Google Released An Algorithm Update – Step 1 – Do Not Read Anything

what to do when Google updates algorithm

Google released another broad, core algorithm update.  This means exactly 3 things.

  1. Every major website that writes about SEO will have a post about:
    1. what was penalized
    2. who the winners are
    3. why they got hit or won & what you can do
  2. SEOs will be panicking, or celebrating their wins, or relieved their traffic is still there
  3. You’re going to need to explain things

The very first thing you should do is to log off any and every major search engine reporting websites.  You’re looking for information, but guess what, there is none.

Nobody knows what was actually impacted by the broad core algorithm update.  It will be at a bare minimum 72 hours if not a week before we have any real and useable information.

What you’ll find on these websites are screen shots from lots of tools that show who gained and who lost, but none of them have actual reasons why.  You’ll be reading assumptions, and these normally make you worse off than better.  Diagnosing core algorithm updates takes manual digging and research on a per site basis.  That is what this post is about.  It is how to react and what to do when a Google core or broad algorithm update occurs.

(Speaking of tools, every tool I link to in this post should have an affiliate link attached to it.  If they don’t have a program, but do in the future, I will join and turn the direct links it into affiliate links.  That means I get a commission for each sale if you click and shop.  The good news is, as of today, I actually use each of the ones I link too in this post).

Now let’s start with the scenarios that occur after an update has been released.

Three things that happen when Google has a core algorithm update:

  1. You gain traffic
  2. You lose traffic
  3. Your traffic stays the same

Let’s go into each of these and find some actionable items for what you can do to grow your traffic or recover if you lost.

You Gain Traffic

Awesome job!  Something you did made the algorithm happy.  It could be content, internal links, page speed, backlinks, adding more E-A-T, who knows.  Well, you do.

Log into your analytics and look to see which pages gained rankings, but do this about 3 days after the update happened.  The reason to wait is that you more of the long tail queries to show up.  You can analyze the big phrases, but by having the long tail recorded, it will help you know what and why Google decided you are more relevant for these types of queries.  It’s the SEO modifiers that are important here.

Next, look at the tech changes, site changes and everything else you made.  Find pages from your own website sitting in the 20th – 70th positions in Google and set up test groups.  If you have 9 pages, break them into groups of 3 and make group 1 be the test, 2 the controlled and 3 set aside for the next round.  From there you can begin implementing similar experiences to the pages that climbed, and see if these pages move up as well.  If they do, congrats, your current strategies are working well.

There’s more to do than just the above, but this post will go on forever if I write more on it, and to be fair, the people who lost traffic are the ones who are here for a better reason.  The next section is for them, but also includes more of what to look for when running the tests I mention above.

You Lose Traffic

So the worst case scenario happened.  Your site got hit by the update and you lost your traffic.  Sit down and do something to calm yourself.  Grab a glass of wine, have some coffee or go running.  That’s what I do when I get stressed and need to come back with a clear head.  Go do this now, leave this page open, and come back when you’re calm.

Ok, you’re back…but chances are you’re like me and never actually left, let’s start the diagnosis.  But I do recommend taking a short braking…so this is your last chance to go do something and come back with a calm mind.

Start by logging into your analytics package and look for the pages that tanked or got hit.  Next, log into your keyword tracking tool and open it with a calm mind.  Make sure you have all of your important keywords being tracked.  Now log out.

Why would you log out?

Because there is no real or actual data yet.  You need to wait a few days.  Don’t let this eat away at you, go on with your other business and spend some time reading this post about what to do when sales dry up overnight.  Now we’re going to pretend we’re about 3 days into the traffic loss.

Log back into your tool sets and set a date range up to the update.  Now run a report and compare the three day period or week period leading up to the release of the update, to the same or a similar time after.  For tracking tools like the one above, use the drop down to set it to one week ago.  I like this one because it isn’t a typical tracking tool.  It tracks specific keywords and shows you the full history, which pages were showing up and more.  It also shows if it was the update and you lost, or if during the update your pages started competing with each other and only got devalued.

Now look at the new rankings.  If you’re on the second page or anywhere within the top 10 pages in Google, you didn’t get penalized.  You need to evaluate how the sites that are now one the first page are providing the better experience, and then make your own pages competitive again.  By doing this, you may be able to take back your previous position, or rank higher.

To beat someone on page 1 of Google:

  • Check their page speed
  • Look at the content and read it for intent
  • Map out their websites structure and look for the authority which has been passed through:
    • internal links
    • internal links from pages with backlinks
    • backlinks to the specific page
  • Evaluate all of the on page attributes from schema to tags
  • Go through their alternate versions
  • See if they’re ADA compliant
  • Verify if they have E-A-T attributes in a non-spammy way
  • etc….

This is only the starting point in getting a full analysis of their pages.

Now do this for the rest of the pages that are in the top ten positions for the big phrase.  Last, compile and analyze the data with an open mind (block your own biases and opinions about their websites, this is the only way to get accurate data) and find what each of the pages in the top ten positions have in common.  By doing this with no bias, you can create an even better experience then the one they were rewarded for.  So there’s the freebie I’m willing to give on recovery.

If this seems daunting or like too much, contact me through this page and I can help you through the process.  This is one of our SEO services.

You Remained Static

Congrats, you won’t be answering questions about why your company tanked, or have worries about getting fired.  You also won’t be celebrating.  But actually, you may be forced to answer some questions.

If your boss or the CEO heard that Google updated, they’re going to ask if you got more traffic or lost.  Saying you were not impacted means you’re safe and you’re doing things correctly, but it could also signal that you’re not up to date on skills or techniques.  You have two choices here, I do a combination when clients ask this.

  1. Define what you did to prevent getting hit and how you’re helping to create a great experience.  By continuing on this track, your website should remain safe and potentially gain during the next one, and for the time leading up to it.
  2. Use this as an opening to begin implementing the strategies that you know are good, that should work, but nobody is allowing you to do.  Although this can get you in trouble with the people who are saying no.

If you can locate some of the websites which gained traffic, look to see if they are using some of your recommended strategies.  If they are, locate when and where you brought them up and use it as an opportunity to test the strategy.

“On XY date 6 months ago, I mentioned doing this.  If we look at site ABC.com and also DEF.org, we’ll notice they are both using a similar tactic and both gained.  Now may be the time to revisit this.”.

The most important thing to remember when Google has a broad core algorithm update is that nobody knows anything for at least a few days.  Do not obsess over what happened with your website.  Wait until you have data.

Now use that data to make informed decisions and begin scaling, growing or recovering.  That is what a good SEO does.  And also do yourself a favor, don’t brag if you won (someone had to lose for you to gain and is in a really bad spot right now).  It doesn’t benefit yourself or your company to scream and moan if you lost, and it really doesn’t help anyone if you blame everything on someone else.  It was your job to prevent it.  Instead, focus on what you could do better and build a plan to recover and take your positions back.  And one more thing, don’t read a million websites immediately after because it is all fiction.

Your site and case will be 100% unique and all of these sites are giving opinions, not facts.  The screen shots are just what the tools think and wild assumptions.  Wait before doing anything and look at your own data and your own situation.  If not, you could be causing more damage than you think.

And that is what you do after Google releases a core update to the algorithm.  You wait for a few days until you have actual data, a solid sample set and can properly test what happened.  Then you can use this data to make informed decisions moving forward.  Here is my contact page again if you’d like help with this.

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