Google is constantly updating its algorithm, making it hard for webmasters to best optimize their sites, and this summer was no exception. The three most recent major updates in May, June and August caused tidal waves in the SEO community as Google rolled out new requirements and penalties to match.
Google was never one to divulge specific information on these changes, but the powerhouse search engine has gotten progressively subtler as times goes on. This has left SEOs to sleuth on their own to unearth the secrets of the Google-God and determine the implications of algorithm changes.
The following is the fruits of our detective work: a breakdown of each of the three major updates from this summer. This cheat sheet includes what you need to know about each change and how to revamp your site post-penalties.
On May 17, Google made it clear putting user experience (UX) first is the new status quo. We’ve named this update “Heatwave” because updates are easier to remember when they’re named, and this change certainly brought the heat. Websites with poor user experience saw major drops in SERP ranking. Some major contributors to the drops were:
- Aggressive advertising
- Barriers to user experience like long loading times, annoying pop-ups and hidden content
- Thin content
- Deceptive ads that look like content
- Shady backlink profiles
Content is a major factor in UX. To ensure quality is high quality and avoids penalties from this update, marketers should write relevant and timely content that’s unique from competitors. Users should be able to quickly and easily find the content they are looking for on your website.
Sites that featured poor user experience were dinged and removed from the first page of SERPs, making it clear Google wants websites to optimize for the end user rather than its page crawlers.
— Tom Fishburne (@tomfishburne) June 11, 2017
Combatting the Heatwave Update
There are a few things you can do to bounce back from issues related to this update:
- Cut out aggressive or deceptive ads.
- Remove thin content, or better yet, beef up your existing content. Adding sourcing to pages with statistics, linking to related pages on your site and updating headers to include keywords are all ways to refresh thin content.
- Focus on having quality pages indexed, and noindex pages that could potentially be hurting your rankings.
- Examine backlinks to make sure a few bad apples aren’t ruining your Google ranking fruit salad. Clean up anchor text and use your disavow file to block those that are rotten.
The update that hit on June 25 caused an uproar because it took fire at sites that had also been affected by previous updates. Some in the SEO community are calling this one “Moon” because it was released when there was a new moon.
When Google launched the famed Penguin and Panda updates, it penalized sites for having low-quality and spammy backlinks. Those who didn’t heed Google’s warning and clean up their backlink profile felt a critical hit with Moon.
A tale of two Junes. Smoked by the June 2016 update and surging with the June 2017 update. Some rankings jumping 30, 40, & 50+ spots. pic.twitter.com/NBAruYz10y
— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) June 28, 2017
Another major takeaway from this update was the importance of having an optimized mobile presence. Mobile SERPs are beginning to show up differently than on desktop. Also, Google is indexing mobile versions of a domain before the desktop version, further proving their interest in responsive design.
Avoiding Moon Penalties
If you haven’t already, it’s time to audit your backlink profile. Quality links are much more important than the quantity of links you have. To adjust this imbalance, change your link building strategy to target affinities related to your brand and avoid blackhat linking strategies like paying someone to link to your site.
Paying attention to site responsiveness is also a key element of combatting Moon. Your mobile site should be just as optimized as the desktop version — or, better yet, ditch the “desktop vs. mobile” mentality and invest in a responsive design.
In August 2017, Google released an update aptly nicknamed Hawk because it made changes to some features of an earlier update called Possum.
First, a history lesson: Possum was released in September 2016 and changed how Google filters local searches. The intent was to stop businesses from creating multiple listings for their location that push competitors out of local searches. Possum created a filtering zone that removed similar types of businesses within a geographical location to solve this. While Possum’s filter did get rid of these duplicates, it also backfired and eliminated some similar businesses located close to each other, such as two Italian restaurants on the same block.
Hawk swooped in to fix this issue and shrunk the radius of the filter. Although, the new filter may not entirely fix the problems Possum caused for similar businesses located in the same building or shopping plaza.
— Rank Ranger (@RankRanger) September 11, 2017
Hawk also featured a filter to remove irrelevant, duplicate and incredibly similar content. This made it harder (but not impossible) for websites of the same domain to rank twice in the same SERP. This also screams out why content needs to be unique and relevant. You don’t want to be filtered out for your main keywords because your content is unoriginal.
Repairing Hawk Penalties
The purpose of Hawk was to fix problems Possum caused, so in general you shouldn’t have seen too many rank drops. Still, if your SERPs were impacted by Hawk, there are a few things you can do to adjust for these penalties:
- Optimize your content using keywords, and differentiate it from competitor content. This will make it more likely to rank against other similar content.
- Regularly publish new content and refresh old content.
- Make sure your local listings are up to date and monitor rankings for competitors that are close to you geographically.
Creating an SEO Offense
Just as it’s true in sports, having a good SEO offense is the best defense against future Google algorithm updates — especially with Google admitting to launching new algorithm updates nearly every month.
With a team of experienced SEO consultants on staff, Knucklepuck is ready to help you write your offensive plays and keep algorithm updates at bay. If you’ve been hit by any of these summer algorithm updates, we can help with those too — starting with an audit to determine exactly why you’re being penalized. These insights will help us write strategic recommendations that support your business goals, and implement the recommendations to produce real results that grow your business. Ready to get to work?
Contact us today about our SEO services.