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The SEO Writers’ Guide to Google Algorithm Updates

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The SEO Writers' Guide to Google Algorithm Updates


You hear a lot about Google algorithm updates. But what are they — and how much do writers need to track Google’s every move?

For those new to SEO writing — or folks who need a refresher — here’s a quick “101-level” Google algorithm guide.

Here we go!

What is a Google algorithm update?

Google updates improve the search engine’s relevance, quality, and user experience. The goal is to provide the best possible result for a query.

Think of them like software updates designed to make the experience a little better every time. Sure, the updates may annoy us and happen at the most inconvenient times, but their purpose is to improve things.

So, that means there’s just one algorithm that Google continually updates?

Well, no. There are a “whole series” of algorithms.

According to Google, “Search algorithms look at many factors, including the words of your query, relevance and usability of pages, expertise of sources, and your location and settings. The weight applied to each factor varies depending on the nature of your query — for example, the freshness of the content plays a bigger role in answering queries about current news topics than it does about dictionary definitions.”

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Here’s more information from Google about how the search algorithms work.

I hear about core updates. What are those?

Think of core updates as BIG changes to the overall algorithm that Google believes make the search results even more relevant. Depending on the update, a page’s position may increase, drop, or stay the same. You mostly hear people complaining about position drops.

Here’s more information about Google core updates.

How long has Google been updating its algorithm?

According to Moz, the Google Toolbar update — which added the dreaded PageRank metric — was back in 2000. Since then, experts estimate that Google updates its algorithm 500-600 times a year — although many updates aren’t noticeable.

You said “many” updates aren’t noticeable. Are there more significant updates?

Oh yes. Here’s Moz’s listing of all the significant updates.

If my position drops, does that mean I was spamming Google’s new algorithm?

Nope. It means that Google is trying to “improve the search experience” and has changed how certain factors are weighted. That means some pages will gain new positions — and some page positions will drop. You’ve done nothing wrong. This “dance” is a normal part of the Google game.

So, this sounds like technical stuff. Why should I care about what Google is doing?

Many of the algorithmic changes don’t change how we write and strategize content.

For instance, you’ll notice I never discussed the “Featured Snippet De-Duping” update of February 2020. Why? Because it didn’t change how we approach the SEO writing game.

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But other updates are a big deal — and not keeping up can mean missing significant SEO writing opportunities — or, even worse, trying a tactic that no longer works.

For example:

  • The Panda update in 2011 (wow, ten years ago!) was the first to target low-quality content. I knew people who moved back home to live with their parents because the update wiped out most of their site traffic (and income.)
  • The “Medic” core update hit YMYL (your money or your life) sites hard, fundamentally changing how some health and wellness sites created content.
  • Press releases used to be a great way to gain incoming links…until the Penguin update.
  • More recently, the Product Review update put writers on notice that “thin” product review content would no longer fly.

Learning about Google updates is freaking me out, and this feels like a bad thing for writers.

Algorithm switcheroos are a good thing.

Think about it: If Google didn’t refine its algorithm and what it considered quality content, we’d all be writing keyphrase-stuffed content like the bad old days. Much of the top-positioned content was BAD before Google changed things.

At the same time, it does mean that SEO writers need to keep up with what’s working now — versus what worked five years ago.

Plus, many companies are operating from outdated SEO writing style guides, virtually guaranteeing their writing sounds stilted and weird.

Does “keeping up with algorithm changes” mean that I need technical skills?

No. You don’t have to dive into the geeky side. But, it’s wise to have a reliable place to learn what the major updates are, what they mean, and how they affect your day-to-day. That way, you can leverage the latest opportunities — and not suggest an outdated SEO tactic because you didn’t know any better. (Yes, this happens a lot.)

How can I keep up?

Well, my newsletter. 🙂 And the SEO Copywriting Certification Training for professional in-house and freelance writers. Plus, any source I frequently mention — like Search Engine Roundtable and Search Engine Land.

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So, algorithm changes may mean SEO writing opportunities too?

Oh yes. Almost every significant change means that there’s some SEO writing opportunity. The key is knowing how to leverage it. If you’re new to SEO writing, check out this 27-point SEO copywriting checklist.

What do you think?

Did this newsletter help shed some light on the dreaded algorithm updates? Leave a comment and let me know!



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SEO

A Guide To Organizational Nirvana

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A Guide To Organizational Nirvana

SEO project management is a strategic framework for promoting your website’s visibility, increasing brand exposure, and gaining credible leads through search engines.

It relies on a comprehensive integration of SEO into an array of business workflows that ensure search optimization best practices are reflected throughout each stage of digital content creation and other processes relevant to managing your digital presence.

Why SEO Project Management Matters

Effective integration of SEO into marketing, website, and development, or an agency team, can be highly challenging.

Even in this day and age, many employees haven’t had experience working with SEO pros.

They may not understand the value that SEO can offer their existing workflows or believe these workflows function sufficiently well without it.

So, it’s critical to explain the key benefits of SEO in ways that demonstrate how they can be applied to various team needs across different departments and actively improve each.

What Should Be Included In SEO Project Management

The following initiatives are just some of many that SEO professionals can use to advocate for process integration as part of your SEO project management efforts.

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Topic Ideation

Use keyword research to uncover topics and themes for content that will allow you to rank for keywords and terms that are important to your business.

This research can uncover white spaces for new content or opportunities to update existing content.

Content Calendar/Seasonality Recommendations

Analyze keyword popularity and usage seasonality to decide when to publish or update content.

Brief Support

Provide recommendations for keywords that should be used throughout the piece, including the title tag, on-page title, meta description, headers, body content, social copy, and alt text.

Traffic Projections

If keyword research and recommendations included in content are based on monthly search volume (MSV) and estimated eventual rank, then estimated organic traffic/users can be calculated.

While these estimates can’t be directly applied to other channels, keywords are still an indicator of intent.

So, by including keywords with decent MSV, you know there’s interest in the subject matter.

And by writing content you know your audience is looking for, you might also encourage additional traffic from content shares and clicks from email links.

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Copy Review

Reviewing copy within the context of keyword research supports existing SEO efforts to make sure the correct keywords are included.

That way, they are used to match the audience’s search intent, where the right range and volume of topics adequately support the subject matter.

So there isn’t too much business jargon or too many company-centric terms that audiences may not be familiar with.

Overly niche or branded language likely won’t mean much to most searchers when they see it on the search engine results page (SERP).

Content Publication

Ensure findability through the correct setup of the new website URL.

Without proper SEO implementation, you’ll risk Google (and other search engines) potentially being unable to find your content, rank it well, or absorb all the content you’ve written.

If you want your content to be findable in search engines:

  • It has to be marked as indexed.
  • It should have title tags and meta descriptions – these are the best way to help convince searchers to click through.
  • It should include alt text on images relevant to your content so Google can understand the image’s context and for accessibility purposes.
  • It should link to internal and/or external content correctly and usefully.

This should help the content reach its full potential of driving organic traffic and avoid mistakes that reduce findability.

Reporting

Proof of the value of SEO, or any effort, comes down to the numbers.

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You’ll need to demonstrate how the keywords you are actively going after raise your ranking and how the prominence of your content grows on Page 1 of SERPs.

To accomplish this – and to report on how your optimizations and the new content you create – increase each of the following:

  • Website visibility in search engines.
  • Clickthrough rates (CTRs) from search engines.
  • Organic traffic from search.
  • Conversions from search traffic.

Collectively, these can help prove the significance of SEO work and the value of incorporating it into project management plans.

Content Optimization

Ongoing SEO reporting should focus not only on the impact of new content, but also the role of existing content.

Instead of wasting time, effort, and money creating net new content, SEO can provide insights into the opportunities to help existing content reach its full potential.

It can offer guidance for the most up-to-date language, topics, and themes to incorporate, and which reflect what is most relevant to audiences.

Updated and more accurate content will help improve website jurisdiction on the subject matter and support any existing SEO authority.

And when Google recrawls a recently updated site, it gives the content a new life and can make it more likely to show up higher in SERPs.

Why Get Buy-In First Before Implementing SEO PM Processes

Before setting up new processes or jumping into making structural changes, it’s important to get buy-in from all of the associated team members and leadership.

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Set up meetings with interested parties, including creative, product, demand gen, PR, events, marketing execs, and company thought leaders, to understand the benefits of implementation.

Reframe each conversation based on the goals, key performance indicators (KPIs), and expected outcomes.

But consistently share the main point: SEO should never be an afterthought.

SEO starts in the brief creation and research phase.

It should be prioritized throughout, serve as quality control before and after publication, and be reported on to prove results.

Demonstrate the value of the SEO workflows and objectives listed above to highlight why incorporating SEO should not be considered optional, but a necessary part of content and webpage creation.

Dedicating time to connect with team members will help prevent pushback – or at least reduce negative feedback – because they will understand the upsides.

How To Create Effective Cross-Team SEO Project Management Processes

When it’s time to begin integrating your SEO efforts into larger team processes, follow this holistic set of actions:

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  • Establish.
  • Collaborate.
  • Finalize.
  • Share.
  • Implement.
  • Test.
  • Track.

Establish The Role Of SEO In Your Company And/Or Department

Establishing the overall role of SEO will be most helpful for deciding where to start your efforts.

It will also help inform which of the above SEO project management integrations are most valuable to your current team, organization, and needs.

Begin by establishing a thorough understanding of these two sets of processes:

  • Existing content processes.
  • Existing web/development processes.

Establish the players involved across content creation for existing content processes, including copy, design, strategy, planning, social, etc.

You should also consider communication platforms, order of operations, timelines and deadlines, primary KPIs, any existing SEO efforts, and anything else included between the initial stage of a piece of content’s inception, to its eventual publication and tracking.

For existing web/development processes, understand the technical steps required for a piece of content to go live.

Who is responsible for creating a new page?

Is the content management system (CMS) self-service and user-friendly to someone outside the dev team, or is more extensive programming knowledge required?

Who, if anyone, is responsible for ensuring SEO best practices are followed? Is there anything built into the CMS that makes incorporating SEO components easier?

Are there any structural implications for the site when creating new content? Are there any other technical SEO considerations?

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It may take a while to answer all these questions and figure out what else you need to know. But these are good starting points for understanding where SEO needs to be integrated.

Determine A New Set Of Collaborative Processes For Content Creation And Optimization

Once you’ve obtained a fairly comprehensive understanding of your team’s processes, it’s time to inject SEO into the spaces where it should live – or decide how to alter SEO’s current role to provide the greatest benefit.

Here’s an example of an SEO-driven content creation process:

  • Team member ideates content topic.
  • The team lead approves topic.
  • SEO expert creates content brief.
  • Content Lead reviews content brief and provides feedback.
  • SEO and Content Lead align on the final brief.
  • Content Lead sends brief to the writer.
  • Writer submits first draft of content and submits for review to Content Lead.
  • Content Lead reviews first draft and provides edits as suggestions to Writer.
  • Writer finalizes draft and submits for final review to Content Lead + Manager/Team Lead.
  • Writer ideates & then submits all blog design needs. (For example, hero/header image, product image, charts, graphs, images for social posts, etc.)
  • Designer creates graphic elements.
  • Writer sets up content CMS/website platform.
  • SEO reviews setup in CMS/website platform and provides feedback.
  • Writer makes any other edits from SEO.
  • Writer publishes the article.
  • Writer QAs published content to ensure correct implementation.
  • Writer creates copy for social media channels.
  • Writer updates content records to include new content.
  • Writer and SEO track content performance.

While multiple processes could be created to account for various content owners and creators, this example shows one of the more extensive ways that SEO can be involved with content.

Finalize New Processes By Getting Leadership Approval

While you’ve hopefully already received buy-in from leadership and other team members and departments, request additional approval once your proposal is complete.

Sharing the start-to-finish process of SEO and content integration will show just how many ways SEO can contribute to the content process, all of which should help increase findability and traffic.

Comprehension of the full picture should help increase appreciation of SEO efforts to optimize the entire workflow, thus further advocating for SEO and building on your buy-in.

Share The New Processes With Team Members

Open communication is critical any time processes change.

Make sure no one feels blindsided or disconnected from the efforts they’re involved with.

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Additionally, ensuring your whole team has visibility into your plans can help improve awareness, adoption, and accountability.

Communicate Plans By Leveraging The Right Technology

One of the most successful ways to do this is by leveraging the right technology to communicate and track updates.

And the best way to publicize these processes is to include them in a project management or project tracking software system.

Whether or not you currently use software for team and project management, devote time to identifying the best PM technology for your team’s needs.

The optimal software should include at least these five capabilities:

  • Calendar view.
  • Tasks for multiple owners.
  • Document editing and management.
  • Commenting, tagging, and communicating within the platform.
  • Integrations with core tools.

Implementing The Right Project Management Software

Programs like Asana allow you to build out project templates that include each task, and accompanying subtasks, of your plans with project descriptions, expectations, and links to relevant documents.

Each can be assigned to an individual with due dates or a range of start and end dates.

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These platforms can send emails, Slack updates, and other notifications about you and your team members’ tasks to help keep each of you informed about your assigned workloads.

As long as the tasks are set up properly, you can be assured that each team member clearly understands the new expectations, timing, and dependencies between SEO and other departments.

And all will have clear visibility into deadlines, so you don’t have to remind them.

Setting Up And Sharing The New Processes In The PM Software Before Launch

Be very clear and direct when it comes to implementing new project workflows before kicking them off.

Communicate with the content team and relevant product team members about:

  • What the new processes entail.
  • How each is set up in the PM software.
  • How much time each team member has to complete each project phase.
  • What parts of the project are contingent on other parts – especially what is needed for SEO to kick off their research.
  • Which project will be the first to implement the new processes.

Take in any feedback, and update the process as needed.

Implement New Project Workflows

Now the work begins.

Follow the flow you’ve created to build out content from scratch or refresh it.

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Test

With all your comprehensive planning (and some luck), your new SEO integration efforts will go off without a hitch.

But just in case, carefully test and follow the progress and completion of the first few iterations.

Confirm if everything is going according to plan, whether there are any flaws or gaps, if the assigned SEO has the resources they need, and if there is any team feedback.

Be mindful of expected deadlines, whether more lead time is needed, and if, given everything else you and your team members are expected to accomplish, your whole team can deliver the best SEO-driven output throughout each stage of the process.

If not, don’t hesitate to make changes to your plans.

It’s better to delay full implementation than to proceed in a way that doesn’t allow you to substantiate the full impact of your efforts.

Track Performance Of Content That’s Been Created With Your New Processes

Lastly, tracking your efforts is critical for maintaining buy-in on any SEO project management strategy or process.

Measure Performance

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Measure your performance against historical benchmarks of similar content – focusing primarily on organic traffic and activity from organic search.

Decide which organic KPIs are more important to you; for example, traffic to your blog, form conversions, time on page, or newsletter subscriptions.

Then, identify and establish projections for each.

Your projections should be based on things like historical performance, ranking expectations, MSV for targeted queries for new content, and promotional plans that drive traffic.

Increased traffic across non-organic channels can be an additional way to measure the success of SEO efforts since keywords represent search intent, so you know audiences are looking for the content you create.

If they see it in email, social, or ads and click at a higher rate, you can infer that the search intent applies to other channels.

Set Up Reporting

Start your reporting by first identifying your data sources.

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For website analytics and site traffic, you may be using Google Analytics or Adobe.

For form conversions or newsletter subscriptions, you’ll be using a MAP.

Connect with the owners of these tools, like an expert on your marketing automation team, to determine what can be automated and how you can begin to build reports to track KPIs.

Even without automated resources, there are plenty of free tools and APIs to help.

For those with more resources, this is where investing in an SEO platform can really help aggregate all of your data in one place to analyze and extract key insights.

Uncover Insights

Once you have your reporting in place, review your content’s performance regularly.

Start off with more frequent and granular readouts to become familiar with the nuances of the data, so you can begin to identify small trends.

Before you present to leadership, step back and show a holistic overview of the impact of your efforts.

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Make sure you consider how long it’s taken Google to start ranking a new piece of content and when it begins to drive organic traffic.

Report on whether the content created through your new SEO project management system speeds it up.

The same applies to the amount of time it takes for conversions to start – and hopefully spike – after certain efforts.

Then analyze the types of content and topics that perform best.

Feed Learning Back Into Content Optimizations

Use all of this reporting to your advantage, and translate your findings into optimizations for your process and your pages.

Conclusion

While most content roles and skills have found ways to integrate themselves into the content research, creation, and optimization processes, SEO often struggles to emerge as a consistent, let alone required, part of team project management.

However, by approaching SEO project management with specific tasks in mind and a process that incorporates them, you’ll have the best chance for success – especially when the process can be carefully woven into the existing efforts of your team.

It can take time, but it will ultimately show strategic initiative thinking that demonstrates holistic knowledge of an effectively optimized process, resulting in measurable performance improvement towards reaching your goals.

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More resources:


Featured Image: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

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