18. So, you were impacted on 11/10 and increased, only to drop on 11/18 when the reversals rolled out? Or did something else happen? Also, can you share the domain (privately) so I can take a quick look? It’s an interesting case.

  9. I saw some changes at my site on the dates mentioned. Use at several high-use pages dropped by 30-40%. Much of that was indeed a drop in mobile, even though the site is very mobile-friendly. But the main drop was in *desktop*. And on both fronts, those pages made an only half-hearted rebound. This was mostly in three pages where the primary term used in the short-tail and long-tail keys had many different meanings. Like, for instance, “Fruit”, which not only applies to ‘fruit of the Spirit’, but also a wide variety of different edibles, flavors, farms, business similies about getting results, even underwear. Or “Spirit”, which is an airline, clothing line, team spirit, liquor, etc. On my site those were the pages most affected.

    I don’t know if that helps you at all, but the pattern was clear and was Nov 8-11, and was not the result of an recent changes, because there were none within 4 weeks of that time.

  10. Hi Glenn, I have been reading your blog and cannot tell you enough how helpful your articles have been.

    My team and I have been going through a bit of an SEO crisis and your thoughts on the ‘mobile first testing’ helped us form a theory. Like some of the sites you featured here, we saw a significant drop-off (late June), in otherwise very consistent rankings year over year. Since
    then, we have seen a continuous ranking/traffic decline with more significant drop-offs in early September and November.

    Since our site is a text editing tool, we believe that user engagement plays a huge role in our rankings. We’ve noticed in the past that the longer the dwell time, the more our rankings improved. Which brings me to our theory…

    The engagement on the desktop site is terrific, but engagement on the mobile version is terrible. The site is mobile friendly but our tool is really not built for mobile which results in a
    high bounce rate. It seems to us like Googles updates have switched the focus from engagement on the desktop page to the engagement on the mobile page. The ranking pattern for our competitors seems to corroborate our theory. Sites that have engaging mobile versions have surged in rankings while others have dropped.

    Do you believe that the poor engagement on the mobile page could have caused the drop in rankings for both desktop and mobile?

    Thanks for the wealth of knowledge you share with all of us!

    • We saw a massive dip in our rankings and impressions around November 10th (which led me to this post) and only saw our rankings/impressions rebound (and actually improve) on December 13th.

      Seems there was another update yesterday and its interesting we missed some of those in between flutterings.

      • I’m sorry to hear you were hit by the 11/10 update. It was an interesting one, with some partial rollbacks. Also, SEMrush updated its databases on 12/13. Did you see actual traffic gains or did you just see the search visibility jump on 12/13. If the latter, that SV gain was at least partially impacted by the database update. Let me know if you have any questions.

  11. I’m sorry for the delay in getting back to you. My schedule has been crazy. And I’m really sorry to hear about your situation. The 2016 fall updates were big (and there were several). Many sites were impacted (both positively and negatively).

    Regarding recovery, it takes a lot of work to recover from major core ranking updates related to quality. I actually just tweeted about this again yesterday after John Mueller commented about the 3/7 update (AKA Fred). Companies need to make significant changes to their sites overall from a quality perspective and then Google needs to evaluate those changes over time. I’ve always said that it can take months before a site sees positive movement after making those changes.

    But the most important thing to understand is that sites *can recover*. It just takes a lot of work. Did your team perform a thorough analysis of the site from a quality standpoint? And were substantial changes implemented? Again, I’m sorry to hear about your situation! I hope things turn around soon.

    • Thanks for the response Glen! I did an analysis of the site and found that our mobile site provides an extremely substandard experience. (Overspills the page, graphics are too small to be readable in mobile, tables are cut off.) I put this to the boss but was told the “real reason” was that everyone is seeing this same hit and that it’s random and not because of anything we did wrong. I think that’s nuts and you probably agree with me. Sadly there’s not a lot I can do to change that opinion higher up. Happily I’m finding lots of other work.

      • Wow, sounds like you uncovered some problematic things on the site quality-wise. I’m shocked they didn’t choose to make those changes. Not every site was hit (obviously), so it’s tough to hear companies are making decisions like that. On a positive note, glad to hear you are finding plenty of work. That’s great news. :)

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