If you’ve ever wondered how a website can rank well one moment and completely lose steam soon after, you’ve probably encountered a search engine update.
This seems to happen frequently, whenever Google (Google’s algorithms update two to three times a day), Bing, and Yahoo adjust how they allow certain pages to rank on their platform. Updates aren’t always a huge deal, unless it’s an update to Google’s core algorithm, but it is still important to have a good understanding of what this means and how it can affect your digital marketing efforts.
Our SEO expert here at ER Marketing says we could write a novel about SEO and search algorithms, but let’s tackle some basics first and make it more of a novella. Basics you need to know:
What are Search Algorithms?
Search algorithms are the various ranking factors Google, Bing and Yahoo use to determine what websites show up at the top of the search engine results page (SERP). Got it.
This is how search algorithms work: When web users insert a search query into a search engine, they’re given a list of the most relevant results to the keyword phrase they entered. Prior to this point, the search engine used bots to crawl and index sites to find individual web page results to include in the final SERP.
Crawling is the discovery process in which search engines send out a team of automatons (bots, also known as crawlers or spiders) to find newly updated content on publicly available web pages. (Yes, crawlers and spiders both sound creepy, but they’re just doing their job on the internet, like so many of the rest of us.)
Indexing involves storing information the bots find when they’re crawling on index servers. It analyses the web pages content and saves the pages with quality content the index. The index is built with every significant word on a web page found in the title, heading, meta tags, alt tags, subtitles and other important positions (more on Google’s image indexing later). Then search engines show the relevant results when people enter search queries.
Search algorithms are the ranking factors that determine whether a website is providing quality content on a particular topic. It’s the list of criteria that tells a search engine whether a particular page is offering the right information.
Google (and by proxy all the others) have made it clear that the focus of ranking well starts with providing the most valuable content possible alongside a quality user experience.
If you just can’t get enough of the smoky back room of algorithms, there’s additional valuable details to be found in Google’s webmaster guidelines.
Why Do Search Engines Adjust Their Algorithms Frequently?
Search engines have to adjust their algorithms on a frequent basis for multiple reasons. Keeping competition in equilibrium and ensuring a handful of websites don’t throwing their weight around to take over the top spots on the SERPs is probably the biggest reason.
For example, it used to be normal for content creators to include as many random keywords on a page as possible. Those that did this often saw enormous amounts of organic traffic and high rankings. When Google search noticed it happening, Google began to penalize those who engaged in excessive keyword stuffing. Keyword stuffing, bad. And unethical.
Additionally, Google’s algorithm updates frequently in response to new and innovative changes in technology.
How Can You Tell When There’s Been an Algorithm Update?
Search engines, such a Google, will often make announcements about their updates and provide the basics on what will be/was impacted. But Google owes us nothing and algorithms can be modified without announcement. So, if there’s no official announcement for some updates, how do you know it’s happened or coming?
Your first indication may be a drop or uptick in traffic in your analytics tools that does not follow any major website adjustments. After an update, it’s common to see fluctuations in the number of organic visitors to a particular website, especially if the site experienced a change in position for a high-volume keyword.
Another tip is to check your dashboard in Google Search Console. Here you can monitor keywords a website ranks for, number of clicks, average position, and more. If there has been a heavy fluctuation in these metrics without drastic changes to your website – then it could be an indicator a new algorithm is in play.
We also recommend you follow a few of the industry leaders/tools for details. For example, Moz is always a good resource for determining if there’s been an algorithm change, as its SERP trackers monitor the volatility of ranking changes across the web. Moz also identifies if these updates are confirmed or unconfirmed with Google. You can also check anywhere digital marketers hang out, including online forums and publications such as Search Engine Land. After an algorithm change, digital marketers are usually discussing the various adjustments and whether the sky is falling. (This fun exchange even happens in our agency, but let’s face it… an algorithm update might be an inconvenience, but it’s probably not end times.)
Since Google is the search engine of choice for most of today’s web users, following the company’s social media profiles is another way to stay informed, particularly if you’re already deeply engaged with social media. By doing this, not only will you see what updates have been confirmed, but you can watch for communication about future updates.
Now that we’ve reviewed, consider these four important elements when you’re diving deep into search algorithms and SEO:
Use Keywords Strategically
Keywords are what make the whole search engine thing work — after all, this is what people type into the search box to find your page, right? However, the best chance at ranking is making sure you’re creating content that not only mentions the keyword but thoroughly satisfies the intent of a user’s search. Be informative, and never, ever keyword stuff.
Focus On “White Hat” Techniques
There are generally two kinds of SEO – white hat and black hat. White hat is all the techniques that Google has already said are good to use and aren’t changing. But those sketchy things, or those a bit in the gray area? Well, those are “black hat.” Algorithm changes are often in response to companies who have overused these techniques to fast-track higher rankings without putting in any work. It may be tempting, but it is best to skip unethical search practices through time. Those who use them, will likely feel the wrath of an update soon. For a quick-and-dirty take on black hat, read this short article from Entrepreneur.com.
Focus on Your Audience – Not the Search Engines
It might go without saying, but the focus of your website should always be the people viewing it. Forget the amount of traffic a page will bring you in the end. The best SEO strategy you could ever consider is to capitalize on each opportunity there is to build value and engagement, which ranges anywhere from providing top-tier content to a quality site experience. By proxy, you’ll gain the trust of your target audience while you improve those SERPs.
Embrace Structured dData
If you’re wondering why so much effort goes into search engine optimization, remind yourself that your goal with this part of your marketing effort is to prove to Google that your webpage (or website) is the best response to users’ queries. We advocate that you use the Google brain (scary) to display more detailed and relevant answers.
Specifically for our industry, if you’re organizing events—such as a trade show—you’ll want to understand structured data and how it can help you and attendees of your event. We get it. “Structured data” may sound like computer jib-jab, but you’ll want to add it to your arsenal of knowledge, so let’s power on.
Structured data is, in its most basic form, information that’s organized. Structure data is a type of organization and formatting that provides Google with information about a webpage—the page’s relevance and meaning. It uses a uniform vocabulary developed by an open community process and it’s used by 10 million sites to markup webpages and email messages.
“A shared vocabulary makes it easier for webmasters and developers to decide on a schema and get the maximum benefit for their efforts. It is in this spirit that the founders, together with the larger community have come together – to provide a shared collection of schemas,” according to Schema.org.
It matters because structured data makes web navigation more straightforward for both search engine spiders (faster indexing by search spiders enhances your site’s search visibility) and human searchers. Users input search queries and you can get rich results in organic traffic quickly. Your click-through rates improve, conversions increase and more voice search traffic finds your site.
Google Search Advocate John Mueller has told webmasters not to worry about the best format for structured data, but to consider what “kind of rich result is available for the page,” including
Knowledge panels are used to provide a quick overview of information about a topic. Knowledge panels come from Google’s Knowledge Graph, which is the company’s database of billions of facts about people, places and things.
Google’s has said its goal with the Knowledge Graph is “for our systems to discover and surface publicly known, factual information when it’s determined to be useful. In addition to public sources, we license data to provide information, such as sports scores, stock prices, and weather forecasts. We also receive factual information directly from content owners in various ways, including from those who suggest changes to knowledge panels they’ve claimed.”
This is this Google’s Knowledge Panel for the Kansas City Chiefs. Powered by structured data, Google is able to gather specific data properties (such as location, players, head coach, etc.) and compile that information into an easy-to-understand panel for users looking for information on their favorite football team.
Businesses can use knowledge panels to give searchers at-a-glance information about a brand, logo, phone number and the organization’s most-relevant facts, like the quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Sometimes referred to as rich results, rich snippets is the information Google shows users in addition to normal search results, which can include things like music or events.
For your business or company, this is where to show reviews. It can also highlight things such as products, addresses and special offers.
Common on mobile devices, hosted carousels show multiple images from the same site. Don’t confuse hosted carousels with ordinary carousels, which can include images, video, and other data pulled from multiple sites, hosted carousels use content from only one host site.
Right now, Google only offers hosted carousels for movies, recipes, restaurants and educational courses. It may seem like that doesn’t apply to you and your business, but if you are hosting an event, such as a trade show, and your event has an associated restaurant or training/educational course, be sure to feature a hosted carousel.
included features or services offered.
But, according to Google, before you go inserting structured snippets into like a webmaster cowboy, remember that these are subject to standard Google Ads policies and must meet Google requirements, which you can find here.
The simplest way to add structured data to your webpage is to use Google’s Data Highlighter tool. Open the tool, highlight data like name, date, location, etc. with your mouse. Google notes this information and next time it crawls your site it will present the data in rich snippets on SERPs.
In full disclosure, while it offers many benefits, the tech folks at Search Engine Journal write that, “there is no direct evidence schema markup is used by Google to determine search ranking…it helps search engines more easily understand the content of your website, it can help you show up in relevant queries you may have been excluded from in the past” andleveraging structured data on your website helps to attract visitors because it enhances the “appearance of your content in search results, but it can help your site get indexed faster.”
Want more Google specifics on events, such as trade shows, and structured data? Find it here.
ER Marketing Can Help with Your SEO Needs
Our ER Marketing team loves all things search marketing. It’s true. We’re absolute fanatics about algorithm changes, strategies, and the best ways to promote your business using PPC, SEO and social media, including blogs.
If you learned a little about search here and you’re ready to kick your company’s digital marketing up a notch, let’s have a conversation. Please get in touch with us via email or phone today to discuss your needs.