Several times a year, Google makes significant, broad changes to our search algorithms and systems.
These are referred to as core updates, which are designed to ensure that Google delivers on its service mission to present helpful (and reliable) results for searchers. With over two-trillion searches a year it’s hardly surprising that the algorithm will need (significant) tweaking – and broadening – once in a while.
Broad core updates are publicly announced by Google on platforms like twitter:
Today we released the March 2023 core update. We'll update our ranking release history page when the rollout is complete: https://t.co/sQ5COfdNcb
— Google Search Central (@googlesearchc) March 15, 2023
However, there are hundreds of smaller updates per year; in 2021 Google had more than 630 core updates rolled out.
How they work
What’s interesting to note is that there’s nothing in a core update that targets specific pages or sites. Instead, the changes are focused more on improving how Google’s systems assess content on the whole – potentially impacting some pages that were previously under-rewarded to do better in search results.
If a page doesn’t perform as well as it had before a core update, it doesn’t mean that it has violated Google’s spam policies. Nor does it mean that it has been subjected to a manual or algorithmic action (which can happen to pages that violate these policies).
Google asks its users to imagine the core update like the following:
imagine you made a list of the top 100 movies in 2021. A few years later in 2024, you refresh the list. It’s going to naturally change. Some new and wonderful movies that never existed before will now be candidates for inclusion. You might also reassess some films and realize they deserved a higher place on the list than they had before.
The list will change, and films previously higher on the list that move down aren’t bad. There are simply more deserving films that are coming before them.
Which factors are affected by Google’s algorithm updates?
Over the years, and indeed since Google began to run their algorithm as a way of providing the best possible search engine results based on the queries of their users, there have been many changes.
According to Moz:
Each year, Google changes its search algorithm around 500–600 times. While most of these changes are minor, Google occasionally rolls out a ‘major’ algorithmic update (such as Google Panda and Google Penguin) that affects search results in significant ways.
The important things for business’ is to be vigilant, stay ahead of the game and look at what the previous iterations of the algorithm were and look at how they have had an effect on the search results. One mistake that many companies make is that they forget about what has gone before.
Updates can tell us a lot about how Google is crawling pages, and what they are looking for in order to provide the best (most relevant) pages to a search query. With this in mind, it is important for businesses to not only look at the main ranking factors such as content and backlinks, but some of the more technical aspects too.
In order to get the most from your SEO strategy, then, looking at technical fixes is a must. Of those that fit into this category here are the most important technical points to focus on.
Page experience is a set of signals which measure how users perceive their interaction with a web page beyond its pure information value. It includes Core Web Vitals, which are a set of metrics that measure real-world user experience for loading performance, interactivity, and visual stability of the page. It also includes existing search signals such as mobile-friendliness, safe browsing, speed and the move to HTTPS.
With the assumption that readers understand the concept of a webpage and that based on the navigation of a website, pages are built out to inform the users of different products and services as well as things like company information, contact details and other information such as blogs.
With that in mind, we’ll now look at landing pages and internal linking and the factors that make for good page experience. In truth, all pages of a site are landing pages – they are the pages that the user ends up on, regardless of whether or not they came from an external link or an internal one.
Typically, a landing page is a page consumers arrive at when clicking on links external to your site, from pay-per-click (PPC) ads, search engine results pages (SERPs) or any other external link. The purpose of them, for the most part, is to earn some sort of conversion or engagement. That could be a purchase, or it could be a request for further information or contact.
As the first page a user will see, therefore, the landing page serves many different functions depending on the business needs of your brand, yet – at its most basic – you can consider a landing page to be a kind of gateway. Whether that is to the further exploration of your site, to conversion or to the completion of a designated goal. As such, your landing pages can and often should take various forms – even for the same product or service.
Although a generic landing page can be perfectly serviceable for a number of different levels of consumer interest or intent, it makes sense to ensure that the consumer is being well served by the page they see when first arriving at your site. The page consumers wish to see when at the various levels of the conversion funnel will contain different information.
A consumer at the awareness stage, for example, may be seeking information regarding the product – such as pricing, reviews or functionality, while at the purchase level they may simply need some refresher information to confirm they’re in the right place and a buy it now or ‘add to basket’ button.t is, therefore, worthwhile matching your landing pages to your existing buyer’s journey.
Landing page optimisation
Landing page optimisation is the practice of ‘optimising’ a page to make it as easy as possible for the consumer to complete the action you and they both wish to – whether that is proceeding through various other pages, raising their awareness of your products or services or converting.
This can take a number of different forms, from general SEO to PPC and CRO – these will, in turn, optimise the page for SEO, as destination pages for PPC advertisements and for increasing your rate of conversion. Landing pages are also great for use in conjunction with segmentation – allowing you to further personalise the user experience (UX) of your site.
If you’re seeing a drop in both rankings and traffic following the update, one way to determine whether or not a mobile issue is the cause is to run your site through Google’s mobile testing tool which is designed give you a definitive yes/no answer to the question of whether or not your site tests as being mobile friendly:
If the tool finds that your website isn’t mobile-friendly, then it’s likely that mobile issues may have caused your drop in traffic. But don’t panic – the good news about issues with mobile friendliness is that your rankings should automatically improve once Google identifies that remedial action has been taken.
Of course, there are many factors at play in the complex world of SEO and there are no guarantees that the mobile algorithm is the root cause even if your site is distinctly mobile-unfriendly.
According to Google:
People want to be able to find answers to their questions as fast as possible — studies show that people really care about the speed of a page. Although speed has been used in ranking for some time, that signal was focused on desktop searches.
“The “Speed Update,” as we’re calling it, will only affect pages that deliver the slowest experience to users and will only affect a small percentage of queries. It applies the same standard to all pages, regardless of the technology used to build the page. The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a slow page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content.
We encourage developers to think broadly about how performance affects a user’s experience of their page and to consider a variety of user experience metrics.
The starting point for any analysis to look at the current positioning of a brand, when you run it through the PageSpeed Insights tool.
HTTPS ranking boost
Ever since Google introduced HTTPS to Gmail by default in 2010, it has been hailed for its continuing advancement of encryption and ensuring the privacy and security of its end users. Although companies are not obliged to make the switch, the consequences for not doing so are unknown.
It is, however, highly likely that those sites ranking highly on the search engine, especially the first page, will make the switch to avoid risking their prominent position.
Google has offered information to all website owners about how to make the change. Additionally, the set of quick tips below will help you to start the process…
- Decide on the kind of certificate you need: single, multi-domain, or wildcard certificate
- Use 2048-bit key certificates
- Use relative URLs for resources that reside on the same secure domain
- Use protocol relative URLs for all other domains
- Don’t block your HTTPS site from crawling using robots.txt
- Allow indexing of your pages by search engines where possible. Avoid the noindex robots meta tag
Presence of H1/H2
Over the last 12 months the number of landing pages that are crawled and are ranking on Google which contain H1 and H2 heading has risen sharply. This is no coincidence. The only pages that tend not to see an increase in the number of H1 headers is in position 1; this is largely due to the fact that these positions are dominated by brands and brand terms. Searchmetrics call this phenomenon ‘brand factor’ but suggests that the general trend of there being more H2 headlines for those websites occupying positions 2-10 (first page).
Google has long been moving towards a more secure web, where the transfer of data is more secure and the risks associated with browsing are reduced. Page encryption using HTTPS is growing quickly. In 2015 only 12% of all pages on Google relied on data transfer via HTTP.
As we stand now over 70% of all pages on Google are operating in this way, a figure that will continue to rise. The status of HTTPS as a ranking factor has been elevated further following the marking of all HTTP sites being marked as unsafe.
Over 50% of all webpages in the top 10 positions are using HTTPS encryption and businesses should take note of this when they are strategy planning.
Top-level domain (TLD) is the formal term for the suffix that appears at the end of a domain name. Some example of top-level domains include:
There is strong evidence to suggest that those sites operating with a TLD rank higher and gain more from their status than those without. According to Moz when it comes to your domain name you need to make it memorable.
Strive for domain names that are short, easy to remember, easy to type, and easy to say.
This is valuable for word-of-mouth advertising because those visitors will need to visit your domain directly, but it also matters for processing fluency. An implicit cognitive bias, processing fluency is the concept that we remember and have more positive associations with things that we can easily say and easily think about, and that includes pronounceability in our own minds.
Also stay away from domain names that include numbers or other non-standard characters, use unusual spelling, or are longer than about 15 characters or so. If the .com TLD for a domain name you’re looking to purchase isn’t available, lean towards .net. , .co, or a known ccTLD as alternatives.
Additionally, it is not recommended that SEO-conscious webmasters purchase low-quality TLDs such as .biz, .info, .ws, .name, etc. as a means of increasing traffic. Because they’re less commonly known, these TLDs receive substantially less traffic than the more widely known domains and are more frequently associated with ‘spammy’ behaviour.
This is one of the areas that causes the most discussion but the general consensus is that using short, accurate URLs is the best practice. Shorter URLs tend to rank higher on page 1. During his time with Google, Matt Cutts said that there may be some value to adding a keyword into the URL and that they are readable by humans.
The key considerations when it comes to URLs are:
- Remove extra words
- Shorter is better
- One URL for your home page
- Easily readable
- Utilise hyphens and underscores
- Match URLs and titles
- Limit folders
- Restrict redirection
- Avoid keyword stuffing
- Using tracking parameters
- Paginated URLs
What should I do if my ranking drops following the latest update?
Yes, sites can see fluctuations, for better or worse, in the search results. Google has emphasised that there aren’t specific actions to take to recover and, in fact, a negative rankings impact doesn’t necessarily indicate that anything is wrong with your pages.
Danny Sullivan explained how businesses should react to Core Updates:
There’s no “fix” for pages that may perform less well other than to remain focused on building great content. Over time, it may be that your content may rise relative to other pages.
Reassess the quality of your content
Don’t fixate on updates. The best advice is to focus on ensuring you’re offering the best content you can: that’s what Google’s algorithms seek to reward – and what Google is attempting to ‘teach’ them to recognise.
Google offers its own checklist of questions to ask yourself when assessing your content. Here are our top tips:
Focus on Page Quality
For this, Google focuses on Expertise, Authority and Trust.
Links remain important
Think about how and what your internal and external links – and on and off-site content – are communicating about your brand.
Expertise is vital
Demonstrate that your contributors are credible sources: if they’ve got relevant experience and qualifications, make sure they’re mentioned on your site in author profiles; encourage your writers to contribute to leading blogs within your industry and niche to help establish them as an expert.
Structured data is a must
While we should be writing primarily for humans, we also need our content to be readable by Google’s machine learning algorithms through the use of structured data and the appropriate schema markup.
Although pages that experience a change after a core update don’t have anything wrong to fix, it can still be disappointing to find drops in the SERPs. You may experience differences in:
Your SERPs rankings can give a good indication of whether or not you’ve been positively, or negatively, impacted by the update. We recommend waiting three weeks after the initial announcement to see if the impact will be lasting; 2 weeks for the full rollout and 1 week to let things settle.
These changes can make results seem all over the place, and is sometimes referred to as the “Google Dance”, while it can be frustrating… It’s best not to actively Salsa with the SERPs until the three weeks are up.
Inline with changes to rankings, you could witness your traffic increasing, or possibly decreasing. It is important not to panic at this stage, wait it out (for the three weeks) and assess the situation logically.
Compare the traffic to other broad core updates, did you see similar results?
Making radical changes to your site in the middle of a broad core update can be a big gamble — and one that could negatively affect aspects of your content that Google actually approves of.
We appreciate that this is a lot of information to take in and process, and know that it can be difficult to assess the exact impact that the Google algorithm has on a given website. For that reason we have decided to offer a bespoke SEO service to our clients where we are fluid enough to offer a variety of tools, services and data analysis options to ensure that your site reaches optimum performance.