Over the years, Google went from a basic search engine with limited functionality to one of the most sophisticated search engines ever.

But achieving that was no easy task.

Google engineers had to write more than two billion lines of code over the decades. And they’re still constantly rolling out new search updates to increase relevance and quality.

Now:

Google launches these updates with the best intentions to help users. Yet, they’re often a nightmare to SEOs and webmasters. This is because it’s never clear what changes to expect and when.

The simple truth is…

Google algorithm updates don’t have to be scary at all. In fact, if you’re educated on this and ready for change, your website might benefit from algorithm updates.

To help you prepare for the next update, we’ll teach you everything you need to know about Google algorithm changes in this post.

Let’s dive in.

What Is a Google Algorithm Update?

Google has developed ranking algorithms that sort through billions of pages to find the best results. The code that runs the whole operation is an algorithm.

Simply put:

An algorithm update is a change in the ranking system that helps it serve more useful, relevant results. Which ensures a better experience for the search user. 

How Many Updates Does Google Release Each Year?

In 2020 alone, Google confirmed launching 4,500 updates to its search algorithms. That frequency has been constantly increasing for years.

Most 4,500 updates are minor changes that won’t affect your website much. So, you’ll barely notice any difference in your SEO performance.

Google Search Experience

On the other hand:

Major updates, also called core updates, are different and come two to three times a year. They’re often announced before their rollout because they impact billions of web pages at once. 

Examples of core algorithm updates include:

  • The Panda Update (2011)
  • The Penguin Update (2012)
  • The Hummingbird Update (2013)
  • The RankBrain Update (2015)

Why Does Google Update Its Ranking Algorithm Regularly?

By this point, you must be wondering:

Google Search works great for me. So, why does it need thousands of algorithm updates each year?

It’s true… 

Google assesses the usefulness of its algorithms based on user experience. To put that in simple terms, happy users mean that the algorithm is doing what it should. 

Google Algorithm Change

That’s what made Google the best search engine available today in terms of relevance and quality. Yet, there are always improvements to be made that can take the search functionality to the next level.

For instance:

If you were to type a search query in 2011 and compare that to today’s results, the difference in accuracy and quality would be quite clear.

With today’s algorithms:

Google can understand the meaning of the query within context, its relevance to other pages, the quality and usability of these pages, and more. 

Another reason why regular updates are a must is this:

The system developers can’t know exactly what the next update should be. Because these changes are enforced by user behavior and market development. 

For example:

In the early 2000s, mobile-first indexing wouldn’t have been the best option for search engines. Simply because not many people owned smartphones or used them to access the internet. 

But…

With 221 million mobile users (in the US alone) in 2020, it’s clear that all sites ranking on Google’s 1st page must be 100% mobile-friendly.

Most importantly:

Organic traffic is still one of the largest sources of profit for lots of companies and individuals. Consequently, many blackhat SEOs try to win in the SERPs by using low-quality content and illegal SEO techniques.

To prevent that, Google is always working on identifying those spammy practices and stopping them before they spread.

How Do SEO Algorithm Updates Affect Your Site?

As we mentioned earlier:

Minor updates are launched on a day-to-day basis and won’t affect your site ranking in any way. On the contrary, core updates are less frequent but have a more significant impact as they affect millions of sites at once.

The simple truth is:

The different ways Google decides to improve user experience are never clear ahead of time. And it’s impossible to predict how an upcoming update will impact your SEO performance.

You can win or lose based on the update. 

For instance:

If your website is up to date with the latest practices, you’ll get better rankings and a boost in traffic. Or you may lose some of your organic traffic if Google decides to reward your competitors instead of you. 

How Do You Know if Google Is Launching a New Update?

Since most algorithm changes are insignificant, you can’t keep informed of all of them. Therefore, we’ll mainly focus in this part on core updates.

Using Google Search Console and Google Analytics, you can closely monitor your SEO results. If you ever notice any notable changes in your page rankings or organic traffic, reason for that may be an algorithm update.

But how do you confirm that?

For most updates, Google will announce the launch date with some minor details about what’s going to change. More information will follow later as they progress forward with the rollout.

You can find such details in Google’s Search & SEO Blog or their SearchLiaison account on Twitter.

For example:

Google Search and SEO Blog

Matt Cutts, former head of web spam team at Google, explained this more clearly in the following video:

How can I tell if my site is affected by a particular algorithm?

Now, there’s one problem:

Not all algorithm updates are confirmed by Google. 

Some industry-specific changes aren’t too big to be announced, but they’ll still impact your SEO results. Which can leave you with many unanswered questions.

Here’s a simple solution:

Check popular SEO blogs to look for any information about the update. You may also join SEO communities on Reddit or follow SEO specialists on social media to find answers.

Also:

Make sure that the changes happening to your rankings and traffic aren’t a result of a manual action penalty. 

To do that, go to your Google Search Console dashboard. Then click on Manual Actions under Security & Manual Actions.

Google Manual Action Penalty

Check to see if there are any notifications informing you about a manual penalty. 

It’s also possible for a website to lose rankings due to high competition. For example, if you find yourself losing some of your monthly traffic, check out your analytics and compare how your different web pages are performing month to month.

What Should You Do After a Google Algorithm Update?

Let’s start by looking at what Google has to say about this:

To be honest…

That’s the least helpful answer Google could give a business that just lost all of its rankings. Because such a response doesn’t give you any practical instructions to follow.

But in a way, this excellent reply can guide you towards developing a foolproof SEO plan and recovering from any algorithm update in the future.

Here’s why:

When Google engineers update the algorithm, the changes will help the ranking system move closer towards Google’s bigger vision. So, if you aim to just recover from a particular algorithm change, the next update may also cause you to lose all your progress.

Besides:

Recovering from an update depends on how it affected your website and why. Thus, the recovery begins with understanding what the new algorithm change is about.

Instead of thinking short-term, your objective should be to create an effective SEO strategy. Start making improvements on your website while keeping everything aligned with Google’s core values in the long run.

Here’s some practical advice to get there:

  • Improve your content quality while focusing on relevance and uniqueness 
  • Build credibility by leveraging expertise and improving E-A-T signals 
  • Minimize the use of aggressive ads and disruptive pop-ups
  • Optimize for on-page SEO, site speed, and mobile-friendliness
  • Handle any technical issues with your website

You can learn more about this by reading this comprehensive guide on Google’s blog: How to Build a High-Quality Site

Wrapping It Up

New Google algorithm updates have become a regular part of SEO. They’re launched on a daily basis to improve the search experience and help websites with the best content get the rankings they deserve. 

Preparing for these updates starts with understanding Google’s objectives for the future. If you build an SEO strategy that aligns with that vision, algorithm changes are the last thing you have to worry about.

Before any major update is launched, you must educate yourself on how it will impact the search functionality. That’s the best way to prepare for these changes and maximize rankings and traffic. 

Ready to transform your brand with a rock-solid SEO strategy? 

Get started by running a free SEO audit to get your SEO score today. Don’t hesitate to contact us or give us a call at 773-789-8636 so you can find out more about how we can help.

About the Author: Bill Dolan

Bill is an award winning designer with more than 25 years in graphic and professional Wordpress website design. He has experience in almost every area of creating art from his early days as a keyline paste-up artist to POS design to GRAMMY nominated album art.