10 ways to prepare for Google algorithm chaos

The phenomenom of Google algorithm watching

In Google’s attempt to organize the World’s information, a new phenomenon has transpired in recent years, the algorithm watch.  Search marketers (and others) have tried to gain an understanding into Google’s algorithm (of which there are many) to try and understand just how Google returns results for Apple the brand (not the fruit) when you perform a search for “apple” in Google. While some have tried to reverse engineer Google’s algorithms, a major update can leave Webmasters and site owners scratching their heads.  Google has brought the whole issue of algorithm watching upon them.  In fact, they used to announce (or leak) when there was a major algorithm update. I’ve been writing about Google algorithm updates for years such as here , here , here and here. The fact is one of my initial projects in this industry was to identify and research what the Florida Algorithm Update was all about.  So my experience with Google algorithm updates is vast.  Here is a reminder about some of Google’s most well- known algorithm updates:

  • November 2003 – the infamous Florida update that tackled a number of black hat and questions tactics such as keyword stuffing, and various linking tactics.
  • January 2004 – Austin update which looked at items such as white on white or “hidden text” meta tag stuffing and other spam tactics.
  • June 2005 – Personalized Search taking in user’s past search activity into account.
  • December 2005 – Big Daddy focusing on more technical issues such as 302 redirects and URL issues duplicate content, etc.
  • May 2007 – Universal Search is rolled out, say goodbye to those ten blue links.
  • February 2009 – Vince Update where large brands got some preferential treatment in Google’s results.
  • May 2010 – May Day where low quality content targeting long-tail keywords were hit hard.
  • June-Sep 2010 – Google Caffeine which was an entire infrastructure change to help address the growing problem of web spam.  The precursor to what would become Google Panda and other updates.
  • January / February 2011- Google Panda which shook Webmasters to their core.  Arguably the algorithm update that impacted the most site owners and businesses ever.  Initially, Panda targeted sites with thin content, a poor ad to text ratio, and low quality sites in general.
  • April 2012 – Google Penguin update, targeting over optimized sites, and sites with questionable link profiles.  We saw a lot of changes in the Google results as a result of this roll out.
  • August 2013 – Google Hummingbird with more emphasis on conversational search and high quality, semantically relevant, content.
  • July 2014 – Google Pigeon Update with updates to Google’s local search algorithms.
Visual History of Google Algorithm Changes

For some reason the algorithms panic people.  Quite honestly, I’ve only had to deal with one negative experience with the algorithms and that was because that particular site that I had just started working with was a directory type site and had a ton of low quality and placeholder-like content.  They thought that they had all of this great content but once you looked under the hood, it was a catastrophic mess. Needless to say they were hit by a couple of major algorithm updates from Google including the first rollout of Panda. When asked what they could do to recover, I replied with something to the effect that they need to clean up the “mess” and wait… wait until Google performs a refresh or algorithm update. They just couldn’t comprehend that. I got the impression that they thought that Google owed it to them to give them their rankings back. They just didn’t get it.  If you are going to deploy questionable tactics and business practices, it will catch up to you.  Quite often there is an over reliance on Google as I pointed out in one of my posts over at Search Engine Guide in 2006.  That is a dangerous game to play as webmasters are quite honestly at the mercy of the algorithms.  Following Google’s guidelines is a must because simply put Google is the dominant Search Engine in North America. I’m not suggesting that Google doesn’t have too much influence on the online audience, because Google does not always get it right and with any Google algorithm update there can be collateral damage, and there are often “innocent” sites that can be adversely affected. It just states that these types of updates are in fact an algorithm-based update and do not simply look at websites on a site by site update.

Now I have always stated that we are not about chasing the algorithms, but as a digital marketer you would be foolish as to not have an understanding of what the main algorithms are and how they could potentially impact your websites, both from a desktop and mobile perspective. There are a number of things that you as a Webmaster or site owner can do to lessen the impact of Google algorithm updates on your business.

10 ways to prepare for Google algorithm chaos

  1. Regularly analyze your websites – it is no secret that Google is looking for fresh, relevant and unique content but they have to be able to find your content first. Make sure that, from a technical perspective, your web properties are easy to find and navigate. This goes for both desktop and mobile engagement.
  2. Keep your site clean – after conducting your analysis, be sure to tend to your housekeeping. Fix things like broken links, redirect chains, canonical issues. Ensure that your coding is not cumbersome and that the crawlers can effectively crawl and index your content.
  3. Structure your website logically – ensure that, when people arrive at your site, there is clear navigation paths based on a clean hierarchy of your site. If you are an e-commerce site, organize your categories and sub-cats properly, use proper navigation techniques and make it easy for both users and bots to crawl your website.
  4. Organize your Content – still using a ton of Flash and iframes? Still placing all of your FAQ content on a single page? Structure your content in an easy to access manner.  Content behind a login? Come on, in this day and age we will see you in Search purgatory.
  5. Use annotations in Google Analytics – documenting the timing of a suspected algorithm update can be extremely useful to diagnosing if you have been impacted (either good or bad). Keep a log of annual updates and suspected algo changes.
  6. Review your analytics regularly –pay attention to your traffic metrics, pay attention to your page level data and if you like spot check your rankings on a regular basis. Use your analytics data to help make smart business decisions about your website. Being proactive when it comes to algorithm updates is a good thing.
  7. Perform Site Health checks through Google Webmaster Tools – you should be doing this on a regular basis. I would suggest monthly or at least quarterly. GWT is a fantastic tool to diagnose a number of site issues and sometimes Google may even communicate to you if your site has a specific issue (which may be directly related to a recent algorithm update).
  8. Content is King – ha, thought we wouldn’t sneak that one in eh?  You need to produce fresh and high quality content in order to perform well in Search and in the online space. Audit your content regularly and work on understanding the type of content that your audience is looking to consume.  Create content with local intent knowing that it will be consumed on mobile devices.
  9. Keep your link profile clean – regularly monitor and analyze your backlink inventory. Purge any low quality links and work on improving the quality of your link profile. There is still value in having quality links point to your content, but just don’t go about it in an artificial manner. Become a trusted authority through high quality content.
  10. Understand your inventory of pages –  this one sometimes gets overlooked, but take the time to take inventory of your sites pages or at least the various components of your site. Of course, if you have a large site with 25 million pages, this becomes a little more daunting, but understanding the content that you have out on the Web can help you address any issues and optimize for relevancy and help you prepare for future algorithm updates.

One thing about Search and about Google is that change is the only constant. It’s hard to image a world without Google, it inevitably may happen someday but until that day comes we will be at the mercy of the Google algorithms.

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Mediative helps businesses cut through the digital clutter so they can better perform in an otherwise complex digital landscape and, ultimately, reach, engage, and convert more potential customers.