Google Algorithm: Marketers Ultimate Cheat Sheet

  • How are the ranking factors in Google’s algorithm?
  • Core Google algorithm updates
  • What are the differences between Google’s algorithm and other search engines?
  • How marketers can beat Google’s algorithm updates
 

If you’re reading this, you might have a comprehensive understanding of Google’s algorithm, and you’re looking for some hacks to boost your productivity.

Alternatively, you might be struggling to wrap your head around the impact Penguin, Panda and Hummingbird could have on your website, understandably given that the Google algorithm is constantly changing.

We’re here to help and have outlined some tips, tricks and hacks you could use to help you fight back against Google’s relentless algorithm updates and retain the highest possible page ranking.

Google 'G' Logo

What are Google’s algorithm ranking factors?

Unfortunately, we only know so much about Google’s algorithm as the tech giant won’t reveal its top ranking factors.

When search engines first came into existence, early marketers could easily find ways to rank at the top of search results. As Google and the digital landscape evolved, engineers discovered ways to prevent people from “cheating”. The algorithm now explores hundreds of different factors to determine which page is the most relevant.

Still, while no one is entirely sure which factor is ranked most highly, here’s a review of the factors we are aware of:

Content quality: Unless it’s evergreen, content on websites tend to lose value over time. Google values freshness, and trends are ever-changing, so it’s important to create engaging content around relevant keywords.

You might need to rewrite the content entirely or update it with keywords that are relevant today. 

HTTPS status: Google prefers HTTPS status over HTTP, as the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate makes it more secure, which can help improve your site’s ranking.

High-quality links: These are organised, structured links that fall under a topical umbrella, informing Google about the theme of those pages.

It’s also important to have high-quality backlinks, as harmful inbound links will damage your site’s SEO and make your brand appear untrustworthy.

Mobile-friendliness: Google’s algorithm uses mobile-first indexing when crawling websites, meaning that it evaluates the mobile version of your site when trawling pages and links more than the desktop version.

Always preview the mobile version of your site when making updates, as mobile-friendliness is a ranking factor.

Site and page speed: Slow page loading times tend to lead to high bounce rates, creating a poor user experience, and Google doesn’t like that.

Users expect a seamless experience when searching for products or browsing a site, so page speed is an important ranking factor.

Site design: Ensure your site follows a logical structure that is visually appealing and easy for web users to navigate.

User engagement: Google dislikes websites with high bounce rates and low numbers of return visitors, as it serves as an indication that these web pages are lacking.

Essentially, the Google algorithm displays the websites that offer the best user experience at the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs).

How often does Google change its algorithm?

According to the latest reports, Google changes its algorithm an estimated 1,000 times a year, sometimes making multiple updates within 24 hours.

The changes are usually small, so you shouldn’t notice a drop in your position on SERPs from the updates. However, if Google makes a major update, which tends to happen a few times each year, you may find that this significantly impacts your page rankings.

Google’s latest update was concerned with link spam. An official note from the tech giant stated that they made changes to scrutinise further how websites use outbound links to monetise their site.

However, unlike previous updates, the Panda 4.0 update will not penalise websites. Still, it will devalue the authority of sites that exploit low-quality backlinks.

Core Google algorithm updates

To help you better understand Google algorithm updates, we’re going to provide a rundown of the “Google Zoo”, containing Panda, Penguin, Pigeon and Hummingbird, all of which affect your site’s rankings.

What is Google Panda?

Google Panda – first released in 2011, assesses the quality of content you produce. It is concerned with the types of keywords used and whether there is duplicate content.

Google recently introduced a “quality score” to help it rank pages based on how users perceive the content rather than keyword-driven posts.

Also, as it is self-updating, marketers must ensure that they remain on-trend and create adequately researched and informative content to help with engagement.

What is Google Penguin?

Google Penguin was introduced to combat “black hat” SEO tactics such as spam-like inbound links, cloaking and sneaky redirects.

Like Google Panda, it also considers keyword stuffing, so you should perform regular site audits if you’re worried about being negatively affected by this algorithm.

Penguin was invented to move away from the emphasis on link volume and encourage marketers to produce high-quality content with valuable inbound links pointing towards the page.

What is Google Hummingbird?

Google Hummingbird differs from the Panda and Penguin algorithms in that it focuses on bridging the gap between the keywords people use and the context of the content you offer.

Essentially, Google Hummingbird determines whether the content on your site is the most informative and relevant piece of information available for the user performing the search.

To overcome this algorithm, marketers focused on producing longer pieces of content with more keyword variations and relevant search phrases to cover a broader range of topics related to their product or service.

What is Google Pigeon?

Launched in 2014, Google Pigeon aims to provide users with more useful, relevant pages and accurate local search results.

It’s one of the most significant changes to the search Google Algorithm, revolutionising the way local firms appear in organic search. As a result, these companies now have to invest heavily in their SEO strategies to stand out from local competitors.

Google Pigeon allows users to search for what they are looking for based on their location.

Google Search Bar

Knowing when Google updates its algorithm

Tracking every update Google makes to its algorithm would be a mammoth task. So if you want to adapt your SEO strategy and minimise the impact of algorithm updates, it’s best to focus on the core updates.

Soar Online advises setting up a Google Alert, which will notify you ahead of time and allow you to prepare for the changes as soon as possible.

Alternatively, use Google Analytics (GA), as this will help you identify abnormal fluctuations in traffic and conversions.

If you find that you’ve suffered a significant drop in traffic, review your performance in the analytical tool, then determine whether a new algorithm update could have affected your rankings.

You can also take advantage of algorithm tools such as MozCast or Grump, which track Google algorithm updates to help marketers stay abreast of changes.

Grump also allows you to track changes by device, so if you’ve noticed a significant drop in mobile traffic, you can check whether Google is “grumpier” than usual with this tool.

How would I know which Google algorithm update affected my website?

One of the best ways to identify whether you’ve suffered a Google algorithm hit is to assess your traffic levels.

If the number of users visiting your website has slumped over the past few weeks, you could determine which update affected your website by:

  • Completing a health check in Google Search Central, which boasts various resources to help you diagnose performance issues and pinpoint algorithm penalties
  • Heading over to Google Search Console (GSC) – a free analytics service that allows you to review your site performance and address usability issues

When these tools are combined, they serve as a great way to track Google algorithm updates.

Does Google’s Algorithm differ from other search engines?

All search engines appear to have different algorithms, unlike Google, which updates frequently; we don’t know how often other web search providers such as Yahoo, Bing and AOL make algorithm changes.

That said, Bing’s ranking factors are a little more lucid, making it easier for marketers to understand and alter their SEO strategy accordingly.

Bing’s algorithm measures:

  • metadata
  • page loading time
  • quantity and quality of backlinks

As Bing powers Yahoo, their algorithm is relatively similar. However, the former has published a comprehensive guide on their ranking factors to help web administrators make the appropriate updates and improvements.

How to beat Google algorithm updates

While we’re unable to predict algorithm changes, there are several good practices marketers can follow to beat and stay ahead of Google’s updates.

Mobile-friendliness

Optimising your website for mobile should be top of any marketers agenda given that Google predominantly uses the mobile version of a site for indexing and ranking.

You can check how your website appears on mobile by using Google Search Console’s (GSC) Mobile-Friendly Test.

Audit your backlinks

Check your backlinks to ensure they are high quality and coming in from relevant content to prevent link-based penalties.

If you have spammy links, contact the other website user and ask them to remove the link or use Google’s Disavow Tool to inform the search engine to discount the value of the inbound link.

Better the user experience

Enhancing user experience should be a top priority for all marketers. After all, better UX leads to greater engagement and lower bounce rates.

Ensure that your site is mobile friendly and offers quality content that always answers the right search intent.

Have you checked the load speed of your web pages to see if you can improve loading times? Have you performed high-quality keyword research?

Minor but meaningful changes could make a massive difference to your site’s performance and increase your searchability.

Create informative, authoritative content

Arguably, authoritative content is an essential factor in sustaining traffic in the fast-changing digital world.

What is authoritative content? It’s newsworthy, original, unique content that answers the user’s search intent. It’s content that users spend a lot of time reading, resulting in higher page rankings as Google recognises that your site is answering search queries.

While Google likes informative content, avoid duplicating content as this could negatively impact your rankings. To identify duplicate content, visit the Duplicate Page Finder, which will allow you to compare two URLs and make any necessary changes.

Avoid keyword stuffing

Once upon a time, keyword stuffing was a successful SEO strategy – that is no longer the case.

Cramming the same keyword into your content as many times as possible does not help improve your position in SERPs; in fact, it could cause your content to be removed from search listings entirely.

To stay on Google’s good side, use keywords naturally and increase the number of semantically related words/phrases so that your content aligns with the context of the user’s search query.

HTTPS vs HTTP

If you haven’t migrated from HTTP to HTTPS, we strongly recommend you do so as soon as possible.

HTTPS sites correlate with higher rankings as Google recognises these pages to be more secure and trustworthy than HTTP websites.

Given that Google rewards trustworthy sites with higher rankings, moving to HTTPS is a worthwhile investment.

All you need to do is purchase an SSL certificate and install it on your site’s hosting account, then update your respective URLs.

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