Don’t panic: ‘Algorithm updates’ aren’t the end of the world for SEO managers
Every time there is a rumor of a Google algorithm update, a general panic ripples through the SEO community. There is a collective holding of breath while the numbers are analyzed and then a sigh of relief (hopefully) when they survive the algorithm update unscathed.
After the update is released, and especially if it is confirmed by Google, a slew of articles and pundit analyses attempt to dissect what Google changed and how to win in the new paradigm.
I believe all this angst is entirely misplaced.
The Google algorithm is made out to be some sort of mystical secret recipe cooked up in a lab designed to simultaneously rob and reward sites at the whims of a magical, all-knowing wizard. In this outdated schema, the goal of every SEO and webmaster is to dupe this wizard and come out on the winning side of every update.
This idea is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of what happens in a Google algorithm update — and a fundamental misunderstanding of Google. The reality is, algorithms are not your enemy. They are designed to help create a better, more accurate user experience. Here are a few pieces of perspective that should help reframe your relationship with algorithms.
Google’s algorithms are extensive and complex software programs that constantly need to be updated based on real scenarios.
Google is just trying to help
First, let’s establish this: Google is only trying to help. The company wants to ensure a pleasurable, high-quality user experience for the searcher. Nothing more, nothing less. It is not a wizard, and its system is not meant to rob and reward sites arbitrarily.
Keep that in mind as we continue.
Google’s algorithms are extensive and complex software programs that constantly need to be updated based on real scenarios. Otherwise, they would be totally arbitrary. Just as bugs are reported and fixed in a software program, search engines must discover what’s not working and create solutions.
Google, like any other software company, releases updates with big leaps forward to its products and services. However, in Google’s case, they are called “major algorithm updates” instead of just product updates.
You are now armed with the knowledge of exactly what a Google algorithm update is. Is it not, then, gratifying to know there is never a reason to panic?
A drop in search traffic isn’t necessarily hurting you
If a site experiences a drop in search traffic after a major algorithm update, it is rarely because the entire site was targeted. Typically, while one collection of URLs may be demoted in search rankings, other pages likely improved.
Seeing the improved pages requires taking a deep dive into Google Search Console to drill into which URLs saw drops in traffic and which witnessed gains. While a site can certainly see a steep drop off after an update, it is usually because they had more losers than winners.
Any drop is most definitely not because the algorithm punished the site.
If you see a drop, in many cases, your site might not have even lost real traffic; often, the losses represent only lost impressions already not converting into clicks. With a recent update, Google removed the organic listing of sites that had a featured snippet ranking. I saw steep drops in impressions, but the clicks were virtually unchanged. Gather and study your granular data for a clearer rendering of information rather than assuming the site has become a winner or loser after an update.
Focus on a great user experience, just like Google
Websites that focus on providing an amazing and high-quality experience for users shouldn’t fear algorithm updates. In fact, updates can provide the needed impetus to excel. The only websites that have something to fear are those that should not have had high search visibility in the first place because of a poor user experience.
If your website provides a great experience for users, updates are actually likely to help you because they winnow those poorer quality sites out of the running.
If you focus on a good user experience, there will be pages that may lose some traffic in algorithm updates, but in aggregate, the site will typically gain traffic in most scenarios. Digging into the granular data of what changed will likely support the idea that websites do not suffer or benefit from algorithm updates — only specific URLs do.
Updates are a fact of search life
Google will, and should, continuously update its algorithms. Google’s primary motivation is to have an evolving product that will continue to please and retain its users.
Consider that if Google leaves its algorithm alone, it risks being overrun by spammers that take advantage of loopholes. A search function that provides too many spammy results will soon go the way of AOL, Excite, Yahoo and every other search engine that is functionally no longer in existence. Google stays relevant by updating algorithms.
Updates are a part of search life.
Chase the user, not the algorithm
Instead of chasing the algorithm, which will inevitably change, I believe that every website that relies on organic search should train its focus somewhere more important: on the user experience.
The user is the ultimate customer of search. If your site serves the user, it will be immunized from algorithm updates designed to protect the search experience. There is no algorithm wizard — only SEO masters who have figured out how to apply best processes, best procedures and actions for your website.
Algorithms and updates have only one purpose: help a user find exactly what they seek. Period. If you are helpful to the user, you have nothing to fear.
This post is an excerpt from “Product-Led SEO: The Why Behind Building Your Organic Growth Strategy.”