Hopefully, your brand has been committed and invested in its SEO program for many years. If so, the notion of a core algorithm update is likely welcome news as you know you’re doing the ‘right things’ that will continue to drive incremental growth from organic search. If you are not in this group, keep reading.
Are the rumblings of an algorithm update making you nervous? Are you worried that your website has been negatively impacted by a major algorithm update? Is your organic traffic started unexpectedly declining?
It’s important to know the difference between a core or major algorithm update, minor ranking fluctuations and mere speculation. The SEO industry and its diverse group of experts on social media are great at sharing applicable advice and helping the online marketing community know when they’re seeing unexpected ranking fluctuations. These experts also help to breakdown algorithm updates once they’ve actually happened. However, there can be knee-jerk reactions and a desire for SEO thought leaders to be ‘first to market’ with the news of possible algorithm changes. When this happens, it only serves to create widespread concern for no reason. This has most recently occurred when Google has a glitch or bug in its search results. While the team at Google may be scrambling to fix their engine, in parallel, SEO marketers go into a heightened state of panic as word quickly spreads that a topsy-turvy algorithm change has been implemented. Google then announces they had a glitch and all is back to normal…crisis averted but not without angst and overreaction by the SEO community.
Below are some useful perspectives to help you manage through the F.U.D. factor (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) along with six core questions we most commonly hear from senior marketing leaders regarding Google algorithm updates.
“The only constant is change” should be a fundamental mantra for any digital marketer and even more so those in the SEO industry. We previously wrote about the ever-changing nature of search engines. According to Google, “broad core updates tend to happy every few months…we’re constantly making updates to our search algorithms, including smaller ones”. In fact, Google ran over 450,000 experiments via Search Raters and live tests and made more than 3,500 improvements to their Search system in 2019 alone! For business owners, marketing leaders and SEO teams who carefully monitor organic performance, you must accept the ups and downs you will face and not overreact when things don’t go as planned. Even if you have great results today, you are not entitled to them in perpetuity. Search marketers must earn the right to be there tomorrow and adapt to the changes you know will keep coming.
“Measure twice, cut once” is not only applicable to carpenters! It also applies to those responsible for SEO – particularly when coming out of a major algorithm update, new website launch or major site migration. When a major algorithm change happens, it takes time for all of the impacts to be fully realized. This requires patience in measuring the results before impulsive actions are taken. Brands who can scale and quickly assess their SEO performance are well-positioned to identify opportunities for improvement and assess the work to be done to rebuild organic performance. Today’s SEO practitioner is like a master carpenter. According to Wikipedia: Carpentry (SEO) is a skilled trade and a craft in which the primary work performed is the cutting (research), shaping (auditing) and installation (optimizing) of building materials (solutions) during the construction of buildings (websites), ships (content), timber bridges (campaigns), etc.
“Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been” is too often quoted in business meetings but it has gravitas, especially for digital marketers trying to win market share. If your company’s site traffic, revenue and profitability heavily-depend on SEO, you would be well served to have an always-on, nimble team that can decipher algorithm updates and translate them into future-proof capabilities for your brand. Educating internal business partners and getting buy-in, budgets and prioritization is foundational to your organization’s future success. Be a center of influence and cast vision!
“Your customers are like invited guests to a party and you are the host”. While algorithm updates can be alarming, brand websites that strive to meet the needs and expectations of their customers will be better equipped to weather the storm of a major algorithm change. Key areas of emphasis include content quality (depth, originality and value to the reader), strong E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness), best-in-class user-experiences and Core Web Vitals (time to render the largest content element, first input delay, cumulative layout shift).
6 common questions marketers have after a major algorithm update
- Who should I trust?
Over the years, Google has gotten much better about communicating with the SEO industry and business owners. It started 15+ years ago with Matt Cutts and continues today from the likes of John Mueller and Danny Sullivan (The ‘Godfather’ of Search). As it pertains to major algorithm updates, Google is steadfast in stating that they will “confirm broad core updates because they typically produce some widely notable effects…sites that experience a drop will be looking for a fix, and we want to ensure they don’t try to fix the wrong things”. If you see Twitter exploding over #googleupdate or #googlealgorithm, go right to the source to hear what Google is saying (@googlewmc or @searchliason). If nothing is confirmed, give it time. Otherwise, you can always turn to the trusted voices at www.searchengineland.com and www.searchenginejournal.com for up to the minute coverage, insights and helpful analyses.
- What steps should I take?
The first step is to assess organic search traffic to your website and your top ~100 traffic driving pages. For large eCommerce or multi-location national brands, you can monitor traffic to all pages under sub-folders to enable large scale traffic analysis. Conduct a week-over-week and year-over-year assessment comparison to spot any anomalies and understand seasonality. If something looks off, check Google Search Console (impressions, clicks) while also assessing keyword ranking gains or losses via tools like SEMRush or Ahrefs.Should you notice heavy declines in keyword visibility and/or organic traffic, it’s time to conduct a comprehensive SEO audit of your website architecture, site performance, content quality, content themes, link profiles and overall user experience/design. In this case, it’s usually worth the investment to hire an SEO consultant to lead this initiative due to their objectivity and attention to detail.
- When should I start?
As soon as possible, once you’ve validated a major algorithm update has taken place and fully rolled out and after you’ve clearly identified a decline in organic visibility and traffic for your site.
- Where should I turn to validate my findings?
A trusted SEO agency and/or experienced SEO consultant is the first place to go. You should also collaborate with your analytics lead(s) to help with the post-mortem and root cause analyses. Another valuable thought leader will be the individual(s) or team(s) responsible for your paid search campaigns. Can PPC offset any losses in the short-term? Has the PPC team observed a change in search demand? Are they seeing increased click-thrus due to your organic presence slipping? Assuming consumer demand is stable, a short-term, incremental investment in paid search can often offset your SEO losses.
- Why should I care?
Virtually all consumers turn to Google to solve problems, compare products and services and make purchase decisions. Additionally, search is the channel where your target customers are literally stating their intentions via the queries they enter. Search is a reflection of your customer’s needs and wants and history proves that keeping up with Google helps you keep up with your customers (ex. mobile-friendly expectations, site security, fast loading pages, original quality content, etc).
- How should I prioritize the work to be done?
There are two main steps to take after all of the aforementioned research is complete. The first is to group the website ranking factors that have most likely impacted your website’s visibility after the algorithm update rolled out. The second is to work with internal partners and vendors (ex. UX, IT, Brand, PR, etc.) to determine how much effort will be required to solve the problems you’ve grouped together. You then need to project the impact each solution will have on the business. Using a numeric weighting system, apply scores to both the effort and impact of each solution, add the scores together and stack rank the list of projects you should tackle first. Low effort/high impact projects should immediately get resolved whereas high effort/low impact work should move to the bottom of your list of priorities.
For further reading on steps to take after a major algorithm update, checkout some of these trusted resources: