According to the Search Engine Journal, over 92% of internet searches happen in Google. If you pull back the curtain on any of the 3.5 billion daily searches, you’ll find the Google algorithm. The algorithm does the literal work of a search, crawling the internet’s active websites for the chosen keyword and ranking pages according to a myriad of factors.
What sites appear on a search engine results page (SERP) and how high they are displayed is determined by the Google algorithm. As marketers, we need to be aware of how Google prioritizes those search rankings in order to ensure our content ranks highly and we can reach a greater share of prospects.
That’s why I sat down with Guido Bartolacci, Head of Demand Generation at New Breed, to discuss the importance of Google’s algorithm updates, how to detect them and what to do when they happen.
Why Should Marketers Care?
While there are a number of tried-and-true factors to consider when optimizing your website pages for search engines, the Google algorithm is always changing. The search engine giant makes almost daily, minor changes to prioritize different factors when determining what pages rank higher than others.
Finding out when algorithm updates happen, learning what has changed and responding accordingly is the most effective way to keep your site ranking well and enable prospects to discover you on the web.
What is an Algorithm Update?
While Google makes minor changes to its algorithm on a regular basis, they occasionally make more holistic changes. These are known as core updates.
“Core updates can have a significant impact on the way people find you online,” says Guido. “This can be anything from the layout of SERPs to the type of information they prioritize in rankings.”
A recent example of a layout change in a core update was the introduction of the featured snippet. Snippets are special boxes that appear at the top of search results to answer a search query. These are sometimes referred to as Position #0.
In addition to layout changes, Google also makes updates to what they choose to prioritize in search results.
“Over time, Google has added a lot of signals that they use to evaluate websites and decide whether or not to rank them,” says Guido.
While most of these signals have to do with the content on your site, more recent additions have been signals for site speed, accessibility and usability. The faster and more accessible your website is, the more likely it is to rank higher in search results. From a usability perspective, sites that have strong mobile functionality have also been prioritized in recent updates.
Additionally, from time to time, Google will rollback features from core updates in the following weeks and months depending on its impact on search traffic.
An Algorithm Field Guide
How to detect an algorithm update
There are a number of ways you can keep track of Google algorithm updates. Perhaps the most effective way to find out when updates are happening and what those updates entail is to subscribe to relevant forums and websites.
Search Engine Land, Search Engine Roundtable and Search Engine Journal are all reputable sources of information for when core updates occur and what changes accompany them. Additionally, Moz maintains an ongoing list of the largest updates to the algorithm and the impact of those updates.
While subscribing to news from these sites may be an effective way to keep track of updates, regularly tracking your website traffic is also important.
“Almost every time an algorithm update occurs, your traffic’s trajectory will change,” says Guido. “It could be positive, but it can also be negative.”
By monitoring your incoming traffic on a consistent basis, you can notice any significant volatility. Drastic changes up or down in your organic traffic could likely be from an algorithm update, and you should respond accordingly.
How to respond to an algorithm update
Let’s say you notice a big decline in your organic traffic in a given month. You’ve also received a notification that Google implemented a core update to their algorithm.
“Good or bad, you should learn what changes occurred,” says Guido. “To either continue to do the things that are helping you rank well or adjust those things that aren’t.”
Your next step is to find out what changes occurred in that core update. If it were a new signal to prioritize mobile usability, you need to make changes to your website so it’s more effective and applicable for mobile users or you risk not ranking in search results.
Additionally, third-party tools like Moz and SEMRush can generate reports on your website to indicate areas of improvement regarding accessibility, usability and more, but these are generally related to technical errors.
If the core update were related to on-site content, your work may be more difficult to pinpoint. Google crawls the content on your site for relevance to the title, how readers interact with your content, its relevance to the page’s URL and more. If the content on your site isn’t performing well, you won’t rank well. If you have thousands of pages, it can be a particularly difficult lift to optimize your content for updates. Outdated or incorrect content can be a drag on your site’s overall domain authority, negatively impacting your search rankings for everything — including new content.
Paying attention to your organic traffic and Google algorithm updates is vital to being found on the web. Staying up-to-date on algorithm updates will enable you to make edits in a proactive way, ensuring you’re prepared when you need to pivot your web or SEO strategy to respond to changes in search.