How your website ranks for high-value keywords on Google can have a huge impact on your business’ visibility to potential customers. Google always seems to be changing how its algorithms rank pages, which can drive any marketer nuts. While the exact mechanics of Google’s algorithms are proprietary, making it impossible to know exactly why pages rank as they do, there are a few things that marketers can do to stay on top of (and avoid getting totally effed by) Google algorithm updates.

The History Of Google Algorithm Updates

Google regularly makes small changes to improve its algorithms and make them more effective. After all, Google is a service, and their ultimate goal is to always deliver the best search engine experience to users. This means getting users the results they need on the first try. And because the way that people search for the information they need is always changing, Google needs to make sure that the most relevant results always appear at the top of the results page by updating their algorithms.

In the past few years, there have been a handful of larger updates that resulted in big changes for marketers. Most of them focus on utilizing new machine learning and natural language processing technology, which allows Google to better understand the words we use when searching and the intent behind the words. Here are some of the biggest algorithm updates from the last few years:

    • 2013’s Hummingbird was one of the most significant changes in Google’s history, and as a result, SEO tactics changed too. Hummingbird was one of the first algorithm updates to focus more on natural language processing. The algorithm looked more closely at the context of queries as opposed to keywords. So while SEO prior to Hummingbird was very keyword-focused, SEO has changed to center more around creating natural-sounding content (which we’re definitely a fan of.)
    • 2015’s RankBrain is an algorithm that helps Google interpret queries with machine learning. When RankBrain sees a word or phrase that it doesn’t know, it can make a guess about its meaning using similar words or phrases. RankBrain made Google better at handling novel keywords or queries.
    • 2016’s Possum made changes to Google’s local ranking filter to greatly improve local searches. Local queries delivered results based on the current physical location of the user. Think about when you search “laundromat” and receive local options instead of simply the definition.
    • 2018’s (Mobile) Speed Update was implemented with the intention of making speed a ranking factor in mobile searches. This was already the case for desktop searches, and this update began ranking sites with downloading mobile versions lower or mobile SERPs.
    • 2018’s Medic was a broad algorithm update that affected a high number of medical, health and fitness related sites. Google was vague about why exactly these changes were made or what pages they affected, but many sites saw their pages take a hit in the rankings.
    • 2019’s BERT was hailed by Google as its biggest change in the last five years. It’s an algorithm that uses natural language processing to use context to decipher the meaning of words in queries. This resulted in a huge improvement in Google’s ability to understand searchers’ intent.

Though these changes were the biggest of the last five years, it’s important to remember that they make hundreds to their algorithms every year, though most of them are extremely minor. It’s almost like Google is trying to keep you on your toes.

How To Stay On Top Of Any Google Algorithm Update

An algorithm change can either help or hurt your search rankings and visibility, which will, in turn, affect your organic traffic, conversions, and ultimately your revenue. Google’s algorithms reward sites that provide helpful content and a great user experience. While it’s true that Google’s algorithms are always changing, there are a few things that you can do to ensure that your site will continue performing well despite algorithm updates. The first and most important thing you can do is to always keep all your strategies legitimate and transparent. Appearing highly in search results is essential for business growth, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do SEO, so always stick to strategies that don’t violate Google’s terms.

It’s well known that Google tends to rank unique, helpful, informative content higher than sites that are full of poorly-written fluff. Your content is easily one of the top things that determine your ranking, and your content marketing strategy should reflect that. So when creating content for your site, remember to keep in mind what your users are looking for, and more importantly, how they’re searching for it. Around half of consumers now use voice search, and that number is expected to increase greatly in the coming years and months as natural language processing improves. Voice queries look different from written ones. They’re more conversational, and the content you create should reflect that shift.

The linking structure of the content you create matters too, with Google favoring content that is structured in a way that presents your authority on a topic. The topic cluster model is a great way to link your content in a way that shows your expertise in your industry.

And don’t forget the tried-and-true SEO basics that have stood the test of time, despite algorithm updates. Factors like keyword use and density, link building with high-quality backlinks (check out the authority of a domain before linking), and fast, easy-to-navigate pages seem to still have a lot of importance. Using H2 headers in your blog content will help Google understand the most important highlights of your posts, and guest posting on other blogs can help build your authority and expertise. When guest posting, be sure to include a link back to your own site. (By the way, want to guest post on RevenueZen? Hit us up!)

And finally, be sure to stay informed about any news from Google. Big algorithm changes usually make headlines in marketing circles, so it’s easy to keep up with the latest as long as you pay attention to marketing news.

Keep In Mind..

As mentioned above, keeping your SEO strategies legitimate is necessary, which means that you should avoid violating Google SEO guidelines. There are many black hat SEO tactics that may raise your rankings quickly, but these tactics are unethical and go against search engine guidelines. In the long run, using them may have a detrimental effect on your search engine rankings. That being said, it’s important to regularly read through Google’s guidelines to make sure all of your SEO tactics are above board. Violating search engine guidelines may get you blocked, which means your pages might not be indexed at all.

If you want to stay on top of Google’s algorithm updates, the main thing you should focus on is understanding trends in how people use search engines. Because Google wants to always deliver the best results, its algorithms need to change with user trends. With this is at the forefront of your SEO strategy, your site will likely be safe no matter how the algorithms change.

For more tips on how to improve your SEO with content marketing, or to get your own content strategy off the ground, contact us. We’d love to work through it together.

Amanda Cyr

Whizzbang creative and sci-fi enthusiast Amanda Cyr (they/them) writes books sometimes and is the Co-Founder and CMO of RevenueZen.