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What Google’s Past Algorithm Updates Can Teach You About SEO

Google core algorithm update SEO

If you’ve been working on improving your digital reach for a while, you know the Google algorithm can make or break your marketing plan.

What’s the obvious tip? Plan your content marketing plans around Google’s algorithm rules

The only problem? It’s always changing! A few years ago, keyword stuffing was considered an excellent strategy for driving traffic. Now, your website can be penalized for it. 

Changing rules like these can make it difficult to keep track of what’s working and what isn’t. A single Google algorithm update can send your views plummeting. How can you plan your SEO strategies around such algorithm updates?

By tracking previous updates and predicting major updates.

In this detailed guide, we’ll help you understand how you can do this. 

What Are Google Algorithm Updates?

Google processes over 40,000 search queries per second. With such a massive volume of search requests, it can be difficult to offer an exact answer to every question searched in the world. 

To manage this problem and offer relevant results every time someone searches something, Google created an algorithm to decide which websites show up for a particular keyword or phrase. 

For example, if you search a product category like a purse, a t-shirt, or shoes, Amazon, Nordstrom, Macy’s are among the first ones to appear. 

Why? Because Google’s algorithm considers them most relevant to your search. This happens because many people in the past accessed those websites after searching the product keyword, which tells the algorithm, “this is the right result.” 

With these insights, the Google algorithm can prioritize helpful content over clickbait headlines. This benefits you, the user, as you get accurate, instantly helpful results. It also benefits Google as you keep coming back to search again. 

Why You Need to Know About Google Algorithm Updates

If you’re a business owner who relies on digital marketing to drive traffic and conversions, the Google algorithm can both help and hurt your business. 

If you understand how it works, you can manage your SEO and marketing strategies to rank higher on the first page of Google search results. 

What happens when the algorithm changes?

You’re at risk of losing organic traffic. If the algorithm decides to penalize your site for something you don’t realize is wrong, it can tank your views, reducing leads and conversions. 

To prevent this from happening, it’s important to keep an eye out for major Google algorithm updates. The sooner you learn about the latest updates, the faster you can fix your SEO strategies to maintain your high rank. 

What Have Previous Google Algorithm Updates Taught Us About SEO?

Understanding past algorithm updates can help you prepare for upcoming algorithm changes. Here are three of the biggest updates:

The Panda Update

In 2011, the Google algorithm underwent the Panda update that prioritized high-quality content and penalized surface-level content with keyword stuffing. 

Prior to this update, many companies engaged in “content farming” where they posted irrelevant, unhelpful content with a bunch of keywords stuffed in top paragraphs aimed at tricking the Google algorithm. Google caught on to this sneaky practice and started penalizing such sites. 

This graphic from Infidigit explains the timeline of the update. 

The Google algorithm went through massive changes during the Panda update that reduced the importance of keyword stuffing.

This taught SEO marketers that quality mattered. Strategies like keyword stuffing and duplicating content were no longer going to work. Instead, digital marketing teams began paying attention to creating high-quality content with genuinely helpful advice and little to no keyword stuffing. 

The Penguin Update

Just a year after the Panda update came the Penguin Google algorithm update that penalized spammy links

Before this, link-building worked as a great way to increase your rank on Google’s result page. To cash in on this “hack,” marketers started building spammy, low-quality backlinks. Again, this reduced the quality of search results, and Google decided to take action. 

Once Google started penalizing websites with such spammy links, marketers were forced to drop these artificial growth-hack techniques and focus on tracking their backlinks. 

The Hummingbird Update

The Hummingbird update focused on showing results with similar keywords to offer more relevant search results. 

For example, if you search for “small business,” you are directed to websites offering business loans, startup ideas, networking organizations, and other adjacently related topics. 

The results aren’t an exact match for what you searched, but they’re related and assumed to be relevant, so they show up at the top. 

This Google algorithm update taught markets to optimize content for the main search term as well as relevant keywords. For example, if you have a burger shop, you should optimize your SEO content for related terms like fast food, snacks, breakfast, etc.

After these major Google algorithm updates, marketers started focusing on creating high-quality content with authoritative links to rank higher. Future algorithm updates also encouraged digital marketers to optimize their websites for mobile viewing and improving the overall user experience. 

Upcoming Google Algorithm Updates and How to Prepare

Learning from previous updates to prepare for potential updates in the future can be a great strategy to ensure your business never loses out on traffic because of an overnight algorithm change. 

Here’s how to stay ahead of the curve and prepare for the latest update in the Google algorithm:

Get Familiar With the Basics of Google Algorithm Updates

Ben Gomes, Google’s Vice-President of Engineering once said, “our goal is to get you the exact answer you’re searching for faster.” 

Keeping this purpose in mind, remember that any change Google makes will be aimed at optimizing the relevance and user experience of search results. 

What can you do to prepare?

Start optimizing your website’s user experience. Check how long it takes for your pages to load. Is your website navigation user-friendly? Do you have too many ads on your page?

Based on the recent changes to Google’s algorithm, it’s likely that the following changes will also focus on reducing the focus on low-quality websites with poor UX and highlighting fast, accurate, and helpful content. 

Optimize UX 

Google’s research suggests that as page load time goes from 1 second to 10 seconds, the probability that a mobile site visitor will bounce increases by 123 percent. You want to retain visitors, and one of the best ways to do this is to reduce your page loading speed. 

Another way to optimize the UX is to reduce the number of ads, especially near key navigation buttons. If your menu is hidden under three ads, users may choose to leave your website rather than close each ad individually. 

3 Tips to Identify When a Google Algorithm Update Happened and Why It Affected Your Site

If you’re worried about an overnight Google algorithm update ruining your SEO plan, keep these tips in mind to help you spot an update as soon as it happens. 

1. Don’t Wait for Google to Announce Its Updates

Many algorithm updates happen suddenly, and the changes are discussed later (if at all). Even if Google announces a portion of the changes taking place, sometimes it isn’t fully transparent about its updates. Don’t rely on official announcements to track your site’s metrics. 

2. Monitor Your Website Metrics Frequently 

One of the biggest indicators of a Google algorithm update is a change in website metrics. Did your views drop suddenly? Are you seeing massive organic traffic out of nowhere? This can happen because the algorithm decided to reward or penalize your website based on its new rules. 

3. Use External Google Algorithm Update Trackers

If you’re having trouble tracking the latest updates in the algorithm, try using external resources like blogs and websites that track such changes. Here are a few that may help:

  • Neil Patel Blog: I frequently discuss the latest updates in the Google algorithm, so feel free to check back in any time you suspect a recent update has happened. 
  • Moz Update History: Moz maintains a quick, up-to-date list of Google algorithm updates to help you look back and predict trends. 
  • Semrush Sensor: This tool measures volatility in search results to track potential updates.

How to Recover From Googe Algorithm Penalties 

If you suspect your website has been penalized by Google’s algorithm, here are some steps you can take to try and rank higher again:

1. Start By Finding What Caused It

Check all the recent updates to see what you may have missed. Check for duplicate content, faulty or spammy backlinks, and unintentional keyword stuffing. You can also do this by visiting Google Webmaster Tools

2. Make Algorithm-Friendly Changes

Once you’ve narrowed down the potential reasons your website may be penalized by Google’s algorithm, make algorithm-friendly changes to bounce your rank back up. For instance, remove the spammy links, re-do duplicate posts and optimize the user experience. 

How to Protect Your Site From Google Algorithm Update Penalties

If you have never been hit by a Google algorithm change penalty before but want to make sure your website is protected, try taking these steps to reduce the chances of suddenly being hit with an algorithm penalty. 

  1. Monitor Your Backlinks

    Based on the past few changes, we know the Google algorithm penalizes spammy backlinks. To protect your website from being hit with a bad backlink penalty, try monitoring all your backlinks with tools like the Ubersuggest backlink checker and remove any potentially invalid links. 
    monitor back links google algorithm update

  2. Check for Duplicate Content

    If you frequently outsource the content writing bits of your marketing plan, check for duplicate content before posting anything on your website. Identical content can make it harder for Google to index and rank sites, so you might end up losing your first-page status to another site with similar content. 

    If you have existing posts that may be flagged as duplicate, try deleting or reworking them into original posts.

  3. Create a User-Friendly Page Layout

    As a Google user, when you open a website, you want to see the main content right away. Nobody wants to scroll past huge blocks of ads and navigation menus. 

    Knowing this, the Google algorithm may penalize websites that have too many ads “above the fold,” i.e., at the top of your page. If users have to scroll for a long time before accessing the main content, it may be time to rearrange your website’s layout to reduce the chances of being hit with a penalty. 

Google Algorithm Update FAQs

How many Google algorithm updates are there per year?

Google updates its algorithm anywhere between 500 to a few thousand times per year. However, not all of these are major Google algorithm changes. Some are relatively minor and will not suddenly affect your rankings, but it helps to keep an eye out for potential changes to protect your website from penalties.

What is EAT in SEO?

EAT in SEO is an acronym that stands for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. It’s a measure of relevance for the Google algorithm to decide which websites to rank higher. Websites with expert-reviewed, well-researched, trusted content tend to be rewarded while unverified, shallow content is penalized.

Why is the Google algorithm so important?

Changes in the algorithm may directly help or hurt your business. If your website is penalized, you lose your search results rank and miss out on organic traffic. On the other hand, if your website is rewarded by the Google algorithm, you can enjoy high-quality leads through organic search.

How does a search algorithm work?

When users input a word or a phrase in the Google search bar, the algorithm pulls out and highlights the content it finds most relevant. This measurement of potential relevancy is based on a number of interdependent factors, including how past users have interacted with a website and who links to it.

Google Algorithm Updates Conclusion

Staying on par with hundreds of algorithm updates can feel tricky at first, but once you have access to SEO tools like backlink checkers, keyword density checkers, Google algorithm update trackers, etc., it can become easier with time and practice. 

If you’re hit with a penalty, try digging through past algorithm updates to figure out what may have gone wrong. Tools like the previously-mentioned Google Webmaster can make this task easy for you. 

What have you learned from Google’s algorithm updates so far? What changes will you make to protect your website today?

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