As disruptive as they can be, Google Algorithms updates are essential to running the platform smoothly and efficiently.
Google processes over a massive 40,000 search queries per second, making its services rather high in demand. The ranking systems behind the crisp, white pages of Google help users sort through the exorbitant amount of information scattered across the web. Further behind these ranking systems are a series of algorithms that function to structure the search engines capabilities.
This complex system would not function without constant adjustments and upkeep to optimise the functionality of the search engine. Typically, most of these updates are so minor that they go entirely unnoticed, not significantly affecting your marketing practices. However, there are occasions when Google will roll out a major algorithmic update that will dramatically impact the SERPs.
From a digital marketing perspective, these constant changes can make it extremely difficult to understand how to stay relevant on Google.
As these disruptive updates are inevitable, it is important to consider the ways they can either help or hinder your efforts as a digital marketer. Understanding how the algorithms work can help you manage your SEO and marketing strategies, but what exactly does it take to stay updated with the constant algorithmic changes?
What are Google’s Algorithms?
In computer science, algorithms are finite sequences of instructions that function to solve problems and perform tasks on behalf of a machine or platform. Specific to Google, the algorithms work as a complex system to retrieve data from the search index and instantly deliver the user the best possible results.
To appeal to user experience and engagement, keeping users on the platform, the search engine uses a combination of algorithms and ranking factors to deliver web pages ranked by relevance.
With every google inquiry, it is the algorithm that determines what is shown to the user on the search engine results page (SERPs). As mentioned, Google makes thousands of changes to this algorithm each year, influencing what is prioritised in the SERPs.
While we can experiment and analyse the search engine from an outside perspective, at the end of the day, there is only so much we can know about Google’s algorithm. Google doesn’t reveal their ranking factors, meaning as marketers, we have to comprehend the factors we do know about to optimise ranking performance.
How Often are Google’s Algorithms Updated?
The search engine that never sleeps, google makes minor changes to its algorithm daily, sometimes even releasing multiple updates within 24 hours.
These changes are unlikely to affect search engine ranking and are somewhat difficult and unnecessary even to attempt to track. Core updates, on the other hand, have much more potential to impact your marketing efforts.
Despite only occurring a few times a year, these core updates result in much more significant changes that can, and likely will, directly impact your page’s performance.
Attempting to predict future Google Algorithm Updates is an impossible task. So instead, taking a look at some of Google’s past updates can provide a deeper understanding of SEO to help you remain in an optimal position to deal with future algorithm modifications.
Believe it or not, keyword stuffing was once one of the most popular and effective ways to drive traffic. But, now, this tactic is not only ineffective but can result in negative repercussions and penalties for your website, thanks to algorithmic updates.
First launched in February of 2011, Google Panda was part of the search engines quest to eliminate black hat SEO tactics and webspam.
This algorithm was developed through the comparison of various ranking signals against human quality rankings. It aimed to target bad practices such as duplicate, plagiarised or thin content, user-generated spam, and keyword stuffing that doesn’t provide value to the user.
As a result, it assigned a ‘quality score’ to web pages as the new, ultimate ranking factor. Initially, these effects were mild, but five years later, in January 2016, the update was permanently incorporated into Google’s core algorithms. Moreover, since update rollouts have become more frequent, penalties and recoveries can happen faster, reflecting better marketing efforts.
Successful marketers have run regular site checks for content duplication, thin content, and keyword stuffing to adjust to this algorithm. Additionally, ensuring they write quality educational content, rewrite underperforming articles, and use keywords purposefully and strategically.
Only a year after this major change, the Google Penguin algorithm update launched with the priority to penalise spammy links.
The ultimate goal of this update was to downrank sites whose backlinks looked unnatural. Subsequently, it aimed to move away from the emphasis on link volume for ranking boosts towards high-quality content that featured strictly valuable, engaging links.
For digital marketers, this update meant they needed to continue incorporating their strategy in response to the previous update while doubling down on quality regarding backlinks.
The Hummingbird update launched in 2013 and has been cited as a complete overhaul of the core algorithm.
As such a disruptive update, it focused on showing results with similar keywords to offer more relevant search results. More specifically, it aimed to humanise the search engine experience and move the most informative and relevant content to the first page of Google. This was the official introduction of the prioritisation of relevancy over recency.
Marketers had to work quickly and hard to adapt by expanding their keyword research and start focussing on deeper concepts behind the keywords. Again, highly prioritising the demand for genuinely quality content.
Google’s major algorithmic updates can have highly disruptive effects, making it essential to watch for upcoming changes. The sooner you know and understand any new core updates, the faster you can optimise your SEO strategies to maintain a high rank on Google.
Staying updated includes learning from previous updates and how they were approached and dealt with. Adapting your SEO strategy accordingly requires effort, but there is certainly no need for you to track every single minuscule algorithm change.
Google doesn’t even give an indication of updates unless they are paramount, so stay informed and track the core updates that are guaranteed to shake up your marketing strategy.
Ultimately, the algorithms are in place to make google run more smoothly for users, not to purposely give you a headache. So rather than finding ways to cheat the system, work with the algorithms and focus on producing the best quality content and site possible with your users in mind.
Here are a few specifics you can do to be prepared for potential updates and manage them when they do inevitably launch:
- Get familiar with algorithm updates and understand how the system works.
- Start optimising user experience. As page load time increases from one to five seconds, the probability that a mobile site visitor will bounce increases by 90%.
- Don’t always wait for Google to announce their update. Instead, track your website metrics that could indicate a change and use external algorithm update trackers like SemRush Sensor.
- Set up a Google Alert for algorithm changes so you can start preparing for disruptions.
- Use Google Analytics to help you track changes and identify unusual fluctuations in traffic and conversions.
Google Algorithm updates are unpredictable yet inevitable and detrimental to your marketing success. Staying up to date with the constant industry changes may seem overwhelming. Still, with adequate knowledge of the algorithm and sufficient preparation, you will swiftly see an improvement in your marketing efforts.
If your page is penalised or happens to suffer an extreme drop in ranking, take a look through past update changes and analyse your metrics to see where your site’s weaknesses lie.