Search engine optimization is difficult enough without Google constantly moving the goalposts. Most businesses hope to create SEO strategies to keep reaching customers in various markets for years. Unfortunately, the rough seas of search engine algorithms do not allow this.
Marketers trying to keep their page ranking at the top may face a few headaches as the Google algorithm constantly changes. It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Maintaining a high Google ranking is possible by sticking to a few tried and true techniques.
So, how can you set sail on the Search Engine Ocean, weather the storm, and come out with your hull intact? That’s what we hope to teach you with this guide.
Google’s Evergreen Ranking Factors: What Do We Know?
Despite the efforts of top experts from the most popular SEO companies, our knowledge of Google’s algorithm is still relatively limited because the company refuses to disclose its crucial ranking factors. As a result, no one knows precisely which boxes to check to achieve a first-page ranking.
Having said that, there are a few vital ranking factors that we do know about. Here they are, in no particular order:
- User engagement — Google tends to penalize websites with few return visitors and high bounce rates because it deems these pages to offer low-quality content.
- HTTPS — On the whole, Google favors trustworthy websites with HTTPS status, so having an SSL certificate will likely improve your ranking regardless of future algorithm changes.
- Responsiveness — The ranking and indexing of your website is based entirely on its mobile version, so responsiveness is a huge ranking factor, and it is unlikely to go anywhere anytime soon.
- Link quality — This is one of the critical components of Google’s ranking system. You should only link to informative, relevant content if you want to rank highly on Google.
- Design — The website’s user interface needs to be simple and intuitive, making the site easy to use and navigate.
- Content relevance — It’s essential to include relevant keywords in your website and create content around those terms. Stuffing the site with keywords is considered bad practice, however, so the trick is to find the right balance.
- Load times — Google’s page speed updates might impact you if your website is slow to load. This is because sluggish websites don’t provide a great experience for visitors.
In the simplest of terms, Google’s algorithm tends to reward sites that offer a great user experience and punish those that do the opposite. Whatever changes to the algorithm may come in the future, they will only be made to serve this overall purpose, so aim your bow towards the User Experience Star, and you’ll never veer too far off course.
Frequency and Scale of Google Algorithm Changes
Google makes minor adjustments to its indexing algorithm pretty much every day. Sometimes multiple updates are released in a 24-hour period. It is unlikely that you will notice a big difference in your search page ranking due to these updates alone, as they are typically small on their own.
On the other hand, the same cannot be said for the so-called “core” updates. These sweeping changes from Google occur a few times every year and can directly impact page performance.
Keep an eye out for core updates every few months.
Important Historical Updates
For a deeper understanding of how Google algorithm changes work, we’ve compiled a list of some critical historical updates and their effects on ranking strategies.
The 2011 “Panda” algorithm update targeted dishonest practices, including duplicate content and keyword stuffing. With this change, which included the introduction of a “quality score,” Google could rank web pages according to how people would perceive their content, rather than how many keywords they contained.
The best way for marketers to “survive” Google Panda was to write quality, educational content, rewrite underperforming articles, and use keywords more strategically, rather than just dumping as many as possible on a single page.
In 2012, Google introduced the “Penguin” update to combat “black hat” SEO tactics such as spammy backlinks and link directories. It was also designed to help Panda crack down on keyword stuffing.
As the focus shifted from link volume to high-quality content, marketers would have a significantly higher chance of boosting their search rankings by using valuable, engaging links.
This 2013 update focused on bridging the gap between the type of content people wanted and the keywords they used to search for it. In other words, the goal was to make the search engine experience more human and move the most relevant and informative content to the top.
As a result, marketers stepped up their game by adding more keyword variations and relevant search phrases to meet readers’ expectations.
Hummingbird’s sequel “RankBrain” was released in 2015. Since then, the world’s biggest search engine has ranked pages according to how closely they corresponded to the users’ search intent. To put it differently, this update helps promote the most informative and relevant content for the search phrase or keyword.
To pass RankBrain, you need to research why people use a particular keyword phrase and write rich, relevant content that meets their expectations.
How to Stay Afloat on the Stormy Algorithm Sea
Now that you’ve been acquainted with the context surrounding Google’s constant algorithm shifts, it’s time to learn how to weather the storm and keep improving your rankings. Check out this list of tips, created in association with our friends from Digital Silk.
- Run a Tight Ship with HTTPS
Make the switch to HTTPS now if you haven’t already. Securing your site using HTTPS increases its trustworthiness. If for no other reason, this is a good move from a marketing and SEO perspective, as Google rewards SSL-protected websites with higher rankings.
It only takes a few minutes to obtain an SSL certificate, install it on your hosting account, and change your site’s URLs to HTTPS instead of HTTP.
- Focus on the Basics of Navigation
In the same way, you need to learn to navigate the seas of search engine optimization; your users must navigate your website. To improve their user experience and boost your chances of SEO success, try the following:
- Make sure all the links on your website work and lead to their intended destinations.
- Create a site map to make indexing easier.
- Streamline navigation through website menus and search functionality.
- Don’t Go Overboard
It is important to optimize for SEO, but don’t overdo it. Avoid including irrelevant links in your content, do not buy links, and try not to overoptimize your anchor texts.
It can be challenging to strike a balance between over-optimization and effective SEO. Still, as long as you stay away from black-hat tactics and overly aggressive link-building practices, you should be ok.
- Use Keywords Strategically
In the simplest of terms, keyword stuffing is the practice of repeating the same keyword multiple times within a single piece of content to increase your ranking. Google does its best to penalize websites with this type of content because it can be pretty distracting and hard to read.
If you’re interested in keeping Google happy, weave your keywords into the text naturally rather than forcing them into your writing. If you are not interested in keeping Google happy, thanks for making it this far down the article, we really appreciate it, but you’re probably in the wrong place.
- Produce Helpful Content
If a user stays on your website for a while, chances are you answered their search query, and Google is clever enough to understand this. So, the search engine will reward you for creating valuable, informative, all-in-all high-quality content.
So, what do you get? It’s simple—as long as your articles target the right search intent and cover the topic comprehensively, they will rank higher.
- Keep It Unique
Duplicate content on your website can affect your ranking, whether it is only a few lines or a large block of text.
A free tool called Copyscape can help you identify duplicate content on your site.
The free comparison tool lets you input the URLs of two pages you wish to compare. This is most useful when rewriting or repurposing content because you want to keep the two versions as different as possible.
Using Copyscape, you can also check your URL to see if your content has been used elsewhere or if you’ve inadvertently used the same few phrases as somebody else on the internet. You’d be surprised how often this happens, so this tool is handy.
The Bottom Line
So, what is the bottom line? Search engine algorithms often change, affecting your SEO strategy directly. Whenever Google releases its next core update, be sure to read up on how it might affect your page rankings, and consider hiring SEO experts if you need some extra help. Lastly, to avoid algorithm penalties, focus on writing rich, valuable content for your readers, make sure all links are functional, replace outdated backlinks with new ones, and purchase an SSL certificate if you don’t already have one.
The views included in this article are entirely the work and thoughts of the author, and may not always reflect the views and opinions of Regex SEO.