Blogs and websites live and die by their rankings on search engines like Google. To maintain these rankings, we tirelessly keep up with how to properly optimize our content and our sites. Every set of Google updates makes major changes to its algorithm, and these strategies change. We must change with them to avoid being swept into obscurity.
Don’t worry, it’s not a horrible as it sounds. Once you know how to prepare before, during, and after these updates, you’ll never get caught off guard again. Join me as we help you understand what Google has done, what they’re doing, and how to stay one step ahead.
Why Does Google Implement Updates?
At its core, Google is a service. Its goal is to provide users with the best possible results based on their searches. It does this with an algorithm, an infinitely complex formula that it uses to decide what best answers the question posed in a search. It is our goal to try and understand how this algorithm works so that we can create content that Google deems high-quality.
Trying to use these tactics to game the system is something Google has been on top of since the dawn of the Penguin update, which has been slowly rolling out since early 2011 and continues to do so. Google makes hundreds of tweaks each year, although some only affect a small percentage of searches. The big ones though, these are the ones that can take a website down in the rankings and destroy their traffic numbers.
At the end of the day, when you start your blog, remember that Google is looking for a high-quality user experience from the front to the back end of the website. Google designs these updates to come closer and closer to an ultimate understanding of how to judge that user experience.
Before The Update Hits: History Repeats Itself
If we turn back the clocks to 2011, Neil Patel posted an analysis of Google’s Panda update mere months after it began rolling out. Here he provided some evergreen tips that still apply today. Knowing what Google has done in the past will help you better understand future updates. In his post, here are some tips he mentioned to stay ahead of the curve:
- Provide unique and high-quality content - don’t try to fluff up blog posts or duplicate something you saw elsewhere. Always ask yourself what can my followers take away from this?
- Decrease Page Load Times - If you’re website is loading slowly, utilize caching plugins, or do away with heavy plugins that increase your load times. Google doesn’t want to rank slow loading sites high because it doesn’t lend to a quality user experience
- Build Your Brand Via Social Media – Social media links are part of your overall website ranking, and having a presence on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ also helps you connect with readers and drive traffic to your site.
- Don’t Overstuff Your Content - Keyword stuffing has been a no-no for a long time now, but with Panda, Google is also looking to see if you’re content feels natural. If it looks like you’re trying to stick your target keyword into every header, meta description, and so on, then it doesn’t look natural.
- Link Only to High Quality Sources - If you don’t want your readers to suffer through mindless content that holds no value, don’t send them anywhere where they might find such things. Link out to credible sources, and always link to relevant content that enhances the value your readers are getting.
All of these things played a major role in 2011 when Panda hit, and they still matter today. Another example is when Google rolled out a mobile-friendly update in April of 2015. This update wanted to weed out webpages where the content wasn’t easy to read without tapping or zooming. Suddenly, every website on the internet sought to ensure that they had mobile-responsive sites.
Google acts, and we react, it’s always been that way. That being said, you don’t have to go into it blind. Google is actually very transparent with what changes they make for each update. Your job before each update is to first take a look at what Google has done in the past like the examples above, and make sure you understand not only the how but also the why of the updates.
Once you’ve done this, and you’ve looked at the details of the upcoming update, ask yourself a few questions:
- Does the update affect the front-end, back-end, or both aspects of the website?
- If the answer is both, what do you developers and IT staff need to know to make the transition smooth?
- How does this new update reflect previous ones?
As the Update Rolls Out: Keep a Cool Head
During the update, keep an eye on specific aspects of your site beyond simply your ranking and traffic. Monitor changes in these as well:
- Traffic by referrer
- Traffic based on device
- Time on site and page views
- Where you ranked based on specific keywords
- Conversion rates
- Bounce rate
You should also monitor your competition. If you see large changes to any of these factors, then you know you’ve done something right, or that something needs to change. Either way, you will be ready to tackle issues as they arise.
Always keep your ear to the ground during this time. Maintain your focus on reading new update news for several weeks after the update rolls out.
After the Update: Make Changes and Remember Everything
Once the update has fully rolled out, let things settle back into a normal rhythm. Start making small changes as you see fit based on the knowledge you gathered during the update. Don’t let yourself get soft though, keep an eye on those daily and weekly traffic reports so you can see how the update changed the way people visit and interact with your site.
Remember too, that some changes will take longer than others. The mobile-friendly update we discussed earlier is a perfect example, because such a massive design change needs testing before being implemented. At this time, lay out your changes and prioritize them accordingly based on their impact to your traffic and rankings. Put everything into a timeline for both you and your team to follow.
Finally, make sure you take note of how the update affected Google’s functionality as a whole. Some updates are surface-level changes, while others can create new factors that consistently alter how sites rank going forward. Penguin and Panda’s major updates are perfect examples of major changes.
The Bottom Line: Always Be on the Lookout
Google never stops evolving, and neither should you. Never rest on your current rankings, always keep your eyes peeled for news on upcoming updates, know what came before, and implement the changes in a realistic, and organized fashion.
How do you prepare for Google’s next big update? What tactics do you find work best? Share your thoughts in the comments below!