Lab Notes

Stop Worrying About the Latest Google Algorithm Update

From Panda to Penguin to now Hummingbird, every time Google updates its search algorithm people predictably freak out.

Every single update produces a deluge of how to adjust articles as fear spreads far faster than wisdom.

You want to rank highly, of course. But ranking in Google should not be about gaming the latest algorithm update.

Don’t panic your way into a fast and expensive fix of your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) problem when, in fact, you could have prevented the problem in the first place—for a lot less money.

After almost two decades studying the evolution of search, advising sole proprietors to some of the largest brands on the planet, I can tell you three things for certain:

  1. Search algorithms will keep on changing.
  2. It’s better to prepare than to react.
  3. Do right by your users/customers and rankings will follow.

Whatever updates come, search has always been about providing the most relevant results. So whatever content or digital assets you’re trying to get people to find, start by asking yourself:

Am I doing this to help my customers solve a problem, or am I doing this to get more traffic?

Solving Your Customers’ Problems Solves Your Ranking Problem

If you’re more worried about the latest algorithm update than creating useful content, you’re doing it wrong, and you’re likely creating crap content.

When you instead think about your customers first, you will create something more useful, more shareable, and you will rank better as a result—I dare say even sleep better at night.

But Experts Are Telling Me…

Agencies and SEO advice givers (present company included) love Google algorithm updates, because that’s when the phone rings. But be cautious of any expert using updates as a scare tactic to sell SEO services.
Most of them are not intentionally trying to scam you. But when you’re looking for a band-aid, someone will sell you one.

If you dropped in ranking or worry it might happen, take a step back and think long term. It’s essential to start by identifying why you were or might be penalized.

Likely, some of your content and/or marketing practices do not align with search engine guidelines to serve the best interest of your customers.

What Else?

Beyond shifting to a customer-first content strategy, here are some tips to optimize for search:

  1. Take the time to review Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. They are an easy read for anyone. Make sure you’re in compliance with these guidelines.
  2. Take an inventory of content on your site and the links pointing to your site. Check to ensure everything is compliant, then check to ensure that it is actually helpful and relevant to your users. If not, develop a strategy to address poor quality content and links.  If you don’t have the internal capabilities for this, hire an agency to do a full audit of your digital assets’ quality, authority and relevancy.
  3. If you hire an agency, make sure you understand the plan to address any issues they might find. A good agency will want to coach you, and help you develop internal processes and capabilities that allow you to rely less on them over time for costly executional tasks. You will get the greatest value out of your agency if you leverage them as a strategic partner, advisor and a proactive navigator versus a reactionary executional resource.

What If My Site Rankings Dipped for No Good Reason?

The good news is that each Google algorithm update impacts fewer and fewer legitimate sites.

The bad news is some collateral damage on legitimate sites will always occur. In this case, some really poor legacy content might suddenly work against you.

Also, sometimes old, poor quality backlinks just need to be cleaned up. In some cases, this can be a massive undertaking. If you don’t have the internal capabilities, hire an agency with experience in link audits because they know what to look for and how to fix it.

If possible, automate some or all of the cleanup process. Question any agency proposing to charge you for manually doing this without first ruling out automation.

Why does Google constantly rewrite the rules?

Google rewrites the rules because, just like you should be, they’re a customer-first company. They’re laser-focused on solving their customers’ need to find the most relevant information fastest.

As the web changes, especially adding social signals to the relevancy mix, Google wants to reward better rankings to sites with quality, well-written content and social media engagement. At the same time, they want to weed out the so-called “black hat” web marketers who manage to momentarily “game” the system. But the end result is always about offering up the most useful content.

Are more Google algorithm updates coming?

Absolutely. So, plan for them. Be proactive and prevent any problems you may have. It’s easier than you might think and less costly than fixing the issues after the fact.

Remember, create content that helps your users solve problems. Organize that content in a meaningful and accessible way. Distribute that content in smart ways through social media channels.
If you do those things, people will naturally link to you. You will build a strong, organic following with a growing share of voice in search, and you can stop worrying about that next Google update – in fact, you may start benefiting from them.

That’s my forty-two cents. What’s your opinion on how to make search performance update-proof? What guiding principles do you follow?

Chris is a pioneer in the SEO industry with over 15 years experience in digital marketing, on both the agency- and client-side, developing strategies that leverage the ideal mix of paid, owned and earned media to maximize cross-channel media efficiency.

  1. This is a really refreshing take on SEO after experiencing years of the spreadsheet-full-of-keywords approach. I think the abstract goal of search engines is to understand the web like a human would. Does this content solve my problem? Should I trust this website? Every year, the algorithms get better at thinking like humans. Optimize for people and you will have a head start on optimizing for search engines.