How to Prepare for Google Algorithm Updates (In 2019 and beyond)

Every year, Google makes hundreds of algorithm updates, with three or four monumental shifts reserved for core updates. For publishers, this often means having to play catch-up, and a shift in content strategy after each specific change.

With each update, there are clear winners and losers, but Google’s guidelines are becoming more obvious. After ‘fake news’ became part of the everyday lexicon and mass media trust still recovers from it’s all-time-low in 2016, Google’s intention is to avoid distributing disinformation across its products, with a core focus on quality and context.

Google will tell you that there are no absolute ‘fixes’ following a core update. Sites that suffer a traffic loss “haven’t violated [Google’s] webmaster guidelines nor been subjected to a manual or algorithmic action”. Other sites are now just be rewarded equally.

Despite this, there are ways in which publishers can ensure their website is well-protected against Google updates for the foreseeable future, and make changes to restore lost traffic.

Keep your eye on the weather

Without a picture of the current state of the algorithm, it can be near impossible to prepare your website for what’s to come. You need to consistently stay up to date, and although setting up Google alerts to your inbox help, it can be difficult to attain a complete picture.

SEMrush’s search engine sensor is one example of a tool that can provide complete reports on the shifts taking place in Google’s search engine results pages, as well as which categories are winners and losers from each day, and each update.

Google SERP volatility

Having an alarm system in place to track both your in-house search console and lighthouse score can also help to avoid turbulences at critical times.

Obviously, unless it’s previously been announced by Google, there’s no way to prepare ahead of time. However, Google has now started to ensure they release new information with regularity via their webmasters blog.

Demonstrate expertise

Although there are algorithm updates daily, something has been unavoidable since Google published its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. There should be a clear focus on helping users and delivering value, always.

Screenshot 2019-10-21 at 10.41.33

With the biggest protection against disruption being user-focussed, quality content, Google recommends that you read the Google Raters Guidelines in its entirety, to understand how they assess E-A-T through:

  • Expertise: The expertise of the creator of the main content. Do they have the credentials to back it up via information available to read on the website?
  • Authority: The authoritativeness of the creator of the MC, the MC itself and the website. Whether the MC and the website itself is trusted as a good source of information.
  • Trustworthiness: The trustworthiness of the creator of the MC, the MC itself, and the website. Being able to provide honest, accurate, true information from your accessible expertise.

You can also read our two-part guide to what you need to take away from the Google Raters Guidelines, here and here.

Make your authority clear and accessible

All publishers should consider how their sites meet Google’s main intent to serve higher quality, more specific content, regardless of the domain.

To be less vulnerable to future updates publishers need to focus on their unique opinion and content. Your website will have a reputation based on its writers and expertise, and the authority of your:

  • Focus: Write about what you know best and what you specialize in.
  • Demonstrate: Create and share author profiles, add high-quality internal and external links and citations, and create public appraisal with quality backlinks from reputable sites and reputation-builders such as offline awards.
  • Specialize: Make your website backstory accessible, and create verticals to offer specific content to specific audiences to increase a user’s engagement with your site.

Be transparent about who you are, what you do, why you create what you create and how you survive. By making it clear who runs and operates the site, and their expertise on the subjects, you will build a reputation as a trustworthy publication.

Question your content

To understand how your site is affected by updates, you should perform regular site audits to identify potential problems ahead of a core update. With each update, you should also question the current state of your content and if any adjustments should be made in preparation for larger, core updates. Furthermore, you should review past updates to isolate changes and how they may have made an impact.

In these audits, ask the hard questions of your content. We have highlighted the important sections of Google’s official recommendations below:

  • Does the content provide original information, reporting, research or analysis?
  • Does the content provide a substantial, complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • Does the content provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  • If the content draws on other sources, does it avoid simply copying or rewriting those sources and instead provide substantial additional value and originality?
  • Does the headline and/or page title provide a descriptive, helpful summary of the content?
  • Does the headline and/or page title avoid being exaggerating or shocking in nature?
  • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  • Would you expect to see this content in or referenced by a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?

Become mobile-first

Now that you have worked to increase the E-A-T of your content, it is then crucial to make sure your technical SEO strategy is up to industry standards and adapted for mobile-first indexing.

As we’ve already mentioned, Google applies a human layer of quality assurance to their results. Their crawlers also replicate the experience of a website visitor when they review your site, so a performant, frictionless UX is imperative. A website that doesn’t load will never live up to Google’s focus on being useful for users, no matter how good the content is.

As Google audits the mobile version of the site first, you also need to check that your mobile-optimized version has the same internal links between the mobile and desktop versions, identical structured data snippets and breadcrumb structure.

Take a look below at how you can audit the performance of your mobile website to maximize performance.

Preparing and repairing

With Google publishing the resources referenced throughout this article, publishers can better prepare for algorithm changes that are more suited towards the needs of individual readers. We recommend closely assessing your content to prepare for the future and repair any potential disruption caused by previous updates.

With these approaches, you can help to make your site one of the winners in future core updates as your content is pushed and prioritized in search rankings.

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