Every single moment, behind the scenes, a complex algorithm is at work powering the search results that millions of Google users see each day. Google’s search algorithm is a hot topic for those who help businesses and brands increase their online reach. Optimizing a website to rank well — referred to as search engine optimization (SEO) — must consider all Google ranking factors.
However, what worked one day doesn’t always work the next. Over time, Google continually tweaks its algorithm, changing how rankings are earned. In this guide, discover how you can weather Google algorithm updates by understanding the complexities behind the system and setting your business up for online success.
What Is the Google Algorithm?
The Google algorithm is a complex system that uses thousands of ranking factors to determine what web pages should be served up on a results page. For example, when a searcher types into the Google search bar “best auto repair shop near me,” Google’s system sifts through all potential results, narrowing down on a few businesses that will be showcased on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
Which businesses are showcased here has to do with a wealth of factors. While Google is transparent about many of those factors, there is no clearly defined list of ranking factors. In fact, Google purposefully does not allow anyone to know its exact algorithm to prevent businesses from “gaming” the system — trying to artificially improve their rankings.
Additionally, what factors influence rankings has a lot to do with what is being asked. When it comes to local search, the proximity of a business can play a critical role, as well as a conglomeration of customer reviews. Conversely, when someone wants to know the latest information about a storm system, Google will prioritize factors such as when a news story was last updated or the depth of information about the storm provided.
At the end of the day, Google’s customers are searchers, and Google wants to provide its customers with the best answers to their questions. Whether that is discovering a new place to eat dinner or choosing a car dealership, Google attempts to provide the best answer to any query.
How Often Does Google Update Its Algorithm?
According to Google, its team makes updates to the algorithm on a daily basis. However, most of these daily updates are relatively small and unnoticeable. Google is simply tweaking the ranking factors to continually improve search results.
In addition to daily updates, Google will periodically issue large updates. Large updates are usually in response to an issue and have a big enough impact that they are given a dedicated name. For example, in 2011, Google released the Panda update, which aimed to improve the quality of content that ranks on page one. This update caused sites with duplicate content, thin content, or keyword-stuffed content to drop dramatically in ranking.
Lastly, Google issues core updates. Core updates are broader in their purpose and aim to improve the quality of Google’s algorithm as a whole. These updates are a reflection of data Google gathers, including the information provided by human raters. These raters are tasked with evaluating search results and providing feedback to Google about how well the algorithm performs across categories. Raters are trained by Google to evaluate whether or not the content served up has what it calls “E-A-T” or Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. It is important to note that raters do not have a direct impact on the rankings of individual sites, but rather the information they provide is used to indicate to Google whether or not it needs to tweak the core of the algorithm.
How to Prepare for Google Algorithm Updates
Realistically, the best way to avoid running into issues when Google updates its algorithm is to ensure that you have built a quality website that is optimized for search from the start. Websites that are designed properly will rarely be negatively affected by algorithm updates. If you are concerned that a Google algorithm update affected your rankings, or you simply want to prevent issues down the road, use these quick tips.
Optimize for Relevant Keywords
One factor that is important for ranking is ensuring that your website has been properly optimized for keywords that are relevant to your business. Keywords should reflect the intent of customers who might be searching for your services. For example, an HVAC business might focus on ranking for popular search terms, such as “AC repair near me” or “affordable furnace installation.”
Keywords should be implemented in your website’s content, headings, and titles. However, there is a fine balance to be struck when using keywords. Google’s algorithm will reduce your rankings if it feels you are stuffing your website with keywords to artificially inflate your rankings.
Keywords should simply be a natural reflection of the information your website contains. They should be used in amounts appropriate to the length and style of your content as well.
Comb Through Your Content
Along with the importance of optimizing your content with important keywords, Google’s algorithm will also check your content for originality and depth. Duplicate content can lead to algorithm penalties, diminishing your chance of ranking. Duplicate content includes both plagiarized content from another website and any of your own content that is reused over and over. Make sure every page has its own unique content that was custom written for your business.
Thin content refers to content that lacks depth. In general, it is a good idea to build out your web pages to have at least 500+ words of content. However, keep in mind that as Google’s algorithm improves, so does its ability to understand what content should be long and what should be succinct. For this reason, rather than attempting to add extra content to a webpage simply for the sake of length, take time to consider the purpose behind your content. A location page showcasing directions to your place of business doesn’t need the same length as a page explaining how a specific service works. Google is becoming increasingly proficient in differentiating between the relevancy of length based on searcher intent.
Design for Your Customers
One of the best ways to protect your website from negative ramifications when a new algorithm update is released is to always keep your customer central to all you do. At the end of the day, Google simply wants to ensure that its customers receive top-quality answers to their questions.
When you design your content, your website navigation, and your online experience for your customers, you will naturally rank better and fare well as updates are released. On the flip side, if you are trying to game the system or trick Google’s algorithm, you’ll continually need to adjust as Google becomes smarter.
Test Your Site Speed
Your site speed continues to play a big role in how well your site performs. As customers’ expectations around load times increase, it is easy to perceive that Google will continue to prioritize this as a ranking factor. Test your speed site at least once a month. Aim for web pages to load within 1-2 seconds. You can either work with your webmaster or use an online tool to diagnose where you might have issues, such as Google PageSpeed Insights.
Never Engage in Spammy Tactics
As Google improves its algorithm, the search engine is becoming increasingly adept at unearthing poor SEO practices. Often referred to in the SEO industry as “black hat SEO,” this style of optimization has included a variety of spammy tactics over the years, such as keyword stuffing, purchasing backlinks, hiding keywords in invisible text, and paying for fake reviews.
In addition to ensuring that your in-house team is not taking part in these Google don’ts, you also need to do your research before hiring a digital marketing agency to assist you with your online presence.
How can you tell whether or not an agency uses black hat practices? The following are signs that you might need to rethink your partnership:
- They promise too much: SEO takes time, particularly if you are a new business or you are launching a website for the first time. If an SEO agency promises you incredible results in a matter of weeks, it might not be using the right long-term strategy. Often, fast wins are the result of bad practices that might not get you penalized today but can definitely have a negative effect on your website long term.
- They provide you with reused content: Always make sure to ask an agency whether or not they will be writing the content for your website from scratch. You can also run a copy through an online plagiarism tool to make sure it is 100% unique.
- Your website’s rankings are plummeting: While there is no magic bullet that will ensure your website can rank on page one for every keyword you want, it is worrisome if your website consistently drops in rankings. This could be a sign that the agency you are working with has damaged your standings through unethical practices.
Build Today What Stands Tomorrow
Similar to building a quality home that can weather storms, creating a website that will withstand Google algorithm updates all starts by laying a strong foundation. At J&L Marketing, we believe in helping our clients build a web presence today that will continue to pay off tomorrow. We are committed to following Google’s guidelines and continually adapting to any changes that Google makes. We keep up to date on industry best practices and ensure that from the start, we are doing things the right way.
If you are interested in learning more about how to protect your online presence from any future algorithm updates, or if you need to recover from penalties inflicted due to previous poor practices, reach out to our team today. We’ll be happy to provide you with a consultation, analyzing the quality of your current online presence.