Key Points:

  1. Google constantly releases algorithm updates that affect search engine rankings and the user experience.
  2. Don’t try to keep up with the constant algorithm updates — rather, be prepared for when they come. 
  3. Continue to create relevant, high-quality content to boost (and secure) your search visibility.

Google constantly releases new algorithm updates that can alter how the search engine operates. These changes also affect the rank positions of the search results — sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse.

A purported February 2020 algorithm update, for example, gave SEOs a scare when some rankings plummeted overnight. Then, those rankings started to rise again. 

And when we say constant, we mean constantly. In fact, new algorithm updates are released every day. You may not notice these updates when you conduct your day-to-day Google searches, but they all work to better the quality of the results you see when you search for a keyword query. 

Larger, more significant updates are called broad core algorithm updates. These updates are often global and typically produce widely noticeable effects. Google core algorithm updates don’t target one thing specifically, so you will need to conduct deep analysis to figure out what the changes are.

Note: Publications like Search Engine Journal keep a running list of Google's algorithm changes, from Penguin to Panda to mobile friendliness updates. But as you'll come to see, the search algorithms should not be your priority! 

Until recently, Google would never announce the release of an algorithm update. They did, however, give an alert to the February 2020 update, and gave an announcement on May 4 via Twitter as well (shown here).  

Following the course of announcing these changes to alert both webmasters and SEOs, Google also announced that Core Web Vitals will combine with other search signals to create Google's new Page Experience signal that gauges the overall quality of a user's site experience. Since this change won’t go into effect until early 2021, it gives webmasters and SEOs time to prepare. 

More recently, Google announced the December 2020 Core Update, which is set to release on the day of the announcement: 


Point being:
Google constantly makes changes to its algorithm. Some changes are minor; others can be core updates.

Since these updates are so frequent, you’ll always be playing catch-up if you try to counter the effects of an update and decipher its new guidelines after it’s happened.

Instead, you should be prepared for when the algorithm update rolls out, and you do this by having a strong website. 

Rethinking "SEO": Search Experience Optimization

When Google sees that users find your page beneficial (i.e. high click-through rate, low bounce rate, long on-page time, etc.) then the search engine will reward you by displaying your site on the SERPs. After all, Google wants to properly address queries with the appropriate results, so when your content is relevant, everybody wins. 

This is why instead of search engine optimization, we like to think of SEO as search experience optimization. When you demonstrate your relevance and authority, and give users a positive experience, you establish a sound foundation for when a new algorithm update rolls out.

A site with a strong user experience prioritizes three things: Usability, Relevance, and Authority. 

#1. Build a Strong Foundation

Before you can create awesome content, it’s crucial to have a solid website and structure. This aligns with step one of our URA approach: Usability

Usability means having a site that loads quickly, is secure, and all around functions properly. It also means having an intuitive site layout that makes it easy to find content. Consider your site taxonomy — you don’t want your users to get lost or not be able to locate what it is they're searching for.   

Essentially, usability is crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s of your technical SEO. It’s common for technical SEO problems to arise, but any potential issues have a solution, too. 

Having a solid foundation is the first step in preparing yourself for when those Google algorithms roll around, but this time, you’ll be ready! 

#2. Provide the Information the User Wants

The second step in our URA framework is relevancy. In order to prove value to the end user and demonstrate your user-centric thinking to Google, you need to answer the query appropriately. Search engines have become smarter over the years (thanks to those core algorithm updates!) so answering a query in the right ways also means addressing the right user intent

The length of your content doesn’t have to be extremely long, you just have to provide the correct information. Don’t think you need to stuff a page full of text to make it better — sometimes shorter is better! But, don’t get too carried away by having a page with not enough content. Thin content is an issue for Google. 

When you provide the correct answer, you demonstrate that you have the end user’s satisfaction in mind, and your site should further establish itself as relevant.

Writing SEO content doesn’t have to be a challenge. Follow along with our post, What, Why, & How: Write Authoritative Content to Win Traffic.

In their Webmaster Central Blog, Google proposes a variety of questions to ask yourself about your content. Here are a few key questions to ask yourself that pertain to relevancy:

  • “Does the content seem to be serving the genuine interests of visitors to the site...?”
  • “Does the content provide a substantial, complete or comprehensive description of the topic?”

#3. Demonstrate Your Expertise on the Topic

The last step for preparing yourself for the algorithm is to demonstrate your authority of the topic at hand. A great way to do this is by using topic clusters to cover a topic from multiple angles. If your website is about insurance, for example, you can have a blog post about car insurance, renter’s, health, policy prices, etc. Simply put: this shows the end users that you know your stuff! 

Topic cluster graphic

Freshen up your content with images, statistics, and infographics that further demonstrate your knowledge and make your content more engaging. When you have content ready to go live, give the byline (if applicable) to someone who is an expert on that subject. An important blog post that explains company security measures looks better when it comes from a C-Suite member rather than a standard employee, for example. 

When you create authoritative content, other websites will be more likely to link to your site. Building backlinks is a great way to demonstrate your authority. 

Again, consider some of the following self-assessment questions that Google proposes:

  • “Does the content present information in a way that makes you want to trust it, such as clear sourcing, evidence of the expertise involved, background about the author or the site that publishes it?”
  • “Does the content provide original information, reporting, research or analysis?”

The Rest Will Fall in Line

When you optimize for the end user and build a reputation as being a trustworthy, reputable resource, you set yourself up for long-term success.

Even though algorithm updates are inevitable, they shouldn’t control your SEO strategy. Instead, give the user the information that they want in the most authoritative way possible. (You can also A/B test to see which elements work the best.)

When you have a strong website and even stronger content, you will be as best prepared for when those algorithm updates come around. 

TIP: If your rankings do take a hit from an algorithm update, be mindful that these effects can take a few weeks to sort themselves out. In the meantime, reference this article to see what steps you can take: Notice a Significant Loss in Rankings? Here's How to Analyze.


Editor's Note: This piece was originally published on June 2, 2020 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.