You wake up and the sun is shining. A gentle breeze drifts in through the open window, rustling your bedsheets and bringing with it the scent of jasmine and pine.
You can already tell it's going to be a good day.
An hour later (rush hour was light this morning) you're sitting down at your desk, fresh latte in hand sprinkled with traces of cinnamon and nutmeg, and you power up your computer. Check some email, check Facebook, and you feel yourself start to get in the zone. You're going to crush it today.
Then you log into your analytics to see how your site's performing. Your head cocks to the side as you notice what seems to be a decline in overall traffic. That's odd . . . this is supposed to be your busy season. After clicking a few times you're viewing year-over-year data and your eyes pop - traffic and sales are down 20%!
Digging a little deeper, you notice it's been a downward trend for almost a week. Your confundity deepens. You're so confused that you're not even sure if confundity is a word.
You talk to your co-worker and you know nothing major has changed on the site recently. The pit in your stomach deepens as you call your marketing agency to see what the problem might be, and on the phone you hear your account manager utter the dreaded words "Google algorithm update."
Does this mean it's game over? Time to close up shop and move on to the next venture? It was a good run while it lasted?
Or rather have you just been presented with an opportunity? After all, fortunes have been won or lost at the whims of Google. But which end of that spectrum you're on depends much more on your perspective and how you handle it than on the update itself.
Google updates its algorithm roughly 500 times per year. Not every one of those updates are major - it's just Google making tweaks and minor changes to continually improve search results for its users. After all, Google is a business just like any other. They need to keep their user base happy; otherwise instead of saying "Google it", we'll all be saying "Bing it".
But sometimes Google's algorithm changes aren't so minor. In 2018 alone we've had four major updates that have significantly impacted the lion's share of our clients, both positively and negatively. Two in the spring appear to have penalized link building tactics while simultaneously rewarding websites with high-quality content. The two in late summer / early fall have focused on YMYL websites (Your Money or Your Life, i.e. health, legal, or financial-focused sites), with scattered impacts throughout maps listings as well.
But this is your site. Your rankings. Your traffic. Your money. And everything is tanking. What should you do?
First things first: Unless you've knowingly engaged in black-hat SEO tactics (keyword stuffing, buying links, invisible text or page swapping), don't panic. If you've been in the game long enough, you'll know that over time the continuous shifts in your keyword rankings will begin to look like the Dow Jones Industrial Average in a bull market. While you consistently trend upward, there is no doubt you will experience dips over time - some slight, others severe; some that last weeks, others that last months. C'est la vie.
While Google never explicitly states what their updates affect, they've made it abundantly clear that the primary factors affecting search engine results are . . . drum roll please . . . high-quality content and positive user experiences.
The existing content on the site is what Google has already indexed you for, and if it's missing any important metas or on-page optimizations, these should be the first issues that are addressed, as they will have the most immediate impact on your rankings. These include, but are not limited to (listed in order of importance):
In order to build expertise, authority and trustworthiness (E-A-T), it's critical that you construct a robust content plan that is going to drive inbound traffic to the site and educate your user base for years to come. An information or resource center, complete with an FAQ, embedded YouTube videos, and articles / blog posts, is a great starting point and should be continually expanded with high-value content. This will also present you with ripe opportunities to build up your internal link structure, hyperlinking keyword-rich anchor text to relevant pages to both improve the user experience and build more authority in Google's eyes.
The old adage ("old" from a digital marketing perspective) is "Content is King." It was true ten years ago. It's true today. And I can assure you it will be true ten years from now. Sure there are other elements you have to take into account, but if this concept is at the core of your digital marketing strategy, it will be difficult for any Google algorithm update to waylay you for long.
At the end of the day, an organization's website has to provide value to the end user; so don't focus on Google, focus on the user. If users find value in your content, they will continue to come back, traffic your pages, and ultimately convert to become a valued customer.
Google's algorithm changes may temporarily set back websites that have been doing this well, but it's critical that you keep fighting the good fight, stay up to date with the latest algorithm updates, and have the right marketing agency on your side to help you through the tough times.
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