A Short History of Google Algorithm Updates and their Relevance Today for the Online Business World

59 min read

Change is the only constant. No one deems this statement to be true more than Google. With two and half decades of history behind it, if there is one entity that has changed, no, evolved, that is Google. Google, a household name and a verb that holds a special place in our lives. Information flies thick and fast on this platform. It’s everything you can learn. Business world relies on it heavily. So do prospective customers. But how did it evolve to a point where it has become an indispensable part of every business? Updates. Every year Google releases thousands of algorithmic updates and spare a few, each of them goes unnoticed. And each of them, released for just one purpose: to offer us the best search results possible and take our—us, users—experience to a whole new level. Today, let’s take a real deep into the rabbit hole and try and understand everything Google intends for us to understand about its algorithms. The history with some of the most relevant updates and how they continue to define and change the way we do online business even today.

What are Google Algorithms?

An algorithm is a complex system that Google uses to collect comprehensive data from its search index to deliver the best possible results for a search query, instantly. What’s interesting is that Google doesn’t rely on a single algorithm to do so. Rather, it uses a combination of several algorithms, taking multiple rankings factors into consideration to find, rank, and deliver the most relevant webpages based on a certain search query. In other words, consider it a set of rules Google deploys to better understand what the users are searching for and rank them according to its relevance to the users as well as the quality before putting them out for everyone to see in the Search Engine Results Pages, or SERPs.

What is a Google Algorithm Update?

An algorithm update is a change or a set of changes Google introduces in its system to rank websites in the search results in an improved manner. That means with every algorithm update, Google aims to better itself when it comes to delivering results. And it does so by taking factors such as relevance of the search query to the user, and the overall user experience into consideration. Oddly, Google updates its algorithm(s) every day. Sadly, a vast majority of these updates go unannounced. But thankfully, a significant number of these so-called daily updates go unnoticed. On the other hand, updates like the Broad Core Update end up causing noteworthy ranking and traffic fluctuations across the spectrum and are felt and discussed for times to come.

As per Google Search Central Blog posted on August 01, 2019:

Each day, Google usually releases one or more changes designed to improve our search results. Most aren’t noticeable but help us incrementally continue to improve. Sometimes, an update may be more noticeable. We aim to confirm such updates when we feel there is actionable information that site owners, content producers or others might take in relation to them. For example, when our “Speed Update” happened, we gave months of advanced notice and advice.

What is a Google Broad Core Update?

A Broad Core Update, often simply referred to as Core Update, is an update that impacts a significant number of websites across the spectrum. It could be any website, from any niche, being hosted on any platform, belonging to any industry and sooner or later it is sure to find a broad core update affecting its search performance for better or for worse. No one is spared; just different websites experience it differently. That is why Google announces/confirms about a core update’s rollout both at the start and the finish.

As per Google Search Central Blog posted on August 01, 2019: “Several times a year, we make significant, broad changes to our search algorithms and systems. We refer to these as “core updates.” They’re designed to ensure that overall; we’re delivering on our mission to present relevant and authoritative content to searchers. These core updates may also affect Google Discover. We confirm broad core updates because they typically produce some widely notable effects. Some sites may note drops or gains during them.”

The most important thing to remember during a Core Update rollout is that if it affects your search performance in a negative way, you did not necessarily do anything wrong. It is also important to take note that if you are seeing unnaturally high numbers in terms of traffic and rankings, it might just be temporary. Panic or celebrations should be checked in at the door. Every core update just tries to improve on how it accesses the content and quality of a website overall. And the same has been confirmed by Google and its search advocates several times, most recently on May 25, 2022.

“There’s nothing wrong with pages that may perform less well in a core update. They haven’t violated our webmaster guidelines nor been subjected to a manual or algorithmic action, as can happen to pages that do violate those guidelines. In fact, there’s nothing in a core update that targets specific pages or sites. Instead, the changes are about improving how our systems assess content overall. These changes may cause some pages that were previously under-rewarded to do better.” states the recent Google Search Central Blog.

Why does Google update its algorithms?

There is a reason why Google is the Number 1 Search Engine in the world. And the reason is because it is constantly and consistently looking to better itself. It does so, as should be pretty clear by now, by introducing, probably, thousands of algorithmic updates. Google does so to try and understand user intent in a better manner, understand human language and variations while entering a search query, actively work towards providing better localised and personalised search results, judge the quality, authenticity, and authoritativeness of the said content, and last but not the least provide similar search suggestions to its users. All this, to do just one thing: improve the quality of search results by presenting more relevant results to its users while maintaining a high level of accuracy.

So, naturally, if you want to be at the top of the search results, there is no escaping these updates and there’s definitely no escaping trying to be a better website at that. The one who values its users more than anything else, by providing them rich, relevant, and trending content without gaming the system.

How exactly does an algorithm update impact SEO?

The impact of an algorithmic update is generally measured in traffic inflow and your SERP rankings, and in worst cases, a penalty. It all depends on which side of the SEO practices you find yourself on when a major Google update hits. If you have been playing it by the books and doing everything right there is to do right, including creating high-quality and unique content that serves your users, you can probably see it in increased traffic and improved rankings. However, if you have been entertaining quick fixes and black-hat tactics such as link or content farms, you can be robbed off of a huge chunk of that traffic, and rank much lower than you used to.

That being said, there is no hard and fast rule and no saying how it will impact a certain site. For one, the content you were once ranking high for might not be relevant, or at least, might not be deemed relevant by Google anymore. And as a result, an update will impact you in a negative way. It is reassuring to know that every Google update will be rewarding for some and downright cruel for others; there is no telling which is which before the update. All you can do is continue working towards making your website the best version of itself, keeping in mind that you have to value your user and respect what Google thinks is right way to go about things.

What are the most important Google algorithm updates of all time?

Some have come and gone without making a fuss. Some have been announced ahead of time and have left behind a trail of destruction. There is no telling when and why a Google update is released, only that that they will keep coming. As it has in the past, so it will be in the future. What can we mere mortals do? A lot, actually, starting from learning about some of the most important Google updates. Updates that changed the course of how we perceive search only to find Google altering our perception time and again. Below, we have compiled a detailed list of what we believe are some of the most gamechanging Google updates of all time.

A Timeline of Google Algorithm Updates

Florida Update – November 16, 2003

 

Name

 

 

Florida Update (Informal)

 

Launch Date

 

 

November 16, 2003

 

Scope

 

 

This was a sitewide update that impacted English language websites from the world over.

 

 

Target

 

 

The Florida Update was designed to tackle websites that used spammy tactics like keyword stuffing, hidden links, and invisible texts to gain undue search advantage.

 

 

Impact

 

 

Often touted as Google’s first algorithm update, Florida update was a major disruption. That changed the face of search forever. More than anything else it is the timing of the update, just before the Christmas shopping season, which pulled the rug right under people’s feet. There were some false positives as well; meaning many innocent websites that didn’t indulge in spammy tactics also lost rankings. The blowback was such that Google’s Matt Curtis actively sought out examples of false positives, and took corrective measures to restore normalcy.

 

It was even decided that hereon no update would be released before the holiday season, a promise that was kept right until 2011’s Penguin Update. And that made the SEO game all the more interesting and paved the way for the SEO that we are more accustomed to today.

 

 

Industries Hit

 

 

Many retail sites such as hotel, apparels, jewellery etc. were badly hit by the update and witnessed significant drop in their rankings and organic traffic. Many online businesses fell dramatically owing to a significant drop in the rankings.

 

 

Recovery

 

 

It took the update good 2-3 months, January and February of 2004, before the rankings and organic traffic started stabilizing.

 

 

Relevance Today

 

 

Ask any SEO experts and they will tell you that practices such as keyword stuffing and hiding links under plain sight or otherwise need to be avoided at all costs if you are to rise through the ranks without being penalized, manually or algorithmically.

 

Jagger Update – September 2005

 

Name

 

 

Jagger Update (Informal)

 

Launch Date

 

 

September 2005

 

Scope

 

 

This was a sitewide update rolled out in three different stages and it impacted websites from the world over.

 

 

Target

 

 

The Jagger Update was designed to tackle backlink spamming, including practices like reciprocal links, link farming, paid links, or low-quality links from spammy-looking pages. It also targeted issues like having duplicate content across multiple domains.

 

 

Impact

 

 

Jagger Update was the first major update to be launched after 2003’s much controversial Florida Update. Named so because The Rolling Stones playing in Vegas at the time of its rollout. And it was rolled out in roughly three stages, beginning early September 2005 and finishing sometime in November 2005. Its greater impact, however, was felt in between in the month of October 2005. Talk about Halloween becoming too real for some.

 

Websites that indulging in having duplicate content across multiple domains, backlink spamming, hidden texts, redirects, and cloaking were badly hit by the update. Even sites that had backlinks with irrelevant anchor texts seem to have taken a hit.

 

 

Industries Hit

 

 

It was an all-encompassing update that treated all the industries and niches as equals. Interestingly, major consensus has it that it was only newer websites that bore the brunt of the update and older websites being spared, prompting people to believe that Google was favouring age over authority and content, giving bigger brands an undue advantage.

 

 

Recovery

 

 

Jagger Update has been more notorious than its predecessors in a way that it took nearly months to completely finish rollout, which means that recovery, if any, was pushed up further by a few months.

 

 

Relevance Today

 

 

Jagger Update seems to have been a precursor for what was to come. Nearly 17 years after, practices for which websites were reprimanded back then, are now an even bigger no-no.

 

Big Daddy Update – December 1, 2005

 

Name

 

 

Big Daddy Update

 

Launch Date

 

 

December 1, 2005

 

Scope

 

 

It was a significant infrastructural update that was rolled out over few months. It was named so—from an hour-long Q&A session with Matt Cutts—because of it huge scope and duration.

 

 

Target

 

 

The Big Daddy Update was designed to primarily better handle issues like URL Canonicalization, 301 and 302 Redirects, and some other technical issues to improve the quality of Google’s Search Results. It also targeted issues like having duplicate content across multiple domains. Big Daddy is also seen as an extension of the Jagger Update because the former also looked to penalize sites with poor-quality incoming and outbound links as well as excessive reciprocal links, spammy neighbourhood links, and paid links.

 

 

Impact

 

 

Big Daddy Update rollout lasted almost 4 months but surprisingly enough no drastic changes were reported by the SEO community over the course. Interestingly, there is still no concrete proof on what the Big Daddy Update was all about.

 

 

Industries Hit

 

 

Like Jagger Update, there were few reports of Big Daddy affecting newer domains, more importantly those indulging in unnatural link building practices. Since it had no significant impact on overall search results, data related to which industries were badly hit by remains mostly inconclusive and largely irrelevant.

 

 

Recovery

 

 

Whatever little online discussion that ensued during the Big Daddy update was not enough to warrant a conclusion. However, it is safe to assume that any fluctuations, major or minor, must have settled down soon after the update finished rollout in March 2003.

 

 

Relevance Today

 

 

The update seems to hold little to no relevance other than the fact that yes, low-quality inbound and outbound links are still considered a negative ranking signal to Google’s algorithms, old and new, and must be avoided at all costs.

 

Vince Update – January 18, 2009

 

Name

 

 

Vince Update

 

Launch Date

 

 

January 18, 2009

 

Scope

 

 

Named after a Google engineer, this was a significant sitewide update that was quick and painful and affected websites on a global scale. Even though Matt Cutts dubbed it as a “simple change”, website owners and SEO experts from the world over felt it was quite devastating in its impact.

 

 

Target

 

 

Vince Update was aimed at providing better search engine results by focusing on broad-level, competitive terms to favour page one rankings for big brands. Eric Schmidt, who was Google’s CEO at the time, quoted: “The internet is fast becoming a ‘cesspool’ where false information thrives. Brands are the solution, not the problem. Brands are how you sort out the cesspool. Branding may be an essential element that helps people navigate the world. Brand affinity is clearly hard wired. It is so fundamental to human existence that it’s not going away. It must have a genetic component.”

 

 

Impact

 

 

Naturally, Vince Update seemed to have favoured big brands who soon after started ranking for broad-level, high volume, highly competitive and commercial keywords without putting in much efforts in term of best SEO practices. Not that they did anything wrong.

 

 

Industries Hit

 

 

Consequentially, smaller brands and websites that did not have much of a recall value didn’t gain anything from the update despite putting in the best of their SEO efforts.

 

 

Recovery

 

 

The rollout lasted roughly two weeks but not before causing a major paradigm shift in how search results would be presented hereon.

 

 

Relevance Today

 

 

The update had profound and long-term implications on how the search will be seen in the coming years. Today, brands, big and small, old and new, still rule most of the page one rankings. Rather than seeing it as a big favour to big brands, it is now seen as a signal for trust, authority, and relevance.

 

May Day Update – April 28, 2010

 

Name

 

 

May Day Update

 

Launch Date

 

 

April 28, 2010

 

Scope

 

 

The update’s rollout was unannounced until it was later confirmed by Matt Cutts. It is named so because of the month it largely impacted in. It was a worldwide update aimed at improving the quality of search results.

 

 

Target

 

 

May Day Update mostly targeted long-tail keywords and penalized pages with duplicate, thin or poor quality content. Its aim was to let users find best quality pages with their specified long-tail search phrases.

 

 

Impact

 

 

Brands with high-quality, original, and valuable content started seeing favour whereas sites that ran thin on quality and originality experience the brunt of it. All of this, regardless of the size and scope of the business or brand. However, large-scale sites were particularly hit if their content with respect to long-tail keywords was found to be lacking substance. Rankings of such sites were moved further back on the search results, affecting traffic, and obviously, visibility in a major way.

 

 

Industries Hit

 

 

The data didn’t show it to impact any particular industry or niche. However, it was recorded that some big brands or big websites were hit harder than the smaller ones.

 

 

Recovery

 

 

Websites that were able to replace thin content with unique, high-quality content seem to have able to recover in the coming weeks, both in terms of rankings as well as reducing the bounce rate of the pages were particularly hit.

 

 

Relevance Today

 

 

The update called for using top-tier content for website’s 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th tier pages as well, along with the most imparted pages. A practice that is still an absolute must if you want your website to rank higher for long-tail keywords.

 

Caffeine Update – June 8, 2010

 

Name

 

 

Caffeine Update

 

Launch Date

 

 

June 8, 2010

 

Scope

 

 

Caffeine was more a change in the way Google indexed websites than the way it ranked them. It was not exactly an algorithmic update but rather a new web indexing system for Google. It was named so for its speed of delivering more recently-published, relevant pages to the search results.

 

 

Target

 

 

According to Google: “Today, we’re announcing the completion of a new web indexing system called Caffeine. Caffeine provides 50 percent fresher results for web searches than our last index, and it’s the largest collection of web content we’ve offered. Whether it’s a news story, a blog or a forum post, you can now find links to relevant content much sooner after it is published than was possible ever before.”

 

 

Impact

 

 

It enabled web users to find the most relevant and up-to-date results much, much faster. Google states: “Caffeine lets us index web pages on an enormous scale. In fact, every second Caffeine processes hundreds of thousands of pages in parallel. If this were a pile of paper it would grow three miles taller every second. Caffeine takes up nearly 100 million gigabytes of storage in one database and adds new information at a rate of hundreds of thousands of gigabytes per day. You would need 625,000 of the largest iPods to store that much information; if these were stacked end-to-end they would go for more than 40 miles.”

 

 

Industries Hit

 

 

The update was not algorithmic; it was a change in Google’s indexing system, which means that it was all about how Google found and stored data from all the websites around the world.

 

 

Recovery

 

 

The issue of recovery becomes non-relevant because it did not cause any drastic changes in search rankings or traffic. Although some sites did lose some.

 

 

Relevance Today

 

 

It was built with the future in mind, as admitted by Google. The current indexing system is very much an extension of the foundation laid by Caffeine, and is very much in play.

 

Panda Update – February 23, 2011

 

Name

 

 

Panda Update

 

Launch Date

 

 

February 23, 2011

 

Scope

 

 

Panda Update, named after another Google executive, Navneet Panda. It was a sitewide, multi-language affecting update that impacted sites from all around the world (eventually). It had a simple goal, as stated by Google, to provide the most relevant answers to users’ queries as quickly as possible.

 

Over the course of next few years, altered/improved versions (Panda 2.0, Panda, 2.1, Panda 2.2, Panda 2.3, Panda 2.4, Panda 2.5, and so on) of the Panda update were released to tackle any discrepancies that arose because of the update and further solidify the quality of search engine results.

 

 

Target

 

 

A Google Blog posted 24 February, 2011 states: “This (Panda) update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.”

 

 

Impact

 

 

Google admitted that as a result of the update, a significant percentage of queries were being impacted. “Many of the changes we make are so subtle that very few people notice them. But in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking—a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries—and we wanted to let people know what’s going on.”

 

 

Industries Hit

 

 

The update was not limited to any particular industries and rattled the core of thousands of websites that had thin or duplicate content, lack of authority, keyword stuffing, broken pages, content farms, poor ad-to-content proportions, low-quality links, high bounce rate, and pretty much everything else.

 

 

Recovery

 

 

The update lasted for good 5 months; it was released in different phases with updated versions. Its implications can still be felt by many.

 

 

Relevance Today

 

 

All the metrics that were used to rank sites more than 10 years ago are now more urgent that ever.

 

Freshness Update – November 3, 2011

 

Name

 

 

Freshness Update

 

Launch Date

 

 

November 3, 2011

 

Scope

 

 

Freshness Update is how Google carried forward the momentum gained from introducing a new indexing system via Caffeine Update. Since the latter allowed Google to crawl and index web at a faster rate and on a humongous scale. This was a sitewide, worldwide, multi-language update.

 

 

Target

 

 

The update aimed to reward fresh content by displaying it at the top of the search results. It split freshness into 3 different metrics. Recent Events or Hot Topics (Ukraine War, Florida Hurricane etc.), Regularly Recurring Events (NFL Scores, Presidential Election etc.), and Frequent Updates.

 

 

Impact

 

 

As per Google: “Building upon the momentum from Caffeine, today we’re making a significant improvement to our ranking algorithm that impacts roughly 35 percent of searches and better determines when to give you more up-to-date relevant results for these varying degrees of freshness.”

 

 

Industries Hit

 

 

News and broadcast sites turned out the be the biggest winners of the Freshness Update and for natural reasons. Any other industry not publishing fresh content based the above-mentioned three metrics gave up their search standings for others.

 

 

Recovery

 

 

The impact was huge and long-standing but this doesn’t mean other sites creating quality content didn’t rank higher. Some content is evergreen content. However, it helps to update it from time to time if there is any scope for it.

 

 

Relevance Today

 

 

It still pays to publish time-sensitive, relevant content around recent events or hot topics. And one of the most important strategies used by many big brands today, irrespective of the type of brand.

 

Page Layout Update – January 19, 2012

 

Name

 

 

Page Layout Update

 

Launch Date

 

 

January 19, 2012

 

Scope

 

 

Page Layout Update was huge in it scope in the sense that it was released four times in the coming years (January 2012, October 2012, February 2014, and November 2016) with updated versions. That gave a chance for websites that had been hit previously a few chances to make amends and recover.

 

 

Target

 

 

This algorithmic change does not affect sites who place ads above-the-fold to a normal degree, but affects sites that go much further to load the top of the page with ads to an excessive degree or that make it hard to find the actual original content on the page. This new algorithmic improvement tends to impact sites where there is only a small amount of visible content above-the-fold or relevant content is persistently pushed down by large blocks of ads.” said Matt Cutts on Google’s Blog.

 

 

Impact

 

 

Matt also stated: “This algorithmic change noticeably affects less than 1% of searches globally. That means that in less than one in 100 searches, a typical user might notice a reordering of results on the search page.”

 

 

Industries Hit

 

 

The update wasn’t restricted or focused on any specific set of industries of niches. Any website that was placing too many ads on a single page, making it difficult for the users to find information they were looking for were reprimanded.

 

 

Recovery

 

 

Sites that updated their page layout to reflect a more systematic, clean look by utilizing above-the-fold area of their website in an efficient manner were able to recover in the subsequent Page Algorithm Updates as these pages were re-crawled. Recovery period, as stated by Matt, was several weeks.

 

 

Relevance Today

 

 

Publishers that continue to deliver superior user experience by having a clean page layout without distractions and neatly-place ads are still winning today.

 

Venice Update – February 27, 2012

 

Name

 

 

Venice Update

 

Launch Date

 

 

February 27, 2012

 

Scope

 

 

Venice Update was introduced to make significant improvements in the way Google displayed Local Search Results with respect to search queries. The updated aimed to integrate local search data in a more coherent yet tightly-packed manner.

 

 

Target

 

 

As stated by Google in its blog titled “Search Quality Highlights: 40 Changes for February”, Venice Update “improves the triggering of Local Universal results by relying more on the ranking of our main search results as a signal.”

 

 

Impact

 

 

It was a welcome move for small local businesses that had online presence but virtually no organic traffic. Venice worked to their advantage and put them on the map by including websites based on their physical location or IP addresses to display their geographical proximity. Small business and brands that found it impossible to gain page one visibility could now compete with larger brands (with their big-budgeted SEO campaigns) for bigger search volume keywords.

 

 

Industries Hit

 

 

While local businesses were put on the map, the update did not create and dramatic changes in search engines rankings for websites and wasn’t restricted to any particular industry (-ies). In fact, Venice Update didn’t create as much buzz as it should have but still counts as one of the most important updates in the history of Google updates.

 

 

Recovery

 

 

Since a large part of the update impacted local businesses, in a positive way, industry chatter about recovering from it never quite became a talking point.

 

 

Relevance Today

 

 

Local search has a long way since then and has become a cornerstone for every business’ success. It is safe to say that foundation stone for all local search metrics and approach hereon was laid by Venice Update.

 

Penguin Update – April 24, 2012

 

Name

 

 

Penguin Update

 

Launch Date

 

 

April 24, 2012

 

Scope

 

 

Like its predecessor Panda, Penguin is one of the most important updates to have been released by Google. Grand and sweeping in scope and impact, Penguin aimed to tackle webspam and black-hat SEO tactics that are used to manipulate rankings in order to improve the quality of results. Like Panda, many further updated versions of the Penguin Update were released over the coming years, targeted specifically at webspam. The update was sitewide, worldwide, and affected websites in multiple languages.

 

 

Target

 

 

As stated by Matt Cutts in the blog: “In the next few days, we’re launching an important algorithm change targeted at webspam. The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines. We’ve always targeted webspam in our rankings, and this algorithm represents another improvement in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high quality content.”

 

 

Impact

 

 

It penalized a large chunk of websites that engaged black-hat tactics like link schemes, keyword stuffing, doorway pages, anchor text abuse, hidden texts or links, negative SEO, cloaking etc. And appropriately rewarded websites that played by the rules and offered original and valuable content. Matt Cutts claimed it affects 3% of search queries to a certain degree and in multiple languages. There were at least 6 confirmed iterations of the Penguin Update that were released in the months to come.

 

 

Industries Hit

 

 

It wasn’t as much as the industries as it was about poor-quality websites engaging in shady tactics to either gain rankings or devaluing other websites in order to demote them. Such website took a major hit.

 

 

Recovery

 

 

Websites that changed their SEO tactics to white-hat were able to see some improvements after the updated versions of Penguin Update hit subsequently.

 

 

Relevance Today

 

 

The importance of sticking to White-hat SEO tactics to improve a site’s rankings is very much in place and advocated by Google and top SEO experts from around the world.

 

Exact Match Domain Update – September 27, 2012

 

Name

 

 

Exact Match Domain (EMD) Update

 

Launch Date

 

 

September 27, 2012

 

Scope

 

 

Exact Match Domain Update actively looked to weed out websites with, as the name rightly suggests, Exact Match Domains. These are websites that piggyback over high-volume, high-ranking keywords and make them their domain in order to rank higher without putting in any other effort. The intent, as usual, was to improve the quality of search results.

 

 

Target

 

 

Matt Cutts dubbed it as “small upcoming Google algorithm change that will reduce low-quality exact-match domains in the search results.” in a tweet.

 

 

Impact

 

 

Websites going about their business, doing SEO by the books, creating good content, creating a good user experience had nothing to worry about. It did not cause major disruptions in terms of traffic or rankings as far as such websites are concerned. EMDs on the other hand, affected 0.6% of English-US queries, as claimed by Matt in another tweet.

 

 

Industries Hit

 

 

While there was no discernable pattern as to what kind of sites were hit, it is important to note that simply because your site is an EMD doesn’t mean it will be negatively impacted, especially if you are doing everything else the white-hat way.

 

 

Recovery

 

 

To people feeling unfairly hit by the update, Google officially suggested creating better quality content as opposed to removing affected pages altogether. In addition to that, removing low-quality links and naturally replacing them with links going to and coming from high-authority, trustworthy websites.

 

 

Relevance Today

 

 

The importance of sticking to White-hat SEO tactics to improve a site’s rankings is very much in place and advocated by Google and top SEO experts from around the world.

 

Payday Loan Update – June 11, 2013

 

Name

 

 

Payday Loan Update

 

Launch Date

 

 

June 11, 2013

 

Scope

 

 

This was sitewide and global update that was first released in US and thereby gradually rolled out over rest of the world in the following two months. The goal was to enhance the quality of search queries that tend to bring in relatively higher spammy results.

 

 

Target

 

 

Payday Loan Update was aimed to target spammy queries along with spammy websites. More specifically, Cutts went on to discuss in a video that Payday 2.0 (May 2014) targeted spammy sites whereas Payday 3.0 (June 2014) went after spammy queries.

 

 

Impact

 

 

Many websites deploying illegal SEO techniques to push forward illegal items in the search results were badly hit and penalized by the update. Matt claimed that while US search market accounted for only 0.3% of search queries being affected, Turkey, on other hand, accounted for as high as 4%.

 

 

Industries Hit

 

 

Heavily-spammed industries and niches like payday loans, porn, casinos, gambling, betting, lottery, pharmaceuticals, credit card duplicates, and other financial areas like mortgages and insurance were severely hit.

 

 

Recovery

 

 

Some websites that didn’t belong to any of these niches and still took a hit recovered gradually after removing incoming links (totally unaware) to their websites from such websites.

 

 

Relevance Today

 

 

Payday Loan Update was one among Google’s more significant updates that probably isn’t as talked about like some of the others.

 

Hummingbird Update – August 20, 2013

 

Name

 

 

Hummingbird Update

 

Launch Date

 

 

August 20, 2013

 

Scope

 

 

Hummingbird was groundbreaking in its scope and sense in the way that it was the first time Google was taking into account user intent before presenting search results. Whereas earlier, Google just used to match search queries with search results. While Caffeine more about speed, Hummingbird was about precision delivered at lightning speed.

 

In a video interview Matt Cutts admitted that Hummingbird was not a part of a core search algorithm, rather, it was a total rewrite of it. To quote Matt, “Hummingbird is a rewrite of the core search algorithm. Just to do a better job of matching the users’ queries with documents, especially for natural language queries, you know the queries get longer, they have more words in them and sometimes those words matter and sometimes they don’t.”

 

 

Target

 

 

Hummingbird’s goal was to take user’s longer and more complex search queries and answer them better. It was able to do so by taking user intent into consideration, totally changing the face of semantic search forever.

 

 

Impact

 

 

It did not affect SEO as much as it was perceived to. Even when there were changes, they weren’t as disruptive as one had expected.

 

Matt went on to say: “It affected 90% of queries but only to a small degree and we rolled it out over a month without people even noticing. So it’s a subtle change, it’s not something that you need to worry about. It’s not going to rock your world like Panda and Penguin. It’s just going to make the results a little bit better and especially on those long-tail queries or really specific queries, make them much better.”

 

 

Industries Hit

 

 

There were no specific industries that were hit by the update.

 

Recovery

 

 

It shifted focus on having more long-tail keywords as they seemed to be performing better after the update.

 

 

Relevance Today

 

 

Today, focusing on user intent is one of top priorities when it comes to creating a successful SEO strategy backed by advanced keyword strategy and powerful content.

 

Pigeon Update – July 24, 2014

 

Name

 

 

Pigeon Update

 

Launch Date

 

 

July 24, 2014

 

Scope

 

 

Pigeon Update is a bit of milestone in the history of Google Updates. It aimed to bring small but relevant local businesses, regardless of their size or bigger popularity radius, into the limelight by presenting them at the top of the search results, just like big brands and companies of international repute. It also aimed to give users information pertaining to local queries in fewer steps.

 

 

Target

 

 

Pigeon, taking cues from its predecessor Venice, aimed to offer better local search results by enhancing a number of ranking signals for Google Search and Google Maps and by improving other local search metrics such as distance, location, and proximity.

 

 

Impact

 

 

Some minor glitches aside, Pigeon Update ended up helping a lot of relevant local business show up on the search results alongside the biggies. Although Google has been pretty much silent when asked about the update, industry chatter suggests that local businesses were able to help themselves to the top of the search results by simply following general best SEO practices.

 

 

Industries Hit

 

 

It didn’t hamper anyone’s legit progress as much as it helped local businesses get on the map and get that much-deserved search visibility and some accolades.

 

 

Recovery

 

 

There is not enough data or industry chatter to say anything on that matter. Fluctuations or changes weren’t negative or drastic enough to create a buzz, we should leave it at that.

 

 

Relevance Today

 

While there still is not confirmation from the bosses at Google, Pigeon Update has played a key role in bringing the Local SEO to the forefront with many new parameters included to make it worthwhile for smaller players.

Mobilegeddon Update – April 22, 2015

 

Name

 

 

Mobilegeddon, Mobile-friendly Ranking Factor Update

 

Launch Date

 

 

April 22, 2015

 

Scope

 

 

Also known as Mobile-friendly Ranking Factor Update, Mobilegeddon is the first update to specifically tackle how Google displays search results on mobile devices. It sought to enhance user’s search experience on mobiles. This was a page-level, global update that affect all languages. As the name suggests, it introduced mobile-friendliness as a legit ranking factor. Surprisingly, Google announced about the rollout of this update two months before its launch, giving SEOs and website owners good time to prepare for it.

 

 

Target

 

 

As per Google’s blog: “we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.”

 

 

Impact

 

 

The update had no effect on searches made from desktops or even tablets. It was limited only to mobile devices. Websites that used small fonts, clickable elements too close together, flash, heavy images, or content and layout that didn’t adapt to the mobile device when opened on it saw a drop in their traffic and search rankings. The reverse was true for website that easily adapted and offered a positive user experience by being mobile-friendly. The overall impact, in general, was not as destructive as some imagined it to be.

 

 

Industries Hit

 

 

The update sought to better search experience for its users on mobiles regardless of what industry the keyword phrases pertained to.

 

 

Recovery

 

 

Pages that were able to incorporate relevant changes with respect to mobile-friendliness were able to recover in a short span of time.

 

 

Relevance Today

 

Since then, Google has moved to a mobile-first indexing, which means that Google primarily uses mobile version of a website for indexing and ranking purposes. It does so simply because a majority of users search with a mobile device.

 

Quality Update – May 3, 2015

 

Name

 

 

Quality Update

 

Launch Date

 

 

May 3, 2015

 

Scope

 

 

Quality Update, dubbed as Phantom Update owing to no confirmation or admittance given by Google about its release (until later), was a core algorithm update designed to tackle or change “quality signals”. It was a sitewide and global update of seemingly epic proportions.

 

 

Target

 

 

Even though the update pertains to quality signals, what those quality signals are with respect to this update has never been officially established. But this is something we know from history that there are multiple individual factors that affect a site’s quality.

 

 

Impact

 

 

As usual, web pages running thin content and clickbaity articles, running high on advertisements and focusing less on ad-to-content proportions, articles from content farms that have been spun a couple of thousand times, and using low-quality, spammy looking links were heavily fined with a drop in rankings and traffic along with penalties.

 

 

Industries Hit

 

 

The update didn’t go after a specific industry or a niche of sites. It rather impacted the overall ranking algorithm itself and thereby, any website that didn’t stick to Google’s good book behaviour.

 

 

Recovery

 

 

Websites that made requisite changes according to Google’s Webmaster’s Guidelines were able to salvage some recovery in the coming months.

 

 

Relevance Today

 

While we don’t specifically know what those quality metrics are, it is safe to assume it’s all in there in Google’s Webmaster’s Guidelines as well as best SEO practices.

 

RankBrain Update – October 26, 2015

 

Name

 

 

RankBrain Update

 

Launch Date

 

 

October 26, 2015

 

Scope

 

 

Google revolutionized search engine by introducing RankBrain into the equation. RankBrain is Machine Learning AI that carried forward the legacy of Hummingbird update with more powerful set of signals to understand user intent. By using a user’s personal search history as well as implied or intended words and context to predict and answer search queries with more precision than ever before. It was a sitewide and global update, and something that is constantly improving and evolving on its own.

 

 

Target

 

 

Once RankBrain was fully integrated into the system, the search engine gained the ability to predict what the user was search for, sometimes without even typing in the entirety of the query. As a result, pages that didn’t provide related key phrases or secondary keywords, and didn’t incorporate proper context into the main content were most negatively affected because of the update.

 

 

Impact

 

 

RankBrain virtually rendered older methods of gaming the system for improved rankings obsolete and less and less effective. In turn, it started ranking quality content written from a human perspective higher and higher.

 

 

Industries Hit

 

 

The update was not limited in scope in what it chooses to impact. It is rather a holistic, pre-emptive, and constantly evolving system that works across niches and industries.

 

 

Recovery

 

 

Google’s Barry Schwartz and Gary Illyes mentioned in different tweets that website owners can’t optimize a page for RankBrain. They can however optimize a page for their users, which in turn can optimize it for RankBrain.

 

 

Relevance Today

 

In the span of 8 years, many updates and algorithmic changes have been introduced by Google but none as critical as RankBrain. A system that is not only very much in place but dictates how search is performed and presented and will continue to do so for years to come.

 

Medic Update – August 1, 2018

 

Name

 

 

Medic Update or Broad Core Algorithm Update

 

Launch Date

 

 

August 1, 2018

 

Scope

 

 

It was a sitewide and global update designed to tackle websites in different languages, based on new ranking parameters from Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines. It was rolled out over a period of one week.

 

 

Target

 

 

It aimed to target websites seemed to be making claims related to medical field or offering medical advice without any real expertise or authority behind them. Simply put, Medic Update targeted websites with no real E.A.T. parameters i.e. Expertise, Authority, and Trust.

 

 

Impact

 

 

This was a major update that affected millions of websites and obliterated thousands within a span of few days. General opinion was that websites that seemed to affect general safety of its clientele, had a negative reputation or poor reputation when compared to the peers, unverified reviews, no links from respected sites from the related industry and lack of industry authority were hit the hardest and found it equally difficult to get back up. While it is true that websites related to Medical and Health niches bore the brunt of it, many other niches were severely hit too.

 

 

Industries Hit

 

 

Although it was a Broad Core Algorithm Update, it was dubbed as Medic Update simply because it mostly affected health, medical, and other related websites (also known as YMYL websites or Your Money Your Life, based on their potential to affect on your money or life or both).

 

 

Recovery

 

 

Google did not offer any specific advice other than asking people to continue creating quality content and providing an overall positive user experience.

 

 

Relevance Today

 

Broad Core Updates have taken precedence over other updates and are dreaded by the entire fraternity for causing major disruptions with long-lasting after-effects.

 

BERT Update – October 22, 2019

 

Name

 

 

BERT Update (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers)

 

Launch Date

 

October 22, 2019
 

Scope

 

 

BERT update followed in the footsteps of Hummingbird and RankBrain and aimed to improve search results by improving Google’s natural language processing technology. As per Google: “BERT models can therefore consider the full context of a word by looking at the words that come before and after it—particularly useful for understanding the intent behind search queries.”

 

The update was rolled out across the world to over 70 languages.

 

 

Target

 

 

As has been the case with any other update, BERT Update too was designed to improve the quality of search results. Well, eventually. Its primary aim was to reward websites whose content was written keeping in mind the user intent, and was formulated well rather than assembled haphazardly. Google states: “These improvements are oriented around improving language understanding, particularly for more natural language/conversational queries, as BERT is able to help Search better understand the nuance and context of words in Searches and better match those queries with helpful results. Particularly for longer, more conversational queries, or searches where prepositions like “for” and “to” matter a lot to the meaning, Search will be able to understand the context of the words in your query. You can search in a way that feels natural for you.”

 

 

Impact

 

 

Websites that aided Google understand natural language, by design or by chance, performed well during the update. The update impacted close to 10% of total searches.

 

 

Industries Hit

 

 

No specific set of industries or niches were recorded to have been impacted.

 

Recovery

 

 

There is no straightforward way to recovery for a website that has been negatively impacted by BERT. Nothing to do to recover your losses by applying quick-fixes.

 

 

Relevance Today

 

It is imperative that you continue to create content for your users, keeping their intent in mind, and not create content to please and appease Google or its algorithms.

 

How to check if you’ve been affected by an algorithm update?

If you find your organic traffic and search rankings fluctuating all too frequently and more than usual, it might be because of an algorithm update released by Google. The best way to confirm it by looking at the industry chatter; it would be abuzz with the talks of the update. You can also check the Google Search Central Blog or its account on Twitter for some official announcement. Initial fluctuations will settle down eventually. You may even end up higher on the pedestal or make way for superior websites to take your place. It is important not to pass any judgements while the update is still being rolled out. You need to wait for it to finish.  Here are some basic things you can keep a track to know whether or not the rise and fall is because of the update or if there is an altogether different reason for it.

Confirm an algorithm update is actually doing the rounds.

It’s quite obvious, to be affected by an algorithm update, there has to be an algorithm update that has been wreaking havoc across the internet. So, naturally, your first and foremost task is to confirm if there has been any update unleashed by Google recently. However, there is a catch. Google releases thousands of updates a year to improve organic search results, and most of them go unannounced, or for better or for worse, unnoticed. But the big ones: the Broad Core Updates, the Product Review Updates, the Anti-spam Updates, and the likes are announced ahead of time. These updates are quite wide in their scope and sweep and usually affect a wide variety of websites. These are the kind of updates that are also more noticeable. To confirm whether or not a major algorithm update has been released, you can check Google’s official document on Google Search Ranking Updates. Google states: “This page details the latest ranking updates made to Google Search that are relevant to website owners.”

Alternatively, or alongside, you can also follow Google Search Central on Twitter, where all the major updates are announced along with tips and measures on how to deal with them.

Check for fluctuations in your website’s traffic, ranking, and impressions.

A sureshot way to confirm whether or not a major algorithm update is affecting your website is simply by observing its recent data regarding traffic, ranking, and impressions. There are bound to be some fluctuations on all the three fronts. Let’s start with traffic, rather, organic traffic. If you’ve been hit by the update, you should either see an increase in organic traffic or a decrease. However, ensure you are only looking at organic traffic and not overall traffic. An algorithm update doesn’t affect traffic from other sources including social media or email campaigns. It is the same with your website’s ranking with respect to different keywords. In case your website is affected by an algorithm update, you can expect to see a change in your search engine result pages standings with respect to different keywords, either a positive change or a negative one.

Last on the list of parameters to check is the number of impressions. Impressions is the number of times your website or webpage has been seen by searchers in the search results. In case of an algorithm update, you will see a change in the number of impressions, an increase or a decline. You can use tools like Google Analytics and Search Console during a specific timeframe to ascertain if it was actually an update that caused an upheaval.

Give the update and fluctuations a few days to settle.

Now that you are 100% sure that it is, in fact, an algorithm update that is causing these changes, the next step is to leave everything to take its own natural course. In other words, it is best to let the update finish rolling out, wait for an official announcement from Google’s end about completion of the said update, and wait for another few days till the dust settles. A major update like Broad Core Update usually takes about 10 days to 2 weeks to complete. Add another few days on top of it, just to be safe. Why? Because it also takes Analytics and Search Console a few days to fully take all that into accord. Reacting too soon is like working from insufficient or inaccurate data that is further bound to mess up things beyond what they already are.

It is important to remember that any negative fluctuations in traffic, ranking, and impressions doesn’t mean you are being penalized. It just means that more relevant and updated content is being recognized by Google. This comes from Google, who also has specifically mentioned time and again that you don’t need to take any drastic corrective measures. “We confirm broad core updates because they typically produce some widely notable effects. Some sites may note drops or gains during them. We know those with sites that experience drops will be looking for a fix, and we want to ensure they don’t try to fix the wrong things. Moreover, there might not be anything to fix at all.” says Google.

Take a final call on the analytics.

Needless to say, but to begin with, your Google Analytics Account needs to be synced in with your Google Search Console account so you can look at the complete picture. Next, adjust the timeframe to the duration of the algorithm update—from its beginning to completion as announced officially—to see the most specific and accurate version of the data you need to decide the finality. You should also take into consideration the niche you are in, and if there were any big events (holiday, email campaign, content going viral on social media) between when the update played out.

Please note that being temporarily affected by an algorithm update and being hit by one are two different things. The former happens ‘during’ the update rollout, it is temporary and the final standings could be very different than what the fluctuations suggested. On the other hand, the latter is an observation and statement you make after carefully studying all the final data there is to study from within the given timeframe, from the start of the update to its end. So, if your website has outperformed several on all the three parameters we discussed above, bravo! Just continue doing what you are doing. But, by the end of it all, if your final standings have taken a massive dip then indeed you have been negatively impacted the update.

Confirm if you’ve actually been hit by an algorithm update.

Once you have all the data you need in one place, corroborate your findings to match your suspicions. If you happen to see a consistent, gradual overall decline, there is no denying that that update has negatively impacted your website. Also take into consideration if the impact is site-wide (more than a several pages) or just limited to a page or two. And last but not the last, does the decline seem more prominent on either desktop results or mobile results, or is it equally abysmal on both? Doing this, you can rule out any mobility issues and put focus back on charting your course from here.

How to recover from an algorithm update?

Recovering from a Google’s algorithm update is tricky. Over the course of the last few years, it has become trickier than usual. For sites that have seen the better days and found themselves hitting rock bottom after the update, recovery can be challenging. It is even possible that some might not live to say the light of day again. But it is also possible that they rise from the ashes to live to fly higher than they did before. Yes, a lot depends on intent, in more than one ways (we’ll come to it in a while), but it the intent has to match the right way of going about things. We are here to lead the way, and make our hard-earned learning available to you so don’t have to hard-fight your way back into the top of the search rankings.

Understand What the Update was All About.

See, the thing with Google is, it might update you about the rollout of bigger updates but it will never really tell you how to shield your website from it or recover if it’s hit. There is no rulebook or recovery handbook. All you are going to get from Google is this statement: “We know those with sites that experience drops will be looking for a fix, and we want to ensure they don’t try to fix the wrong things. Moreover, there might not be anything to fix at all.”

So, it is all up to you to figure out what went wrong and how. It is something you can only begin to understand a good few days after the update has finished rolling out. While you are in the middle of it, the best way to go about it is by keeping track of the industry chatter, especially the buzz within your niche. It can give you an idea how the update is impacting your competitions’ websites and there might be a patter than is emerging. Say for example, you might hear website owners and SEO specialists talking about how the update is majorly causing a dent in websites’ rankings and traffic that have been found to be spammy backlinks. Or you may hear about a very specific industry that’s been hit.

You can keep a track of everything and more by following major SEO blogs around the world like Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Roundtable, or ours. Our SEO specialists keep a constant watch on the industry news and updates and will continue to publish blog posts with the latest findings as well as detailed case studies as soon as possible after an algorithm update.

Analyse Findings from Google Analytics and Search Console.

All the data you seek in pursuit of answers, you find in Google Analytics and Google Search Console. Both these tools harbour a wealth of data and information about your website that will help you analyse how your website performed during the update and how is it faring after it.

Search Console, more than anything else, is like a medical professional keeping your website’s health in check, and if anything seems off the charts or problematic, it will beep (so to speak) to alarm you at once. Errors, warning, or worse, a penalty, will all be displayed in Search Console. These will be in the form of pages blocked by robots.txt, pages marked in no-index without you knowing, crawling issues, anomalies, and duplicates; 404 errors and redirect errors, mobile usability errors, or worse: manual actions or penalties.

Google Analytics, on the other hand, allows you a top-level look at all the traffic coming your way. Thereon, you can work your way backwards and break it down for a detailed analysis. For example, how does web traffic looks like in terms of organic, paid, social, email, and referral? What pages are driving the most amount of traffic, is it the blog pages or product pages? Find out what set of keywords are working wonders for you and which ones are underperforming. Check and cross-check all the engagement metrics to chart your way forward from here.

Run a Comprehensive On-page Audit.

On-page optimization, On-page SEO, On-site SEO, and On-site optimization, it is all but one process with different names that involves optimizing pages on your website as a measure of improving user experience and thereby, improving search rankings and organic traffic. Following are some of the key elements of On-page SEO:

  • Content itself
  • Headlines and Headers, Title Tags, Meta Descriptions
  • Images and their ALT tags
  • Internal Links
  • Structured Data
  • URL Optimization
  • HTML Codes

In other words, a well-optimized page helps Google better understand what the page is all about, which in turn helps its algorithms decide which page to show at the top of the search results. A comprehensive On-page audit will help you take a closer look at the bigger picture. Many discrepancies mean it was one of the reasons why your website took a hit during the algorithm update. You can waste perfectly-written content go to waste if the elements surrounding the main textual-story aren’t optimized for Google to find, understand, and rank. These include but are not limited to:

  • Using target keywords in the title, Meta description, URL slug, and the first paragraph of your main content
  • Using H1 Andh2 tags for headers and sub headers
  • Using optimized images that load quickly bundled with descriptive ALT tags, file names, and captions
  • Advances On-page SEO tactics like featured snippets, schema markup, and page speed

Take a close hard look at all these factors and check if there were some major changes made right before the update or if all these elements were not optimized to begin with. In either of the cases, optimize right away. While you are at it, also check if new plug-ins additions or major URL structural changes. For a detailed guide on On-page optimization and how to execute it to perfection, you can check our blog here. However, if before the update, all was just as it was supposed to be, problem might lie somewhere else.

Run a Comprehensive Technical Audit.

Technical SEO is one of the most important elements of a successful SEO campaign and surprisingly, often the most overlooked. You could create the world’s most beautiful looking website with highest quality content and eye-pleasing images to go along, but if Google is unable to readily crawl, index, and render it, all your efforts will go in vain. Not even excellently executed On-page SEO will come to your website’s rescue if its Technical SEO is off. Following are some of the key elements of Technical SEO:

  • HTML, CSS, JavaScript
  • URL Structure and Structured Data
  • Indexing and Sitemaps
  • Canonical Tags
  • Hreflang Tags
  • Breadcrumbs Navigation
  • Page Speed
  • Core Web Vitals
  • AMP pages
  • Mobile-first Indexing
  • Duplicate Content

Run a detailed Technical SEO of your website to see check for any 404 errors, broken links, canonical URLs, noindex pages receiving traffic, no outgoing links, page load time below expected standards and so on. Even if one of these elements is off in your findings, you can safely attribute it to be one of the reasons for a rankings drop after the update. You can check comprehensive guide on Technical SEO here. While most can run an On-page audit all by themselves; it is every layman’s SEO, after all, not everyone can get their head to wrap around Technical SEO. It is technical for a reason.

If it seems too daunting a task for you to handle, you can hand it over to us and we will take care of it for you. Just leave a comment at the end of the blog or email us at the above-mentioned address and we will get back to you.

Refine Your Keyword Strategy.

High volume, super competitive keywords do not always rank at the top of the page. Low volume Long-tail keywords do not always get you the kind of traffic you think you deserve. It is a tricky business, it is a tricky game, it is how you those keywords that will drive traffic and growth for your website. You need to put in a thorough keyword research before creating content, to ensure search engines are sending relevant traffic towards your page, to recognize quick-win opportunities, and to effectively measure performance against expectations. In short, each of your keywords needs to have what’s and why’s properly in place.

Your keyword strategy needs to be an eclectic mix based on search volume, relevancy, difficulty, and trends, including head keywords as well as long-tail keywords. It shouldn’t be restrictive and should have room to breathe and grow but also to adapt as and when necessary. However, in this day and age, one of the most important elements of every keyword strategy (as well as content strategy) is focusing on user intent above and beyond anything else. Google is not going to make your website its top priority if you don’t make your users yours. It is that simple and that overlooked. It is what will turn your keyword strategy from okay to outstanding.

But all of the above needs to be balanced with one other thing: competitor’s keyword analysis. Run a comprehensive check on who sit at the top of the search rankings for a given set of keywords. Find out what kind of keywords and their variations they are using, especially after the update when you’ve lost your current standings to make way for newer, better players. Find out the why, for this is your way back into the game. Use Google’s auto-fill feature, Google Trends, and paid tools like Moz and SEMrush to your advantage and create a 360-degree keyword strategy.

Update Your Existing Content Keeping User Intent in Mind.

A refined keyword strategy alone isn’t enough to get your website to the top of the SERPs. It needs to be backed up by equally compelling, well-written, and relevant content written by people who understand the niche by the back of their hand. And one of the easiest ways to start your journey towards this is by updating content that is already out there, published, ranked, and getting traffic inflow. If there are new products, include them. If there are new stats available, put them in. If prevalent opinions seemed to have changed course since you last wrote about them, shift your content accordingly. If you can reframe some portions or the entire thing to make it a more engaging piece, make it so.

Even data suggests that updating a piece of content for the better increases its traffic inflow in the coming days to a significant extent. Old pieces tend to slowly but surely begin to drop in rankings and traffic. More relevant and fresher content begin to take their place instead. By updating your old pages, you are basically telling Google that your content is up-to-date and just as relevant as any other piece of content. You have findings from Google Analytics data right there with you to help you with the process. Identify pages that lost their standings and traffic, compare them with pages that have taken their place after the update, analyse why their content is performing the way it is, and find a way to better your content without replicating your competitors’ voice. Find your own unique voice and address it to your audience.

Create a New, More Consistent Content Strategy Moving On.

How you update your content will also pave the way for the kind of route you take hereon for creating content. Needless to say, it needs to be honest, well-researched, uniquely written, be of high quality, and presented well. It may seem a lot from the outside but once you get your strategy and focus in place, the process will gradually become easier. As we discussed in the point above, your content strategy, moving on, needs to put its entire focus on user intent. User Intent, also known as Search Intent, is the main goal a user has when he types in that all-important search term or phrase in a search engine. You can read our blog on focusing on user intent for a better understanding of the concept.

Google states: “Analyze which types of queries are bringing users to different sections of your website. For example, you might be interested in queries containing question words; a query filter what|how|when|why might show results that indicate your content should easily answer questions, maybe through an FAQ. Another example would be queries containing (or not) transactional words such as buy|purchase|order. This might also show which product names are more commonly or rarely used with these expressions.”

Take a Fresh Look at those Core Web Vitals.

Google Search Central Blog, in a post dated May 28, 2020 states: “The Chrome team announced Core Web Vitals, a set of metrics related to speed, responsiveness and visual stability, to help site owners measure user experience on the web. Today, we’re building on this work and providing an early look at an upcoming Search ranking change that incorporates these page experience metrics. We will introduce a new signal that combines Core Web Vitals with our existing signals for page experience to provide a holistic picture of the quality of a user’s experience on a web page.”

Straight up, Core Web Vitals is a, well, vital metric for any healthy website and critical to its long-term success. They are divided into three elements and described by web.dev as:

  • Largest Contentful Paint measures perceived load speed and marks the point in the page load timeline when the page’s main content has likely loaded.
  • First Input Delay measures responsiveness and quantifies the experience users feel when trying to first interact with the page.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift measures visual stability and quantifies the amount of unexpected layout shift of visible page content.

“Core Web Vitals are the subset of Web Vitals that apply to all web pages, should be measured by all site owners, and will be surfaced across all Google tools.”

If your site has underperformed during and after the core update and lost a major chunk of its traffic and rankings, you might want to check your site’s Core Web Vitals in Search Console and confirm everything is the way it is supposed to be. Sometimes there’s no looking at it, you just know if your website is slow and unresponsive with the page content constantly shifting while loading, you can’t blame the users for not sticking around your virtual property. It will increase your bounce rate and Google is bound to take notice of this shabby user experience and reward (rather punish) your website accordingly.

Keep Your Ads vs. Content Proportion in Check

Yes, ads bring in revenue. But they can also kill it if not done right. Ads should not come at a cost of ruining the user experience. Running aggressively designed ad template can make valuable content extremely difficult to find for the users. Soon, they are going to bounce off of that website and go to the one might be running low on quality content but high of how neatly it is presented without any distracting ad implementation. Remember that the Page Layout algorithm update that was launched 10 years ago is still very much in effect and continues to evolve.

According to Google Search Central Blog posted on January 19, 2012: “This algorithmic change does not affect sites who place ads above-the-fold to a normal degree, but affects sites that go much further to load the top of the page with ads to an excessive degree or that make it hard to find the actual original content on the page. This new algorithmic improvement tends to impact sites where there is only a small amount of visible content above-the-fold or relevant content is persistently pushed down by large blocks of ads.”

So, if you’ve managed to ruin your immensely superior content and service by placing distracting and irritating ads all over your site’s pages, you’ve taken an axe to your own foot. It is one of prime reasons why your site’s rankings have dropped after the update. And it is time for you to make amends before the next update hits. Ensure that your ads vs. content proportions are placed above-the-fold, and is set straight across desktop and mobile platforms.

Audit Your Backlink Profile. Use that Disavow Tool.

It is possible that bad or low-quality links alone won’t hamper your website’s SERP standings and traffic; linking is significant factor in Google’s ranking algorithms. But it is also one of the many factors. Still it is imperative that your website shouldn’t be seen as a part of the bad virtual neighbourhood. And that is why the matter of running an extensive backlink audit becomes all the more pressing. Even though you may not have consciously gone out of your way to purchase links from link farms, a practice that is frowned upon, it is possible someone from that neighbourhood might be linking back to your website through spammy links just to bring your website down. It happens more that you think it does. An audit, therefore, will reveal all the websites liking back to you. The ones you know of and the ones you had no clue about.

It’s the ones you had no clue about that you need to worry about more. They may be a part of scheme to hamper your website’s search performance through shady tactics. You can use Search Console’s Disavow Tool to disassociate your website from the sites you do not want to be linked back from. Doing so, you send a signal to Google to not take such links into consideration while deciding your website’s future search rankings. You need to focus entirely on building a solid backlink profile and thrives only through authoritative mentions from websites of high public repute. When you earn a link from any of such websites, it’s like a vote of confidence as well as approval your website is hanging around the good circles, keeping its proceedings healthy. Over the years, Google has gotten pretty good at recognizing all that on its own, still it is advisable that you trigger its algorithm to take special care of your website the next time it goes scanning through the virtual properties.

Google’s advice on recovery hasn’t changed; it is important to keep that in mind: “A common question after a core update is how long does it take for a site to recover, if it improves content? Broad core updates tend to happen every few months. Content that was impacted by one might not recover—assuming improvements have been made—until the next broad core update is released. However, we’re constantly making updates to our search algorithms, including smaller core updates. We don’t announce all of these because they’re generally not widely noticeable. Still, when released, they can cause content to recover if improvements warrant. Do keep in mind that improvements made by site owners aren’t a guarantee of recovery, nor do pages have any static or guaranteed position in our search results. If there’s more deserving content, that will continue to rank well with our systems.”

We understand that all this could be quite overwhelming, more so for online entrepreneurs such as yourself who are busy taking care of the business end of their business. And that is why we are here for you. We provide Free Bad Link Removal along with On-page optimization, Technical SEO, and Keyword Research and Analysis in all of our services, to help you free your mind and help you make more informed decisions about your brand.

It is rare for Google to provide you actionable tips to recover from an algorithm update. Understandable, with more billions of website running around creating havoc, it is not practical to suggest one-size-fits-all kind recovery tactics. We have been in the business of SEO for more than 12 years and have seen it all. All the above tips come from making a lot of mistakes and learning from them to now stand where we do: one of the leading digital marketing agencies in the world and also the fastest growing. If you have questions regarding anything, any advice, or a free consultation, you can feel free to drop us a message any time.

Can you prepare for an upcoming algorithm update?

Absolutely, yes. But not in a way you think you can. Despite the fact Google releases thousands of updates every year in its quest to improve the SEO experience for its users, 99% of them go unannounced or even unnoticed. But that is not the case with the big, bad updates like the Core Update. They come, they create havoc, and the impact is usually felt across the world. Unlike today, Google didn’t announce when the next core update was going to strike. So, one didn’t really get a chance to prepare for it, at least mentally. Technically, you still can’t beat an update. You can, however, survive it. What you can do is keep doing everything by the books and do it better than your competition (we’ll get to this part) and hope that your site will be somewhat, for lack of a better word, spared the next time around.

It is interesting how Google frames the thought around its core updates. And it might serve you well when preparing or getting your site ready before the next big update. “One way to think of how a core update operates is to imagine you made a list of the top 100 movies in 2015. A few years later in 2019, you refresh the list. It’s going to naturally change. Some new and wonderful movies that never existed before will now be candidates for inclusion. You might also reassess some films and realize they deserved a higher place on the list than they had before. The list will change, and films previously higher on the list that move down aren’t bad. There are simply more deserving films that are coming before them.”

Going by that, if you happen to be demoted on the search rankings, it doesn’t mean you have done anything wrong. It simply means other people have come, wrote a better, more original, and more recent and relevant piece of content than you and got promoted. Getting that promotion again would mean that you now have to be several steps ahead of your competition, not just once but every damn day. You need to be on your toes and you need a team that can take up that challenge every single day. But the thought that you simply need to beat your competition to get ahead is a bit archaic. True, but it should not be your way going forward when preparing for Google updates.

You way forward should be taking care of the users. Think of this way, every person who comes to Google looking for the right answers creates an obligation for Google to present the best information out there. And if you are not offering that, Google will present something that is. So in a way, you are catering to Google’s users who trust it for the information they are searching for. And you need to take better care of them than your competitors. It’s also worth remembering that preparing for a major update and recovering from one, you need to keep your overall SEO elements including Keyword Strategy, Content Strategy, On-page Optimization, Technical SEO, Core Web Vitals, and the rest of the stuff we went into details about in the above section at the top of the game. All that and going through Google’s Quality Rater’s Guidelines in detail, with patience.

There have already been several major updates this year and with more than quarter to go, and years ahead of us, this is not going to be a dearth in Google updates. Google’s aim is single-minded: to improve its search results by providing quality content that serves its users. You can very kiss brand’s progress and long-term success goodbye if it doesn’t fit somewhere between that aim and evolve alongside Google’s search evolution. So, audit your site regularly, keep a track on that analytics data, and make sure you have a strong SEO partner with you all the time.

Final Thoughts

You SEO strategy—On-page, Off-page, Content, Technical—should be at the frontend of your brand’s expansion strategy and not something to be fixed at the backend. If you feel like this is a headache you are simply not ready to take or equipped to handle, you can easily pass on the mantle to us. It’s been more than 12 years for us in the SEO industry but taking on SEO challenges is something that still gives us a high; our team loves a good one and is game for a good old-fashioned “let’s rank it at the top’ game. We consistently stay up-to-date with the latest happenings in the Googleverse, we keep a close eye on all the organic metrics of all our clients, and last but not the least, and we never shy away from offering our perspective on the latest Google updates and tips on how to stay ahead of anything that can affect your site negatively.

Are you ready to take your SEO game to the next level and land your website on Page 1 of Google search results? Take a look at all the services we have to offer or contact us right away via Whatsapp or Skype. Better yet, ask for your Free SEO Audit Report and let’s take it ahead from there.

Mohit Behl
[email protected]