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Understanding Google Algorithm Updates and Minimising Their Impact
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is crucial for driving organic traffic to websites and blogs. The main search engine that SEOs focus on is Google because it drives a vast majority of all online traffic, which is becoming crucial in today’s digital landscape. Google uses sophisticated algorithms to index and rank pages or determine which ones to show when a user searches for a specific keyword or phrase.
Understanding Google algorithms, their updates and how they impact SEO and websites will help businesses, organisations, and website owners use this knowledge to increase traffic and reach their target audience, thereby helping them reach their goals — marketing or otherwise.
What are Google Algorithms?
The idea of Google algorithms follows that of general algorithms in computer science and other disciplines, which are rules governing how a problem should be solved in finite steps.
Google algorithms are a set of rules that the tech giant uses to rank websites in its search engine result pages. The problem these algorithms solve, in this case, is how to rank websites according to several ranking factors and rules.
They retrieve data from pages on websites and blogs, try to understand them, understand what a user is looking for when they complete a search on the search engine, and rank pages according to quality, context, and relevance.
The search algorithm also considers factors such as the number and quality of backlinks pointing to a page, the website or page loading speed, keyword use in headings and content, user engagement, the website’s or page’s authority, readability, and much more. Experts estimate that Google’s search algorithms use hundreds of factors when determining how to rank a page or website.
Google is always trying to give people a great search experience while keeping those who seek to abuse its systems out. For this reason, the company is always updating and changing its algorithms. The company says it releases small algorithm tweaks daily, but many people know of the changes released every few months or years.
These changes can impact rankings positively or negatively depending on how they are built and optimised for SEO.
Google does not make its algorithms, how they work and what tweaks it makes to them public because that would lead to abuse.
The Most Important Google Algorithm Updates
It is impossible to follow every algorithm change that Google makes. However, looking at core updates can provide a clearer picture of what to pay attention to when doing SEO. Here are some of the Google algorithm changes that have had the most impact in the past few years.
While Google had made a few changes to its algorithms before Panda arrived, this remains one of the most impactful Google algorithm updates. The update targeted bad SEO practices including duplicate content and keyword stuffing. The aim was to rank pages on search engine result pages depending on the quality of the content and how those who consumed it would perceive it.
Once marketers and businesses realised the impact Panda would have going forward, they had to switch to educational and high-quality content, in many cases rewriting what was already on their websites and blogs to get it to rank again.
The Google Panda algorithm change is also credited with the birth of sensible keyword strategies. Marketers had to understand that the purpose of relevant keywords rather than how many they used was the best way to rank their content high on search engine result pages.
This update would further impact those doing keyword stuffing, even though it was meant to combat so-called “black hat” SEO strategies. These strategies included spammy backlinks and link directories because marketers understood backlinks were a core ranking factor.
The Google Penguin updates placed significant weight on high-quality content that only included relevant and helpful backlinks.
Released in 2013, this algorithm update was meant to ensure only relevant and informative content would be shown on the first pages of search results. It ensured people found the content they were looking for or needed instead of irrelevant ones optimised to rank highly.
Marketers had to start creating content that aligned with readers’ expectations by including relevant search phrases and keyword variations in it.
RankBrain was focused on search intent and relevance. Google made this update to promote informative and relevant content that matches a user’s intent. For example, a person looking for dresses was more likely to see either informational or shopping content depending on the other words included in their search phrase.
EEAT (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness)
Google first published its Search Quality Rater guidelines in 2013, with the company focusing on Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trust in 2014 and later adding Experience to the algorithm change in 2022.
Google says these guidelines are meant to identify-high quality content written by someone with expertise and authority on a topic or niche, who has high trust signals, and who has demonstrable experience with what they are talking about.
For example, Google is more likely to rank a post written by someone who has visited the Bahamas higher than one written by someone who has never been.
How to Minimise the Impact of Google Algorithm Updates
Marketers and website owners should follow a few key principles to ensure their websites keep ranking according to the Google algorithms that marketers already know about, and that Google will release in the future.
Optimising for Mobile
Google places a strong emphasis on websites providing a great experience to their users and visitors and they reward websites that ensure this with a high ranking. There are various ways to provide a great user experience on mobile. The most obvious one is ensuring the website loads fast regardless of the device a user uses to visit the website.
Marketers can also use the various tools provided by Google to check additional potential issues such as the website’s buttons being too small for mobile users, the website loading too many assets, images that are too big in weight and dimensions, and much more.
Optimising for Conversational Search
With the growing popularity of personal assistants and devices that leverage voice assistants, the number of people using voice to search for information or products is growing. Optimising for conversational searches entails using long-tail keywords that people are more likely to use when speaking rather than typing.
Using these long-tail keywords also benefits a marketer’s or business’s overall SEO because many people type how they speak so they are more likely to use them in their typed searches.
Gaining High-quality Backlinks
Because Google places a significant emphasis on the number and quality of backlinks, marketers and businesses can minimise the impact of Google algorithm changes by gaining helpful ones. Additionally, getting the right backlinks can increase a website’s authority leading to a higher rank.
Businesses can either build their links strategy themselves or contact SEO experts who can source high-quality backlinks for them. By doing so, businesses can get the best SEO package for their link-building and other SEO needs.
Context and anchor texts are crucial when a business is building the backlinks itself or has commissioned an SEO company to do it for them. Context is provided by the content surrounding the anchor or backlink, and the anchor text is the text used for the link. Both should align closely with the content residing on the page or website to which the backlink points.
Google also values fresh content over older content. The company does this because it wants its users to have the most up-to-date content and search results possible.
Whether a website’s content has gotten old naturally over time or fallen to the second or third page of search results, updating it can boost it significantly. An update that provides new information and data ensures freshness, thereby ensuring better ranking.
Updating a website’s content also allows marketers and businesses to fix any SEO issues that may exist on their platforms. While freshness can lead to a bump in rankings, it is the combined SEO effort and strategy which lead to longevity in top positions and people being able to find the content in the first place.
Removing Duplicate Content
Google algorithms nuke websites with duplicate content, whether it is single lines of text or blocks of it. Marketers, businesses and SEOs can know whether websites have duplicate content by using duplicate content tools. These tools allow anyone to enter two or more URLs and check whether duplicate content exists.
If it does, the relevant party should work on the content to ensure it is original. While doing so, it would also be a good idea to update it with new data and information.
Using Relevant Keywords and Avoiding Keyword Stuffing
Marketers should research relevant keywords and use them on the pages they want to rank for them. They should use them in the content, headings, URL, introduction and conclusion. Keyword stuffing is using the same keyword numerous times without a piece of content to get it to rank. This no longer works, and you will be penalised for it, so it is best to avoid it.
Google algorithms are powerful pieces of code that determine how pages are ranked and what search terms, keywords and phrases they rank for. Every marketer should understand the latest Google algorithm updates so that they understand how to position their content to rank better and not be penalised or demoted on search engine result pages.