It’s a given that all small businesses—no matter their size or industry—must have a website. That’s how most consumers discover businesses—by searching for them on one of the search engines. Realistically, Google dominates search, with an 87.8% share. So it’s also a given that when Google updates its algorithms (called core-updates), it can wreak havoc on your search rankings. As Search Engine Journal says, “Google’s acknowledgment of core updates is always vague and doesn’t provide much detail other than to say the update occurred.”
As Google itself explains, “We confirm broad core updates because they typically produce some widely notable effects. Some sites may note drops or gains during them. We know those with sites that experience drops will be looking for a fix, and we want to ensure they don't try to fix the wrong things. Moreover, there might not be anything to fix at all.”
So many business owners don’t know about Google’s core updates and the potentially devastating effect they can have on their businesses. What does this all actually mean?
Chris Rodgers: Google’s core updates generally affect large portions of websites in Google’s index, and often, the changes in SEO performance resulting from these updates are significant. Whenever we see large-scale changes in search results, there will be both winners and losers, but the fallout for marketers and businesses on the losing side can be a huge deal depending on how much business revenue they generate from SEO.
How often (typically) does Google drop these updates? Is there a schedule?
Rodgers: There is not a schedule, but typically Google will release a few of these each year. Last year we had three core algorithm updates, plus many other major updates and countless minor updates throughout the year.
Do they warn businesses BEFORE the fact?
Rodgers: It is very rare to get a warning before an update, and I don’t believe there has ever been a notice before a core update. There have been a few updates Google told us about ahead of time—Google updated businesses and marketers about the mobile-first update so that [companies] could make their websites mobile-friendly. Google provided notifications about the page experience update ahead of time, so that site load speed and user experience were improved on websites before the update.
Does Google tell people/businesses after an update? Or do companies just figure it out when their businesses are affected?
Rodgers: Google will typically confirm core algorithm updates, as well as some other targeted updates after they happen. There are, however, countless updates that Google does not confirm. SEO industry professionals communicate and share data to understand how the update is affecting websites and use this information to navigate strategy. One big benefit SEO agencies have is that they typically have a collection of sites they manage, so they have direct insight into how the update affects different clients’ websites.
Do consumers know what’s going on, or are they oblivious to it all?
Rodgers: The typical consumer has no idea; you would have to be plugged into SEO news on some level.
Is there a reasoning behind Google’s decisions to do these updates?
Rodgers: Google is always looking to improve its algorithm in order to improve search results, and the experience users have when they visit Google. Google makes its money from the search engine through the ads they serve to search-engine users, the more people who use Google, the more money Google makes.
If companies notice business slipping after a Google update, how can they recover?
Rodgers: Different SEO agencies or managers will address these changes in different ways; however, there are some typical approaches that are common. At our agency, we start by learning everything we can about the specific update and get as much data as possible by tapping the SEO communities' knowledge to see what is being observed. It can take days or even weeks before the dust settles and everything becomes clear. You don’t want to be analyzing while an update is still rolling out—you will be drawing conclusions on incomplete data and may create a misguided strategy or waste valuable time. Once we have learned everything possible from outside sources and analyzed our clients’ website SEO data, we can create a strategy that makes sense. This may be making shifts in content, backlinks, addressing trust issues, or dozens of other possible solutions.
Is there a secret list of Google SEO must-dos? I’ve heard various information about the best number of words for blogs (over 1500?), the minimum number of words in a blog (350?), boring headlines are best(are they?), etc.
Rodgers: There are certainly SEO best practices that should be followed, and there are plenty of documented resources for those practices. There are hundreds of algorithm factors and layers of AI in Google’s technology, but no secret list [exists]. You should focus your content on serving your audience in the most genuine and valuable way possible, think about customer problems, consider the buyer’s journey, and provide expert advice and solutions.
This is a lot for most small business owners to tackle on their own. Hiring an agency helps you gain access to expert input, insights, and solutions. You can get additional help from a SCORE mentor. If you don’t have one, you can find yours here.