The dreaded Google Update. No online enterprise is ignorant to the potential devastation of Google’s ultimate surprise attack; some have flown under the radar, some have seen significant gains, many have been completely devastated, and a few new-to-online businesses have only heard the daunting, nightmarish tales of Penguins and Pandas.  

For almost half of this decade, Google updates dominated table and bar talk at most any digital marketing convention. Now, Google updates don’t generate the market share of buzz in our community – and a calm tranquility exists – but rest assured, the leviathan that is Google does not stop working, and they are, as we speak, working on ways to improve search. And when those improvements are culminated into an Update, the chips again will fly. The question is: where will they land for you and your business? 

This article aims to help you prepare for the next update, and undoubtedly improve your SEO at the same time. It’s a win-win – but you might be surprised how many people let these simple maintenance pieces fall into disrepair. Let’s start with what you’ve always done (or should have been doing).

Do what you’ve always done (or should have been doing)

I’m going to ask you to be honest with yourself – how many of these articles have you read in the past, decided this is the month or quarter you’re going to update your website’s SEO, only to find yourself scrambling at the next update, chastising yourself for not adding alt tags or that extra recommended 200 words on an important landing page? It’s OK – you’re not the only one. 

Regardless, the best way to prepare for the next Google Algorithm update is to simply get back to making sure your site is putting its best foot forward for visitors. That is, to do what you’ve always done (or should have been doing). Remember why Google updates to begin with. Aside from security patches and new tech integration, the driving purpose of an update is to make Google Search better for the user. Because those users – millions a day – are Google’s customers.  Let’s look a bit closer at what you should be doing to keep your website penalty free (and increase your organic traffic).

Keep your website clean (of errors)

Keeping your website clean means consistently monitoring for errors. You can do this with myriad auditing websites or with Google Console. Broken links, outdated plugins, media compatibility, unruly 301 redirection, and browser incompatibility can all contribute to a poor position during and after an update. I know this seems straightforward and perhaps a bit mundane, but sending clean signals (like updating that ‘copyright 2012’ in your footer) shows Google that you care about your site. Think of it as a brick and mortar – when you’re expecting walk-ins, it’s good to perform some general house-keeping to make your business presentable. Especially when you know Google is coming for a walk-though (crawl) every few days before they recommend their customers to your business. Don’t procrastinate on the simple maintenance and housekeeping items.

(See a list of maintenance items at the end of this article)

Create good content (and lose the garbage)

At risk of losing you’re your interest here, I’ll only write Content is King once. There, I won’t write it again. But it does bear repeating – the reality is, while generating good content is difficult – it’s still the best way to acquire and retain good ranking, as well as good standing in Google’s algorithmic purview.  So, whatever that looks like on your website, “it’s” still King. Also, while the previous SEO mantra touted specific sweet spots for keyword density, semantic relation, and paraphrasing in H1 tags, these days content is measured predominantly by one thing – engagement. Good content precedes engagement. Sure, the old rules apply in general – if it’s written, you should try and get it past a few hundred words. And of course, keep it original, but most importantly – create it for people. Create it for your audience

How do I know if my content is good? Great question. There’s an area in Google Analytics that can show you: Behavior > Site Content > All Pages > Avg. Time on Page (or ATOP). Find your page and check the average time on site: if it’s over 30 seconds, that’s pretty good. 

While you’re there, why not sort that table ascending for ATOP? Do you see those pages that have a 3 second ATOP, with a 97% bounce rate? Those pages are not helping. In 2011, I had a website with about 2000 of these. It was crushed in the Panda Update, and just recently I let the domain go entirely. The lesson: QUALITY over QUANTITY – throw out the garbage.

Embrace new markup / tech

Before Google started showing markup diagnostics in Console, very few websites made the effort to incorporate schema markup – the same could be said about AMP on a smaller scale.  At the time, it was difficult to find someone who even understood what is was, let alone implement it. We couldn’t even find a suitable contractor to implement it so, I ended up performing the updates for all our clients myself.  Sometime later, Google announced that markup may help Google understand your product or service better, and that it may help facilitate better ranking (trust) or allow Google to put your business in front of the right customer. Once that happened, markup implementation was a main service SEO offering for us for over a year (second to backlink profile cleaning).

Whenever new markup starts to become popular, and you aren’t sure if you should use it or not, pay attention to whether Google has given the nod. A good way to keep on top of this is to check in with some of the top SEO sites, like MOZ or Search Engine Journal. If Google officially endorses new markup, immediately make efforts to include that markup in your site. You’ll be glad you did – Google never penalizes endorsed tech, and as we saw with AMP, they sometimes favor sites who have stayed ahead of the curve. 

Don’t try to (organically) get rich quick

Unbelievably, there are still SEO scams out there, including but not limited to, paid link schemes. You might be thinking – it’s obvious to mark that email as spam – but when you’ve been working on your site’s SEO for years, and still only receive 20 visits a week, these emails become more and more tempting. You become desperate, and that’s what these link vendors are counting on. 

I would estimate that of all our new clients, about 60% have traces of link schemes in their backlink profiles, and I’m talking POST Penguin. Some are date stamped 2018. Some clients know, some are unaware and some wouldn’t admit it either way, but the reality is, many businesses still fall for this. Don’t be one of those businesses. This is by far the best way to ensure you will be on the losing end of future updates

If you are struggling with ranking, and continuously sit on page 3+ for your keywords you should be ranking for, I implore you to check your backlink profile and clean it before doing anything else. You can do this using Link Detox or MajesticSEO, or you can have any veteran SEO do this for you. (Veteran SEOs that were around during the link-scheme hay-day are arguably better at detecting toxic or low-quality backlinks.)

List of maintenance items

As promised, here is a list of maintenance items to help keep your site in good standing with Google crawls and updates. 

  • Remove or canonicalise duplicate content
  • Check Source for Hidden Text
  • Use Alt Tags for all images
  • Cross browser / cross device checks every page or media item (videos, etc.)
  • Do not obfuscate content with ads
  • Test any markup (in Google Console)
  • Check broken links and redirection
  • If on a platform, use newest version and update plugins
  • Ensure content is what one would expect when clicking on your search listing

Tell us your update story

What’s your Google Update Story?  Did you lose everything? Watch your competitor fall as you are elevated to organic revenue glory?  Tell us below.