EXPERT ADVICE

Managing Google’s Algorithm Updates

Many businesses rely heavily on organic search engine traffic for business, perhaps in many cases too heavily or even exclusively.

With the majority of searches happening on Google, updates to how Google is serving results could put a complete halt to new customer acquisition, leads, sales, and ultimately revenue.

Oftentimes, Google will pull back a major change or the results will self-adjust as users’ behaviors indicate the older results were more helpful than the updated results.

Perhaps you were hoping to see Amazon.com in the results as you might typically, so you scroll until you find that old Amazon URL, indicating to Google that the URL should be moved back into the higher position held prior to the update.

Businesses that are aware of this tend to have more patience after a major change and are less concerned.

However, some businesses have made choices in techniques used since the last Google update that may not align with Google’s search guidelines.

Some of these tactics include buying links in an effort to “game” search results, attempting to manipulate search behaviors using networks of search and clickers, or showing one set of results to users and something different to search engines. These are typically the greatest concerns of website owners when it comes to Google announcing or releasing a core algorithm update.

Following are some ways in which you and your business can best manage the latest core update to Google’s algorithm.

Google’s November 2021 Spam Update

A core update is a periodic algorithm update that affects a percentage of queries and often improves how Google serves results.

Similar to core updates, a spam update is implemented to improve search result quality to users by dropping the ranking of (if not outright eliminating) sites or web pages that Google’s algorithm believes contain spam-like content.

With feedback from a team of manual Quality Raters, engineers continuously develop ways to identify attributes that provide more helpful results to searchers.

Many times, these updates relate to what Google refers to as Expertise-Authority-Trust (E-A-T) or Your Money, Your Life (YMYL) content, factors that may have an impact on a person’s health or finances.

Core updates now also include improvements to spam filtering, where previously they were standalone with animal nicknames such as Panda, Penguin, Pigeon, and so forth.

As Google releases more features, such as rich snippets that make their listings stand out in the results, webmasters will continue to attempt to find loopholes or “hacks” to manipulate search results, influencing standalone updates outside of the core updates.

Google in November rolled out an update to specifically address spam, the company’s fourth major algorithm update in one year. In this latest update, Google Search Liaison Danny Sullivan hinted that the update affects content that doesn’t follow Google’s guidelines, such as E-A-T or YMYL pages that contain false, misleading, or low-quality information within their content.

Reports around the web in SEO forums, social media groups, as well as communication platforms like Skype, Slack, and Clubhouse rooms, lean toward how content is created or sourced.

Manipulating content with injected keywords at scale for the purpose of ranking seems like a possible refinement of the auto-generated content guidelines published in 2020 which declare Google’s potential to take manual action against web content that its algorithm considers spam, such as black hat SEO techniques.

The Different ‘Hats’ of SEO

Simply put, black hat SEO (or gray hat SEO) refers to techniques that could leave a digital footprint that may later play into a specific website or page drawing ranking penalties, or even removal from Google’s search engine results altogether.

Opposite to this, white hat SEO is a set of guiding principles that outline how businesses and website owners can best build, improve, and promote content that aligns with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Essentially, this means:

  • If the content is not better on mobile and desktop than competing results, continue to work toward making the content the most helpful — or as Google often says “delightful.”
  • If the content isn’t referenced, linked to, or cited often, build and nurture relationships with other brands to help promote the content along with the media within it. Make sure it’s easy and encouraged to share throughout the content.
  • If the clickthrough rates seem low compared to other similar content on the website, test using rich results and offering more compelling titles and descriptions than other search result listings.

Content Optimization

Content creators can stay up to date with changes and trends in search engine optimization to maximize the visibility of their content and the visibility of the media contained within it.

Breaking down key focal points based on the phase of the buyer’s journey can also make an impact on long-term rankings.

For example, the following list contains focal points of a strong sales or product page:

  • Start with a powerful mobile experience. Compare your page to the current top-ranking pages; can a user get through a transaction or action with just one hand and with just their thumb?
  • A sticky call-to-action button can make all the difference in converting a visitor into a customer. Some researchers don’t want to think about what they are supposed to do, so having calls to action can increase the probability of a conversion.
  • A strong headline that isn’t stuffed with keywords can keep the user from immediately leaving and returning to search results. If you are an attorney, what kind of attorney are you and what location do you serve? Leading Car Accident Lawyer in Miami, Florida will be more effective than Legal Services.
  • The page and its content solve all the problems and questions the potential customer might have. Talk with the sales team and write a page that answers the “no” before the visitor can say “no.”
  • Include compelling and unique media, such as charts, graphs, comparison tables, diagrams, infographics, testimonials with photos, videos, etc.
  • Invoke sales principles such as trust, reciprocity, urgency, scarcity, and authority.

Similarly, upper-funnel content will have its own set of best practices that often include the following attributes with a goal of attracting links, being curated, shared on social media, and growing brand awareness to potential customers:

  • A short summary paragraph at the top of the page.
  • Long-form content with multiple questions sourced from answerthepublic.com or other question-filtered keyword tools.
  • Written with a casual tone and easy to read, versus persuasive or trying to sell a reader on a service they haven’t yet expressed an interest in.

Improve UX Quality

A great place to start with content optimization is simply comparing your web page with the top five search results that appear in Google already. Study titles, descriptions, headings, subheadings, use of images, use of video, and how the site looks and functions on a mobile device.

Next, select 10-20 “most important” pages in both upper and lower funnel content segments. Hold the creative team accountable for the success of those pages each month. Have them report on metrics such as organic traffic growth, leads, sales, number of links earned, number of mentions or citations, the speed, accessibility, security, privacy, and mobile experience improvements of the page.

Use a tool like Visualping to monitor changes competitors make to their pages, or ahrefs to monitor links the competitors have earned to their pages.

Most importantly, avoid the “set it and forget it” mindset, which can be toxic to a healthy content optimization strategy.

Final Thoughts

Perspective in SEO is everything. Having the wrong perspective about ranking, driven by fear, urgency, and complacency can lead to taking shortcuts or risks that could later result in penalties.

On the other hand, having a perspective of continuous improvement, being willing to survey team members, brand loyalists, industry peers, and having a sense of interdependence in the development of content can be just the water and sunlight your content deserves to earn high rankings and drive increased traffic from organic search results over time. 

Steve Wiideman is President of Wiideman Consulting Group. He designed and teaches the Website Optimization and Strategic Search Engine Marketing online course for California State University Fullerton, and the SEO Tools and Analytics course at University of California San Diego.

Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

Related Stories

Which device do you use most for digital communication?
Loading ... Loading ...

CRM Buyer Channels