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How To Find, Train & Retain Top Talent



How To Find, Train & Retain Top Talent

For most, the benefits of using freelance writers for your digital marketing agency or business far outweigh the challenges.

One of the greatest pros is the higher ROI you may enjoy as a result of not having to hire a full-time writer in-house, especially when content volume doesn’t call for it.

However, you may experience challenges around timeliness and getting freelancers to follow your outlines and direction.

There are other challenges, such as training them for growth and retaining them for the long haul, too.

And then there’s the most challenging situation of all – ending the contract with a freelance writer who just isn’t working out.

Outsourcing content creation comes with risks, as bad hires can damage your company image by plagiarizing content or spreading harmful gossip.

In this article, you’ll find tips to help avoid these potential pitfalls and make the most of your freelance writer relationships by learning how to find, train, retain, and even let go of freelance writers in the best possible ways.


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How To Find Online Writers

Successful agencies have clients across various niches and can’t expect one writer to be an expert at everything for each client.

In fact, I’ve met only a few writers who write proficiently for every client.

Those types are difficult to find, and if you do discover one of these “factotum” writers, it’s best to retain them.

These freelance writers have the endurance to consistently turn out quality work.

They possess the desire to learn, and the discipline to follow instructions on things like formatting, citations, style, etc. that improve your content quality.

But these factotum writers are tough to find.

Recently, a long-standing client in the aftermarket auto industry asked us to ramp up content output.

This client needs over a year’s worth of product descriptions – more than 20,000 SKUs among a few agencies.

The writing requires a deep knowledge of the world of aftermarket automobile accessories within a few different model types, from quarter-mile muscle cars to off-roading.


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I had two auto experts on my freelance staff but needed a lot more.

I launched some LinkedIn ads that were very specific regarding the subject matter.

It was clear that if the freelance writers didn’t understand the niche, they shouldn’t apply.

That didn’t happen. Just 2 out of every 10 applicants had the skills and knowledge required.

With that being said, here are a few tips to help you find the right freelance writers for your project online.

For Targeted Niches, Seek Journalists First

LinkedIn has been my go-to for the past five years when searching for freelance writers or other employees.

The more targeted the niche, the more you’ll need to search for a subject matter expert who can actually write. This is where journalists are great targets.

I work with many journalists across various top-tier publications within their niches, from finance to motorcycles.

Full-time writers within smaller niches are typically hungry for money.

Read the top publications and reach out to the writers via email or social media.

Some may be under contract or don’t want their name published.

Simply sign an NDA with them (I have loads of these, especially for my freelance ghostwriters in granular niches).

Another wise place to check is HARO (Help A Reporter Out).

You can create listings there as a business or agency looking for a specific type of expert journalist.

Also, Search Where Your Target Subject Matter Experts Hang Out Online

Thousands of forums exist online. Find one that speaks to the subject you’re writing about, and simply ask if any freelance writers are there.

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You may be surprised.

Be Super Specific In Ads

Don’t just say you’re looking for an automotive product description writer.

Say you’re looking for a product description writer for “interior, body panels, and engine parts for first-generation Ford Mustangs.”

Have fun with it, too. You could say something like, “If you don’t understand the difference between a 1966 and 1967 Mustang, continue your search.”


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Ask For Samples, Not Resumes

I know writers with zero writing education who create better content than those with an MBA in Creative Writing. Schooling doesn’t tell the story. Samples do.

Don’t discuss pay within ads. But do discuss money within the first email thread. This will keep you and the applicant from wasting any time.

Do quick research before responding. A quick Google search of the applicant’s name and a look through their social media profiles can reveal much.

If you’re looking for a freelance motorcycle writer whose social media feeds don’t show one motorcycle, it may be wise to move on. But with that said, some of the best writers have no social media presence at all.

Create a template for responses. I create templates for every response to interested freelance writers.

I also personalize each message after a quick bit of research on them or how they personally respond to the outreach.


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My ultimate goal is to find freelance writers who have intrinsic value now, plus the ability to grow and prove themselves within their work.

Here are five must-have qualities in freelance writers:

  • They’ll never plagiarize. Ever. You don’t want to see a whiff of “borrowing” the work of others in their samples.
  • They’re highly specific and accurate. No research, you’re out!
  • They respect deadlines. Three strikes and you’re out.
  • They pay attention to directions/outlines. All of my freelance writers are provided “SEO Content Templates” for each piece of content they write. These are basically outlined for both content creation and SEO. The steps are clear, typically orderly, and always include the exact subtopics to use. They must follow directions, and the simpler the output, the better.
  • They make only minimal grammar mistakes/typos. Writers make mistakes. That’s why I mention “minimal” here. And every business or agency should also have copyeditors on staff, even if it’s just another set of eyes from a non-writer in the company/agency.

Now it’s time to train them so they can grow and prove themselves constantly within their work.

How To Train Freelance Writers To Keep Them Growing

Agencies or business owners tend to either overthink this piece or disregard it entirely.

Training your freelance writers to keep them growing will not only benefit you but build a respect-based relationship that will also benefit the writers, as well.

And when your writers are satisfied in their work, feeling respected and fulfilled, they not only stick around but tend to put out their best work.

Here are two tactics that have worked for my business over the years.


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Constant Education On Writing And Subject

A portion of my full-time employees’ weekly workflow is reading five hours weekly about their subject matter.

This is a tough ask for a freelance writer who is not obligated to do anything but the writing task. So the solution is to provide them with a consistent flow of education.

The simplest ways are sending books on writing and the subject matter they’re covering, paying not only for online seminars but also for their time to attend them, and sending them to conferences within their niche.

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Challenge Writer Growth With Out-of-niche Content Creation

I was hungry when I began as a freelancer. The more work I got, the more money I made. I realized quickly how much faster I could learn by deeply researching a subject and then writing about it.

Writing is the ultimate learning tool, not only for the subject matter itself but the actual writing process.

When a freelance writer is comfortable writing content within their expertise, the challenges are minimal.


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But challenge them with a topic out of their niche, and they’ll grow. Be wise here, though; only delegate the entry-level work to begin with.

Many writers who have done this for me are now writing for a few different subjects, and some grew passions for the respective subjects over time, becoming SMEs there, as well.

How To Retain Freelance Writers

First, remember that people have different creative peak times. For example, nearly all of my top freelance writers submit content to me after midnight.

This is common for creative types and is based on what professionals call chronotype.

As ABC News journalist Diane Macedo simply puts it in The Sleep Fix, chronotype is:

“What time your circadian rhythm hits its daily highs and lows and is what determines whether you’re naturally inclined to fall asleep or wake early or fall asleep and wake up late.”

Most of the writers I know are the proverbial night owls, and I don’t expect to hear from them in the morning hours.


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Even if they prefer to work during the day, creativity requires focus and constant interruptions can hinder the writing process.

Give realistic deadlines and don’t micromanage. You’ll earn more respect, and the writers will certainly stick around longer.

The rest of the retainment process comes down to monetary and educational incentives.

If I have a top producer, I’ll add extra money to the invoice as a quick thank you/performance bonus when warranted.

Nothing crazy, but just enough every so often to let those writers know I respect their time and energy.

A good target is 10% of an invoice every few months.

Taking on a much bigger project requiring many writers instead of one, such as my auto product description above? Amplify the top producer’s unknown bonus to 20%.

It may cut into the profit margins slightly, but that slight decrease will increase overall revenue in the long term because those writers will be more incentivized to do more quality work.


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Another incentive includes adding to their personal growth factors, such as sending them to conferences, online writing seminars, or the latest books on the subject.

I also know the personal interests of my freelance writers, so if I’m sending them a book on writing development, I’ll send a book on their favorite interests.

Also, and this is as big as the bonuses and education – never overwork quality freelancers or exert nonsense pressure about deadlines.

They’ll either drop you or provide horrible work that will cost you more to fix in the long run.

Pressure for deadlines is typically the project manager’s fault. You can’t load up a freelance writer with 12 hours’ worth of writing work and expect them to turn it around in a day.

Good writing requires time for writing and taking breaks in equal measure, the latter allowing a writer’s mind to refresh and edit with clearer thoughts.

I have a 10–15 day turnaround time for most of my writers for pieces.


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I typically work a month ahead for campaign clients, and if a client asks for something that needs a quick turnaround, I reach out to the freelancers before responding.

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A few other factors that will help you retain your freelance writers include:

  • Constant communication. Plan weekly or monthly meetings, even if only a 15-minute catchup call to discuss workflow. Also, email/text them at minimum weekly to ask if they’re struggling with anything or need a hand with work. I email each freelancer every Monday, asking them if they are on target for deadlines and need any help.
  • Pitch new content. This is why it’s wise to understand your writers’ personal interests (passions are even better!). If another client or product/service line arrives, pitch the content to the writers you have already trained. I also found a foodie through the auto description writer hunt, which added serious value to content creation for a new client. This saved me much energy and time finding and training a new writer.
  • If local, schedule a surprise lunch or dinner. I work with dozens of freelance writers, but a few are local. So sometimes I’ll just email them asking them to meet for lunch or dinner at one of their favorite places. Not local? Read on.
  • Send lunch or a food/beverage care package. For those freelance writers that are not local, surprise them every so often with a food or beverage. A quick note from experience: don’t send meat to a vegetarian (or booze to a recovering addict).

How To Let Go Of Writers

Unfortunately, not all writers will make the cut. Some may have freelanced for your business or agency for years but suddenly became tardy or their quality slips.

The sooner you recognize a problem freelance writer, the easier it is to let them go.

For newbie freelancers, I typically give the standard three strikes. This is after I worked with them and trained them to match the voice of the client or clear up any confusion.

Longer-term freelancers each present their own unique set of challenges.


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Sometimes family or personal issues surface. I’ve learned to always have a backup writer in case of emergency.

However, the problem is that SMEs who can actually write are extremely difficult to find (remember the auto product description example above).

Here are two quick tips on letting go of a freelance writer regardless of the situation:

  • Pay what’s owed. Even if it’s $10, pay them for work they completed.
  • Explain why they’re being let go, in detail. A quick email with bullet points as to what went wrong will not only be beneficial to your sanity but also the writer’s ability to learn from their mistakes. That writer may turn things around and you may run into each other on a client account or even end up working together again. That email may have done more than you know.

Always try to keep the relationship in good standing.

Humans make mistakes, whether it be minor grammar issues or more serious ones like plagiarism.

The ultimate successful freelance writer for a company or agency will have two main qualities: subject matter expertise and writing skills.

When both are present, your business will flourish, and your profit margins will increase because you’re using freelance writers.

The first problem is finding successful types.

The second problem is training and retaining them.


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The third, which hopefully you’ll never have to experience, is terminating their contracts.

These tips were designed to ease these issues and save you much time that could be better spent growing your business.

More resources:

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Are Contextual Links A Google Ranking Factor?



Are Contextual Links A Google Ranking Factor?

Inbound links are a ranking signal that can vary greatly in terms of how they’re weighted by Google.

One of the key attributes that experts say can separate a high value link from a low value link is the context in which it appears.

When a link is placed within relevant content, it’s thought to have a greater impact on rankings than a link randomly inserted within unrelated text.

Is there any bearing to that claim?

Let’s dive deeper into what has been said about contextual links as a ranking factor to see whether there’s any evidence to support those claims.

The Claim: Contextual Links Are A Ranking Factor

A “contextual link” refers to an inbound link pointing to a URL that’s relevant to the content in which the link appears.

When an article links to a source to provide additional context for the reader, for example, that’s a contextual link.

Contextual links add value rather than being a distraction.

They should flow naturally with the content, giving the reader some clues about the page they’re being directed to.

Not to be confused with anchor text, which refers to the clickable part of a link, a contextual link is defined by the surrounding text.

A link’s anchor text could be related to the webpage it’s pointing to, but if it’s surrounded by content that’s otherwise irrelevant then it doesn’t qualify as a contextual link.

Contextual links are said to be a Google ranking factor, with claims that they’re weighted higher by the search engine than other types of links.

One of the reasons why Google might care about context when it comes to links is because of the experience it creates for users.

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When a user clicks a link and lands on a page related to what they were previously looking at, it’s a better experience than getting directed to a webpage they aren’t interested in.

Modern guides to link building all recommend getting links from relevant URLs, as opposed to going out and placing links anywhere that will take them.

There’s now a greater emphasis on quality over quantity when it comes to link building, and a link is considered higher quality when its placement makes sense in context.

One high quality contextual link can, in theory, be worth more than multiple lower quality links.

That’s why experts advise site owners to gain at least a few contextual links, as that will get them further than building dozens of random links.

If Google weights the quality of links higher or lower based on context, it would mean Google’s crawlers can understand webpages and assess how closely they relate to other URLs on the web.

Is there any evidence to support this?

The Evidence For Contextual Links As A Ranking Factor

Evidence in support of contextual links as a ranking factor can be traced back to 2012 with the launch of the Penguin algorithm update.

Google’s original algorithm, PageRank, was built entirely on links. The more links pointing to a website, the more authority it was considered to have.

Websites could catapult their site up to the top of Google’s search results by building as many links as possible. It didn’t matter if the links were contextual or arbitrary.

Google’s PageRank algorithm wasn’t as selective about which links it valued (or devalued) over others until it was augmented with the Penguin update.

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Penguin brought a number of changes to Google’s algorithm that made it more difficult to manipulate search rankings through spammy link building practices.

In Google’s announcement of the launch of Penguin, former search engineer Matt Cutts highlighted a specific example of the link spam it’s designed to target.

This example depicts the exact opposite of a contextual link, with Cutts saying:

“Here’s an example of a site with unusual linking patterns that is also affected by this change. Notice that if you try to read the text aloud you’ll discover that the outgoing links are completely unrelated to the actual content, and in fact, the page text has been “spun” beyond recognition.”

A contextual link, on the other hand, looks like the one a few paragraphs above linking to Google’s blog post.

Links with context share the following characteristics:

  • Placement fits in naturally with the content.
  • Linked URL is relevant to the article.
  • Reader knows where they’re going when they click on it.

All of the documentation Google has published about Penguin over the years is the strongest evidence available in support of contextual links as a ranking factor.

See: A Complete Guide to the Google Penguin Algorithm Update

Google will never outright say “contextual link building is a ranking factor,” however, because the company discourages any deliberate link building at all.

As Cutts adds at the end of his Penguin announcement, Google would prefer to see webpages acquire links organically:

“We want people doing white hat search engine optimization (or even no search engine optimization at all) to be free to focus on creating amazing, compelling web sites.”

Contextual Links Are A Ranking Factor: Our Verdict

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Contextual links are probably a Google ranking factor.

A link is weighted higher when it’s used in context than if it’s randomly placed within unrelated content.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean links without context will negatively impact a site’s rankings.

External links are largely outside a site owner’s control.

If a website links to you out of context it’s not a cause for concern, because Google is capable of ignoring low value links.

On the other hand, if Google detects a pattern of unnatural links, then that could count against a site’s rankings.

If you have actively engaged in non-contextual link building in the past, it may be wise to consider using the disavow tool.

Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal

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Is It A Google Ranking Factor?



Is It A Google Ranking Factor?

Latent semantic indexing (LSI) is an indexing and information retrieval method used to identify patterns in the relationships between terms and concepts.

With LSI, a mathematical technique is used to find semantically related terms within a collection of text (an index) where those relationships might otherwise be hidden (or latent).

And in that context, this sounds like it could be super important for SEO.


After all, Google is a massive index of information, and we’re hearing all kinds of things about semantic search and the importance of relevance in the search ranking algorithm.

If you’ve heard rumblings about latent semantic indexing in SEO or been advised to use LSI keywords, you aren’t alone.

But will LSI actually help improve your search rankings? Let’s take a look.

The Claim: Latent Semantic Indexing As A Ranking Factor

The claim is simple: Optimizing web content using LSI keywords helps Google better understand it and you’ll be rewarded with higher rankings.

Backlinko defines LSI keywords in this way:

“LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) Keywords are conceptually related terms that search engines use to deeply understand content on a webpage.”

By using contextually related terms, you can deepen Google’s understanding of your content. Or so the story goes.

That resource goes on to make some pretty compelling arguments for LSI keywords:

  • Google relies on LSI keywords to understand content at such a deep level.”
  • LSI Keywords are NOT synonyms. Instead, they’re terms that are closely tied to your target keyword.”
  • Google doesn’t ONLY bold terms that exactly match what you just searched for (in search results). They also bold words and phrases that are similar. Needless to say, these are LSI keywords that you want to sprinkle into your content.”

Does this practice of “sprinkling” terms closely related to your target keyword help improve your rankings via LSI?

The Evidence For LSI As A Ranking Factor

Relevance is identified as one of five key factors that help Google determine which result is the best answer for any given query.

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As Google explains is its How Search Works resource:

“To return relevant results for your query, we first need to establish what information you’re looking forーthe intent behind your query.”

Once intent has been established:

“…algorithms analyze the content of webpages to assess whether the page contains information that might be relevant to what you are looking for.”

Google goes on to explain that the “most basic signal” of relevance is that the keywords used in the search query appear on the page. That makes sense – if you aren’t using the keywords the searcher is looking for, how could Google tell you’re the best answer?

Now, this is where some believe LSI comes into play.

If using keywords is a signal of relevance, using just the right keywords must be a stronger signal.

There are purpose-build tools dedicated to helping you find these LSI keywords, and believers in this tactic recommend using all kinds of other keyword research tactics to identify them, as well.

The Evidence Against LSI As A Ranking Factor

Google’s John Mueller has been crystal clear on this one:

“…we have no concept of LSI keywords. So that’s something you can completely ignore.”

There’s a healthy skepticism in SEO that Google may say things to lead us astray in order to protect the integrity of the algorithm. So let’s dig in here.

First, it’s important to understand what LSI is and where it came from.

Latent semantic structure emerged as a methodology for retrieving textual objects from files stored in a computer system in the late 1980s. As such, it’s an example of one of the earlier information retrieval (IR) concepts available to programmers.

As computer storage capacity improved and electronically available sets of data grew in size, it became more difficult to locate exactly what one was looking for in that collection.

Researchers described the problem they were trying to solve in a patent application filed September 15, 1988:

“Most systems still require a user or provider of information to specify explicit relationships and links between data objects or text objects, thereby making the systems tedious to use or to apply to large, heterogeneous computer information files whose content may be unfamiliar to the user.”

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Keyword matching was being used in IR at the time, but its limitations were evident long before Google came along.

Too often, the words a person used to search for the information they sought were not exact matches for the words used in the indexed information.

There are two reasons for this:

  • Synonymy: the diverse range of words used to describe a single object or idea results in relevant results being missed.
  • Polysemy: the different meanings of a single word results in irrelevant results being retrieved.

These are still issues today, and you can imagine what a massive headache it is for Google.

However, the methodologies and technology Google uses to solve for relevance long ago moved on from LSI.

What LSI did was automatically create a “semantic space” for information retrieval.

As the patent explains, LSI treated this unreliability of association data as a statistical problem.

Without getting too into the weeds, these researchers essentially believed that there was a hidden underlying latent semantic structure they could tease out of word usage data.

Doing so would reveal the latent meaning and enable the system to bring back more relevant results – and only the most relevant results – even if there’s no exact keyword match.

Here’s what that LSI process actually looks like:

Image created by author, January 2022

And here’s the most important thing you should note about the above illustration of this methodology from the patent application: there are two separate processes happening.

First, the collection or index undergoes Latent Semantic Analysis.

Second, the query is analyzed and the already-processed index is then searched for similarities.

And that’s where the fundamental problem with LSI as a Google search ranking signal lies.

Google’s index is massive at hundreds of billions of pages, and it’s growing constantly.

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Each time a user inputs a query, Google is sorting through its index in a fraction of a second to find the best answer.

Using the above methodology in the algorithm would require that Google:

  1. Recreate that semantic space using LSA across its entire index.
  2. Analyze the semantic meaning of the query.
  3. Find all similarities between the semantic meaning of the query and documents in the semantic space created from analyzing the entire index.
  4. Sort and rank those results.

That’s a gross oversimplification, but the point is that this isn’t a scalable process.

This would be super useful for small collections of information. It was helpful for surfacing relevant reports inside a company’s computerized archive of technical documentation, for example.

The patent application illustrates how LSI works using a collection of nine documents. That’s what it was designed to do. LSI is primitive in terms of computerized information retrieval.

Latent Semantic Indexing As A Ranking Factor: Our Verdict

Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI): Is It A Google Ranking Factor?

While the underlying principles of eliminating noise by determining semantic relevance have surely informed developments in search ranking since LSA/LSI was patented, LSI itself has no useful application in SEO today.

It hasn’t been ruled out completely, but there is no evidence that Google has ever used LSI to rank results. And Google definitely isn’t using LSI or LSI keywords today to rank search results.

Those who recommend using LSI keywords are latching on to a concept they don’t quite understand in an effort to explain why the ways in which words are related (or not) is important in SEO.

Relevance and intent are foundational considerations in Google’s search ranking algorithm.

Those are two of the big questions they’re trying to solve for in surfacing the best answer for any query.

Synonymy and polysemy are still major challenges.

Semantics – that is, our understanding of the various meanings of words and how they’re related – is essential in producing more relevant search results.

But LSI has nothing to do with that.

Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal

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What Is a Google Broad Core Algorithm Update?



What Is A Google Broad Core Algorithm Update?

When Google announces a broad core algorithm update, many SEO professionals find themselves asking what exactly changed (besides their rankings).

Google’s acknowledgment of core updates is always vague and doesn’t provide much detail other than to say the update occurred.

The SEO community is typically notified about core updates via the same standard tweets from Google’s Search Liaison.

There’s one announcement from Google when the update begins rolling out, and one on its conclusion, with few additional details in between (if any).

This invariably leaves SEO professionals and site owners asking many questions with respect to how their rankings were impacted by the core update.

To gain insight into what may have caused a site’s rankings to go up, down, or stay the same, it helps to understand what a broad core update is and how it differs from other types of algorithm updates.

After reading this article you’ll have a better idea of what a core update is designed to do, and how to recover from one if your rankings were impacted.

So, What Exactly Is A Core Update?

First, let me get the obligatory “Google makes hundreds of algorithm changes per year, often more than one per day” boilerplate out of the way.

Many of the named updates we hear about (Penguin, Panda, Pigeon, Fred, etc.) are implemented to address specific faults or issues in Google’s algorithms.

In the case of Penguin, it was link spam; in the case of Pigeon, it was local SEO spam.

They all had a specific purpose.

In these cases, Google (sometimes reluctantly) informed us what they were trying to accomplish or prevent with the algorithm update, and we were able to go back and remedy our sites.

A core update is different.

The way I understand it, a core update is a tweak or change to the main search algorithm itself.

You know, the one that has between 200 and 500 ranking factors and signals (depending on which SEO blog you’re reading today).

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What a core update means to me is that Google slightly tweaked the importance, order, weights, or values of these signals.

Because of that, they can’t come right out and tell us what changed without revealing the secret sauce.

The simplest way to visualize this would be to imagine 200 factors listed in order of importance.

Now imagine Google changing the order of 42 of those 200 factors.

Rankings would change, but it would be a combination of many things, not due to one specific factor or cause.

Obviously, it isn’t that simple, but that’s a good way to think about a core update.

Here’s a purely made up, slightly more complicated example of what Google wouldn’t tell us:

“In this core update, we increased the value of keywords in H1 tags by 2%, increased the value of HTTPS by 18%, decreased the value of keyword in title tag by 9%, changed the D value in our PageRank calculation from .85 to .70, and started using a TF-iDUF retrieval method for logged in users instead of the traditional TF-PDF method.”

(I swear these are real things. I just have no idea if they’re real things used by Google.)

For starters, many SEO pros wouldn’t understand it.

Basically, it means Google may have changed the way they calculate term importance on a page, or the weighing of links in PageRank, or both, or a whole bunch of other factors that they can’t talk about (without giving away the algorithm).

Put simply: Google changed the weight and importance of many ranking factors.

That’s the simple explanation.

At its most complex form, Google ran a new training set through their machine learning ranking model and quality raters picked this new set of results as more relevant than the previous set, and the engineers have no idea what weights changed or how they changed because that’s just how machine learning works.

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(We all know Google uses quality raters to rate search results. These ratings are how they choose one algorithm change over another – not how they rate your site. Whether they feed this into machine learning is anybody’s guess. But it’s one possibility.)

It’s likely some random combination of weighting delivered more relevant results for the quality raters, so they tested it more, the test results confirmed it, and they pushed it live.

How Can You Recover From A Core Update?

Unlike a major named update that targeted specific things, a core update may tweak the values of everything.

Because websites are weighted against other websites relevant to your query (engineers call this a corpus) the reason your site dropped could be entirely different than the reason somebody else’s increased or decreased in rankings.

To put it simply, Google isn’t telling you how to “recover” because it’s likely a different answer for every website and query.

It all depends on what everybody else trying to rank for your query is doing.

Does every one of them but you have their keyword in the H1 tag? If so then that could be a contributing factor.

Do you all do that already? Then that probably carries less weight for that corpus of results.

It’s very likely that this algorithm update didn’t “penalize” you for something at all. It most likely just rewarded another site more for something else.

Maybe you were killing it with internal anchor text and they were doing a great job of formatting content to match user intent – and Google shifted the weights so that content formatting was slightly higher and internal anchor text was slightly lower.

(Again, hypothetical examples here.)

In reality, it was probably several minor tweaks that, when combined, tipped the scales slightly in favor of one site or another (think of our reordered list here).

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Finding that “something else” that is helping your competitors isn’t easy – but it’s what keeps SEO professionals in the business.

Next Steps And Action Items

Rankings are down after a core update – now what?

Your next step is to gather intel on the pages that are ranking where your site used to be.

Conduct a SERP analysis to find positive correlations between pages that are ranking higher for queries where your site is now lower.

Try not to overanalyze the technical details, such as how fast each page loads or what their core web vitals scores are.

Pay attention to the content itself. As you go through it, ask yourself questions like:

  • Does it provide a better answer to the query than your article?
  • Does the content contain more recent data and current stats than yours?
  • Are there pictures and videos that help bring the content to life for the reader?

Google aims to serve content that provides the best and most complete answers to searchers’ queries. Relevance is the one ranking factor that will always win out over all others.

Take an honest look at your content to see if it’s as relevant today as it was prior to the core algorithm update.

From there you’ll have an idea of what needs improvement.

The best advice for conquering core updates?

Keep focusing on:

  • User intent.
  • Quality content.
  • Clean architecture.
  • Google’s guidelines.

Finally, don’t stop improving your site once you reach Position 1, because the site in Position 2 isn’t going to stop.

Yeah, I know, it’s not the answer anybody wants and it sounds like Google propaganda. I swear it’s not.

It’s just the reality of what a core update is.

Nobody said SEO was easy.

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Featured Image: Ulvur/Shutterstock

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