What is Google’s Algorithm All About?
“The algorithm” is a catch-all term that we use to describe the set of heuristics Google employs to rank websites in a search engine result page (SERP). The details behind it are somewhat murky, as Google has never disclosed (nor should we expect them to disclose) exactly what they’re looking for, although they do provide us with some hints.
Google tells us, for example, that factors like a fast page speed and a low bounce rate will see a page ranked higher than a similar, slower loading page with a greater bounce rate.
In recent years, machine learning techniques have supplanted the simpler KPI-based metrics that dominated search results in the past. This has led to much greater uncertainty as to exactly what Google is looking for.
Despite not having hard facts to work from, SEO experts spend a great deal of time reading the metaphorical tea leaves and hypothesizing about what the Googlebot-overlords want to see. This is not confined to idle guesswork, and instead SEO experts look at which pages are performing best and which are doing poorly, using that as a way to hone in on what strategies promise to deliver the best results.
What is a core algorithm update?
Google’s algorithms are essentially dynamic, with small changes here and there creating background fluctuations that may result in your website ranking 1st one week, 2nd for a few days, and back to 1st. These small changes are impossible to predict and are generally not going to make a huge difference for a website.
Core algorithm updates on the other hand represent sizable shifts in how the algorithm assigns page rankings and can result in significant changes. A website that previously ranked in the top few results may find itself booted from the first page of results, languishing in obscurity a dozen or more spaces down.
These changes happen up to a few times a year and Google announces that they’re coming and occasionally provides some guidance about what changes webmasters should expect to see.
Instead of happening overnight, Google implements the updates gradually over the span of a couple weeks. This can make their impact a little harder to discern at first glance, but given enough time the effects can be quite dramatic.
The September 2022 Google Core Update
For this core update Google has offered us very little insight, simply announcing that they rolled out an update on September 12th and to expect the process to take 2 weeks. Despite Google remaining mum on the subject, the SEO world has been doing its best to figure out what changes this update has wrought.
The good news for most website owners is that this update seems to have had less of an impact than past core updates. Data from Semrush shows that compared with the period before the update, 85% of the pages which had previously been ranked in the top 20 results are still ranking in the top 20 results.
For the 15% of pages impacted this is no consolation, but most web pages have probably not seen a dramatic change aside from a period of volatility immediately following the rollout.
Since this update follows on the heels of the August Helpful Content update, and was itself immediately followed up by Google’s Product Review update, it will be difficult to truly parse the significance of the September roll-out.
What is the Helpful Content update?
Unlike September’s Core Update, Google’s “Helpful Content” update arrived with an explanation about what sort of algorithm changes were coming and what people should expect from it.
Released on August 25th, 2022, the Helpful Content update has caused dramatic swings in page rankings for some websites. In this update, websites with a large number of pages written for search engines, instead of for people, will see all of their page rankings fall. This means that even ‘satisfying’ pages may see a drop in organic traffic if they share their digital real estate with overly-SEO optimized content.
In short, Google says that this update prioritizes websites which offer a satisfying user experience, while websites which were written primarily with search engine optimization in mind will see their search rankings drop. Google has long been trying to create an algorithm which prioritizes content that its users want to see, and this update is simply a further commitment to that stance.
What can I do to get my rankings back?
If your website’s ranking has fallen since the last update, then Google has decided that at least some of the content you host is not useful. Don’t panic – your search results page ranking can be restored by improving your content! Here are some ideas for improving your content to get back in Google’s good graces:
Use logical headings
Headings provide readers with guidance, telling them what to expect from each section of your website. Google also likes headings, as its crawlers use them to determine what your website is all about. The helpful content update has made it all the more important that your headings align with the content that follows.
Asking questions you don’t answer or having headings that don’t relate to your content is frustrating for your readers and will result in Google penalizing your content.
Write for humans, not for robots
In times past, a site’s ranking was fairly closely tied to the number of keywords used on the page. This resulted in spammy pages which ranked well but read about as well as a crossword puzzle’s answer page and provided little useful information.
The recent Google update has made pages like these a liability for your site, and having too many keywords is now a negative ranking factor. Instead of simply stuffing your page full of keywords that your SEO ranking plugin tells you Google wants to see, you should write your pages so they include the terms naturally – while simultaneously answering the reader’s questions.
Write about your area of expertise
It may have seemed tempting to release content about a niche subject that AHREFs said had a low difficulty ranking, even though it didn’t quite align with your subject matter expertise or your website’s overall theme.
Before this update, you would have been correct, and these pages could draw valuable traffic to your site. However, the helpful content update has nerfed the utility of this sort of page, and now too many of these articles can actually hurt your entire site’s rankings.
The best solution is to stop writing for search engines and instead write for your customers. What questions do they have that you are uniquely qualified to answer? These pages will provide your readers with more satisfaction and at the same time you will be rewarded with a higher position on the Google search results page.
Consolidate your content
If Google SERPs are a numbers game it is easy to see more content as a way to game the system. After all, the more webpages you have the more internal links, opportunities for backlinks, and keyword rankings your site can take advantage of. However, if this additional content is low-quality or duplicate content, then you may be hurting your organic search traffic.
Each page you publish should be satisfying and unique. If the questions answered within it are answered better elsewhere on your own site, then your website may perform better without it!
Marketing as a Process
No matter what marketing strategy or SEO tools you choose, at the end of the day Google Rankings are decided by algorithms which are not public knowledge. Ultimately, your site content needs to be thought of as a process, not simply something that is written once and forgotten about.
When selecting a marketing team to work with you should choose an agency that stays up to date on developing trends and treats your content marketing strategy as a living document. At Cut Throat Marketing we are always monitoring developments in the SEO world. By keeping our ear to the ground our outsourced marketing clients were able to see similar or greater organic traffic in the aftermath of these recent updates.
If you’re ready to work with an award winning marketing agency, get more traffic, enjoy higher conversion rates, and generate more revenue, then perhaps you should schedule a consultation with us today!