Do you really need to pay attention to Google algorithm updates?
It might be tempting not to. Trying to keep up with the ever-evolving landscape of digital marketing and technology is tough. No sooner do we optimize our sites for the latest Google algorithm than we have to adapt to a new one — it’s exhausting.
But a set it and forget it attitude with your digital marketing strategy will eventually have negative consequences. Some changes in the algorithm won’t affect you, but many others will. If you don’t pay attention, your search results ranking could tank. And that’s no good for your business.
Remember, Google’s goal is to make it easy, smooth, and fast for people to get clear, accurate, relevant, high-quality answers to their questions. Refining the algorithm helps them do just that. While many updates are designed to filter out spammy sites trying to play the system, you’ll still feel the effects if you don’t update your strategy.
What Happens When Google Rolls Out an Update?
First, you should know that Google doesn’t always warn you when it comes to updates.
In fact, it can be quite the opposite. Early in the morning on November 17, 2021, Google announced a surprise CORE update (a broad update that affects search queries and is not industry-specific) just in time for the holidays. They rolled it out two hours later. This came as a shock to many who had optimized their digital strategy to prepare for the busy season.
Plus, Google never reveals exactly which factors are affected by algorithm changes, which means that people were left scrambling to understand why their traffic was tanking or peaking and why.
Updates to the algorithm usually spark a period of volatility, in which people look to both Google’s official communication channels as well as to online forums, articles, and connections with SEO experts for guidance.
Keep in mind that just because a page tanks doesn’t mean that it’s a bad page—it could mean that updates have simply made other sites more competitive. Sites that see drops in their traffic often level out over time.
As of March 2022, SEO experts agree that the CORE update didn’t significantly impact most websites. However, that did not stop the impact it had on businesses during the holiday season.
Staying on top of Google updates can be a lifesaver. Ideally, Google will give more warning in the future so you can pivot and prepare for any changes. But if not, you can at least save yourself time, energy, and stress by monitoring your traffic closely and putting effort into things like your social media and email list.
How Updates to Combat Spammers Can Affect You
Google SEO algorithm updates per year are measured by the thousands.
Thankfully, most of those are so minuscule that they won’t affect you at all. However, when Google makes an announcement about an update, you really need to pay attention.
One reason Google updates the algorithm is that it’s in a constant battle to outplay spammers and send people to safe, secure, accurate pages. Their goal is to reduce the amount of traffic going to sites that use “black hat” SEO practices, which are unethical techniques that drive people to illegitimate or irrelevant sites.
For example, link spamming is an unethical technique that people use to rank more highly in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) and drive traffic to their site. Link spam consists of posted or embedded links that aren’t relevant, may be poor quality, and are intended to promote something regardless of whether it has anything to do with the page context. Some spammers even resort to embedding hidden links by changing font color so that people don’t even know that they’re clicking a link.
To combat this, Google rolled out an update on July 26, 2021, in which they stated:
In our continued efforts to improve the quality of the search results, we’re launching a new link spam fighting change today—which we call the “link spam update.” This algorithm update, which will rollout across the next two weeks, is even more effective at identifying and nullifying link spam more broadly, across multiple languages. Sites taking part in link spam will see changes in Search as those links are re-assessed by our algorithms.
The good news is that Google set clear guidelines around what they would and wouldn’t accept and communicated them openly. While the secrets of the algorithm are concealed within Google’s inner circle, they do lay out clear best practices to help people optimize their site as best they can.
You should pay attention to updates even if you think you’re doing everything right. For example, even if you are only including highly relevant and useful links for your readers, you might not be following Google’s guidelines for signaling to them what type of links they are. If you get docked for this, you could see a steep and sudden drop in your rankings. Obviously, lower rankings will lead to decreased traffic to your site and decreased revenue.
How Updates to Improve User Experience Can Affect You
You probably already know that giving your customers a good web experience will strengthen your relationship with them, but did you consider that the algorithm is judging the experience you’re offering too?
Page experience is a factor in the algorithm based on information gleaned from Chrome’s User Experience Report. A positive page experience means that visitors can find and do what they need to do quickly and that they can have a good, safe experience whether on a mobile device or a PC.
In May of 2020, Google announced that page experience would play a role in the algorithm. Anyone who wasn’t paying attention would have had a late start in optimizing their site for mobile readiness, security, and other ranking factors. While the initial rollout was slow, updates may move more quickly. To stay ahead of the curve, you need to pay attention.
As of March 2022, the algorithm assesses page experience by looking at page experience signals. These signals include everything from the stability of loading to mobile readiness to speed.
Luckily, Google pointed out tools to help people prepare for changes to this ranking factor, such as the mobile-friendly test and web vitals assessment, in addition to answering common questions.
Google isn’t the number one search engine in the world for nothing. To earn their high status, they are continuously trying to improve the results for those who use them. That’s just one more reason to expect updates, keep an eye out for them, and take them seriously.
Improving the user experience will never stop. As technology evolves and people’s expectations shift, Google will shift the algorithm to reflect this.
How Updates in Deep Learning Can Affect You
Google rolls out multiple updates per day, and it’s impossible to keep track of every single one.
However, you must keep track of the heavy hitters, like the BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) update, which was said to affect 1 in 10 search queries in the United States.
Rolled out in 2019, developers dubbed it the biggest change to Google search in five years.
BERT models are open-source search algorithms that use “deep learning”, a type of technology that mimics human neural networks. It enables search engines to take words into context and give more accurate search results.
For example, if you were to search “Doing yoga when you have an injury” you would get information regarding exactly that. Results might include best practices for doing yoga safely and the best poses for people who are injured.
Without BERT, search results may have shown those that included all of the keywords, but wouldn’t necessarily be the answer to your question. You might find some results that talk about getting injuries from yoga or the poses most likely to give you an injury.
The BERT update impacted businesses because it altered the types of results people got from their queries. The only way to see how each of their pages was being impacted was to track which pages were experiencing shifts in traffic and search long-tail keywords (search phrases with longer word counts) to see the types of results they were getting.
On a positive note, BERT enabled people to write SEO-optimized content about their business more naturally, which freed up writers to use keywords in a more nuanced, precise way.
Even though creating content with a natural flow is ideal, it required that people update or create new content to drive traffic to their site. Even SEO-optimized, great content could have been negatively impacted simply by the fact that there were changes to the types of search results people got.
Writing SEO-optimized content that boosts your ranking is a challenge worth hiring help for. To compete in today’s digital marketplace, you don’t want to settle for poorly written content.
How to Track the Impact of Google Updates
It’s hard to know exactly how shifts in the algorithm will affect you, and as a business owner, you certainly don’t have time to anticipate the outcome of every change.
Instead, keep track of updates and monitor the traffic to your site during and after the updates using Google Search Console. Updates are typically rolled out over the course of weeks, so give yourself a month or two before making any changes. You could see temporary dips that ultimately return to normal levels in the long run.
If you see a significant, long-term shift, take a look at any information about the update that you can. You can connect with digital marketers online, search forums to see who else is experiencing the same thing, and check Google’s official communications to see what was impacted. Google Search Central Blog is a great place to start.
It’s not always easy to identify exactly what caused a drop in ranking, as Google reportedly uses 200 key ranking factors. However, updates will generally fall under five categories: content, authority, technical aspects, page experience, and industry-specific factors. Once you know which umbrella you’re working with, you can shift accordingly.
For example, if the update relates to authority, you might want to focus on your link-building strategy. If it’s regarding page experience, you can optimize your website for mobile usability, speed, and security.
Learn How Carter & Custer Can Improve Your Rankings
Whatever your business is, you probably put your heart and soul into it because you love it. You want to do good, provide an amazing service, or offer something groundbreaking to your clients.
But the technology and SEO sides of it? Those can be tough, especially if you’re not passionate about them. It’s hard enough to get the hang of digital marketing, let alone keep up with constant changes to the algorithm.
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