Staying in The Know: Google Algorithm Updates

Whether we like it or not, industries are rapidly changing. To stay relevant, it’s critical that businesses understand and stay on top of emerging industry trends. At BusinessOnline, we keep up on the trends of various industries so that we can better help our clients gain necessary insights to seize new opportunities. Fortunately for us B2B performance-driven marketers, we love data and, combined with our industry expertise, love to leverage data to shift strategy as needed. This enables us to deliver fresh campaign ideas that align with evolving trends affecting our clients’ specific industries.

To produce meaningful business results, we are challenged to help our clients understand how to adapt to their rapidly changing industry, while staying up to date on the latest trends within our own. For search marketers, it’s become increasingly important to keep up with Google’s algorithm updates to understand organic traffic patterns and best practices to assure that our clients’ websites are up to par.

Ranking Factors

Before displaying a result, the search engine takes numerous ranking signals into account. Google is fairly transparent about the 200 or so signals that inform ranking, however with the evolution of search trends comes the evolution of the algorithm and the evolution of search results.

Search algorithm updates are rolled out to improve the quality of search results, providing users with results that better match their intent. Each update targets a specific ranking factor, such as page speed or mobile friendliness and most updates are tied to more accurately determining a site’s authority or contextual relevance within its topic or industry.

We tend to have a love-hate relationship with Google’s search algorithm. The updates that occur 365 days out of the year range in severity and even though most of the changes are minor and unannounced, they can still have a strong impact on any given website, penalizing and de-ranking pages that don’t comply with guidelines, and rewarding and improving the ranking of pages that do.

Historical Algorithm Updates

Having the background knowledge on historical major algorithm updates help search marketers better understand the factors that Google deems important, that have a stronger impact on ranking. If a client website experiences a fluctuation, it’s beneficial to understanding the particular update that contributed to the gain or loss in ranking to determine pages that worked and pages with core aspects in need of improvement and further or re-optimization.

Recent algorithm updates include:

  • A Change to The Core Algorithm: March 2018 – Rather than penalizing websites, this update is meant to reward website that are doing things right, remain focused on building great content
  • Mobile-First Index Roll Out: March 2018 – Moving websites that follow the best practices for mobile-first indexing to a mobile-first indexing process where the Googlebot will crawl only the mobile version of a site, rather than the desktop for indexing and ranking to help mobile users find what they are looking for 
  • Chrome HTTP Warning: October 2017 – Google security blog declared if a website was not secure, it would be indicated in URL, websites still not secure could experience a decrease in conversions 
  • The “Fred” Update: March 2017 (unconfirmed by google) – Google targeted low-quality content meant to generate ad revenue, keep high-quality content that is useful and informative for audience 
  • Intrusive Interstitial Penalty (The Popup Penalty): January 2017 – Google penalized websites with intrusive pop-ups and is increasing focus on user experience, minimal impact

 Algorithm timelines are helpful when trying to determine why a drop may have occurred during a specific period of time. Moz’s Google Algorithm Change History is a great source that details both confirmed and unconfirmed updates and provides useful information to stay up-to-date on recent changes, as well as provides information on historical updates.

Sudden Drop in Ranking?

As performance and data-driven marketers, it’s important for us to be able to turn performance data into actionable insights and to be able to adapt strategies accordingly. If there hasn’t been a recent update announced and a sudden drop in organic traffic and rankings occur, we try to identify and understand what changes may have been made to the algorithm to avoid being penalized and assure that we stay on course with content and technical strategies.

To do this, we run ranking reports and look for patterns across all of our client websites that have been affected, specifically looking at high-volume pages that have been impacted. We’ll evaluate the existing SEO in the effort to identify any on-page or technical aspects of the page that may be contributing to a negative impact. Running a search for the page’s target keywords and looking at three organic competitors’ pages ranking higher in the SERPs is a great way to gain insight into what Google likes to see in a page and to uncover ideas and concepts that seem to be working well.

Searcher’s Best Interest at Heart

While most algorithm updates are so minor that they go unnoticed, there are occasionally advancements and modifications made that significantly impact the SERPs and can wreak havoc for websites that are least prepared. We know that Google has a searcher’s best interest at heart and the long-term strategy recommendations we make to clients align with website factors we know to be important to Google. Updates will continue to reward websites in the search results for high-quality, mobile-friendly, secure, relevant websites with valuable content and a good user experience.