What you need to know about Google algorithm updates

Has your site traffic dropped recently? Specifically, has organic traffic decreased? We’re not talking about a slight dip—you could have lost hundreds or thousands of users overnight. For those of you who aren’t data geeks, you probably saw a dip in calls or online sales/leads. You probably also saw a major change in where your website appears on Google Search. If you have access to your site data, you likely saw hundreds of keywords lose rank, or maybe your site jumped to the 10th page on Google Search for the majority of keywords you were ranking for on page one. One reason for this could be Google algorithm updates.

On the flip side, a Google algorithm update could have significantly boosted your traffic! Maybe you saw a shift in keywords ranking on the first page, or maybe suddenly your site began to rank for a different SERP (search engine results page) feature. Whatever the case, your site traffic has increased, and you want to know why.

Most changes Google makes aren’t noticeable, but occasionally they release larger updates that can affect your site, either positively or negatively. Read on to discover what a core algorithm update is, what it means for your site, and how you can recover from an update.

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Google algorithm update alert:

Google’s latest confirmed algorithm update was on November 17, 2021. It’s the third core algorithm update this year focused explicitly on removing spam from search results (November 2021 Spam Update). The algorithm identifies and nullifies link spam, dropping traffic and visibility on the web for anyone following these black hat tactics. Was your site affected? Work with Data Driven Marketers to rebuild your traffic and start fresh with a data-driven, white hat SEO strategy.

First, what are core algorithm updates?

Google’s core algorithm updates are major changes in search that are designed to improve the results that users see. Google—as well as other search engines who release updates—is working to provide relevant and accurate information around the clock. Here’s how Google explains it:

“Our goal is always to provide you the most useful and relevant information. Any changes we make to Search are always to improve the usefulness of results you see. That’s why we never accept payment from anyone to be included in search results.”

You may not know it, but small changes in search happen every day, with larger changes (core algorithm updates) happening a few times a year. Rest assured that when larger updates are in the pipeline, Google gives advance notice (sometimes) so you can prepare for what’s ahead.

You can check Google’s Search Central Blog for notifications on confirmed algorithm changes and updates related to SEO.

What are some of the changes we’ll see as “Googlers”? (Google users?)

Google algorithm updates mostly relate to invisible guidelines on how a website can rank, but we may see some of these changes as users:

  • Interface: Google may release an algorithm update if they want to change the interface of Google Search (on mobile devices or desktop computers). As users, we may see a change in how website listings appear or how news articles are displayed. But we could also see more significant changes—like differences in how a rich card is displayed or how much text is showing in a site snippet.
    • Example: If you’ve used Google in the last two years or so, you probably also saw a brief time when Google started to display favicons in search results. For business owners that had favicons set, it looked—well, let’s just say it wouldn’t be our top choice. If you didn’t have your favicon set or it wasn’t up to date, you might have seen some rankings slip, and users would have been less likely to click on your website. Google reverted to favicon displays in January 2020.
  • Quality of content: The main purpose of Google algorithm updates is to provide users with the best answers possible. So, as you can imagine, the quality of web content is always being evaluated to improve search results. That’s why no one sees the exact same search results on the first 10,000 pages of results (quality relies on relevance to your search history and demographic) or even the same search results day after day. If you’re anything like me, if you don’t jot down the business name now, it’s forever lost! Search results are constantly being improved.

What’s the point of Google algorithm updates?

“Google is committed to a free and open web.”

Open access to information on the web is part of Google’s mission. While anyone and everyone has the right to expect that people can find their content, Google will prioritize websites that share accurate and informative information. Google will not tolerate a significant list of questionable content:

  • Objectionable or offensive information (problematic content)
  • Explicit or dangerous content (content that facilitates serious and immediate harm to people or animals)
  • Hateful content
  • Terrorist content
  • Medically or scientifically incorrect content (content that contradicts or runs contrary to scientific or medical consensus and evidence-based best practices)
  • Imagery related to child abuse or exploitation
  • Content and imagery that shares sexually explicit material
  • Content and imagery that shares violence or gore
  • Content that wrongfully shares personal information
  • Content that promotes or sells regulated goods (i.e., tobacco, gambling, weapons, etc.)
  • Spammy websites and content that manipulates users
  • Misrepresented advertisements
  • Manipulated media
  • Inauthentic or coordinated behavior to deceive, defraud, or mislead users
  • Content that harasses, bullies, or threats Google users
  • Content that uses vulgar language or profanity

While not all of these violations of content policies will trigger an immediate Google penalty, they certainly won’t meet the goal of helping users—and Google will not rank you on page one if your content isn’t helping the end user. Algorithm updates allow Google to continually provide a free and open web, penalizing site owners who don’t follow content policies.

“We [Google] help creators and businesses get discovered online.”

Google is invested in helping website owners succeed in search, providing a suite of tools and informational resources to learn how to share accurate and up-to-date information as well as how to optimize this information to be seen in search results. While these tools will help business owners become successful, it doesn’t change Google’s pledge to share exactly how search works—it’s fair game for everyone. Algorithm updates and the resources provided by Google afterward (information related to what and why they changed search results) help creators and business owners.

How to check SERP

SEMrush Sensor is a great tool to use when determining if there was a Google core algorithm update. Major digital marketing journalists, like Moz and Search Engine Journal, will provide reports related to algorithm updates on their end, but SEMrush is a direct data source that can provide insights on any given day that an update occurs.

In SEMrush’s robust tool, you can see SERP volatility (or “changes for the worse”) over the past 30 days. Their tool shows the slight changes in SERP throughout the month (related to the industries listed below) and can show you if the volatility is low, normal, high, or very high. If it’s very high, you know that there’s an algorithm change specific to your industry/business.

  • Arts & Entertainment
  • Autos & Vehicles
  • Beauty & Fitness
  • Books & Literature
  • Business & Industrial
  • Computers & Electronics
  • Finance
  • Food & Drink
  • Games
  • Health
  • Hobbies & Leisure
  • Home & Garden
  • Internet & Telecom
  • Jobs & Education
  • Law & Government
  • News
  • Online Communities
  • People & Society
  • Pets & Animals
  • Real Estate
  • Reference
  • Science
  • Shopping
  • Sports
  • Travel

Ranking changes across all categories


How to check SERP without paying for software

Business owners and agencies know that MarTech is expensive. Investing in software like SEMrush is necessary to be successful, but are you ready to spend 25% of your marketing budget on these platforms? More often than not, the answer is no. The team at Data Driven Marketers understands that, and that’s why we help SMB owners and agencies access this data through data reporting services. We can eliminate the need for you to buy expensive software to understand how your business is performing. Work with us to monitor the volatility of search results (with the cost of MarTech) and to strategize how to recover from a Google algorithm update or continue to grow your organic traffic.

What are core web vitals?

As of June 2021, core web vitals are a key player in Google’s ranking factors. If your core web vitals fail these tests—meaning the speed, responsiveness, and visual stability of your website needs improvement—your website is less likely to rank or grow in rank for specific key terms.

Largest content paint (LCP), first input delay (FID), and cumulative layout shift (CLS) are what are being measured within core web vitals. LCD and FID measure the performance and loading speed of your website, whereas CLS measures the overall user experience. There are several different tools you can use to check your core web vitals:

You should consult a developer for any technical updates to your website’s core web vitals; however, there are some updates that can be made without one. First, make sure your site is set up with Google Search Console and Google Analytics to be able to utilize the Search Console Core Web Vitals Report. Next, learn to use the page speed reporting tools to identify areas for improvement. Finally, use simple, responsive designs; avoid sliders and embedded iframes when possible, use compressed images, and if a site has ads or pop-up notifications, account for these sections early on the page space.

Recommendations to recover from the update

Sometimes Google algorithm updates will negatively affect your site or industry. There are a few things you can do to recover from the update.

Follow E-A-T guidelines

E-A-T is known as Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness in search engine optimization. To Data Driven Marketers, E-A-T is our rulebook for SEO.

  • Expertise is evaluated on a content level. The content creator needs to have a high level of understanding on the subject and provide true value for readers in their writing. So, no copying and pasting content from another source, and no AI-generated messaging. Also, a 100-word page doesn’t cut it! Business owners or skilled marketers who have industry expertise should be the content creators for each marketing plan, whether it includes content for web pages, blogs, videos, and even social media. That’s why we hire subject matter experts for all of our clients and accounts.
  • Authoritativeness comes down to reputation. How well known is the site in its industry? Do other people see this site as an expert on the topic? Are they linking to it? Referencing it as a resource? Maybe Google has it appear as a snippet on search. When it comes to authoritativeness, Data Driven Marketers does not believe that businesses should rush to build backlinks. Instead, there’s more of a focus on expertise through writing. Our subject matter experts will develop unique and valuable content, and our team of marketing experts will ensure it includes all the right optimizations to be seen. If we can make this rank, the business owner will see more visitors on the website, and other companies will reference and link to it.
  • Trustworthiness is evaluated on the accuracy and legitimacy of the site. If you follow these three guidelines and customize your messaging to fit your target audience (who actually can benefit from your content, products, and services), you will be seen on search and drive sales through your website.

Improve content

Not only do you want to follow E-A-T guidelines to positively improve your search rankings with each Google algorithm update, but you also want to update and improve your content when necessary. Make sure your content is relevant, accurate, and engaging, and prioritize making updates monthly or quarterly. Tailor your messaging to speak directly to your audience, providing clear-cut solutions on how to help them and solve their problems. Think holistically about your customers, and develop content that caters to their learning process. Never think of content singularly as a sales tool. It’s information and education.

Update core web vitals

As discussed above, core web vitals are important to your site’s ranking. With the help of a developer, you can improve the hosting/server response times, optimize your JavaScript and CSS, compress and minify resources to improve load times, and prioritize user experience fundamentals. All of this will equal a faster and more usable website—one that will be seen on search.

Unconfirmed algorithm updates

Unconfirmed Google algorithm updates simply describe a change in search (confirmed by unusual volatility and fluctuations tracked in SEMrush), but with no detail from Google. While it may be frustrating for business owners and marketers (“Google, tell us what you changed!”), Data Driven Marketers strongly believes that following E-A-T guidelines and constantly working to improve customer experience is the key to get ahead of unconfirmed changes.

Final thoughts on Google search algorithm updates

In our professional opinion, understanding core web vitals, E-A-T guidelines, and improving your content is the best step to get ahead of algorithm changes. Google’s algorithm updates—whether they’re small or large (core algorithm changes)—are designed to continue improving search experiences, providing a free and open web that shares accurate, informative, and non-harmful information with its users. Tracking changes and being aware of what’s changed is important (for both marketers and business owners), but focusing on your customers’ needs, providing clear-cut solutions on how to help them, and solving their problems is key to a successful website and business.

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