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What You Need to Know About Search Engine Algorithms (and Why It Matters)

If you’ve ever wondered how a website can rank well one moment and completely lose steam the next, then you’ve probably encountered a search engine update.

This seems to happen every few months when Google, Bing, and Yahoo make adjustments to how they allow certain pages to rank on their platform. It isn’t always a huge deal, but it is still important to have a good understanding of what this means and how it can affect your overall organic traffic.

Keep reading to learn more about search engine algorithms and why it matters to your digital marketing.

What is a Search Algorithm?

A search algorithm is simply the various ranking factors that Google, Bing and Yahoo use to determine what websites show up at the top of the search engine results page (SERP).

How algorithms work is like this. When someone inserts a search query into a search engine, they’re given a list of the most relevant content to the keyword phrase they used. Prior to this point, the search engine has used bots to crawl and index sites to find individual web page results to include in the final SERP.

The search algorithm is the list of ranking factors that determine whether a website is providing quality content on a particular topic. In simpler terms, it’s the list of criteria that tells a search engine whether a particular page is offering the right information.

Why Don’t Search Engines Publish Their Algorithms?

Ultimately, a search engine’s main goal is to always provide a positive search experience. Most platforms choose to keep the details of updates high-level if they chose to release any details at all. This is to keep them from being exploited by unscrupulous companies.

After all, if you knew the secret recipe to outrank your competitors, wouldn’t you try to use it to your advantage? By keeping these factors quiet, search engines can ensure the focus is always on creating the best content possible instead of just gaming the system to outpace other websites.

Why Do Search Engines Need to Adjust Their Algorithms Frequently?

There are numerous reasons why search engines have to adjust their algorithms on a frequent basis. The biggest? To keep competition steady and ensure there aren’t just a handful of websites always taking over the top spots on the SERPs.

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, they began to penalize those that engaged in excessive keyword stuffing.

Additionally, Google’s algorithm updates frequently in response to new and exciting innovations in technology. While the testing phase is not complete, the company is currently teasing the MUM update, which fuses the use of artificial intelligence with search intent to give users a new and highly intuitive experience.

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 base level of what will be/was impacted. However, algorithms can be modified without announcement. So, if there’s no official announcement for some updates, how do you know it’s happened?

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 that a new algorithm is in play.

You can also check out 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 their SERP trackers monitor the volatility of ranking changes across the web. Moz also identified if these updates are confirmed or unconfirmed with Google. You can also check anywhere digital marketers hang out like online forums and publications such as Search Engine Land. After an algorithm change, they’re usually discussing the various adjustments and whether or not the sky is truly falling. (We assure you… an algorithm update might be an inconvenience, but it is rarely a catastrophe!)

Since Google is the search engine of choice for most of today’s web users, following their social media profiles is a great way to stay informed. By doing this, not only will you see what updates have been confirmed but be able to watch for communication on future updates.

Understanding Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Best Practices

What’s the best way to make it through a serious Google algorithm change without losing all of your organic web traffic? By following SEO best practices, of course.

Think of it this way. If you’re always following the most basic rules that Google has put out in terms of how companies should use SEO strategies, you likely won’t have an issue if there’s a change.

Google (and by proxy all the others) have made it clear that the main focus of ranking well starts with providing the most valuable content possible alongside a quality user experience.

To help you ensure you’re following the right guidelines, here are a few rules to remember.

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 of the techniques that Google has already said are okay to use and aren’t changing. But those things that are a little sketchy or a bit in the gray area? Well, those are referred to as black hat. Algorithm changes are often in response to companies who have overused these techniques to fast-track higher rankings without actually putting in the work. It may be tempting, but it is best to skip unethical search practices long-term. Those that use them, will likely feel the wrath of an update in the near future.

Focus on Your Audience – Not the Search Engines

It might go without saying, but the main 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. Thing ranges anywhere from providing top-tier content to a quality site experience. By proxy, you’ll gain the trust of your target market while also improving those SERPs.

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 digital marketing.

If you’re ready to take your company’s online presence to the next level, we’re here to help. Please get in touch with us today to discuss your needs or to receive a no-obligation project quote.

About The Author

Elton Mayfield

Elton's career spans media, production, digital and building industry expertise. His diverse experience makes him nimble, innovative, and curious – always pushing the envelope to create extraordinary work that delivers real results for our clients.

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