Many publishers have apocalyptic tales to tell with regard to Google’s Search Updates, especially those with a heavy dependence on organic search. In this guest feature, Eleven Writing’s Co-Founder Daniel Armstrong explains how to mitigate against such disasters and even prosper when Google updates its algorithm.
Imagine ranking in first position for hundreds of keywords… and then one day your top pages vanish completely from the top 100 results.
This can happen if your website gets ‘hit’ by a Google Search Update.
Read on to see how these updates affect even the biggest online brands and how to safeguard against them.
How Google Updates Can Devastate Your Website
Google’s search algorithm has an estimated 200 ranking factors that harness the latest AI technology. In addition to the broader “Core Updates” that occur two or three times a year, Google also tweaks specific parts of its search algorithm.
This causes massive fluctuations in the search results that can affect every page of your website. Here are all the updates (so far!) in 2022:
- February 22 – Page Experience Update
- March 23 – Product Algorithm Update
- May 22 – Core Algorithm Update
- July 27 – Product Reviews Update
- August 25 – Helpful Content Update
- September 12 – Core Algorithm Update
- September 20 – Product Review Algorithm Update
(For a complete, updated list, visit here)
The effects of these updates can be devastating for online publishers – big or small.
Following the latest core update, SEO tools and data website Sixtrix.com showed huge declines in SERP (Search Engine Result Pages) visibility for the following media websites:
- Metro.co.uk – 63.9%
- Mirror.co.uk – 44.2%
- Dailymail.co.uk – 40.2%
- Independent.co.uk – 29%
Google updates can hit smaller websites even harder. This graph shared on Twitter shows a brand that lost 90% of its traffic following the last update.
Some Websites Gain From Google Updates
Some websites, however, can make significant gains following a Google Search update. In Q3, Sistrix reported large gains in search visibility for the following:
- bbcgoodfood.com 23.5%
- vocabulary.com 22.5%
- dailymotion.com 18.6%
At Eleven, our clients gained an average 15% search traffic increase after the Google Core update in May 2022, and 12.5% following the last September Core Update. One of our clients, AlpInsider, gained a 30% increase in search traffic in September as shown below.
AlpInsider has since gained further search positions and traffic. It just recently (in November 2022) achieved 1,750 visitors from Google in a single day. A new record for this website.
5 Ways You Can Safeguard Your Website
What helps Eleven and our client’s websites thrive after Google search updates?
We believe our results are due to the alignment between our core practices and Google’s values and vision. Here are our top five takeaways from working with websites in a variety of niches.
- Show Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T)
Google’s “How Search Works” guide gives a telling insight into how they rank pages in their search index.
In addition to high-quality backlinks, Google manually reviews content displays to check if it displays enough expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (E-A-T).
That’s why it pays to hire experts who are subject-matter experts in their field. Not only will they produce strong content, they’ll also help with your E-A-T signals.
To gain the most benefit, add an author’s tagline that links to a page detailing their qualifications and experience. Furthermore, don’t be afraid to give your audience a quick synopsis of why they’re an expert to help create authority and trust.
E-A-T signals like these also tempt readers to sign up to services, buy products, and read more pages on your site.
- Match “Searcher Intent”
Google is constantly tweaking its search results to try and better match “searcher intent”. Put simply, this is to provide the user with exactly what they are searching for.
To match searcher intent, we only need to look at the top results in Google. The first thing to consider is the type of article that Google currently favors. Imagine if you were targeting the keyword “Bear Hangs” for an outdoor site and had an opinion piece in mind.
Here are the SERPs according to Ahrefs:
The top results are dominated by “How To” guides. There’s only one opinion piece (highlighted) that suggests this article format is not in demand by searchers.
Once you’ve considered the appropriate type of article, the next step is to answer the search query in as much depth as possible.
There are handy SEO tools like Semrush, Frase, and Surfer SEO that can quickly outline the topics every page covers. You should include the common topics in your content and add a fresh take wherever possible to make your content original.
In addition to what the content covers, you should also pay attention to how it’s presented. Are there any videos, charts, tables, or other images? If so, including them will help your audience and your search rankings.
For example, you wouldn’t expect to see an article on “How To Make A Paper Airplane” without images or perhaps a video.
- Keep Your Content Fresh
“Freshness” is a ranking factor for some search terms. It’s likely your pages need to be kept updated to avoid being supplanted in the search results.
For example, a page with fashion tips will probably need updating every season, whereas a dictionary page will not.
Take care when making changes to content, too. Only changing the year in the title is not enough to signal freshness as this result shows.
Make sure you change the meta title, meta description and substitute all outdated content. This better signals the change to Google. It can also improve your click-through-rate (CTR) from the search results.
- Avoid Manipulative SEO Practices
Google takes a dim view of websites that try to game the system. Its algorithms are getting better at detecting manipulative SEO tactics like PBN (Private Blog Network) links, spam links, and keyword stuffing with every subsequent update.
Avoiding automated links or link-building tactics that were popular a decade ago might sound obvious. Unfortunately, some brands use SEO agencies for their backlink building and do not vet every link that gets added.
Website owners have also been tempted to use AI writing tools as they cost a fraction of hiring a content writer. That was until websites with AI-generated content experienced site-wide traffic reductions during the October 2022 Spam Update.
- Get Familiar With Google’s Guidelines
If your website suffers a massive traffic decline due to a Google update, it can be hard pinpointing the exact reason. There are over two-hundred different ranking factors. To make matters even worse, sometimes the updates overlap.
What we can do is check Google’s published guidelines for website owners and try to align our content with their values. A quick place to start is Google’s Ranking Systems Guide.
If you fancy some longer reading, you can download their search rater guidelines here. This 167-page PDF covers E-A-T Signals, low-quality content, and understanding search user needs.
Google´s bi-annual “Core Updates” can crash a website’s traffic overnight. Our experience also shows that while some websites experience significant traffic loss, others gain traffic following Google Updates.
To keep your website on the right side of any future update, we recommend publishers align their content with Google’s core values at the planning stage.
This means working in Expertise, Authority, and Trust (E-A-T) signals, and providing the best answer – and article format – for your target search query.
Co-Founder, Eleven Writing