Another week and your ‘web guy’ just can’t seem to explain the steady drop in rankings for your target keywords.
He promised to improve rankings a week ago, but you seem to have lost even more top spots.
This may be due to one of many reasons, such as:
- A competitor is optimizing their site better for your chosen keywords.
- Your site is losing some of its’ high value backlinks.
- Your site design and speed need to be optimised.
- You just may have fallen foul of Googles’ manual or automatic penalties.
With 100+ major updates in the past 14 years, (there was one dubbed a ‘Softer Panda’ on March 24, 2014), Google is constantly tweaking its’ search engines to deliver quality results.
As a small business, using the internet to market our services & attract customers provides a much cheaper marketing medium than traditional advertising. Hence, it can be confusing and even annoying to see traffic levels dipping lower and lower. The steady downward trend in the number of keywords you rank for is almost always equal to a dip in your earnings. Good luck explaining that to the CEO at your next board meeting.
While it’s almost impossible to anticipate Google algorithm changes, we can try to mitigate them.
Dear Google, why So Many Changes?
Google changes many ranking factors during the course of a calendar year, some times as much as 200 times in one year (as they did in 2012). While your sites will never feel the impact of many of them, a few can be cataclysmic for your business, if you are hit.
Remember that Google is basically a massive set of algorithms that help searchers find out information they need. Think of the search algorithms as a list of rules that tells Google what to return when a search query is typed in.
Understanding that, you can deduce that there will always be loopholes and ways to ‘bend the rules’. Spammers exploit these loopholes in an attempt to rank higher and make money. Sadly, many of them convince legitimate business owners that they can help them improve rankings. We all know how that ends. Google’s complex algorithm changes are designed to stop spammy linking and spammers dead in their tracks.
While many of these tweaks infuriate many internet marketers , blackhatters and even big brands, it should be a reason to smile for creators of genuinely helpful content. The truth is nobody knows all the SEO answers, but many seasoned webmasters know what to do to avoid getting stung by any Google updates.
Using the analogy that the algorithm is basically asking your site a series of questions, how well you rank depends on how your site responds. Some of the major algorithm changes over the last decade include :-
- The Boston Update in February 2003 was the first named Google update. It largely comprised of a combination of algorithm changes and major index refreshes leading to the so-called “Google Dance”.
- The Cassandra Update in April 2003, where Google cracked down on how links were obtained. Using tactics like massive linking from co-owned domains became a no-no; Cassandra also crushed sites that used hidden text and hidden links.
- The Florida Update of November 2003 and the Austin of January 2004 got rid of tactics like keyword stuffing, invisible text and META-tag stuffing.
- Google continued rolling out algorithm updates leading up to the Google Panda Update in January 2011. Starting with penalties levied against Overstock and JC Penny, to stopping content scrapers and stripping thin content sites and content farms of their high ranking, Panda was here to stay. And stay it did, it rolled on in small & large increments over the next two years. At one point, Googles’ CDO Eric Schmidt, said they made over 500 changes in one year alone. This was one of the larger updates as it affected 12% of sites.
This period also heralded the birth of Google + to snag a share of the social media scene that was dominated by Facebook. Early adopters helped it to reach 10million users in the first 2 weeks.
- Whilst many webmasters were still reeling from Panda, Google rolled out Penguin on April 24, 2012. This was to target over-optimization of sites. This affected 15% of sites worldwide. Google also started to devalue the power of exact-match domains (EMDs).
- The Hummingbird Update in August 2013 – Some say Hummingbird is a part of the Penguin updates. Maybe, but it is definitely Googles’ most advanced algorithm to date. For one thing, it is one of the few algorithm changes that affects a whopping 90% of search engine queries (most affect only 1 – 3 %). The algorithm also allows the search engine to examine and ‘understand’ each word in a search query, in an attempt to figure out what the searcher wants to see.
The norm used to be that the key phrase as a whole was used and pages with high page authority were returned. Not with the new Hummingbird update, as the search engine now looks at the context of the words that make up a question instead of seeing the words as separate entities.
These changes have largely helped to weed out crappy, unsuitable content and sites from the search results.
But Googles’ axe stroke is usually very broad and chops down many legitimately helpful sites too. You only have to put a foot wrong to trigger a penalty. While this may seem like you are perpetually on your toes, a few key points should ALWAYS guide your practices.
Knowing the major updates and how they affect your site and rankings is the first step to maintaining high search engine rankings. Join us in the concluding part to find out the proven steps to do this…
Part 2 here