The algorithms that are updated by the leading search engines are far more than just the small print on the Google terms and conditions. By and large, they help to define how you as an online marketer should operate, because failing to follow the rules and guidelines will make you almost invisible to potential visitors.
In this sense, the art of search engine optimisation has become a digital science that is widely applicable to all enterprises on the World Wide Web, not just those tech savvy startup operations with a fully functioning IT department.
From shoe designers to local florists, car manufacturers and newspaper sites – each one has a requirement and responsibility to their consumer base to understand, interpret and cater their online marketing habits to search engine algorithms.
The good news for those enterprises that don’t enjoy an IT savvy department or great knowledge of the algorithm platform is that it does not have to be complicated.
Just by appreciating some basic facts about this evolution, you can begin to make some smart changes to your business practice to ensure that you are not falling behind.
Here we will outline some key facts about search engine algorithms, pointing out what you should know about general SEO and what to look out for in the current climate and beyond.
Change occurs rapidly
There are anywhere between one to three alterations to the Google algorithm on any one given day. At least 500 are occurring on an annual basis today, a majority of which are a subsection and minor category of a major change.
The title algorithm updates are classified as exotic animals, like ‘Panda’, ‘Hummingbird’, ‘Pigeon’ and ‘Penguin.’ There is no need to let this confuse you or believe that these titles have any meaning whatsoever. The rapid nature of the change illustrates that these alterations are working to reflect the changing habits of the online community at large, seeking to make the overall user experience more friendly, more transparent, accessible and to deliver quality results over spam.
Every single one of these changes fall into that mindset, with one algorithm wanting to eliminate spam links, others working towards a more conversational tone of search, or cracking down on thin content that farmed a higher ratio of inauthentic outbound links. These updates can be traced back to the original Toolbar algorithm notice of 2000, but the acceleration of the algorithm evolution is now on a daily basis.
Loading speed matters
2018 would be the year that ushered in the official ‘Speed Update’ algorithm where websites had to ensure that they were not lagging behind for the users. Given the spread of access of 4G networks and the increase in NBN broadband capacity, it became imperative that domains could upload their content without seeing a lag on the end of the user.
The search engine operation would come out to say that this update would only affect on the margins with the very poorest performers suffering any sort of setback on their SERP. However, many experts in the field see this as the first salvo of a larger activation process occurring. Before long, site speed could very well be a direct correlation to search engine results should two sites of a similar content standing be pitted against each other.
The good news in this respect is that there are a plethora of free online site speed diagnostic testing kits available. Simply run your site through these mechanisms and interpret the results for yourself. Some alterations, downgrades and formatting might have to take place.
Branded mentions gaining traction
Forever and a day it appeared as though scoring outbound links would be the lifeblood of your success. However, something that had been developing since the 2009 ‘Vince’ update would soon beckon into prominence as branded mentions have become king. There is a great deal of cynicism in this regard because the major conglomerates like Apple, Nike, Coca-Cola and even Google are now ever-present and positioned to dominate without the need to score outbound links.
Only in the past 12-24 months has the penny dropped for developers and online marketers alike that scoring branded mentions on forums, social media and other websites actually translates to the authoritative recognition that you crave. Google have not had to make any major rollout or promotion of this fact, but it is something that all enterprises should be made well aware of if they are attempting to score traction against big business in their niche.
Quality over quantity (mostly)
The reality for search engine algorithm changes is that the central focus is almost always based off qualitative content. Think across the board for SEO demands that are placed on businesses and think about the metrics and benchmarks that you have to meet:
- Outbound links
- Brand mentions
- Social media mentions
- Mobile compatibility
Each one of these facets essentially deals primarily with the quality of the work and not the quantity of it.
The only scenario in which the two elements are side-by-side for importance is the state of the written text. Studies showcase that the rollout of algorithms have favoured sites who can balance quality content with those of 2000 words plus. In this respect, the quantity factor cannot be underestimated.
When thinking about developing links, utilising keywords that act as signals to the search engines, scoring social media mentions and embedding videos and image galleries to help eliminate the bounce rate and retain visitors, the quality will always triumph.
Sites that attempt to coerce these guidelines often find themselves committing black-hat SEO strategies, cynical ploys that try to manipulate the system artificially without undertaking the necessary care that generate organic momentum.
These operators are eventually found out and punished for their actions, even if they score some short-term traction in the intervening period.
To avoid this scenario altogether, utilise your SEO signals in moderation as this is the trend that the search engine algorithm rollout has illustrated for the best part of two decades.
Conversational tone key with keyword expansion
Voice search might not be the universal tool it wants to be today, but the trend is moving in that direction. Major communication brands and outlets are producing smart devices that are catered to voice search programming and the search engine algorithms are already proactively changing their own designs and platform to meet these needs.
This has become evident with the alterations in the keyword field. Gone are the days where operators had to be exact and precise with their language. There is a newfound freedom and flexibility for brands to use common language that people would use to search for items on their phone today.
For example, a women’s clothing outlet in Sydney would not have to specify the suburb to a large degree or the specific types of clothing items, but simply adhere to “women’s clothing store Sydney” as a blueprint for their keyword campaign.
Versatility is fundamental to maximising your exposure, but presenting it in everyday language and a light and friendly tone is the best means of following the voice search trend that is taking place.
Image search an industry unto itself
The software evolution that has taken place has really accelerated in the field of the image search. In previous eras, the only real data that could be analysed in this respect was the description, the tags and the alt-text. They were the only real gauges to examine and place images in their rightful place according to their niche.
Today, the technology allows the search engine to far exceed that capacity. The Cloud Vision API is one such example, a process that enables users to see on a percentage basis the labels, text, colours, safe search features and JSON response of the image, all facets that could delineate down to the smallest of details.
A group photo can now be categorised and programmed according to the faces of the individuals in that snapshot. A landscape picture can now understand what types of trees and native fauna is situated in the backdrop. This is technology that was on the cards, but now happens to be in practice.
Since the rise of social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest has showcased our collective desire to use the web for image and video purposes, search engines are positioned to use this outlet as a more substantive hub than they once were. Now that image search is on the rise, it is imperative that marketers and developers use images to their advantage to score more branded mentions.
Spam still the enemy
Spam remains the scourge of search engines and web users alike. Although the cynics believe that Google, Bing and Yahoo have a lot to gain by profiting off spam content, the reality is quite different. To truly gain market exposure and keep users on their platform for longer, they want to eliminate the spread of spam because it sends consumers to competing platforms. Search engines are themselves a brand and they have a reputation and quality to protect, something that cannot be helped by domains that are only designed to profit and don’t provide a helpful user experience.
The rollouts that have been published by search engines when it comes to algorithm change proves this theory correct. Think of the algorithm update as a police procedure that cracks down on spam links and spam sites. From the rich snippet shutdown in 2014 to the fake news epidemic that was responded to in 2017 (and continuing), moves are regularly underway to ensure that misrepresentations, shady practices and underhanded promotions do not gain the traction they are seeking in an open marketplace.
There will always be sites and brands that attempt to bypass the system, but spam will remain firmly on the enemies list of Google because it undermines their brand and attacks the user experience.
You do not need to be a Google expert
Extending our conversation about the alterations and evolutions that are taking place, it must be asserted that your independence and authority to maximise your potential does not have to be held hostage to the search engine. The algorithm mirrors and reflects what consumers do on a daily basis, attempting to push an agenda that allows searches to experience the best possible results that are not hampered by illegitimate means.
The best step you can take is to educate yourself on the principles that underpin why Google makes their algorithm changes, all without being bogged down in the minutia of the evolution. This is where many of the chief operators either reserve these concerns to an IT specialist, or to outsource their SEO needs to a third party consultancy.
If you do want to get bogged down in this minutia, also known as the ‘Google Dance’ as it showcases a series of intricate moves, then speak to experts in the field and tap into news updates that will explain in detail what evolutions are taking place and why.
As we outlined early in the piece, there is no rhyme or reason to the naming of the algorithm changes, as they as just a means of identifying and labeling alterations that pushes the platform to a more valid and user-friendly experience. The end goal for all enterprises who want to maximise their value online and make themselves the best they can be to the digital community is to utilise authentic techniques that do not rely on strategies that can quickly become irrelevant or outdated.
The best practitioners in this field today and into the future will be those that can score great reviews, generates positive traffic from authoritative sources, is compatible with smartphones, has a strong social media presence and mixes their content with multimedia integration.
The rest is simply noise and reacting to marginal gains.
It is really time to sit up and notice a Google algorithm update when there is a new name rolled out and commercial marketers are talking about it.
Until that phase is evident, it is best to be a master of the basics to be proactive in the most authentic and relevant means possible.
Kieran is the Social Media Manager and SEO Expert at SEO Shark. He is an expert in Social Media, link building, PPC and of course SEO. In his time off work Kieran enjoys reading and playing rugby, as well as following all kinds of sports! You can read some more of his articles here.