Last Updated on 3 weeks by Usman Sheikh
Google has been known to make significant changes to its algorithm each year.
Why? Why does Google keep changing its algorithm so regularly?
Google’s algorithms (as there are multiple algorithms that actually work together) ensures that search results bring up the most relevant content to a user with the amount of information available on the web. This can be difficult to sift through millions of websites in milliseconds and find exactly what you need that helps you (or me) – the end-user of Google’s main product (search engine).
Hence, Google ranking systems are made to do just that: sort through billions of web pages in its search index and present you with the best information in a fraction of a second.
As mentioned, a whole series of algorithms make up Google’s ranking system. Each search algorithm looks at a plethora of factors such as the relevance of content, the expertise of sources, location and settings as well as the words of a query to give the best possible suggestions. The importance given to each factor differs based on the nature of the query.
This is Google’s official statement on how and what it considers as part of the search experience:
Source: How Search Works
Pandu Nayak who has been with Google for the last 14 years and is now the vice president of search explains the company’s mission statement about producing great results. Nayak and many others study and incorporate machine learning and artificial intelligence and scrutinize every search to give ease to users.
The strive to perfection leads to optimization
Have you ever wondered what Google’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is? Well, simply put it is the practice of directing traffic to your website by including content on your site that will potentially improve your site’s visibility to search engines and users.
Most digital marketing is at the mercy of Google’s algorithms which keep on getting updated, changed or altered which results in having an indirect or even a direct impact on search traffic for many businesses and brands across the world wide web.
In fact, because of these, in the SEO community, there has been a ton of players who track these movements in search algorithms, notify and communicate findings with each other to help stay on top. The impact of losing first page rankings of some brands can in the millions (yes in USD) – so there is a reason to stay on top of it.
Here is a sample of ranking fluctuations by various Search Engine specialty brands keeping track of algorithm updates:
It is important to note that Google’s core updates drastically impact search engine optimization which has led popular websites and businesses to fall to mediocre or poor ranking.
Updates have revolutionized Google Search so that it has moved from the stereotypical robot to be able to interpret subtexts and contexts through natural language processing.
Marketers have had to keep this in mind to churn out search engine optimizing content to promote their businesses which could be at stake due to a major emphasis on keywords. Researching and understanding Google Analytics tools can prove to be particularly helpful in understanding a website’s search engine trends.
Image Source: Google Search Console Homepage
Search engine optimization is an imperfect solution to an imperfect search engine.
However, each tweak in the algorithm can result in an easy connection between customers and businesses.
That’s also not to say that at times the algorithm is going to make wrong ‘guesses’ as part of the optimization efforts.
There really is an awesome article and opinion piece by Robert Epstein (a senior research psychologist that has published 15 books) on USA News that gets into the power of Google on our daily lives, the mistakes it can and does make and how it changes can impact everything from elections to businesses crashing and burning.
It is a 5-year-old take, but its arguments hold even more true today. Check out The New Censorship. How did Google become the internet’s censor and master manipulator, blocking access to millions of websites?
No surprise that he is a major critic of Google and some of its practices on privacy, censorship, and impact on psychology on the society from its algorithms.
Image Source: USNews.com
Don’t cheat the system
Many businesses try to trick the system by resorting to keyword stuffing in their website’s title which DOES improve their ranking but can also get their profiles suspended for months as it goes against Google’s guidelines. Keyword stuffing is the practice of cluttering as many seo keywords on a website’s page as is possible even if the keywords are irrelevant and the site contains no real content.
Look at the keyword stuffing example below:
Are you looking for cheap running shoes? If you’re looking for cheap running shoes, look no further. Our cheap running shoes website is the best place to order your new cheap running shoes. Feel free to check out our selection of cheap running shoes from our cheap running shoes selection below.
I would be annoyed when reading this (as I am sure you would be as well)…but as an SEO professional in 2021, we still get too many clients that have been suffering in their rankings because their past SEO agencies took shortcuts like the above.
This can be taken as probably one of the worst examples of keyword stuffing which leads to “over-optimization” and leads to a terrible user experience because nobody wants to see ‘cheap running shoes’ repeated a gazillion times in a sentence.
Google’s own Matt Cutts warned webmasters about keyword stuffing and how it overshadows great websites with great content.
In 2011 and 2012, the company released algorithm updates called as Google Panda and Google Penguin respectively which were aimed at combatting bad practices such as spammy content, keyword stuffing and/or hidden links in copy.
There is a right way to optimize to ensure your pages rank
Many businesses are using SEO to stay at the top of the first page therefore understanding how they can improve their website’s ranking in search engines is very crucial.
Apart from working on title, headings and page URL structure – marketers must ensure that they publish quality, optimized content with the relevant keyword phrases and keyword density.
So here is the kicker and the important takeaway in the last sentence. “Quality”.
This word is so overlooked when it comes to SEO. When is an article published – is there a comparison done to see if it answers the search queries better?
Are the articles or web pages engaging? Is it structured well? Does it explain the concepts in an easy-to-consume way and get the messages across? Does it hold media, slides, videos or other visual assets to keep the users happy, aid in the explanation when they are reading? What about linking to other research or authoritative sites or articles when building arguments or making a case?
All these things matter. A good content writer knows this. Great leaders know this. Great brands understand this well. They do not take short-cuts here. And guess what – so do search engine algorithms.
It is worth emphasizing here that quality takes time, effort and resources.
There is so much content published on the world wide web daily. To stand out and really rank, you have to produce content that is better than the folks that have “earned” the organic listing on the first few spots of the first page of search results by publishing already decent content.
Produce content regularly that is better than the first page results and over time, the content will rank.
That great piece of content will naturally attract links, increase dwell time and time on site from users.
Brands must also remember to update their content regularly as this is one of the best indicators of a website’s relevancy.
Marketers should also use relevant, descriptive links in the text which are in keywords and will improve their search engine optimization.
Given the sheer volume of content produced – quality alone is not sufficient anymore.
Your website needs to be publishing quality and quantity regularly to get on top of readers and keep having it discovered from new users to help it stay on top.
That is why “content is king” and other such axioms are so widely used.
So, both quality and quantity are the key ingredients for the SEO formula.
A simple formula – but one that takes a dedicated team and processes in-house for any individual, brand or large-scale enterprise to execute on.
Some other tips on optimizing
Avoiding “click here” links and writing out the name of the destination can improve greatly. (I know I am guilty of this at times 😊)
Using ‘alt tags’ or alternative text descriptions to describe the video and visual media is another great way to climb up the rankings.
There are many agencies and companies that now guarantee high rankings in search engines to business owners.
However, no SEO company can control how Google ranks websites!
Since Google changes its algorithm ever so often, companies can work on understanding these changes and building strategies according to them instead of falling prey to agencies that are only a scam.
There is no guarantee that should be provided in ranking on the first page or first position. Organic growth, leads or increased visibility is the name of the game. Keyword themes can be targeted but anyone giving a guarantee on 1st position should be taken with a hefty amount of skepticism.
So what happens next?
Well, there are no shortcuts to rank on search engines the way they were in the late 90s (when Google was in its infancy and Yahoo, Microsoft and Ask Jeeves ruled the internet search engine world).
Besides short-cuts that try to cheat the system end up hurting the brand more in the long term (as mentioned in our keyword stuffing example above).
There is a lot written on this, but it is worth repeating here – create content for humans and not bots.
Understand that Google is not perfect (nothing is actually), and it will need to keep updating its algorithms regularly to match the user intent of the search query with a better answer or search result.
Play the long-term game and keep updating your content with better quality to stay on top.
There will be times that your page rankings crash (even with the best written or relevant content for the query) – but if the content is good and there are regular updates, you will bring some and all of those rankings back over time (unless there was “cheating” happening, then be willing to part ways with your initial traffic on your pages).
Other times there still may be content that does not rank because of Google’s own agenda (not placing content that puts their brand in a negative light or gives it bad publicity). There is not much that brands can do about this – ultimately, Google owns its search engine and it’s in their interest to protect their reputation and they will favour their reputation and products over other search results.
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