At the beginning of June, Google announced a new Panda update on the horizon, and recently, Google engineer Gary Illyes confirmed that we could see something in the next month or so. It’s only anticipated to be a data refresh, but still, anyone who’s ever taken a hit in the rankings after an update is probably sweating this one.
The reality is, Google updates are only going to become more frequent as the search engine continues its infinite mission of providing high-quality, relevant results.
This visual history of Google algorithm updates put together by Hubspot and Moz probably illustrates it best:
Google updates will always be coming down the pipeline, so rather than reinventing the wheel (a.k.a., your website) whenever you hear about the latest data or algorithmic change, it’s better to focus on building a site that keeps you on Google’s good side – no matter what updates occur.
Here are the key components of a long-term ranking strategy.
It’s been known for a while that Google is putting more emphasis on quality content. Websites with mediocre text stuffed with keywords may have ranked well in the past, but Google is making an effort to seek and destroy these SEO ‘tricks’ with every update.
In fact, when Search Engine Land spoke to Google about the latest Panda update, they essentially repeated the same advice they gave back in 2011 - work to create the best user experience, and don’t worry about discovering the latest algorithms and ranking signals.
So instead of sweating over the latest tricks, it’s best to focus on creating an experience that offers value to users. This means providing unique content with images, videos and strong internal links (more on those links later...).
Compatibility and Speed
Another major part of creating a great user experience is making your site as easy as possible to navigate. This means mobile compatibility, either by creating a responsive web design or separate mobile website.
Google already rolled out this update in April of this year, but mobile devices aren’t going anywhere. This strategy will continue to be an essential one for webmasters for years to come.
Speed also has become – and will continue to be – a big factor. Google doesn’t want to send its precious users to websites with snail-pace load speeds. Luckily, there are tools out there to help test your site’s compatibility and page speed to uncover any issues on your site that should be resolved.
Google’s first and biggest goal is to deliver its users to the content they’re looking for. And one of the ways they do this by looking at your site’s click-through rate; in other words, how many people clicked on your link when it came up in the search results.
One way to encourage people to click is to come up with compelling title tags and meta descriptions; though, even then, Google may choose not to use them. That’s why the best thing you can do is actually provide what people are looking for – useful, unique and valuable content.
Curious about your site’s click-through rate? You can see it yourself in your site’s profile in Webmaster tools.
Another thing Google is watching is your bounce rate – the percentage of people who click on your site from Google and only look at the first page before leaving.
This is one of the ways Google knows if your page is relevant or not – if 879 of 1,000 people hit the back button after reading your site, that’s a good indication that it wasn’t what they were looking for.
However, Google also takes into consideration average time on site. If someone only visits the first page of your site, but stays for 10 minutes, Google takes that as evidence that your site is relevant. Together, these (and other) metrics make up Google’s understanding of your site’s content.
That said, you’re probably wondering what a “good” bounce rate is in the eyes of Google. Of course they’re not going to tell you, but you can get an idea from Jay Peyton of GoRocketFuel.com.
Peyton sampled the bounce rates of 60 websites with diverse sets of unique visitors. His distribution showed that most sites had a bounce rate of 49%, meaning that a bounce rate between 26 and 40% would be well above average.
Rather than sweat your site’s statistics, it’s worth your time to focus on creating helpful and engaging internal links to other pages on your site. The more users click and the more pages of your site they discover, the happier Google will be.
Social Media Shares
Statistics show that social media shares are an important factor for your Google ranking. Searchmetrics did a study of 10,000 searches of 300,000 high ranking URLs for Google UK and put together a report (which you can check out here) on the characteristics of the top ranking sites.
Interestingly, all of them were backed up by high numbers of social media shares, and (surprise surprise!) Google+ was the most important platform in terms of determining rank. That doesn’t mean you should abandon everything else and only focus on +1s - Facebook was a close second in determining rank, followed by Twitter and Pinterest.
Social media is only becoming more important in the internet sphere and people’s everyday lives; for these reasons, it’s unlikely that Google will ever stop taking it into consideration when determining the value of your content.
So many people jumped on the ‘trick’ of artificially acquiring links to raise their ranking that Google is now on a mission to seek and punish those who do it.
So don’t cheat. Stay off the link steroids. In other words, steadily and naturally acquire backlinks. Don’t get a ton of inbound links of the same kind. Don’t give Google any reason to find you suspicious.
Also, try and stay away from being associated with low-quality and spammy links – they’ll hurt your site in the long run, even if they don’t now. If necessary, use Google’s Disavow tool to get rid of them.
Since Google is using links as one signal for determining your site’s credibility, it’s worth keeping in mind that attracting links from high-quality and high-authority sites (think .edu or .gov) will matter immensely to your rankings – even if you have very few.
Keeping Google Happy Long Term
Google has always been – and will always be – on a mission to provide high-quality, unique and relevant content to its users. Otherwise it wouldn’t be Google. It’s up to you to be the one providing those three things.
The best way, therefore, to always stay on Google’s good side – no matter what algorithm changes are coming – is to focus on providing the best content you can, in the most user-friendly format possible, and backing it up with high quality citations and social media shares.
Avoid any ‘tricks’ that help you creep up the rankings like the plague. Google will eventually work out the kinks, and you’ll pay for it later.
What other strategies are you using to protect yourself from future Google updates? Share your tips and suggestions by leaving a comment below.