When search engines first started, they served as an online directory of websites. There was a lot of potential for these sites to help businesses and consumers, and it wasn’t long before the founders of Google realised that. Google soon claimed the top spot as the most popular search engine, even later on creating guidelines that would shape the way websites were optimised.
This is the reason why in most search engine optimisation (SEO) guides, search experts always mention to optimise for Google or use their tools for your SEO needs. It’s undeniable that the evolution of Google has influenced the way that marketers run things—and while the users are at the heart of these updates, some of them have given businesses a tricky time moving forward with specific strategies.
For instance, there have been reports that Google is delivering 8% less organic search traffic this 2019 vs 2018. This could be due to the ever-changing search engine results page (SERP) layout that pushes the previously coveted top spot under ads, featured snippets, related questions, and the like. In cases like this, it can be pretty tricky for marketers to find ways to make SEO work for them.
However, all hope isn’t lost—this is where your creative thinking and strategy should come in! Whether you’re a digital marketer or business owner, you need to get acquainted with the changes Google has made over the years and apply intelligent tactics to make your online presence thrive.
Below is a quick overview of what we’ll be discussing in the article:
- Overview of Google’s algorithm updates
- Why Google does it
- What Marketers Can Do About It
An Overview of Google’s Algorithm Updates
Google is serious with its goals of continually redefining the user search experience. It is said that they make anywhere between 500 to 600 updates each year—some noticeable enough to create an impact on your site, while some are not.
It hasn’t been a decade since Google released important algorithm updates that have drastically shaped the way people browse. Here’s a timeline of the major ones.
Recommendation for web design: Using a vertical timeline layout for this section (like this example, but simpler and more aligned with SEO.uk’s brand style) can improve the reading experience and set it apart from other articles on the same topic.
- February 2011 – Google Panda
The Panda update mainly penalised plagiarised posts, thin content, or low-quality articles that don’t give readers much value. This also meant that those who strived to write meaty and informative material got rewarded with higher rankings. The update pushed marketers to think about what they were putting out and consider their target audience first, instead of merely churning out content to create a digital footprint.
- April 2012 – Google Penguin
Also known as the “webspam algorithm update,” Penguin played a massive role in putting a stop to black hat SEO tactics that were popular at the time. These included spammy link building techniques and creating irrelevant backlinks. Search marketers were forced to revert to cleaner tactics and evaluate how they can gain high-quality links that would boost their image.
- August 2013 – Google Hummingbird
The Hummingbird update focused on being able to accurately decipher the intent behind search queries, versus just the keyword. It also penalised keyword stuffing, which made certain posts sound unnatural, repetitive, and low-quality. The update made marketers think of more creative ways to approach keyword research and gave SEO practitioners a broader playing field with the practice.
- July 2014 – Google Pigeon
Local SEO has been a very critical part of every company’s digital marketing strategy. The introduction of the Pigeon update made sure that searchers who entered a location-specific query would discover websites that included location information on their posts.
This update was also the key to integrate Google Web search and Google Maps seamlessly. On-page and off-page SEO efforts became a focus for marketers as they improved the local visibility of their websites.
- April 2015 – Google Mobile Friendly
Previously, when Google would evaluate the content of a page, they used the desktop version of the website. The rise of smartphone usage around this time paved the way for Google to prioritise mobile pages of websites and reward sites that already had a responsive, mobile-friendly design.
This update affected the individual pages of a website, so if you only have one page optimised for mobile, its rank could be improved but the rest of your pages may not.
- October 2015 – Google RankBrain
RankBrain is considered as the third most crucial web ranking factor, according to Google. The update made Google understand the context and relevance of user search intent and meanings behind queries. This made marketers focus on the purpose and depth of their content and answer questions that are important to their target audience.
- March 2017 – Google Mobile-First Indexing
If in 2015, mobile-friendly pages were rewarded for being optimised, the 2017 Mobile-First Indexing disregarded desktop design from its ranking equation. This isn’t to say that you should be lax with your desktop UI/UX; but rather, it’s now more important to create your web content from a mobile perspective above all else. The update was released a year after smartphone usage trumped desktops.
- March 2018 – Google Medic
The Medic update sanctions thin, low-quality content that seems to have been generated for heavy promotions and contain plenty of affiliate links. It was nicknamed as such because it created a substantial impact for those in the health and medical industries, though it also affected others outside of that umbrella. Issues like slow page loading times, bad UX, and duplicate content were also sanctioned in this update.
- November 2019 – Google BERT
Considered as one of Google’s most significant updates in the last five years, the BERT algorithm has a new impact on the online marketing industry today, with long-term effects still unknown.
According to Google, this update aims to improve the interpretation of complex long-tail search queries to display relevant search results. It reportedly affects one out of 10 results and uses Natural Language Processing, a type of artificial intelligence. It focuses more on how website content is understood versus how it is ranked.
Why Does Google Implement These Algorithm Updates?
Google search algorithm updates are software rollouts made to ensure that their search engine is working as they intend it to, namely: giving answers to queries that users have, indexing all the sites on the web, and ranking them according to relevance when searched.
These updates could be minor tweaks, or they could be a complete overhaul that can change the search experience of users or affect the marketing strategies of brands. Here are some of the top motivations behind Google’s major algorithm updates.
- To improve user experience
Google’s algorithm updates focused on how much users would be able to benefit from the websites listed on their SERPs. By deploying their artificial intelligence tools and applying their research, they help make the internet a much fairer space.
Sites that use dirty tactics to reach the top spot without putting due effort are penalised. This care for users urges brands to also think strategically in how they will be able to deliver the best experience for their users.
- To improve the quality of content
Most of the algorithm updates focused on how marketers and webmasters could improve their content so they could stand out above the rest. In an increasingly competitive digital space, it’s getting tougher for brands to cut above the noise and get discovered by users online.
Improving the quality of your content hits a lot of targets, such as improving your search rankings, increasing your domain authority, and bettering the chances of getting high-quality backlinks.
- To improve search results
Google is mainly used as a tool to discover new information. Whether this is for educational or transactional purposes, Google aims to serve every search and give users the most accurate result for their query.
The more people use Google and find what they need, the more brands trust the engine, subscribe to its ads, and follow the guidelines it provides. Google’s initiative in reshaping the search engine industry made it to what it is today. If users are getting irrelevant results on the platform, they wouldn’t be using it.
- To improve brand exposure of businesses
Google also does a balancing act of satisfying users and giving businesses the platform they need to create their digital footprint.
Sites that follow the search engine’s website and content guidelines get rewarded by getting the top spot on the SERPs, including what’s known as Position Zero. If your content is lucky enough to be placed here, users will see you first—and voice assistants will pick it up as an answer to a voice search query.
However, in some cases, what’s best for users and brands don’t always align. This same benefit of being in the featured snippet could sometimes cause users not to click through the first organic search result since they already have the information they need. This could potentially create a decrease in organic traffic in the site, and even the profit of the business.
What Content Marketers Can Do About Google Algorithm Updates
Inevitably, there will be more algorithm updates from Google in the coming months and years. That said, SEO practitioners and digital marketers should be quick on their feet when it comes to surviving the unpredictability of each wave. Here’s what you can do to keep rocking your content marketing efforts the next time a new major update rolls out.
- Keep calm and observe.
Many marketers associate Google algorithm updates with hurting their blog traffic. This isn’t always the case. While this could happen, the opposite could also be true—you could get rewarded for previous SEO efforts and have your traffic increase.
Google rarely details the changes they make to their search engine, and instead leaves it up to marketing blogs to piece the whole update together. Don’t panic right away; instead, aim to get the pulse of what other websites in your industry are saying.
- Stay up to date with the latest SEO news.
This is the best time to check out what the experts in the SEO and marketing industry are saying. Make sure you’re following the best resources, as some blogs could be publishing misleading or inaccurate information about the new update. Some examples of reliable resources are:
These sites share the lowdown on crucial Google algorithm websites and update their pages in the event of any new development.
- Stay updated with your analytics.
Before you make any changes with your current strategy or adjust your SEO efforts based on what you’ve read, it’s a good idea to check your traffic and positions first. Hop on to your analytics trackers and see if your traffic has increased or decreased, or if your keyword positions have changed.
From here, you’ll be able to decide whether to keep doing what you’ve been doing or to replace practices that are already starting to hurt your overall performance.
- Do a thorough website audit.
Whether or not your website was negatively impacted, you should do a thorough web audit to review the source of the good or adverse effects of the algorithm update. Here’s what you should cover:
- Content – Use content marketing tools to create a report about your content performance. Which articles are doing well? Have there been any unusual spikes in your traffic? Take note of these posts. It’s a good idea to locate any duplicate or thin content or those with missing tags, so you can fix the issues and come up with solutions to solve the problems. Merge duplicates, fill in missing information, and look for other topic ideas that you may not have covered yet.
- Off-page elements – How is your backlink profile? These are one of the biggest reasons why a website gets penalised. You can use tools like Ahrefs to check the status of your backlinks and remove low-quality, irrelevant, or spammy links. Look for other ways you can increase your backlinks through white hat techniques that won’t put you into any more trouble.
- Technical SEO – An algorithm update could also attack the performance of your technical SEO. Things like your page speed, sitemap structure, canonicals, noindex rules, and hreflang tags should be double-checked. Crawl your technical SEO tactics and see which areas could be underperforming.
- UX – Mobile-friendliness is such a huge factor in getting your website to rank. Keep in mind that the whole point of this is to prioritise the user experience and make their navigation on your website smooth. Are there any other things you can do to improve it?
- Develop your plan of action.
Whether you’ll be doing this yourself or asking the help of an expert to lay down your action plan, it’s imperative to figure out your next steps following an algorithm update. While some issues may not be very critical, and not every algorithm update will be a cause for alarm, this step will help you develop a routine when it comes to improving your SEO performance overall.
Documenting your strategies each time there’s an update will also help you decipher if your efforts are doing you any good. Don’t forget to check on your analytics and see if there are any tangible improvements from your adjustments and keep tweaking your strategies until you find your groove.
Google Algorithm Updates: They’re Inevitable
Being a great search marketer revolves on being able to adapt quickly to changes in the digital space, such as Google’s algorithm updates. Just a few nuggets of wisdom for your SEO journey:
- Don’t rely solely on Google for your content marketing strategy. While Google may be ruling the game now, don’t discount other search engines in the process when looking at your overall content marketing strategy. It’s still best to take an omnichannel approach and optimise for Bing and Yahoo! as well—after all, they still matter! (Remember how voice search is poised to take over half of all searches by 2020? These voice assistants use Bing as their search engine, not Google!)
- It might be better to aim for featured snippets than to get the #1 spot. Since CTRs of the first organic result falls when a featured snippet is present, it may do your website better if you aim for Position Zero instead. It could take time for your content to reach this status, but your ongoing SEO efforts and quality checks on your content can help you achieve it. The results are worth it in the long run.
Dealing with algorithm changes can be overwhelming, especially if a major one rolls out. Luckily, our experts are used to this sort of thing—and can effectively help your business to recover in the event of a massive update. Here at SEO.uk, we understand this issue and look at all sides of the situation. Contact us today and get a free consultation about how we can help your SEO and content marketing efforts thrive in this era.