How to evaluate your performance against core algorithm updates
Minor Google algorithm updates are a daily occurrence, but in 2019 we have seen growing awareness of Google core algorithm updates, which are broader changes to the search engine’s ranking criteria and are usually announced officially via Google’s webmaster blogs.
They have the potential to knock top-ranked websites further down in the search results, especially if you gained that ranking using short-term SEO methods rather than a focus on good quality content that will continue to provide value to your website’s visitors over the long term.
But before you make any changes to your website content to recover from Google core algorithm updates, it’s important to evaluate your performance so that you know exactly what you are dealing with and how to improve your rankings once again.
What just happened?
First and foremost — what has actually happened? Have your rankings been affected across your entire site, or only for specific keywords? Are you still receiving the same amount of traffic via other channels such as social media and paid search, or have they been affected too?
Use your website analytics to quantify the impact, down to a percentage change in traffic for individual pages, or at least the most important individual pages on very large sites.
Remember to check traffic coming in from other search engines too, so you can be certain if any fall is only because of a Google core algorithm update; or conversely, if one of the other search engines such as Bing has made changes of its own.
The SEO impact
To recover from a core algorithm update using SEO, you need to identify what is still working and what is not.
For example, if the affected pages are all targeting the same primary keyword, it could be that something in the algorithm update has affected that specific keyword – perhaps by ranking a competitor’s site higher than your own.
If you can identify a relatively narrow impact in this way, it gives you a much more focused target for your immediate SEO efforts, and could even enable you to recover quickly from algorithm updates and restore a substantial amount of traffic almost overnight.
Are all platforms affected?
Filter your analytics by platform so you can see if all your audience segments were equally affected.
Many recent algorithm updates have been about improving the search results sent specifically to mobile users.
If your traffic has dropped particularly among visitors to your site from mobile devices, it could be that the search engines see your site as not being mobile-friendly or fast to load.
In such circumstances, recovering your rankings could be a case of creating a more responsive website design, adding a mobile template, or implementing ‘lazy’ loading on high-resolution graphics to improve page load speeds.
When to worry
As we said at the start of this article, algorithm updates happen every day, and there’s no telling when one of them might affect your search rankings.
Core algorithm updates tend to have a larger effect and can have an especially large effect on a small subset of websites, so in some ways, it’s the luck of the draw as to whether you get caught up in that.
Try to be aware of any announcements made by Google relating to the update, as these might help you to spot anything ‘wrong’ with your existing website that could explain why you have been adversely affected.
Common factors range from page load speeds and mobile responsiveness, to unnatural backlink patterns and eCommerce sites populated with non-unique product descriptions scraped from the manufacturer’s catalogue.
It’s actually reassuring if you can see a specific explanation for your drop in rankings, as this can be much easier to target.
If you’re fairly sure you haven’t done anything that is mentioned in the literature surrounding the latest update, yet an emerging competitor has overtaken you in the results, this could be a greater cause for concern for the future.
How to fix it
One trend in recent years has been a move away from salesy landing pages and product descriptions, and towards more helpful and informative, well-written content.
This is something Google mentions time and time again in its blog posts and algorithm announcements, yet many websites are still looking for that quick fix using short-term SEO techniques.
Invest in building the quality content on your website over the long term, and you can grow it into something that the search robots see as high-value while doing all you can to future-proof it against any further Google core algorithm updates in the years to come.