Search engines drive most interactions with web pages. It is through places like Google that people find answers for their daily concerns. We search for everything online, from sports news to interpretations of symptoms. As such, any changes to how Google delivers information affects most websites today.
Last week, Google confirmed the release of a December core algorithm update, its third in 2020. The one before that rolled out several months ago, in May. At the moment, people can only infer how this update will affect search results.
Every time Google announces a core update, SEO professionals respond with speculations and concerns. It is because changes like these affect their websites.
Because of these updates, a well-performing website can fall in search page rankings. The reverse can happen as well—a site that is not doing well can rise to the top. But what is a core update, and why is it so impactful on search results?
What is a Google Core Algorithm Update?
Search engines like Google operate on algorithms, programs written to complete a task. These programs make looking for information efficient. There are more than a billion pages online today, so the quickest way to the best answer is through search.
To determine the 'best,' Google uses anywhere from 200 to 500 ranking factors. These factors include a range of things, from the headers in a text to the page loading speed.
Core updates are fundamental changes to the way algorithms parse information. It means Google has modified the order, importance, or values of its more than 200 ranking factors. The changes have implications for how SEO professionals structure a site.
For instance, Google might have changed the weight or relevance of backlinks. In this case, a website whose high performance is because of links will find its pages drop in rankings.
Many sites observe changes in the traffic they receive after an update. This drop is not a penalization. But it means the website has likely fallen in rankings because Google sees it as less relevant.
How Do I Raise My Website's Ranking After a Broad Core Update?
A drop in a website's performance can feel like a punishment, especially for the site owner. It is unproductive to think this way, though—an update does not work in a vacuum. It measures a website's performance, yes, but also how it stacks up against others.
So, a drop in rankings might not be because your website is doing anything wrong in particular. It may be that Google is rewarding another one for a completely different reason.
Content that has become more in-depth or relevant since the last update is likely to move up in the rankings. External factors, such as interest in the topic, matter as well. If more people are searching for something, pages that answer it will likely see a boost.
Furthermore, search engine algorithms will also factor in new content against old ones. Online marketers and business owners must consider these, aside from on-page optimization.
Websites can somewhat prepare for a broad Google core update. Beyond reading press releases before or right after the update, though, there is not much a company can do.
Save for a few exceptions, Google does not publicize the changes it makes, even after the rollout. It is best to focus on relevance—content quality, user intent, and user experience.
Content Quality: Do You Know Your Audience?
Your content should be the reason why visitors stay on your website in the first place. Your first audience is people—focus on them, instead of only optimizing for an algorithm. Are you responding to your target market's questions or addressing their concerns?
One way to determine your audience is by looking at the demographics of existing users. Produce articles that interest people already using your product or service. Doing this keeps existing customers interested while attracting others like them.
You can also conduct social listening on hashtags about your industry or brand. Social listening lets you watch what people are saying about companies like yours. It alerts you to sentiments, concerns, trends, and other things affecting your industry.
User Intent: Do You Know What People Are Searching?
Understanding user intent helps you produce better articles. It's one thing to know what people are looking for—knowing how to say it is another thing. A bike seller's post on e-bikes, for example, will not gain traction if bike enthusiasts don't get to read it.
Focusing on how you say things means looking at your wording. Instead of writing "The Importance of e-Bikes Today," reword it to align with search queries. "Should I Get an e-Bike? What to Know About Electric Bikes" is a better title. The title has a question people will ask, and it also has a phrase that leads into the article's focus.
Keyword research will give you ideas on how people search, especially their wording. Research phrases that fit your articles and tweak your content to accommodate them. When you do, you'll ensure that you address user intent.
User Experience: Is It Easy to Find Information on Your Site?
You also need to look at the flow of your posts. Is it easy for people to get the answers they want? Do they need to click through several links to get to the information they need or are things accessible? Your site's architecture also matters.
UX or user experience considers several factors. Some of these include page speed, adherence to security protocols, and mobile-friendliness. Content audits help you figure out what helps your UX and what harms it.
Aside from pages, posts should be well-formatted. Use tags to separate clusters of ideas and include images that provide more context to posts. Improving your site should be an ongoing project, so revisit it to see what needs updating.
Takeaways from Previous Google Core Updates
At the moment, it is futile to think of drastic overhauls to your website. For one, core updates take weeks to complete. Google announced on Twitter that it would take a few weeks for the rollout to take effect worldwide.
As a result, the consequences of these changes will take some time to manifest. Should your website take the hit, it is better to stick with SEO best practices instead of quick fixes.
It helps to look back at how previous updates changed the way people structure websites. In 2011, Google released an update that lowered the rankings of “thin” websites with low-quality information. Later, in 2015, the shift to mobile-first ranking resulted in designers focusing on responsiveness.
In 2019, Google published an article for webmasters reassessing content after an update. The December 2020 update referred to this post again, it's vital that SEO professionals and site owners review the article to ensure that you are following what Google recommends.
Finally, websites could see changes in their rankings within days, or it might take some time. It depends on whether you have already been implementing changes before the update.
Some SEO practitioners focus on content after a core update, while others look at technical compliance. Keep an open mind and improve on both. Constant upgrades and tweaks are at the heart of what makes SEO work. If you want a relevant website, you need to be always on the lookout for improvements.
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