Google has rolled out a series of updates over the last few months—some major, others minor—together, they show that the search engine cares A LOT about one thing: relevance. Whether it’s a broad core algorithm update or just a few minor tweaks, good SEO thinks broadly…and that’s exactly what Google wants.
First, it was relevancy. Then, it was authority and trust. Next, Google turned to videos. Now, they are refreshing past updates and sites are seeing ranking surges or drops.
The only constant with the search engine giant is change. Since March, Google has rolled out a series of updates (some changed the core algorithm itself while others just adjusted basic factors or patched loopholes), and while some sites have been hit hard, most sites with good SEO have been safe from disaster.
Google is constantly trying to display the best search results to users. However, there’s one constant that great SEO can provide that always seems to hold up: great content and an awesome user experience.
A Quick Recap of Each Update
There’s been a ton written about each update (mostly angry tweets from SEOs whose sites were hit hard), so there’s no reason to go into great detail. Here’s a quick recap of what the community knows for sure (and a bit of speculation based on results).
- March and April Updates: These updates were based mostly around relevance and Google’s understanding of user intent. From what we understand, deep, broad, and expert level content saw the best results. In general, better quality content and sites did just fine.
- August “Medic” Update: This update hit health-related sites hard, hence the medic name. However, it turns out sites across multiple niches were affected. In general, authority and trust were at the core of the ranking change. Sites with good reputations, expert content, and other authority signals saw a spike in traffic. Also, some basic SEO issues like mobile readiness were factored in.
- September Update: This update seems more like a refresh of the August update, and we need to wait a while before any significant data can be collected. What we do know is that there was some volatility in rankings and changes seemed to be connected to the August update.
Note: Google has also rolled out a major change to its video and image search that makes it easier for users to find relevant visual content. Google’s example was about a user planning a trip to Zion National Park. Now, when you search “best things to see in Zion” or “Zion National Park itinerary”, you will see more relevant videos and images. This change still hasn’t fully rolled out yet though. Notice a pattern here? Relevancy.
Why This Means for Your Website?
The sites hit hardest by the March and April updates were sites with thin or irrelevant content. Many of these sites recovered with the August update, which has lead to the conclusion that the latter update weighed brand authority more heavily. So, even if a large brand had poor content, they’d still rank highly because people trust brands, and they are seen as reputable authorities (not always a good thing!).
Brands get more mention and user engagement, leading Google to believe users trust them more. But that’s not all that matters in the search algorithm.
The key here is to be more relevant.
You can do that in a few different ways:
- Broader Content: If you want to be an authority on a topic, you need to produce high-quality content across a broad spectrum. For example, if you want to be the expert on installing a new roof, you need to be a source for ALL THINGS roof improvement. How to clean a new roof, how often to have yours replaced, the different materials to use, how to keep squirrels off your roof, why gutters matter, etc. Get what we mean?
- Deeper, Better Content: thin content performed poorly across the board. Google has spoken—content for the sake of content is becoming less and less valuable. Get better, think deeper.
- Authority and Trustworthiness Matter more than Ever: If users don’t engage with you or trust your site, it’s going to be harder to rank. Investing in a better user experience should be priority #1. The more mentions, interaction, and authority you foster, the higher you will rank.
Why Good SEO Matters ?
While SEOs need to focus on what works for their clients, the best almost always build a solid foundation that can survive even the most comprehensive algorithm changes. Great SEO builds relevancy and positions the client as THE authority on the topic in their area.
High-value relevant links, in-depth content based on a long list of relevant location and service keywords, great web design that makes a site more intuitive—it’s all part of a great SEO strategy. If you had been doing these things from the beginning and investing money in the factors that mattered most, you wouldn’t have been hit so hard.
Of course, there is more than one way to succeed at SEO, and you should always be open to new tactics if they’ve proven to work. But, Google clearly cares about relevancy more than anything. Relevant content, relevant links, relevant images and videos, etc.
Each of the algorithm updates was fundamentally different, but it’s easy to connect the dots. Google wants you to be more relevant to a user’s query and offer them a better overall experience. Focus on great content, brand mentions, your UX, and the quality of your links and you should be fine no matter what Google decides to do. As long as you have your client’s visitor at the center of your strategy, you’ll be in line with Google. Anything else and you’re asking for trouble!
Great SEO wins out no matter what changes Google wants to make. That’s because it thinks the same way Google does.