Google's search engine is one of the wonders of the technological world. Think about it--the way we use the internet and access information would be dramatically different if we had to manually visit websites one at a time and sift through content to find information.
Most of the time, most of us wouldn't even know where to start. Instead, in a fraction of a second, you can type in a query and Google will give you a list of results--in a ranked order--that it thinks are a match for what you're trying to find.
Of course, Google is focused on making search better, which means that it makes changes to the algorithm that powers those results. Over the past few years, those changes have been focused on figuring out what users are looking for by making Google better at understanding natural language.
As Google's algorithm changes, it can mean changes in where your content ranks in comparison with other sites. In some cases, sites that rank highly can drop significantly, resulting in dramatic changes in traffic to the site. If you're a business owner who depends on traffic from Google, that can be confusing and frustrating. Often, it can also mean fewer customers and less revenue.
I spoke with Google's public liaison for search, Danny Sullivan, about how Google goes about approaching what it calls Core Updates to the algorithm, and more important, what it means to your business. Thankfully, there are a few things you should be doing, and a few things you definitely shouldn't.
If you notice that your website has suddenly lost a significant amount of traffic, it's natural to want to know what happened. It's also a fairly normal human response to panic. The problem is, panicking never makes anything better. Instead, recognize that it isn't the end of the world, or your business, and make a plan to improve your content.
Don't take it personally.
Google is pretty clear that its core updates aren't about specific websites, or even types of content. That's true even if it seems that the update has affected the rankings of similar types of sites. As a result, don't take the change personally. Just like panicking, taking it personally doesn't help you objectively think through what happened. It just makes you defensive.
As Sullivan told me, "these changes aren't because of something they've done, but rather because of how our systems have been improved to better assess content overall and better address user expectations." That means that even if your site suffered a loss of ranking, it wasn't necessarily that you were doing something wrong, or that you're being punished.
Get your tech SEO in order.
Of course, not panicking doesn't actually help you solve what can be a very real problem--lost traffic. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to make sure Google is able to read your site the way your visitors do. The company makes available a lot of information about the technical aspects of SEO, but here are a few of the easiest things you can do to get started:
- Mobile-friendly. The majority of people use search on mobile devices. That means they're visiting your website on a mobile device. If that's a bad experience, you aren't providing very helpful information and that will be reflected in the way Google evaluates your site. Using responsive design and making sure your site works well on mobile is one of the things Sullivan mentioned several times.
- Use accurate page titles. The title of a page tells your readers, and Google, what a page is about. Instead of stuffing keywords here, focus on providing a clear and concise description of the page. By the way, these should be unique for each page.
- Load times. If your page takes too long to load, visitors are less likely to find what they're looking for since they'll end up leaving. Google considers this when providing search results, meaning you should be thinking about it. One of the biggest culprits is having images that aren't optimized for online viewing.
- Use alt-tags for images. Alt-tags are text descriptions of image content. Not only are they important for accessibility, but they also provide information to Google's crawler about the image. On a related note, make sure that information is included on a page in text, not only in an image.
- Create a sitemap. A sitemap tells your users, and Google, what pages are important. Keeping the sitemap up to date is an important, but relatively simple way to help make your site more searchable and accessible.
Think about your customer.
When creating content on your website, think about the experience of the user. What are they looking for, and what question are you answering for them? Ultimately, Google's goal is to provide an answer to that question. "We're always looking for ways to improve these systems so we can display the most useful results possible," says Sullivan.
At the same time, Google doesn't reward sites just because they work really hard at persuading the search engine that they have the best information. That means your focus should be on creating high-quality, relevant content instead of stuffing pages full of keywords with the hope they will show up in search results.
For example, if you've read this article, you know what it's about. You don't need me to write a bunch of terms that I want you to think it's about to figure it out. It would be weird if every sentence in this article started with "core algorithm update" or "Google search best practices."
You are smart enough to figure those things out. So is Google. Instead of trying to convince Google that you are the best answer, just focus on providing the best answer to your users and leave the rest to Google.
Claim your business profile.
Finally, one thing Sullivan pointed out is that businesses can claim their business profile on Google My Business. It's free, and it can be a useful tool for helping your customers find what they're looking for. Creating a profile can help your business show up in search results, because you're giving Google more information about what you do and who your customers are.
Providing information also makes it easier for customers to contact you. Ultimately, if you want to grow your business, website traffic from Google is one way to do that. Making it easy for customers to find and contact you should be the ultimate goal.