Google algorithm update

Google algorithm update

Will the most recent Google algorithm update harm your website?

I’m sure many of you have worked diligently over the years to optimise your website. You’ve probably focused on high-quality content, user-friendly design, and local SEO strategies that have propelled your website to the top of the search results.

However, as news of impending Google algorithm updates spread, a wave of worry has washed over website owners. I know I’ve heard tales from fellow business owners of how such updates and algorithm changes have impacted site visibility literally overnight. Some sites completely tank and traffic goes to zero. But why?

As an SEO consultant, I’ve become familiar with the most important of these factors, and how we can use them to help websites rank for their target keywords.

In this article, I discuss what these algorithm updates are and if the latest one will harm your website. 

First, what is a Google algorithm update?

The Google search engine uses complicated systems and mathematical formulas called algorithms to get information from its search index and instantly show the best results for a query. The algorithms rank websites and web pages based on many factors, such as the relevance, authority, and usability of the pages they index.

Google’s algorithm is complex and commonly cited estimates suggest that the number of ranking factors exceeds 200. Google regularly updates its algorithms to make the search results it gives users more accurate and useful.

As Google stated recently:

“We’re making algorithmic enhancements to our core ranking systems to ensure we surface the most helpful information on the web and reduce unoriginal content in search results.”

As part of its ongoing effort to provide the best search engine results for its users, Google makes thousands of changes to its algorithm every year. Many of these changes are so small that you won’t even notice them, but every once in a while, Google rolls out an update that has a massive effect on how websites rank.

These updates create turbulence for search engine results – just like turning up the power of a wave pool and sending people diving for cover!

What are some of the updates?

Here are some of the most significant and impactful Google algorithm updates so far:

  • Panda (2011). Websites with high-quality, in-depth material are ranked higher than those with low-quality, thin content.
  • Penguin (2012). Focused on link quality, targeting spammy or irrelevant links and manipulative link-building tactics.
  • Hummingbird (2013). Improved search accuracy by understanding user intent and contextual meaning of phrases.
  • Mobile (2015). Prioritised mobile-friendly websites in search results to encourage a mobile-first approach.
  • RankBrain (2015). AI search impact via integrated machine learning to improve ambiguous query handling and conversational interpretation.
  • Medic (2018). Focused on expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) and led to increased demand for high-quality material on health and wellness websites.

Watch out for the latest update – March 2024

The most recent change to Google’s algorithm happened in March 2024. It’s a core update that made a lot of changes, with the effects still rippling out today. Its main goal is to get rid of low-quality content and spam, or what Google calls “unhelpful content,” by as much as 40%. It also added rules to stop deceptive practices.

This update specifically targets these areas (if you are using any of these tactics, watch out):

  • AI mass produced copy e.g. ChatGPT generic articles published en masse with no editing.
  • Low quality spam content published with the intent of manipulating search engine results.
  • Sites that are entirely published with AI writers – search engines can detect this.
  • Domain abuse – such as private blog networks, and buying expired domains, then adding low-quality content to them to take over the domain’s old reputation.

For example, several big guest posting and blogging sites have seen their organic traffic collapse, often to zero.

This screen shot shows the decline in organic traffic on a popular blogging site over the last 6 months, with the most recent decline occurring as part of the March 2024 update.

google algorithm decline in organic traffic

Yes, some websites have lost ALL their organic traffic. Why?

In many of these situations, the information published to the site in the first place was of low quality, often generated by AI, scraped from other websites, and made solely for the goal of manipulating search rankings.

And it’s these practices that search engines are now targeting.

Now Google stresses how important it is to adapt to these changes if you want to keep or improve your search results.

How can you ensure your website is robust enough to weather the storm?

It depends on your approach. If your approach is to publish as much content as you can in the shortest amount of time, then you are probably going to be more susceptible to these algorithm updates.

Whereas if your approach is to prioritise quality over quantity, you’ll ensure you can weather the keyword rank storm.

There are a few things you can focus on when it comes to prioritising quality. These include investing in good copywriting, optimising for specific keywords and search phrases that align with broader topics, keeping older content fresh, and publishing FAQ type content.

Quality over quantity

First, make sure you’re writing the best high-quality content that answers your audience’s questions and meets their needs. This is because the algorithm is giving more weight to content that is actually useful. Most of the time, this doesn’t just mean speeding through a ChatGPT AI written piece; it means knowing your customers and how you can help them.

Group related keywords and topics

Keywords are still very important, but you don’t want to over-optimize or stuff your content with them. Instead, you want to use keywords naturally and focus on related keywords by thinking about synonyms and related themes.

Freshness

If you have a website with different blogs and service pages, you should make sure you go back maybe every three or six months and keep the content fresh and up to date.

This could mean adding longer form FAQs, adding a few new lines of text, or updating messaging based on customer feedback. This shows Google that your website is active and provides up-to-date information.

Publish and update Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Adding Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to a service page is a smart move for both customer service and SEO.

(FAQs) give quick answers to common questions, which can make users much happier by reducing stress and saving time. They also keep people on your page longer, which can tell search engines that your content is important, which could help your rankings.

Additionally, search engines can better index your site if it has more content. This can boost its authority and exposure.

A good example of a service page that uses all of these elements to maximum effect is this telco’s ‘fttp plans’ page. On the page, you’ll see that these parts were used for maximum optimisation:

  • Correct use of keywords in page title and in sub-headings and body text
  • Good use of keywords in meta description
  • Benefit driven copywriting
  • Long form FAQs
  • The page design is also well laid out and thoughtful.

Monitor your metrics

You should also keep up with the latest SEO news and updates, which Google does through their website. You can also use analytics tools to keep an eye on how your site is doing. Tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console are great for seeing how people interact with your site and finding ways to make it better.

Final thoughts

As of 2024, I’ve seen a lot of websites lose a lot of traffic and, in some cases, get none at all.

These sites aren’t really business sites; they’re more like sites where you can submit guest posts or articles. Usually, AI wrote the content on these websites, and it isn’t very helpful.

What I’ve seen is that Google’s spam update is taking some of these pages off of its search results and deindexing these keywords.

Google is making changes to its core ranking algorithms to ensure that only useful information shows up in search results and that low quality content is axed.

To survive these changes, you should focus on quality content over quantity. Consider paying for good copywriting, optimise for specific keywords and topics, keep older content up-to-date, and post frequently asked questions (FAQ) content.

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