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Calculating and Minimising Your Risk Level for Future Google Algorithm Updates

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Owen Whitcombe

Senior SEO Specialist

What is A Google Algorithm Update?

Algorithms are behind all search engines – i.e., mathematically formulated solutions for previously defined tasks. The Google algorithm is a method for ranking search results. It was developed in the 1990s and since then has been regularly optimised with new updates to ensure high quality and relevance. 

Google’s search algorithms are made up of complex formulas involving hundreds of variables. They are constantly revised and improved. Google algorithm updates serve to improve the search results of users and are essential for the SEO ranking of websites. Significant changes to the Google algorithm are made several times a year; however, the extent of the changes and their effects are not known in advance.

As well as these significant updates Google also confirmed that thousands of smaller tests take place every year and confirmed that they are constantly testing and experimenting with their algorithm. According to Google’s How Search Works Documentation

In 2021, we ran over 700,000 experiments that resulted in more than 4,000 improvements to Search.”

Algorithm updates can have big impacts quickly on a website’s organic visibility. Often, we find that Google appears to “roll back” some aspects of algorithm updates, perhaps because user data suggested these new ranking results were not satisfying users as much as pre algorithm update.

For instance, a client in the education sector saw hits from algorithm updates this year and then bounced back

A denotes a confirmed Google algorithm update

Can you calculate your risk level for future algorithm updates?

Google wants to serve up the most relevant content, from the most trustworthy sources, to users and is always testing its core algorithm. There’s no way of exactly predicting the future but we can analyse previous updates to calculate risk levels.

Previous algorithm updates

The latest announcement came in August 2022 with the “Useful Content Update” which rewards content that gives a positive experience, whereas content that falls short of users’ expectations will not do as well.

By announcing this it signals that sites that create content for content’s sake should seriously reconsider their ongoing and previous content marketing efforts. It’s not a case of throwing anything at the wall and seeing what sticks, it’s about providing useful, relevant content to users who may be interested in your product or service.

In 2021 we saw the Product Reviews Update to promote high quality product reviews. Google understands that reviews can be easy to manipulate so if a site has or encourages deeper, more meaningful reviews that simple one word or one line reviews, chances are they are from genuine human users so are seen to be more trustworthy.

2021 also saw the introduction of the “Core Web Vitals Update” this update introduced, originally 3 metrics that Google determines to be a good measure of user experience on a website. Just as previous mobile updates and page speed updates this update rewards websites that provide a good user experience.

Google has always used backlinks to judge a website. From the 2012 Google Penguin Update that demoted sites with a bad backlink profile right up until as recently as the 2021 link spam update having quality, relevant backlinks is seen as vital to Google.

Risk Checklist


So, if your website has:

  • Lots of low-quality content that doesn’t provide value
  • Links predominantly from websites which aren’t relevant to your industry
  • Technical or accessibility problems
  • Slow site speed

You could be at risk of your organic rankings, and organic traffic, falling.

Projecting: Balancing out risk with reward

It can be tough knowing where to put your money when it comes to prioritising SEO areas that could help you ensure minimum distribution during any sized Google algorithm update. Our post “SEO in a Recession How to Prioritise and Project When Budgets Are at Stake” has been written to help you understand the top level metrics which can dictate marketing spend.

SEO consultant Andrew Charlton recently did a talk at Brighton SEO where he concluded that “SEO strategies should be like an investment portfolio”

Probabilistic Thinking in SEO

You can make small, less risk sensitive changes to your website early on in any SEO strategy and then, based on the success or failure of these changes, progress towards more complex and more risky website changes such as URL and category restricting as well as full website migrations.

Changing on-page content issues could be seen as less of a risk as things like page title changes and editing page copy can be reversed if results go backwards or do not make the desired gains.

General consensus says that you can’t predict how Google will change search results in which you may appear over the medium-to-long term. But there is a piece of software, Market Brew’s Search Engine Model , where you can do just that.

In their words, the model is “a search engine that can calibrate its own settings using machine learning to behave like any search engine you want.Users can test their website changes in the model and can immediately predict how their actual ranking results will be affected, months before those changes show up in their rank trackers.”


Getting buy in for more complex, therefore more risky technical SEO issues may be harder as it’s difficult to find additional resources if you need to reverse a migration or turn back any technical user experience implementations you conduct. Read our guide on how much to invest in SEO to help pinpoint where you should invest your marketing budget.

Minimising your risk from algorithm updates

Start with your content. Google gives clear guidelines on what they consider quality content, the kind of content it wants to serve up to its users. Ask yourself:


Ensure that your meta data, page titles and meta descriptions accurately describe what Google and users should expect to find on your web page.

Consider search intent. Does the content of your webpages accurately and deeply match the intent of what the user is searching for. Find out What is search intent and how to discover the intent behind a keyword with our dedicated blog on the subject.

Conduct a technical SEO audit of your website and ensure you address and page speed, mobile or Core Web Vital issues this may uncover.

Conduct a backlink profile review of your website. Ensuring your website has a high number of relevant, quality domains providing you with backlinks positions you well for any future link-based updates.

Don’t panic. Google has often said that websites who see declines following an algorithm update do not necessarily have problems or haven’t done anything particularly wrong. They say that most often updates simply reward some sites who have been working hard so deserve to see their rankings improve. Where there are winners there are losers.

Summary

We can see from just the algorithm update examples above, that user experience, website content and backlinks continue to be fundamental parts of the Google algorithm. Get these three core areas right and you put yourself in the best place to achieve future organic success.

Ranking changes can sometimes appear to be industry specific, so you should add SERP volatility tools to your SEO tool kit. SEMrush’s SERPs volatility sensor detects when algorithm updates occur and can even be configured to show volatility for different market industries.


Partnering with a professional SEO agency who can give you expert led advice on the best places to invest your SEO marketing budget could help you future proof your website against the many Google algorithm updates that take place each and every year.

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By

Owen Whitcombe

Senior SEO Specialist

Owen has worked in primarily Ecommerce since leaving University. Many years spent in the online sports retail arena before gaining experience in the online catering business then becoming digital marketing manager for national toy company before finding his feet in SEO. As a results driven individual Owen loves nothing more than when we can give…

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