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Navigating Announced and Unannounced Google Algorithm Updates

The biggest change to the SEO industry was the departure of Matt Cutts from Google. When Google unrolled a new algorithm under the helm of Matt Cutts, you could always depend upon knowing a few things:
  • That something had changed
  • What had changed (to a certain extent)
  • And how it would impact your website as a webmaster

As frustrating as it was when your website traffic tanked after the Panda or Penguin update unrolled, Cutts was always consistent when it came to telling you why your website might have been impacted. After Matt Cutts left Google, the “why,” “how,” and “when” of updates has been very sporadic. Plus, the message nowadays the message stays consistently the same: “We did an update to the core algorithm. Some websites may have been impacted.” In this age of “largely silence from Google,” let’s walk through some basic steps to see why your website might have been impacted by a Google update and what you might need to do about it.

Your Money, Your Life Websites

We are going to start with these types of websites first. Many types of websites advise people that they will need to spend money to improve their livelihood. This category can include a supplement that might help you with weight loss, financial or investment advice, or anything that has something to do with lifestyle changes. Your website, in this instance, might have a subscription model. In these instances, Google is very clear on what you must do. You must add as much trust to your website as possible. This includes making contact forms super easy-to-use and making them easy to find. This also includes making the “legal jargon” of your business very easy and accessible for the user to read and understand. Ultimately, you must be a good business steward in order to preserve your rankings on search engines for this type of website.

The Reality of Link Schemes

Unnatural link building is something that can take any website down. Those that have been in the webmaster business for a long time know this and avoid unnatural links like the plague. That being said, Google will let you know, in most cases, if a search engine optimizer you have hired is building links in an unnatural manner that will hurt your website. You’ll get a notification in Search Console and you will have to take those links down and disavow them. But are there some other types of links and off-page situations that can potentially tank your traffic and rankings? The answer to that question is yes:

  • Negative link velocity: This is a phenomenon that happens when, even though your website has a high Domain Authority, your website is losing backlinks faster than it is acquiring new ones. Backlinks can disappear when a website is taken down, content is edited, or in other situations. The situation is compounded when you lose a high-authority, aged backlink. In this situation, we recommend that you consistently try and get one new backlink to your website per month.
  • Backlinks that point to non-existent pages on your website: Do you have a very old website? If you change a page or delete a page, this can impact your rankings. Strongly consider the efficacy of the page that is replacing that page and do a 301 redirect. A backlink is not effective if it points to a 404 page. A backlink is also not effective if it points to an irrelevant page. Always try and redirect (301) deleted/moved pages to a relevant page on your website.
  • Irrelevant/untrusted backlinks: Is a website with a link to you not relevant to content on your website? Is a backlink untrusted? These are some of the link types that you should avoid.
  • PBNS: These can be potentially harmful to your website. “Private Blog Networks” and link wheels are means of generating a large number of backlinks quickly, and we recommend avoiding them.

On-Page Issues

On many old, high-domain authority websites, it is a common trend to see that rankings have decreased after an update. That is because many older webmasters will often leave aged content without updating it. Over time, that makes the content less and less relevant. Sometimes, you will see that pages on high DA websites will not utilize keywords or related keywords in headlines and throughout the copy. Updating the copy on the website will keep it relevant.

Think Outside of the “I’ve Been Penalized By Google” Box

Sometimes, a website will tank in the rankings for seemingly no reason at all. This tends to happen when a website is no longer relevant. Consider the website that is shown in the Google Analytics screenshot below. After a full technical SEO audit of the website, we found that nothing was wrong with the link profile of the website. Nor was there anything wrong with the content on the website (in fact, it was written by someone with a PhD). As we can see, the website was suffering from a high bounce rate. Conversions had dropped on the website drastically preceding the drop in traffic. The business had a couple of problems, such as negative reviews with the BBB. Essentially, because of the business’s poor reputation, people who were researching the site no longer came back, as indicated by the high bounce rate on the page. The website was no longer relevant and because of the business’s reviews, people no longer wished to do business with the company.

Fix “Little” SEO Problems As They Arise

Google is pretty generous. It gives you a lot of time to fix problems on your site before it boots certain pages from its index. When you run a website audit, you will often notice little messages that don’t seem like that big of a deal, i.e., your website doesn’t have alt images, your website has duplicate meta descriptions, or your URL is too long. Pay attention to the “little things” that pop up when you use SEMrush or other platforms to do a site audit. Google will generally give you a long time to fix these things, but eventually, they might hurt you. These little warnings can include:

  • A page having too many redirects.
  • Lack of canonicals when needed.
  • Broken links or missing images on a web page.

Stay Calm During Google Updates

Even though we don’t have Matt Cutts telling us what is wrong with our websites anymore, we are ultimately responsible for the traffic and conversions that happen on our websites. Practice white-hat SEO and adjust when you need to in order to rank well on the SERPs, even after a Google update.