6 takeaways from a June 25 algorithm update post-mortem

Reports say there was like­ly a sig­nif­i­cant Google algo­rithm update on June 25, pri­mar­i­ly tar­get­ing sites rank­ing in posi­tions 6 to 10 and impact­ing the food and bev­er­age indus­try the most, but also hit­ting indus­tries like retail, trav­el and health. When­ev­er...

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

Reports say there was like­ly a sig­nif­i­cant Google algo­rithm update on June 25, pri­mar­i­ly tar­get­ing sites rank­ing in posi­tions 6 to 10 and impact­ing the food and bev­er­age indus­try the most, but also hit­ting indus­tries like retail, trav­el and health.

When­ev­er this occurs, there seems to be wide­spread alarm and pub­li­ca­tions push out posts about what each update means and how brands can tell if they were hit by it.

And while we don’t want to rein­vent the wheel, this is a good time to remem­ber why Google updates its algo­rithm in the first place – and what the state of the art of search engine opti­miza­tion is in 2017. In oth­er words, when there is an algo­rithm update:

1. Look to the SEO community.

Accord­ing to Brock Mur­ray, COO of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing agency SEO­plus+, per­haps the most impor­tant thing SEOs can do before, dur­ing and after updates is to sim­ply keep their ears to the ground.

The best way to do that is to fol­low all the biggest SEO names on Twit­ter like Bar­ry Schwartz and Marie Haynes and keep fol­low­ing the SEO blogs like SERound­table,” Mur­ray said. “What’s cool is that when one SEO is affect­ed, we’re all affect­ed and we head to Twit­ter to dis­cuss. The more infor­ma­tion we can share with each oth­er, the more like­ly we are to get­ting to the bot­tom of why the changes hap­pened and how we can adjust.”

Jamie White, head of tech­ni­cal SEO at dig­i­tal and search mar­ket­ing agency Search Lab­o­ra­to­ry, agreed sites that see drops in traf­fic and are try­ing to come up with recov­ery plans in par­tic­u­lar should take note of what’s being said in the SEO com­mu­ni­ty about the algo­rithm – par­tic­u­lar­ly if Google has not been vocal about what the update impacts.

2. Remember the goalpost is always moving.

And even if your traf­fic does drop, don’t pan­ic.

The [oth­er] thing we need to remem­ber is that, out­side of things such as Pen­guin and Pan­da, algo­rithm updates are just that…updates,” said Josh Pat­ter­son, senior SEO direc­tor at dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing agency Jel­ly­fish. “Google’s mis­sion, as it has been from day one, is to pro­vide the best results to users based on search and intent. Each sub­se­quent algo­rithm update looks to bet­ter that promise. If that means the way in which con­tent is served has changed, it is up to us to adapt to it.”

In oth­er words, SEO is nev­er real­ly fin­ished.

It’s a mis­con­cep­tion with­in the indus­try that, when hit by an algo­rithm update, we can make some fix­es to our con­tent or prop­er­ties as a whole to get back to where we were,” Pat­ter­son added. “We for­get that the goal­post is always mov­ing. Where we were no longer exists because the rules have changed or adapt­ed.”

3. Don’t fixate on the algorithm.

And so per­haps the most sound advice when it comes to algo­rithm updates is to ignore them.

There is very lit­tle to say that has not been said a mil­lion times before. If you focus on deliv­er­ing the best pos­si­ble con­tent and the best pos­si­ble expe­ri­ence for your users, then these algo­rithm prob­lems will pass you by and often deliv­er an improve­ment in your vis­i­bil­i­ty and organ­ic traf­fic,” said Mar­cus Miller, an SEO and PPC con­sul­tant. “If you chase the algo­rithm and try to find ways to exploit the sys­tems used to rank web­sites then each pass­ing update will dent your traf­fic and make you want to cry. Organ­ic search is a black box.”

And that, of course, is because no one knows exact­ly how Google ranks web­sites or what the inter­play is between var­i­ous sig­nals.

Clear­ly, engage­ment sig­nals are becom­ing more impor­tant and you can’t fake that,” Miller added. “As the algo­rithm becomes more AI-dri­ven, then all the links and opti­miza­tion in the world won’t help you trick the engine into giv­ing you more than you deserve. If you want the best pos­si­ble posi­tion for your web­site, focus on being the best pos­si­ble answer for a giv­en search.”

Mur­ray agreed a good rule of thumb is to just take care of your con­tent.

Cre­ate long, in-depth con­tent for your read­ers and cre­ate online rela­tion­ships that make sense,” Mur­ray added. “As long as you’re putting in the work and tak­ing care of your con­tent, Google will take care of you.”

4. Monitor, diagnose and act.

That being said, White said regard­less of updates, brands should always close­ly mon­i­tor their vis­i­bil­i­ty and traf­fic lev­els and respond to the data. And that starts with iden­ti­fy­ing any poten­tial issues.

Set up alerts in your ana­lyt­ics soft­ware to ensure that you are always aware when organ­ic traf­fic has seen a drop beyond a cer­tain expect­ed [per­cent­age] lev­el,” White said. “We would rec­om­mend >10% ver­sus the same day in the pre­vi­ous week as any­thing less than this could be nat­ur­al fluc­tu­a­tion, but you can base it on how change­able your traf­fic is on a week-by-week basis. Addi­tion­al­ly, you will ide­al­ly have rank­ing soft­ware that tracks posi­tions dai­ly, so you can quick­ly iden­ti­fy any drops in rank­ing per­for­mance in line with site traf­fic.”

From there, diag­nose the cause.

See­ing a traf­fic or rank­ings drop around the same date as an algo­rithm update can imme­di­ate­ly ring alarm bells, but cor­re­la­tion doesn’t always mean cau­sa­tion,” White said. “Devel­op­ers can reg­u­lar­ly make changes to a site with­out inform­ing the SEO or mar­ket­ing team so it’s worth hav­ing an ini­tial con­ver­sa­tion to deter­mine whether any­thing behind the scenes could be respon­si­ble for the impact that you’ve seen.”

5. Look to the Webmaster Guidelines.

If your site does see a drop in traf­fic, White sug­gests drilling down to spe­cif­ic key­words and land­ing pages that have been affect­ed to deter­mine whether the issue is site-wide or iso­lat­ed to a cer­tain sec­tion of the web­site.

This part of the process is cru­cial as it will shape any reme­di­al action that you may need to take,” White added.

Pat­ter­son agreed, but also point­ed to Google’s Web­mas­ter Guide­lines.

Eval­u­at­ing our per­for­mance against those rules, rather than alleged algo­rith­mic changes, not only set us up for pos­i­tive progress, regard­less of updates, but is also a bet­ter mod­el for long-term suc­cess in SEO,” Pat­ter­son added.

6. Communicate.

In addi­tion, Pat­ter­son said brands need to find the prop­er way to com­mu­ni­cate algo­rith­mic changes and sub­se­quent SERP fluc­tu­a­tion.

Whether report­ing to clients or inter­nal lead­er­ship, it is impor­tant to con­vey these events in a way that is digestible to some­one unfa­mil­iar with the sub­ject,” he added.

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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