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To provide an excellent search experience for its users, Google constantly updates its search algorithm.
What's a search algorithm, you might be asking? And how does it affect me and my website? And also, what do I do if my website is affected by it? These are all excellent questions, so let's delve into this.
What is a google search update?
It's a change in how Google ranks websites in its search results. It makes these changes with the help of various search algorithms.
What is a search algorithm?
A search algorithm is a program that examines websites and checks those websites for several criteria, which ultimately helps Google how and why a website should or shouldn't rank and by how much in the search results
What sort of things might a search algorithm look for?
There's quite an extensive list of things Google looks for. Most of it, Google keeps a secret simply because making it public means people can abuse the system to get higher search results unnaturally.
However, there are some things Google has made public about what sort of things website owners can look for to try to improve their website.
For example, do the headings of the website page make sense and is it descriptive and helpful? Was the content well-produced, or does it appear sloppy and rushed?
How often does Google update its search algorithm?
Truthfully, Google updates its algorithm quite a lot; most of the updates on a day to day basis are so tiny or seemingly small that the majority of the internet doesn't notice it.
From time to time, however, Google releases a significant update, which can impact search results in various ways. They call these core updates.
What happens during a big search update?
Historically, when Google launches a big core update to its search algorithm, it typically takes around two weeks to complete.
During that time, website owners who use analytical tools to see how they rank for keywords and traffic will notice a shift. Sometimes the shift is very subtle. Other times, it's significant. Some may see their website significantly boost, while others may see a sharp decline. Some may not see any change at all.
After the rollout completes, you'll typically notice the results won't bump around as sharply, and things will normalise. You can think of it as a seismometer during an earthquake.
If the earthquake is the Google search algorithm update rolling out, the seismometer's jagged up-down chart is the keyword ranking and web traffic results. Once the earthquake (or, in this case, the update) finish, the seismometer levels out, and everything is normal again.
An excellent tool SEMrush provides shows how volatile the search results appear to be from a large sample of websites across the internet. Any significant changes caused by Google are shown in their graph as sharp increases from normal to high and severe.
My search results are taking a brutal hit during the update. Should I do anything now?
Our advice would be to wait until Google's core search update finishes rolling out. We say this because we usually find that your actual final resting point in search results won't be known for sure until things level out. Otherwise, you might be trying to change the wrong items or make incorrect guesses about what's causing the drop.
Some website owners find their results drop and then go back up after a search algorithm update completes; some may find it remains lower than before, and some don't see any change at all; you just won't know for sure until the rollout finishes. So, best be patient, wait the two weeks, and then assess where you stand.
I took a hit in search results, is Google punishing me?
Google has often said it doesn't necessarily mean you're being punished. It might be you haven't done anything wrong at all. The way they have explained it is like a list of top 100 movies of all time.
A movie may go down lower in the list because newer movies arrive on the scene, or you might have a change of heart and a movie you felt was great before isn't as great now. Or it might be that a film lower in the list before makes it higher up the list because what's new doesn't quite make the cut like the older movie, so it becomes more relevant.
With all these changes over time, movies move up or down the list. The same goes for websites. If your website has gone down lower in search results, it doesn't necessarily mean the website is no good anymore.
It might just be that newer websites arrive on the scene, or other websites are moving up and down the list, causing a shift in the search results altogether.
Following the E-A-T guidelines
If you want to improve your website's search ranking, you can look at E-A-T. E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness.
Google views these three components as significantly important when determining if a website has quality.
- Do the author and website demonstrate in-depth knowledge on a particular topic?
- Is the author mentioned or referenced elsewhere on the internet as having experience or credentials on the topic?
- Do other trusted sites reference them as being recognised experts in their field?
- Does the content have any factual errors that can be easily verified?
- How do people online perceive the reputation of the author and website?
- Do high-quality sources reference or mention the website and the author?
- Is the website considered a leader in its industry?
- Would they be regarded as a reliable source of information?
- Does the website link to or refer to reliable sources of information when stating something?
- Are there reviews of the website or its owner, are the majority of those reviews positive
- Is the website mentioned elsewhere on the internet as being highly regarded?
- Are there signals or indicators of trust on the website? (e.g. online stores have a returns policy and contact details), is the website secure with a HTTPS address instead of a HTTP address?
- Is the information provided on the website true and honest? Is it reliable?
Does the website have a beneficial purpose?
Google has mentioned before that a website should have a clear beneficial purpose. Websites should be created to help users in some way. On the flip side, websites created with the intent to deceive or harm users or make money off users with no attempt to help them should rank very low.
So when looking at every page of your website, ask yourself how this is helping users? Is it fulfilling a beneficial purpose?
This could be anything from sharing information or a story, teaching someone something, selling them something, making them laugh, entertaining them, providing guidance, and the list goes on.
If that purpose is not apparent or helping the user, you should consider changing the page to meet these criteria.
YMYL - Your money, your life content
YMYL stands for your money, your life. Google especially notes content that can impact someone's happiness, health, safety or money). A negative impact on any of these can be quite concerning, so naturally, Google takes this stuff seriously.
Even unintentionally providing bad advice or information that can impact these sorts of things means YMYL websites need to be looked at more closely by Google.
Google mentions what kind of websites would be considered YMYL and these include:
- News and current events (not all would fall under the YMYL category)
- Civics, government and law
- Health and safety
- Groups of people (e.g. information on claims about groups of people such as gender, age, race, religion, disability, nationality, sexual orientation or sexual identity etc.)
- Other (many other topics that may involve big decisions being made or important aspects of their lives, which might fall into YMYL categories, e.g. fitness, nutrition, dieting, housing hunting, job searches, selecting a university to study at etc.)
These websites should focus on validating information as accurate, reliable and verifiable. And it is without a doubt that Google's search algorithms will be looking elsewhere on the internet where it can confirm expertise, reputation, or qualifications. Not to mention authoritativeness and trustworthiness.