Google started off August by rolling out major updates to its search algorithm. As an SEO company in VA, this came as no surprise to us, knowing that the search giant does updates between 200 to 500 times per year. But when the dust settled mid-August, what we thought was minor, routine maintenance turned out to be a broad core algorithm update.
Not Your Usual Daily Google Update
Google doesn’t usually announce updates to its core algorithm because these updates happen so often, sometimes twice on the same day. The search engine giant has clarified it happens several times per year to improve search results.
But as Google has already confirmed, the core update is nothing like the updates they’ve launched so far. Unlike focused updates such as Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, or Fred whose data sets are specialized and separate from the core algo, this update is broad and global.
And it’s tied to the overall quality and stability of Search.
Additionally, the named algorithms were implemented to address faults or issues in Google’s current algo. For Penguin, it was about addressing link spam; Pigeon, on the other hand, targeted local SEO spam. In short, the algorithm updates had a specific purpose.
Google’s core update is different, though. While it offers little explanation, it has hinted that the update focuses on providing better search results. Understanding the basics can help us better optimize websites for the future.
Those who weren’t damaged by it know what they’re doing. And chances are, they’ve spent years training themselves to uncover Google’s over 200 secret ranking signals.
For us, a core update is a change to the main search algorithm itself. Based on what we know so far, there’s nothing wrong with the sites that lost rankings and there is no way to “fix” the websites that experienced changes in their rankings.
Google is far less focused on finding and demoting low-quality content today than it was in previous years. Instead, the search engine wants to focus on working out user intent — or what a search user tries to get an answer to — and providing relevant content that addresses those queries.
A Renewed Focus on Relevancy for Users
A look at the list of websites badly hit by the update, along with Q&A’s with Google’s senior engineers, led us to these conclusions:
- The focus should be on creating great content and an excellent overall website experience for search users
- No technical fix can remedy the rankings of affected websites
- Pages that were previously undervalued will benefit from these changes
Whenever Google rolls out updates, its Search Team won’t tell you exactly where the changes were made and how you can fix them. People in the SEO profession are often left to their own devices.
Fortunately, leading agencies and SEO blogs were quick to release lists of websites and pages that experienced drops and gains.
The first impact was felt across the health, fitness, lifestyle, and medical space, given that these niches receive the biggest volumes of queries in a day. A pattern also surfaced. Websites with content written by real experts showed an increase in traffic and page rankings. This initial survey data prompted seasoned SEOs and thought leaders to name it “The Medic Update.” A week later, it became apparent that the update isn’t zoned in on health. It covers all niches and all the hundreds of billions of pages in the Search Index.
What we know for sure is that code is not static. All these updates are not only meant to improve the user experience but to also level the playing field between SEOs and non-SEOs. The reason that thousands of engineers and scientists rigorously test and create “change lists” is to make sure that people are creating useful and helpful content.
The Algorithm Does More than Target Low Quality Pages
More than a decade ago, the mantra for SEO was “Content is King.” This meant businesses had to focus on creating good quality content that would entice users to read, share, and generate links to boost their rankings.
Producing good quality content gave big brands with big budgets an advantage. But back then, Google was just focused on identifying “low quality” content that was spam or ad-heavy. The search engine, however, isn’t as obsessed with tracking down and penalizing low-quality web pages as SEOs.
There’s a huge difference between an algorithm that aimed at low-quality web pages and one that singles out the top answer search query, though. While the SEO industry assumes that the algorithm change is meant for low-quality pages, the issue is not as common and pressing as the industry thinks.
Instead, the search engine wants to target user intentions through relevant content.
But this doesn’t mean you can work your way around the algorithm by buying a thesaurus and sprinkling your content with synonyms. Determining user intent depends on the goal your visitor is trying to achieve.
It can either be transactional (intending to buy something), informational (seeking knowledge on any subject), or navigational (trying to find a resource or website).
So anything that goes into the core should bring Google closer to its current and future goal: to deliver the exact information people need in a fraction of a second and in the best possible format. This is why some websites didn’t see changes with their ranking; they’re most likely doing it right. And it’s the same reason behind this effect: the major change is a boon to some and a bane to many.
How Can You Bounce Back from the Algorithm Change?
While Google is focused on the user, it also empowers publishers and businesses by giving them the opportunity to add to the collective wisdom of the web. But the tools and guidelines in place for webmasters are still anchored on how useful and relevant your site is to searchers.
This is why the search engine continues to refine its ranking systems to improve the quality of search results. This means it will always stay ahead of those who want to beat the algorithm. Whether your website took a hit or not, consider it a fair warning to stay attuned to the SEO best practices.
So what’s the better response, you may ask?
We suggest letting the changes sink in and going back to doing what you’re supposed to: making the lives of searchers better and easier. While it’s normal to react strongly to this system, it’s important to understand the real motivation behind it. Any agency understands that Google will always have the upper hand.
We’ve compiled a list of how you can stay on the good side of the algorithm change and fix your SEO strategy.
Satisfy User Intent
Be critical of the content you publish and create. It’s all about your consumers; no matter how well-written a piece of content is, it serves no purpose if it does not resonate with a user and solves their problem.
Pay closer attention to user searches and keywords to get a handle on what your target users are trying to achieve and how you can help them get there.
Answer Niche-related Questions
Google pays attention to answering questions people type on the search bar. Its featured snippets appear between the search box and search results with reference to the source site, while the “people also ask” feature contains questions and answers that people have when typing something similar.
Both features are prominent in the search results, providing source sites with additional exposure. Make your website content become the instant answer box on Google by answering and optimizing niche-related questions.
Make question research part of your keyword research process. You may want to group the different queries based on local questions, product-related questions, and others with buying intent.
Broaden Keyword Portfolios
Individual keywords play a crucial role in SEO, especially if they’re a big money term. But expanding your keyword portfolio is essential for Google to single out your website as a potentially relevant result on SERPs. Google is smart enough to pick up relevant keywords, so ensure you include all the info on your site.
Keep your website content pertinent to user goals to increase the likelihood of being one of the top results for a user typing long tail keywords.
Embrace Media-rich Content
Google delivers results in various formats so that you find the information you’re looking for quickly. Media-rich content is any sort of digital content that deviates from the norm of chunky messages and static images. Rich media contains interactive elements, such as video, audio, and animation that encourage users to engage with the content.
This type of content is beneficial for your business because it offers unique messaging that rises above the noise on the web and hooks viewer attention longer. You’ll have the opportunity to capture audience attention through easily consumed information and social media engagement. This way, you can lead them through the sales funnel with ease and guide them toward a purchase.
Understand the User’s Journey
The user journey is not a straight line that will lead buyers from the landing page to the shopping cart. It is a timeline of all the touchpoints between customers and your company — and all the channels where they happen.
Understanding how it works will help you learn how a customer found your business, how they interacted with you, what they like and don’t like about your brand, and what makes you different from competitors.
Create Call-to-Actions Based on User Intent
User intent has a significant impact on the entire buyer’s cycle, from initial motivation to the final purchase. So, when a searcher arrives on your website, it should provide them with the opportunity to get more information that will lead to buying your products or getting your services.
In conversion optimization, you’ll need to meet user intent first. Your call-to-action will prompt users to buy, sign up, or call after addressing their initial intent, so make every word of it count. This way, you can increase your website’s metrics as well as its conversion rate.
Wait for Results
Google performs extensive quality control before rolling out a major update, but false positives and unintended search results are inevitable. If you experience bad search results or a drop in rankings, the best thing for you to do is wait. The search results can change, and it may come in days or weeks.
You may want to study the top performers to gain insight on how the algorithm has changed. Learning about competitors can help you understand why users feel that website is more relevant. Time is on your side, after all, as Google will restore your rankings over time when it recognizes improvements.
Actionable Takeaways for the Algorithm Change
Ranking fluctuations cause a lot of stress to SEOs and webmasters across the globe. Keeping in line with these updates, however, entails planning and aligning one’s strategy with the direction Google is taking.
Here are some insights you can take note of moving forward:
- Content is still king – Content still reigns supreme, and it will likely keep the crown for as long as people demand in-depth, informational, and relevant web content.
- Staying current with Google pays off – Stay on top of Google’s best practices, like improving less-performing pages and boosting page load speed, converting sites to https months ahead, and creating mobile-responsive content.
- Analyze and optimize your website – Bad backlinks can kill your rankings and make it harder for Google to rank your content for user intent and relevance. Optimize your site by taking out spammy, artificial, and low-quality backlinks and focus on establishing the credibility of your brand.
- Clean website architecture – Google evaluates the quality and quantity of links on a webpage to determine its value. Establish the credibility of your website with an SEO-friendly website structure with good navigation and sitelinks to reduce bounce rate and improve dwell time.
Partner with Alkries LLC and build the online presence of your business. We will insulate your brand from similar algorithm updates by creating content that puts the searcher first and satisfies user intent.
Contact us today to schedule a consultation.