What Are Algorithm Changes and How Can I be Ready For the Next One?
All around the web, SEO people and marketers are very concerned about Google algorithms and the changes that Google makes in ranking web pages and sites. But why are these so important?
The central idea is that Google processes so much of the search that users do on the web, that its rankings tend to dictate which businesses will get market share based on their web visibility. Experts estimate that some two thirds of total search goes through Google, (as reported in SearchEngineWatch and other venues – oddly enough, the same source also found that the #1 spot on Google gets one third of all search traffic) making it the dominant agent in an e-commerce industry that’s quickly heating up.
What Are Google Algorithm Changes?
Quite a few marketers are vaguely familiar with prominent and public Google updates such as Panda and Penguin — big changes to Google’s algorithms that really cause page rank numbers to shift. But the reality is that Google does a lot more algorithm changing than that.
Google can update its algorithms dozens of times per month, usually just making small tweaks, but sometimes causing significant activity in page rank numbers moving up and down. Of course, there is already a dynamic and volatile ranking system, because so many people are constantly making changes to their websites that impact their numbers.
A Google algorithm change happens when Google engineers look at their goals and objectives, and tweak their algorithms to try to make their ranking system better.
Marketers try to understand this so that they can react to that system, and try to boost the rankings for a business site — because that can ultimately have an enormous impact on bottom-line profits.
But as for the actual changes that Google does, the company is fairly tightlipped about most of them. Quora commentator Frank Watson calls Google’s work “proprietary and not transparent” and many criticize the vagueness of the reports they do get from Google, such as the response that Google is making changes in how algorithms “process quality signals.”
So what do you do to keep up?
Ironically enough, a lot of those people who really follow the industry are telling individual webmasters and marketers not to worry so much about technical algorithm changes.
Instead, they’re suggesting that those who are crafting enterprise websites should focus on the big picture.
Matt Cutts is known in the tech world as a ‘Google guru’ — with a lot of engineering experience under his belt, he’s somebody who people listen to when they’re trying to figure out things like how to deal with Google algorithm changes.
In a 2011 YouTube video, Cutts councils SEO people and Web builders not to “chase the algorithm.” Instead, he says, try to figure out what users want, and then build that.
For example, it’s obviously intuitive that people don’t like content farms, and they don’t like spam. So by going forward and making a site more credible and legitimate than some of the shady stuff that’s out there on the Internet, webmasters are really getting ahead of the game.
There are any number of modern axioms talking about this idea in the abstract — there is the monkey who caught its hand in the jar because it was trying to grab too many pickles. There is the idea that if you love someone, you let them go, and if they love you, they will come back to you.
There is the idea, as reference by Kevin Costner and others so famously in sports movies, that ‘if you build it, they will come.’ It’s all the same kind of metaphor for the idea that you do what comes naturally, and the success follows.
Now, experts in the industry are making some recommendations that are bit more concrete. For example, people are getting away from the idea that you should fill your site with 500 word pages, and instead moving toward a world of long-form content, content that often resembles journalism and seems to exemplify thought leadership.
So instead of writing a couple of 500 word pages about how an HVAC company offers good customer service and ‘sells all the brands,’ if that same company hires somebody to write an in-depth guide to parts of a mechanical HVAC system, they’re building something that can generate much more of a readership, and web rankings should follow.
This might be intuitive, but it also happens in technical ways. Google looks at the click through rate — the number of users that click into a page per site. It also looks at the bounce rate — whether a given user quickly clicks back out of the site, or reads on and digs deeper into the site.
These things are major indicators in Google search systems as Google makes changes to the algorithms. So they’re important things to pay attention to when you’re building a website.
There’s also the idea of quality natural linking. In the old days, people used to stuff keywords and links everywhere, and Google started to penalize that kind of behavior.
Now, to really be successful, you have to build relationships that lead to voluntary linking. You have to reach out and ask people to link to your site, and make it look legitimate. Things like mass forum links and arbitrary blog comment links are no longer weighed evenly, so it pays to get more substantial natural linking in place.
That’s the bottom line in responding to Google algorithms — to figure out how to give a web readership something that they want, to see people engaged and participating in a site. It’s not really about technicality anymore.
You won’t get there with stuffing long-tail keywords into text. It’s a process of building a user-generated value that Google’s modern sophisticated algorithms can sense, because all of that quality engineering is leading toward smarter machines that can understand what human web users are looking for.