The Web is in constant motion. Design trends change, the popularity of websites fluctuates rapidly, and last year’s online business rules may not hold true today. At the forefront of this is Google, which tracks these changes and makes the Web as searchable as possible.
Google adjusts its search algorithms 500 to 600 times a year. Like the rest of the Web, it’s never stagnant. For business leaders, this means constantly monitoring your website’s performance to see where it ranks in search results and adjusting your strategies accordingly.
Given the continuous changes Google makes to the way it ranks Web pages, this task can seem insurmountable. However, with the right mindset and a well-planned strategy, staying on top of the SEO game isn’t as daunting as it seems.
While it’s true that Google is making minor adjustments to its algorithm on a regular basis, the company marks major shifts with release names, the most recent being Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird. While the full details are more technical, here are the basics:
• Panda: This change mainly removed sites whose primary focus was cheap SEO tricks, rather than high-quality content. This targeted the practice of keyword stuffing: putting an exaggerated number of keywords into the text and metadata of a Web page. With Panda, Google made a loud statement that low-quality content and dubious sources would not be welcome on the first page of search results.
• Penguin: This followed in Panda’s footsteps and focused largely on the practice of spammy backlinks. These lead to a website by means that are outside Google’s Web guidelines, such as using link networks to boost rankings. This particular algorithm shift was a bit bumpy and caused confusion and humiliation among websites whose page rankings initially dropped as a result.
• Hummingbird: This newest release was the most major in recent years. It focused on recognizing natural language queries; for the first time, Google recognized full questions, not just parsed-out keywords. This helped high-quality, relevant content float to the top of the results and made voice search more useful.
Taming the Beasts
When major changes to Google’s algorithm roll out, it’s easy to panic. In the short term, website rankings can fluctuate; legitimate sites can find themselves punished for no apparent reason. It can be scary, but keep these realities in mind before panicking:
• Google is always adjusting. A major change to an algorithm doesn’t signal a permanent one. If Google sees something isn’t working, it will fix it. Short-term fluctuations rarely dictate long-term results.
• High-quality content is priority. Good, relevant content remained constant across these three major releases. Google isn’t out to arbitrarily punish websites; its goal is to push the best content to its users, thereby retaining its position as king of search engines.
Keeping these two facts in mind, there are five steps you can take to ensure your website stays in Google’s good graces:
1. Know where you stand. It’s not enough to react to a change. You should be aware of where your company stands with Google on a day-by-day basis. Monitor your most critical keywords, and keep a history of your performance. It’s impossible to enact positive change if you have no history to go on. This enables you to let the algorithm changes “settle down” to see whether your results go back to normal. Without the knowledge of what normal is, you’ll be lost.
2. Anticipate. Learn from what happened in the past, and recognize the direction Google’s taking with its algorithm. In 2013, Google underscored some of its major priorities: high-quality content, mobile search, and social cues. These should be what you and your team focus on when developing an SEO strategy.
3. Focus on high-quality content. Without a solid content strategy, no number of SEO tricks will cut it. Try to focus on content that answers pertinent questions. If your content is useful to your customers, chances are Google finds it valuable.
4. Make mobile a priority. With Hummingbird’s greater focus on semantic search and an increased use of its Knowledge Graph, Google made it clear that it’s putting a greater emphasis on voice search. This is where mobile shines. If your website isn’t mobile-friendly, its rankings may suffer.
5. Partner up. If you’re still finding the world of SEO hard to manage, there are companies that can help. A good SEO agency can monitor your results on a constant basis and recommend the best strategies. Every leader needs help now and again, and a specialized agency can provide that.
Google, like the Web, is constantly moving forward, but that doesn’t mean you have to be left behind. Knowing the goals behind Google’s changes and focusing on high-quality content can ensure that your website always has a place on Google’s top results pages.