Google is always springing changes on us when it comes to the SERPs (search engines results pages) and they rarely go to plan, even when we got hints of what was coming months in advance. At the start of this year we saw a classic example, as Google had been dropping clues about an update to its Penguin algorithm until suddenly things appeared to change in early 2016. It turns out the Penguin update was almost undetectable, if it even happened at all, but a more significant core algorithm update has had a major impact on the rankings of some high profile websites.
Many different independent services that monitor major shifts on Google’s SERPs reported noticeable changes as January drew to a close this year. Google employees responded on Twitter to confirm that it was actually the core algorithm that received another makeover and not just one of its smaller constituent parts like Penguin. The top 100 ranking websites in the world are commonly used as a benchmark to judge the significance of algorithm changes, and in this case there was quite a visible shake-up. The changes were rolled out on desktop and mobile SERPs indiscriminately, and it’s taken until now for the dust to settle and patterns to emerge.
Even now as we enter April, nobody has worked out exactly what happened in the latest core update, because many high ranking sites dropped while others were suddenly boosted. In fact, 50% of the biggest winners and losers from the last update are different now to the ones we would have seen at the end of last year. Here’s what we do know for sure…
1) Content Determines A Lot
Another update focused on rewarding good content!? This isn’t shocking if you have any recent SEO experience, but certain types of content are now being judged as better quality than others. Publisher sites that tend to mention various brands in their articles have seen many of their indexed pages fall on the SERPs, while brands’ own websites have seen their content-rich pages gain positions. This was first spotted in the USA but has later been proven in other territories, so presumably the same new rules are universal.
So what does this actually mean? Well, it seems Google wants to reward brands who own their high quality content and are in control of their brand mentions. If your brand-related keywords are mainly featured on other websites rather than your own, those results might start dropping off. This could be good or bad, depending on how you want people to find you.
2) New Content Is Favoured
Another related point here, but the core update was very much focused on content. Not only is the type important on the SERPs now, but also the age of it. We already knew that fresh content is useful, but this sudden shake-up saw older content tumbling down the rankings fast while fresh pages climbed. Talking about current topics that are widely mentioned in the news and social media also leads to better rankings.
3) Mixed Content Does Better
It’s not a good idea to have a page of basic text with multiple mentions of the same phrase if you want to take advantage of the latest Google update. Images and video seem to be helping pages climb, plus having a range of related keywords helps to strengthen the perceived relevance of your text. All these things will usually make your content more engaging for a reader, which explains why Google is starting to prefer them.
4) Answering A Query Helps
For perhaps the first time, keyword-rich content isn’t really essential for certain types of pages to rank at the top of the SERPs. If you answer a question that someone put into Google, your bounce rate will be lower and people will spend more time engaging with your website even if you have no written text that matches the query. You might be able to achieve this by featuring videos or interactive games on your website – Google can’t understand the content of these but it’s learning to recognise the signs of a suitable answer being given in an unusual way. A few sites that only featured educational games on their pages saw their rankings improve based on the new update.
If you’re confused or concerned about how these changes might affect the approach you need to take with your SEO, get in touch with us and find out how we can help. We stay on top of the latest trends so we can keep you informed and make sure all our techniques are helping our clients reach the highest positions as fast as possible. Learn more about our affordable SEO packages for different sized businesses here or drop us a line to see if we can answer your questions.