Did you see a sudden drop in the search engine ranking for your site? Did site traffic decrease even though you didn’t implement any changes to your website?

It might be because your site got affected by a new Google update. Some updates get announced and others do not.

This past March 2017 saw a new update, referred to by many as Google Fred, and many sites saw a major decrease or increase in site traffic overnight.

Google releases these updates at least once per year. Each update changes how the search engine analyzes and indexes websites.

If you’re not prepared, your site could see such drastic drops that, over time, will mean lower profits. The good news is that keeping up with these updates isn’t difficult. Take a moment to read through the following tips and you’ll manage to stay one step ahead of the game:

Know Each Google Update

The first step is to get familiar with the main updates. These are the ones that still get light alterations a few months or years after their release. Most of the SEO strategies experts advice come from their experience with these official updates.

If you want to prepare ahead, you first have to learn what each of the updates does and how they changed the playing field.

Panda

This released back in 2011 and it targets duplicate content and keyword stuffing. By 2016, it became an official part of Google’s core algorithm. This is the update that penalizes a site with plagiarized content.

It was this update that began Google’s path of targeting sites that don’t focus on an optimal user experience. Every update after this works on this philosophy and Google Panda still sees a few updates to its core algorithm now and then.

Penguin

Released in 2012, this Google update deals with backlinks that look like spam or an untrusted source. You also have to get rid of backlinks that appear manipulative or have a poor choice of anchor text. Like Google Panda, this update gets regular updates to adjust its algorithm to the changes in the online landscape.

Pidgeon

This Google update, which came out in 2014, puts an emphasis on location. This makes it more important to spend time on local SEO efforts and you have to balance both on-page and off-page SEO for optimal results.

Mobile Friendly

5.4 billion people will have a phone by 2020 and more than half of that will be smartphones. People use their mobile devices nowadays to browse the Internet more than desktop computers. This update now makes Google rank mobile-friendly sites higher than those that are not.

Fred

This Google update isn’t a single algorithm change and there’s no official name for it. The “Google Fred” moniker stuck to it and experts now use it. Since March 2017, an update to Google’s algorithm now targets and penalizes sites that focus too much on monetization instead of quality content.

Better User Experience

At the core of each Google update is the goal to provide a better user experience for your site’s visitors. As long as you aim for that goal, then you won’t encounter too many hurdles despite the frequent updates.

To achieve this goal you have to conduct the following:

  • Optimize the site for all platforms, desktop or mobile
  • Post regular, high-quality content
  • Maintain a clean design with easy navigation
  • Clean up URL’s
  • Use RSS feeds and XML Sitemap
  • Utilize a proper schema markup

If your site features ads, make sure to tone them down instead of stuffing one in every blank spot of your pages. Don’t get intrusive with banners and always optimize images to keep your site loading fast.

Re-Work Backlinks

Get tools like Yoast SEO, Google Analytics, and SEO SpyGlass to discover and eliminate questionable backlinks. This is also when you should rely on professional SEO services because monitoring backlinks and the source of your site’s traffic gets tedious and meticulous the more posts and pages you have.

What qualifies as a good backlink? It has to:

  • Come from a relevant source
  • Come from a trusted source
  • Must deliver regular traffic
  • Uses relevant anchor text
  • Link appears in a post’s body of text
  • Non-reciprocal link
  • Not a paid backlink
  • Not spammed on directories or social media

These are only some of the important factors of a good backlink. The most important one to consider is avoiding paid links. Buying backlinks is a black hat SEO tactic and there is a Google update to penalize you for that.

Visibility in Local Searches

The Google Pidgeon update emphasizes location. A recent study also shows that users search for businesses within their proximity.

Want to dominate the local SEO scene? It’s not as difficult as some experts would put it but you do have to take time to do the following:

  • Focus on local keywords
  • Register and optimize on Google My Business
  • Title and meta descriptions should reflect local emphasis
  • Get on online directories and citations
  • Create local content
  • Encourage visitors to leave reviews
  • Utilize a local schema markup

Your goal should be getting featured on Google Maps whenever someone searches for businesses in the area. You’ll want to make sure people can and will contact you using the information on your Google My Business page.

Better, Bigger, Quality Content

By 2020, video content will consume 75% of all mobile traffic.

That doesn’t mean you can ignore your blog because each Google update still checks the quality of your site’s content. Blogs are the biggest signs that tell Google what your site is about and how to index each page.

Your posts have to answer the following points:

  • Does it answer relevant queries?
  • Is it well-written?
  • Does it prove you’re an authority on the topic?
  • Does it delve into the topic?

Google also prefers bulkier content. This doesn’t necessarily mean each blog post has to be 1,500 words in length but it does indicate you can’t rely on spam posts to get more backlinks.

This is where a mixture of written content with images and video help out. Keep your reader educated and entertained. Google’s algorithms will do the rest for you.

Fewer Ads

When it all comes down to it, Google Fred isn’t one of the search engine’s major processes or update.

It’s a new term that you can attach to any quality control update Google applies when it wants to make sure sites provide high-quality content instead of emphasizes monetization with ads and the like. It’s a series of updates and you need to get ahead of it now.

The first step to achieve this is to read the Google Webmaster Guidelines and make sure you understand all the terms and conditions that Google releases. The second step is to evaluate if your site is prioritizing the ads – even from Google AdWords – or factual and useful content.

If your site has thin content but too many monetization features, then you need to make changes as soon as possible. Don’t try to shove a new ad in every corner or have one pop up each time a user reloads a page.

Focus on Mobile Experience

With the aforementioned growth in smartphone users, Google’s Mobile-Friendly update prioritizes sites that offer a better mobile experience. Your site will rank low if it can’t offer the same experience for people on different devices with different screen sizes.

Here are some steps to achieve this goal and stay ahead of the mobile-friendly Google update:

  • Make sure pages load fast
  • Don’t block media content from loading
  • Don’t block CSS or Javascript loading
  • Use HTML5 instead of Flash
  • Avoid using pop-ups
  • Use a responsive website design

When mobile phones were still in their infancy, it was common practice to disable large images or CSS to keep the pages loading fast. That won’t fly these days because it ruins the user experience. You need to find a balance.

It is fortunate that there are tools to achieve this, like WP Smush and W3 Total Cache. The former compresses images without ruining their quality while the latter caches site information to maintain site speed.

No Keyword Stuffing

With each Google update, the algorithms alter how Google views and indexes keywords. There was a time, back before these updates released, when site owners would stuff as many keywords they could per page. Those days are gone.

There is still use for proper keyword use. You still need to keep using the right keywords for:

  • Anchor text and backlinking
  • Title tags and meta description
  • Post titles and page names
  • Opening paragraphs of blog post
  • Headers of blog post
  • Alt text on images
  • Captions for videos
  • Tags for media content

One element that is changing is the required volume of keywords. Stuffing too many keywords in a page or blog post will get you penalized instead of increasing your ranking. Don’t stuff the same keywords every hundred or so words because you’ll focus on that instead of writing quality content for your blog readers.

Since the Google update in 2011, Google Panda, the search engine also checks if the keywords you use are relevant to the post’s content. You can’t write about car repairs but then stuff in “cheap paint for kids” as a long-tail keyword every 50 words.

No Black Hat SEO

Every Google update works to dissuade people from turning to black hat SEO strategies. When Google discovers you use these tactics, you can expect to see a sudden decrease in ranking and traffic.

The unfortunate truth is that many people can’t differentiate black hat SEO from white hat SEO. The rule of thumb to identify black hat SEO tactics is to question if it seems suspicious and illegal. If you doubt it then it’s likely a black hat tactic.

Some of the most common black hat SEO tactics include:

  • Keyword stuffing
  • Invisible text
  • Duplicate content in a mirror site
  • Cloaking
  • Hidden links
  • Buying and selling backlinks
  • Over-optimizing inbound links
  • Over-optimizing internal links
  • Using irrelevant keywords
  • Page content swapping
  • Comment spamming

Page content swapping is one of the most hated black hat SEO strategies. It’s when you work on a page for a while to make it rank high and then swap out its content with something else. Buying and selling backlinks are also hated and are the reason why the Google Penguin update exists.

Cloaking is a term to describe the act of presenting different content to the search engine crawlers and to a user’s browser. Some black hat SEO experts also hide links by making their anchor text white, hiding them in the page’s background.

Each Google update works on weeding these out. None of these tactics work on providing a better user experience, after all.

Keep an Eye on Website Traffic

Want to anticipate the next Google update and make sure you don’t get penalized? Make it a habit to always monitor your site’s traffic. You have to know where and how people find their way to your site.

Use tools like Google Analytics and study the following:

  • Your site’s link profile
  • Bounce rates
  • Unique visits
  • Click rates
  • Conversion rates

Also, keep an eye on recent traffic in conjunction with any Google update release. Observe and note down if your site’s traffic increased or decreased after a major update came out. This will give you an indication if your site is fulfilling the goals the search engine giant sets out with each Google update.

Stay on Top of Each Update

Following these tips you should be able to stay on top of each Google update, even those still coming in the future. Google has a tendency to reward high-quality, relevant content and that isn’t going to change. What will change is how Google views quality and relevance.

Of course, keeping your best foot forward with all these updates is never easy.

If you ever find it confusing, time-consuming, or outright difficult, give us a call and we’ll be glad to help you out. You can trust our experts to evaluate your site and recommend the best SEO strategy to keep you ahead of the competition and on top of the annual updates.