Have you lost significant rankings or traffic after a Google core update?
You’re not alone.
In fact, it’s very common in today’s digital landscape.
There are a variety of reasons why your site was adversely affected.
One of the main reasons is the adoption of poor SEO practices. This often leaves websites vulnerable to fluctuation in rankings and traffic whenever Google releases a core update.
To better understand this, consider the following.
Table of Contents
- The Conventional SEO Method
- Why Google Core Updates are Important
- Definition of Google Core Algorithm Update
- How Google Core Algorithms Work
- The Top Ranking Factors
- How to Tell If Your Site is Ready for a Google Core Update – Other Factors to Consider
- What is a Website Audit?
- Types of Website Audit
- About The Author
The Conventional SEO Method
A lot of SEOs have not evolved their strategies and continue to rely on outdated techniques. For instance, a significant number still follow the basic approach when ranking websites.
Generally, they’ll first do some keyword research, then create content, and then work on building links. They’ll then repeat this process of creating content and building links over and over again until their rankings improve.
They’ll also set monthly or quarterly growth targets such as, say, getting 10 percent more traffic per month, and then use this to measure their progress.
While this approach does yield some initial results in terms of improving rankings and driving traffic to a website, it is important to note that this strategy is not sustainable in the long run and often leads to negative consequences.
Also, keep in mind that while these practices are often regarded as the pillars for SEO success, they are not as effective in today’s digital landscape when they are used in isolation.
For sustainable results, they need to work alongside several other factors which we’ll discuss in this post.
Why Google Core Updates are Important
Here’s the thing, your site will experience the most significant changes on a handful of days in a year i.e. when Google updates its algorithmic formula.
Prior to that, your website’s traffic will typically look like this:
Assuming a basic SEO approach, you’ll be adding content and links and there’ll be fluctuations in traffic. Sometimes it’ll go up, other times it’ll plateau, and on occasion, it may even dip. (Depending on how many people visit and interact with your site)
However, it’s only when Google rolls out one of its core updates that you’ll truly see if all your hard work has paid off.
That’s because a Google core update can either propel your site to new heights in the SERPs or send it tumbling to obscurity.
And what decides either outcome?
Well, it mostly depends on how well your site meets the requirements of the update.
If you don’t know what Google core updates require from you, fret not.
That’s what I’m going to teach you in this post: how to plan for Google core updates, plus the necessary steps to take to leverage these updates to your success.
But wait, what exactly is a Google core algorithm update and how does it work?
Definition of Google Core Algorithm Update
Google core updates are significant changes to Google’s algorithms that affect the way they order their rankings. On average, these updates occur approximately once every two to three months.
Google Search Central describes them as:
“broad changes to our algorithms and systems”.
By broad they mean far-reaching. This means Google is not just tweaking a single factor in its algorithm. They’re manipulating multiple ranking factors trying to fine-tune their results.
How Google Core Algorithms Work
Here’s an illustration to help you better understand how core updates work.
Think of these updates as a grading system for websites. Google assigns a score to each website based on how high-quality and relevant it determines its content to be.
The score is an aggregate of a bunch of ranking factors like E-A-T, topical authority, technical SEO, link quality, etc.
Now, when Google rolls out a core algorithm update they might decide, for example, to give more importance to content quality and E-A-T. This leads to websites receiving new quality scores which results in a reshuffling of the rankings.
When this happens it’s not just a single page or two that’s affected but your entire website.
This also means that if you’re not prepared for when a core update hits you won’t be able to significantly improve your rankings until the next update rolls around.
That’s why it’s extremely important that you’re always prepared.
To help you stay ready I’m going to share with you some key ranking factors that are often assessed in core updates.
The goal is to help you position your website for significant gains of 100, 200, or even 300 percent gains during those critical periods when Google implements its latest changes.
The Top Ranking Factors
There are two main factors that you should always take into consideration whenever you’re optimizing your site for a Google core update. One is topical authority and the other is E-A-T.
Google is always checking for these factors because they help users find the most accurate and reliable information that meets their search intent.
Let’s look at each individually first and then afterward I’ll tell you how to check and fix other “minor” issues that Google also evaluates.
1. Topical Authority
Topical authority is all about being a thorough and comprehensive source of information on a specific topic.
To have topical authority, you need to cover everything there is to know about a subject. This means writing about every possible aspect of the topic that exists.
When you cover every possible angle of a topic it shows Google that you are a pro in that area. And when Google sees that, they have no choice but to recognize you as a subject matter expert and award you with rankings.
How to Achieve Topical Authority Status
To become a topical authority, you need to start by creating a topical map of your niche. A topical map outlines every single piece of content that you need in order to achieve authority status.
Here’s how you can make one and some tools you can use.
Option 1 – Answer The Public
Head over to answerthepublic.com and type in your main keyword.
Answer The Public is a free keyword research tool that generates questions and phrases related to a particular keyword or topic. As a guest, you get up to three free keyword searches per day.
But if you need more you can subscribe to their lowest tier for only $9 and get up to 100 searches for 30 days.
Next, download the keyword report. This report includes a bunch of important questions to answer when creating your topical map.
Option 2 – Google
Consider using Google, which is one of the best SEO tools available.
Here are your options:
(a) Do a Simple Google Search
Google your keyword and head over to the “People also ask” section. This section is usually at the top of your screen just below the first search result.
Here you’ll find the most common questions and queries related to your keyword. Write them all down. Later you’ll decide whether to create separate articles for these questions or add the answers to existing articles. I’ll explain how to make that decision soon.
SEO Minion can speed up this process. This is a free tool that automatically downloads hundreds of these questions and compiles them in an Excel file.
(b) Google Autocomplete Feature
You can use Google’s autocomplete feature to dig up even more relevant topics for your content.
Type your keywords on the Google search bar and then put your cursor at the front, or the back to see what comes up. This way, you’ll get a range of autocomplete suggestions from Google.
Also, remember to check out the related searches at the bottom of the search results page.
Go ahead and click on those to explore a bunch of other interesting topics related to your keyword.
Option 3 – Reverse Engineer Other Topical Authorities
One of the best strategies you can use is to reverse engineer other topical authorities in your niche to find out which topics they wrote to get their status. To do this just check their sitemap. This is actually pretty simple.
- Open up your browser
- Type the URL of the website you want to explore
- Now, at the end of the website’s URL, add “/sitemap.xml” or “/sitemap” and hit Enter.
For example, to check the sitemap of a competitor’s website simply type “www.mywebsite.com/sitemap.xml” in your browser. You can also type “www.mywebsite.com/sitemap”
This should take you directly to their sitemap. From there, you can explore the different pages and topics that are listed.
Let Google Guide Your Keyword Clusters
At this point, you probably have a ton of different keywords. Your challenge now is figuring out which ones should be grouped together into one article and which ones warrant separate articles.
That’s where Keyword Cupid comes in.
Instead of manually filtering all the keywords, Keyword Cupid will analyze the first 5-10 pages of Google in your niche to determine the keywords that should be grouped together to form unique pieces of content and those that should form standalone articles.
It groups the keywords based on similarity into small silos, big silos, and single keywords. This is a huge time saver.
Now that you have your topical map, write your content as fast as possible before the next update rolls around. You can outsource the task either to a specialized individual or a team if necessary.
E-E-A-T is the second factor that is almost always considered during Google core updates.
If this term sounds familiar it’s because it’s similar to the widely acknowledged E-A-T concept which stands for Expertise, Authority, and Trust. But, as you can tell, there’s a slight difference between the two terms i.e. the addition of an extra E at the beginning.
This stands for Experience.
In December 2022 Google updated their quality rater guidelines to include “Experience” in E-A-T. The goal was to add another dimension by which they would assess content with the ultimate goal of delivering more relevant and trustworthy results.
Here’s what these terms mean and what they require from you.
This requires your content to be written by someone with firsthand knowledge or some practical experience on a topic.
This requires your content to go above and beyond the basic information people can find online.
This requires your content to be written by someone credible.
This requires that your content is on point and backed up with facts from credible sources.
Now, when it comes to E-E-A-T, what most people struggle with is authoritativeness.
In particular, getting someone “credible” to author their content as stipulated by the Google guidelines.
No, you don’t need to hire doctors to write on health topics.
Nor do you need to hire only PhDs to write on complex subjects.
In fact, you don’t need to go to such great lengths to appease the Google algorithm.
And here’s why.
Consider the following:
Can Google be able to verify the credibility of your authors? No, it can’t. Google is an algorithm. It cannot tell real author profiles from fake. Nor does it have the ability to do so. So don’t fixate on this.
However, one thing we know for a fact is that Google can detect if there’s absolutely no information about the author(s) on your website. If you’ve not made any effort to show Google there’s a real person behind your website, Google doesn’t like that.
According to the Google quality rater guidelines, Google expects most websites to have some background information on who runs the site.
The simplest way to demonstrate authoritativeness and leverage core updates is to specify the author of each article and add a short by-line, or bio, at the end of each post.
Also worth noting is that credibility doesn’t mean the writer must have formal education to justify their work. However, they do need to specify in the bio why they are writing on the topic and why they should be trusted.
In this regard, lived experiences can make a writer an authority. For instance, if the author has struggled with a particular disease and can provide practical advice on how to manage it then they can be considered an “expert” on the issue by Google.
In addition to this, make sure you include author structured markup, or schema, in your code, to help Google provide the correct author information to searchers looking for your content. This is especially recommended when you have several writers on your site.
Also, add author structured markup to explicitly tell Google with code who the author is.
And don’t forget to include your authors on your About page.
The quality rater guidelines also require their contact information to be provided. You can include this in the bio as well, or post it on the contact/about page.
How to Tell If Your Site is Ready for a Google Core Update – Other Factors to Consider
Now that your site is a topical authority and complies with Google’s E-E-A-T guidelines, does that mean you’re all set to ride the waves of a Google core update?
Although topical authority and E-E-A-T are the major factors they are not the only ones at play. There are other lesser but important issues that must be considered as well.
So what are these issues and what can you do to ensure your site is optimized for them?
Well, to unearth them you need to start by doing a thorough audit of your website.
What is a Website Audit?
A website audit is a thorough check-up or evaluation of your website. The goal of a website audit is to uncover any issues that might hold your website back from ranking higher in the search results.
During a website audit, things like on-page optimization, website structure, backlinks, site speed, schema, and more are analyzed to gain insight into what specific actions you need to take to enhance your visibility and search performance.
Types of Website Audit
Now, there are several types of audits you can do for a website. But for your SEO the two most important are:
1. a technical SEO audit,
2. a content refresh audit.
Let’s explore both of them and see how they can help you flush out any issues your site may have.
1. Technical SEO Audit
Technical SEO is all about easing Google’s workload.
It’s about improving the technical aspects of your website which in turn makes it easier for Google to find your site, crawl, and index it.
And when you help Google, it will in turn reward you.
But why should you make Google’s life easier?
Because what Google needs to do is astounding.
Think about it.
Google has to find every single website on the internet, figure out the type of content it has on each of its pages, assign each site a score, and then organize them all in the search rankings. It’s absolutely mind-boggling.
By conducting a technical SEO audit you’ll be able to create an SEO-friendly architecture that helps Google better do its job.
How to Perform a Technical SEO Audit
I recommend performing this type of audit using professional tools such as:
This is one of the most powerful SEO tools on the internet for conducting a technical audit. It has an intuitive and user-friendly interface as well as a comprehensive site audit tool. With this tool, you can easily analyze various technical aspects of your website.
One of the notable features of Ahrefs is its ability to aggregate data from different databases on the internet. You can cross-reference this data with your own website to get data-driven insights.
Because it’s a premium tool Ahrefs requires a subscription to access its wide range of features. It offers four subscription plans: lite, standard, advanced, and enterprise.
The plans are priced affordably to make them accessible to individuals, small businesses, and larger organizations or agencies.
If you can’t afford Ahrefs then consider using Siteliner. It’s the closest tool I’ve found to Ahrefs that’s absolutely free — for up to 250 pages. While it may not have comprehensive features or offer a robust analysis of Ahrefs, it is a solid reliable tool for small businesses with limited resources.
(3) Screaming Frog
Need more than 250 pages? With Screaming Frog’s free version you can analyze up to 500 pages.
However, Screaming Frog’s interface is less intuitive and lacks the UX of the other two so navigating and understanding all the features can be a bit challenging, especially for beginners. But this is a minor trade-off to access its advanced capabilities.
Here are some issues you want to be mindful of when performing a technical audit:
– Crawl errors – Is Google able to access your entire website with ease? If not, you need to determine why and resolve the issue.
– Crawl depth – Do you run a large website? You may need to have a developer redesign your website’s hierarchy to reduce the crawl depths of certain pages.
– Missing titles, alt tags, and meta descriptions.
(a) If your articles have missing titles or the titles are not well optimized it makes it difficult for Google to determine the content of your pages.
(b) If a meta description is missing Google may penalize you for not having “well-crafted” content.
(c) If you have missing alt tags then Google cannot interpret your images which makes it difficult to understand the content and relevance of your pages.
So ensure all the above three items are well optimized.
– HTTPS errors – HTTPS errors significantly impact your user experience and security.
To check for any HTTPS errors run this query in Google, site:yourdomain.com -https. This will bring up any non-HTTPS URLs that may be indexed which you can then fix.
– Broken links – Google considers broken links a sign of poor website quality.
To find any broken links use a tool like Sitebulb. This will help you maintain your SEO performance and improve user experience.
– Duplicate content – Concerned you may have duplicate content? Siteliner is a very powerful tool for identifying duplicate content on your site.
– Indexing issues – This affects the visibility and ranking of your site.
Have a professional look over your robots.txt files, meta robots tags, your XML sitemap, and more.
– Schema errors – Are you facing any issues related to the schema? Use the Google Rich Results Test tool (previously known as the Structured Data Testing Tool) to check for any markup issues.
– Finally, assess your site’s overall speed and check for any issues with your core web vitals.
2. Content Refresh Audit
The other type of audit that you want to do is a content refresh audit. This is where you analyze the content of your website to unearth any potential ranking issues.
Why Audit Content You’ve Previously Written
When you wrote your content you did a stellar job. So why do you need to go over it again?
To help you understand, here’s a quick illustration.
Imagine you have a passion for baking and decide to write an article on how to make the perfect chocolate chip cookies. So you do some research, Google “chocolate chip cookie recipes,” and click on the top article you come across.
As you read through it, you realize that you have additional tips and a unique twist to the recipe that you can share with the reader. You also think you can make other improvements, and even optimize the article better.
And you’re right.
You create an outstanding article that quickly rises to the top of Google.
However, a few months later, another baking enthusiast comes along with a similar idea. They stumble upon your article, analyze it, and create an even better article that soon overtakes yours.
Content gets one-upped all the time on the internet. That’s why it’s always crucial that you perform a content refresh audit, to avoid losing rankings.
What You Need to Do During a Content Refresh Audit
(1) Analyze search intent
Google expects to see different types of content in various formats.
For example, when users Google “DIY home improvement projects” they’re most likely to come across listicles or blog posts that offer step-by-step guides, tips, and ideas.
When they search for “best noise canceling headphones” they’re likely to find content that compares and contrasts these products to help users make informed decisions.
These article formats are subject to change over time so the piece you wrote six months ago may need some restructuring depending on what Google expects at the moment.
(2) Next you want to check the sub-topic coverage for your article.
Remember when I talked about outdoing your competition? Let’s apply that to your article on baking cookies.
When you first wrote it, you probably checked out the top articles’ headings and subheadings, like “portioning and shaping cookie dough”, “preparing cookie sheets for baking” and “cooling and storing the cookies”. Those gave you a good idea of what points to cover in your own article.
But recipes change over time, and certain less-known ingredients suddenly become popular. That’s why it’s important for you to go back to your article every now and then and update it accordingly.
(3) Word Count & Keyword Use
Now it’s time to fire up a tool like Surfer SEO and take care of a couple of important things. First, check if the word count of your articles still matches the average of the top 5 results on Google.
You see, just like search intent can change, the expected word count changes also.
This is a big deal because Google expects to see certain words appearing at specific frequencies in your content. So, in Surfer SEO, you want to check how well your words, phrases, and entities are optimized.
For example, in your article on baking cookies, there’s a sweet spot for how often you should mention the word “cookie” in your content. And the same goes for even non-keywords like “ingredients” or “dough”
Keep in mind that search results can get shuffled around over time, and the expected word densities can change as well. That’s why it’s essential to regularly assess and adjust your content.
Oh, and one more thing—don’t forget to check your content to ensure you’re including proper links to the sources you used for information. It’s always good practice to give credit where it’s due and provide valuable references to back up any claims.
So there you have it. While Google core updates can be unpredictable and unsettling, they don’t have to spell disaster for your website.
Focus on building topical authority, as well as establishing expertise, and you’ll be able to use Google core updates to your advantage.
Also, remember to perform a site audit to identify any potential issues and make the necessary changes. Combined, doing these things will help ensure the long-term success of your website.