The Week in Search is a weekly column produced by the Studio team to keep marketing professionals and ecommerce merchants up to date on changes in the search industry, and provide valuable context on what it all means. If you have questions or think we missed something, email us directly.

Massive Google Glitch Disrupts SERPs

This week, Google seemed to be rolling out another massive update with search results in massive fluctuation. SERoundtable reported it starting on August 10th with seemingly endless user-reported evidence. Some folks were getting wiped out, others were very pleased with the results.

The changes were so massive and unwieldy that many folks were speculating the change was a bug. That’s right, a bug.

Turns out they were right.

The Google glitch was confirmed by John Mueller and then by the Google Webmaster Twitter account.

For the most part, it seems that the issue was resolved later that day and search results reverted back to normal by the evening of August 10th. Gary Illyes of Google gave an in depth explanation of what went wrong from his Twitter account:

“The indexing system, Caffeine, does multiple things:

  1. ingests fetchlogs,
  2. renders and converts fetched data,
  3. extracts links, meta and structured data,
  4. extracts and computes some signals,
  5. schedules new crawls,
  6. and builds the index that is pushed to serving.

If something goes wrong with most of the things that it’s supposed to do, that will show downstream in some way. If scheduling goes awry, crawling may slow down. If rendering goes wrong, we may misunderstand the pages. If index building goes bad, ranking & serving may be affected

Don’t oversimplify search for it’s not simple at all: thousands of interconnected systems working together to provide users high quality and relevant results. Throw a grain of sand in the machinery and we have an outage like yesterday.

We still had the index (the index db), but something was wrong with it, because of how it was built by Caffeine. That’s why we said it was an indexing issue, which manifested as a ranking issue externally.

Also, we can rebuild the whole serving index (db) within hours, yes.

I highly recommend you read SERoundtable’s post-mortem on the Glitch.

Studio Takeaway: This goes to show you that even the big G can duff it every once in a while. This is certainly the first time we’ve ever seen an anomaly of this level and impact this many sites. The Glitch appeared worldwide which is why there was so much anecdotal evidence of the occurrence.

What’s most illuminating is Google’s ability to quickly diagnose, rebuild, and rollout a new index to the entire world in a matter of hours.

Google Defends Itself Against Claims of Politically Biased Search Results

This week, Google came under fire for politically biased search results. A Twitter user pointed out that when searching for “socialism and racism” Google delivered results for “Capitalism and racism”. Immediately, they were labeled as an anti-capitalist corporation.

In an effort to explain why the results occurred, Danny Sullivan and the Google Search Liaison Twitter account went at length to explain how and why Google decides to show analogous results for certain types of searches. See screenshots below:

Studio Takeaway: Clearly, the search results that Google delivered did not reflect the user’s intent, but I don’t think that they are guilty of political bias.

Google Announces First Round of Virtual Webmaster Conferences

While Google had to put their webmaster conferences on hold due to COVID-19 concerns, they have just announced the first round of virtual webmaster conferences, appropriately titled “Virtual Webmaster Unconference.”

As of right now, there are no more available spots, but Google has said that they plan to do more of these conferences in the future.

Learn more here.

UPDATE AUG 15th: Google Algorithm Change & Rollback Over the Weekend

Saturday night, Barry Schwartz fired up his laptop to report that there was another big fluctuation in Google search results. According to the reporting tools, this updated started up around Saturday morning and was rolled back sometime around Saturday night.

The impact seemed to have quite a big impact on local search results.

I recommend following up with’s coverage here.

Other Interesting Links