Have you noticed a significant drop in your website rankings recently? Have you had the urge to curse at your SEO tools? You're not alone; many marketers have, and there is a Google algorithm update involved. Earlier this month, Google updated their core ranking algorithm to integrate 2014's Panda update more fully.
Although Google is constantly changing their search algorithm, this particular update sparked much buzz in the SEO community. Even if your site didn't take a big hit, the other information revealed along with the update will help your overall SEO strategy. What exactly changed, and when did it go into effect?
How did this Google algorithm update change things?
It's really helpful to have the dates of confirmed algorithm changes when you conduct your SEO report analysis. In this case, look for unusual increases or decreases starting around January 8, 2016, when this algorithm change was first noticed.
Globally, webmasters and SEOs speculated about drastic rank fluctuations. While many of those SEOs anticipated an update to Panda or Penguin, Twitter posts by Google analysts John Mueller and Gary Illyes confirmed it was actually a much more significant core algorithm change.
Where did Panda go?
One significant change Google confirmed was the integration of Panda into their core algorithm. Panda was previously a ranking filter focused on the quality of a web page. Adding it to the core means Google no longer considers Panda experimental and has confidence it's working as intended. As a core ranking signal, Panda will examine indications of whether a page is high or low-quality and adjust search results to give preference to higher-quality pages.
So, if Google only changed where Panda lives, why would it cause noticeable changes? Well, it shouldn't have. Making a filter part of the core algorithm (without other changes) shouldn't have caused the ranking volatility observed in early January. Something else must have happened, but exactly what has yet to be announced.
Google's Matt Cutts shared some additional insights with Search Engine Round Table, explaining that Google typically has a code freeze mid-December to avoid added holiday stress for webmasters (awww, thank you Google!). He speculated that if engineers had a backlog of changes when the freeze lifted, it could explain why the core update had a more drastic impact than usual.
So, what can you do to fix your SEO?
As we've told our clients for years, modern SEO must include quality content as a primary focus. Not to say that you shouldn't try to have all your technical ducks in a row, but if you aren't focused on unique and compelling content creation, your rankings will eventually suffer.
The SEM Post recently published a very helpful guide to understanding Panda, including new tips from Google. Here are a few of my favorite takeaways and recommendations based on what we've seen with our clients.
1. Create High-Quality Content
If you're creating unique, interesting, and compelling content, your visitors will have a reason to trust you and keep coming back. Constantly be thinking about how to better serve your visitors rather than fixating on how to get enough keyword-rich content around your sales pitch.
Over the years, Google has increasingly focused on content quality and has frequently tweaked the ranking signals that determine which sites deserve more traffic. Low-quality content and old-school methods (like keyword stuffing) will now get your website penalized.
2. Remember Google's Goal
Google's goal is to give searchers what they seek. Of course, you should be optimizing your site for your visitor and not for search engines, but what marketer isn't concerned about having great SEO? If your focus is providing value for your website visitors, you will be rewarded with more visitors.
If your pages rank well for specific keywords but don't satisfy the visitors searching for those terms, they'll leave to find better content. If that happens frequently, Google will figure it out and suggest other websites instead.
3. Try Improving Instead of Removing
If your SEO tactics include removing outdated content, or pages that appear "too thin", do your homework first. Removing content is not a Google recommended fix, and it can easily backfire. Dive into your Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools to determine what's going on currently so that you can be strategic about your next steps.
Before removing a page, ask yourself:
- Is the page getting organic traffic from Google?
- What search queries are sending traffic?
- Does the page answer what the visitor asked?
- Are visitors bouncing or spending time on the page?
- What new content or media would add value to these pages for users?
- Are visitors who arrive on this page following links to other content on the site?
If you do decide to remove questionable content, follow best practices for addressing content quality issues.
4. Don't Forget about Social Signals
Surely I don't need to still say this these days, but what the heck. Share your awesome content on social media and make sure your website makes it easy for visitors to share as well. How your website content is shared and responded to on social media is another signal to Google about the quality of your site. If Google didn't care how your content performed on social, Google Analytics wouldn't measure "Social Value," right?
5. The Skinny on Blog Comments
Should you allow visitors to comment on blog posts anymore? The fear of spammy comments impacting site quality has some webmasters concerned. This started a trend of disabling commenting. The horror!
I agree wholeheartedly with the advice Jennifer Slegg shared on her recent Moz post. Disabling comments signals you don't want to hear from your visitors and removes a usable signal for Google to see you have a community.
- Don't disable commenting as it adds value for your visitors.
- Don't approve spammy comments.
- Do monitor your comments regularly and respond appropriately.