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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.”

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.

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.

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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Google On Traffic Diversity As A Ranking Factor

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Google answers the question of whether traffic diversity is a ranking factor for SEO

Google’s SearchLiaison tweeted encouragement to diversify traffic sources, being clear about the reason he was recommending it. Days later, someone followed up to ask if traffic diversity is a ranking factor, prompting SearchLiaison to reiterate that it is not.

What Was Said

The question of whether diversity of traffic was a ranking factor was elicited from a previous tweet in a discussion about whether a site owner should be focusing on off-site promotion.

Here’s the question from the original discussion that was tweeted:

“Can you please tell me if I’m doing right by focusing on my site and content – writing new articles to be found through search – or if I should be focusing on some off-site effort related to building a readership? It’s frustrating to see traffic go down the more effort I put in.”

SearchLiaison split the question into component parts and answered each one. When it came to the part about off-site promotion, SearchLiaison (who is Danny Sullivan), shared from his decades of experience as a journalist and publisher covering technology and search marketing.

I’m going to break down his answer so that it’s clearer what he meant

This is the part from the tweet that talks about off-site activities:

“As to the off-site effort question, I think from what I know from before I worked at Google Search, as well as my time being part of the search ranking team, is that one of the ways to be successful with Google Search is to think beyond it.”

What he is saying here is simple, don’t limit your thinking about what to do with your site to thinking about how to make it appeal to Google.

He next explains that sites that rank tend to be sites that are created to appeal to people.

SearchLiaison continued:

“Great sites with content that people like receive traffic in many ways. People go to them directly. They come via email referrals. They arrive via links from other sites. They get social media mentions.”

What he’s saying there is that you’ll know that you’re appealing to people if people are discussing your site in social media, if people are referring the site in social media and if other sites are citing it with links.

Other ways to know that a site is doing well is when when people engage in the comments section, send emails asking follow up questions, and send emails of thanks and share anecdotes of their success or satisfaction with a product or advice.

Consider this, fast fashion site Shein at one point didn’t rank for their chosen keyword phrases, I know because I checked out of curiosity. But they were at the time virally popular and making huge amounts of sales by gamifying site interaction and engagement, propelling them to become a global brand. A similar strategy propelled Zappos when they pioneered no-questions asked returns and cheerful customer service.

SearchLiaison continued:

“It just means you’re likely building a normal site in the sense that it’s not just intended for Google but instead for people. And that’s what our ranking systems are trying to reward, good content made for people.”

SearchLiaison explicitly said that building sites with diversified content is not a ranking factor.

He added this caveat to his tweet:

“This doesn’t mean you should get a bunch of social mentions, or a bunch of email mentions because these will somehow magically rank you better in Google (they don’t, from how I know things).”

Despite The Caveat…

A journalist tweeted this:

“Earlier this week, @searchliaison told people to diversify their traffic. Naturally, people started questioning whether that meant diversity of traffic was a ranking factor.

So, I asked @iPullRank what he thought.”

SearchLiaison of course answered that he explicitly said it’s not a ranking factor and linked to his original tweet that I quoted above.

He tweeted:

“I mean that’s not exactly what I myself said, but rather repeat all that I’ll just add the link to what I did say:”

The journalist responded:

“I would say this is calling for publishers to diversify their traffic since you’re saying the great sites do it. It’s the right advice to give.”

And SearchLiaison answered:

“It’s the part of “does it matter for rankings” that I was making clear wasn’t what I myself said. Yes, I think that’s a generally good thing, but it’s not the only thing or the magic thing.”

Not Everything Is About Ranking Factors

There is a longstanding practice by some SEOs to parse everything that Google publishes for clues to how Google’s algorithm works. This happened with the Search Quality Raters guidelines. Google is unintentionally complicit because it’s their policy to (in general) not confirm whether or not something is a ranking factor.

This habit of searching for “ranking factors” leads to misinformation. It takes more acuity to read research papers and patents to gain a general understanding of how information retrieval works but it’s more work to try to understand something than skimming a PDF for ranking papers.

The worst approach to understanding search is to invent hypotheses about how Google works and then pore through a document to confirm those guesses (and falling into the confirmation bias trap).

In the end, it may be more helpful to back off of exclusively optimizing for Google and focus at least equally as much in optimizing for people (which includes optimizing for traffic). I know it works because I’ve been doing it for years.

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Asier Romero

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The Complete Guide to Google My Business for Local SEO

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The Complete Guide to Google My Business

What is Google My Business?

Google My Business (GMB) is a free tool that business owners can use to manage their online presence across Google Search and Google Maps.

This profile also puts out important business details, such as address, phone number, and operating hours, making it easily accessible to potential customers. 

Google My Business profile shown on Google MapsGoogle My Business profile shown on Google Maps

When you click on a business listing in the search results it will open a detailed sidebar on the right side of the screen, providing comprehensive information about the business. 

This includes popular times, which show when the business is busiest, a Q&A section where potential users can ask questions and receive responses from the business or other customers, and a photos and videos section that showcases products and services. Customer reviews and ratings are also displayed, which are crucial for building trust and credibility.

Business details on Google My Business profileBusiness details on Google My Business profile

Using Google My Business for Local SEO

Having an optimized Google Business Profile ensures that your business is visible, searchable, and can attract potential customers who are looking for your products and services.

  • Increased reliance on online discovery: More consumers are going online to search and find local businesses, making it crucial to have a GMB listing.
  • Be where your customers are searching: GMB ensures your business information is accurate and visible on Google Search and Maps, helping you stay competitive.
  • Connect with customers digitally: GMB allows customers to connect with your business through various channels, including messaging and reviews.
  • Build your online reputation: GMB makes it easy for customers to leave reviews, which can improve your credibility and trustworthiness.
  • Location targeting: GMB enables location-based targeting, showing your ads to people searching for businesses in your exact location.
  • Measurable results: GMB provides actionable analytics, allowing you to track your performance and optimize your listing.

How to Set Up Google My Business

If you already have a profile and need help claiming, verifying, and/or optimizing it, skip to the next sections.

If you’re creating a new Google My Business profile, here’s a step-by-step guide:

Access or Create your Google AccountAccess or Create your Google Account

Step 1: Access or Create your Google Account:

If you don’t already have a Google account, follow these steps to create one:

  • Visit the Google Account Sign-up Page: Go to the Google Account sign-up page and click on “Create an account.”
  • Enter Your Information: Fill in the required fields, including your name, email address, and password.
  • Verify Your Account: Google will send a verification email to your email address. Click on the link in the email to confirm your account.

Step 2:  Access Google My Business

Business name on Google My BusinessBusiness name on Google My Business

Step 3: Enter Your Business Name and Category

  • Type in your exact business name. Google will suggest existing businesses as you type
  • If your business is not listed, fully type out the name as it appears
  • Search for and select your primary business category

Adding business address to Google My Business profileAdding business address to Google My Business profile

Step 4: Provide Your Business Address

  • If you have a physical location where customers can visit, select “Yes” and enter your address.
  • If you are a service area business without a physical location, select “No” and enter your service area.

Adding contact information to Google My Business profileAdding contact information to Google My Business profile

Step 5: Add Your Contact Information

  • Enter your business phone number and website URL
  • You can also create a free website based on your GMB information

Complete Your ProfileComplete Your Profile

Step 6: Complete Your Profile

To complete your profile, add the following details:

  • Hours of Operation: Enter your business’s operating hours to help customers plan their visits.
  • Services: List the services your business offers to help customers understand what you do.
  • Description: Write a detailed description of your business to help customers understand your offerings.

Now that you know how to set up your Google My Business account, all that’s left is to verify it. 

Verification is essential for you to manage and update business information whenever you need to, and for Google to show your business profile to the right users and for the right search queries. 

If you are someone who wants to claim their business or is currently on the last step of setting up their GMB, this guide will walk you through the verification process to solidify your business’ online credibility and visibility.

How to Verify Google My Business

There are several ways you can verify your business, including:

  • Postcard Verification: Google will send a postcard to your business address with a verification code. Enter the code on your GMB dashboard to verify.
  • Phone Verification: Google will call your business phone number and provide a verification code. Enter the code on your GMB dashboard to verify.
  • Email Verification: If you have a business email address, you can use it to verify your listing.
  • Instant Verification: If you have a Google Analytics account linked to your business, you can use instant verification.

How to Claim & Verify an Existing Google My Business Profile

If your business has an existing Google My Business profile, and you want to claim it, then follow these steps:

Sign in to Google AccountSign in to Google Account

Step 1: Sign in to Google My Business

Access Google My Business: Go to the Google My Business website and sign in with your Google account. If you don’t have a Google account, create one by following the sign-up process.

Search for Your BusinessSearch for Your Business

Step 2: Search for Your Business

Enter your business name in the search bar to find your listing. If your business is already listed, you will see it in the search results.

Request access to existing Google My Business accountRequest access to existing Google My Business account

Step 3: Claim Your Listing

If your business is not already claimed, you will see a “Claim this business” button. Click on this button to start the claiming process.

Editing business information on Google My BusinessEditing business information on Google My Business

Step 4: Complete Your Profile

Once your listing is verified, you can complete your profile by adding essential business information such as:

  • Business Name: Ensure it matches your business name.
  • Address: Enter your business address accurately.
  • Phone Number: Enter your business phone number.
  • Hours of Operation: Specify your business hours.
  • Categories: Choose relevant categories that describe your business.
  • Description: Write a brief description of your business.

Step 5: Manage Your Listing

Regularly check and update your listing to ensure it remains accurate and up-to-date. Respond to customer reviews and use the insights provided by Google Analytics to improve your business.

Unverified Google My Business profileUnverified Google My Business profile

Step 6: Verification 

Verify your business through postcard, email, or phone numbers as stated above. 

Now that you have successfully set up and verified your Google My Business listing, it’s time to optimize it for maximum visibility and effectiveness. By doing this, you can improve your local search rankings, increase customer engagement, and drive more conversions.

How to Optimize Google My Business

Here are the tips that I usually do when I’m optimizing my GMB account: 

    1. Complete Your Profile: Start by ensuring every section applicable to your business is filled out with accurate and up-to-date information. Use your real business name without keyword stuffing to avoid suspension. Ensure your address and phone number are consistent with those on your website and other online directories, and add a link to your website and social media accounts.
    2. Optimize for Keywords: Integrate relevant keywords into your business description, services, and posts. However, avoid stuffing your GMB profile with keywords, as this can appear spammy and reduce readability.
    3. Add Backlinks: Encourage local websites, blogs, and business directories to link to your GMB profile. 
  1. Select Appropriate Categories: Choose the most relevant primary category for your business to help Google understand what your business is about. Additionally, add secondary categories that accurately describe your business’s offerings to capture more relevant search traffic.
  2. Encourage and Manage Reviews: Ask satisfied customers to leave positive reviews on your profile, as reviews significantly influence potential customers. Respond to all reviews, both positive and negative, in a professional and timely manner. Addressing negative feedback shows that you value customer opinions and are willing to improve.
  3. Add High-Quality Photos and Videos: Use high-quality images for your profile and cover photos that represent your business well. Upload additional photos of your products, services, team, and premises. Adding short, engaging videos can give potential customers a virtual tour or highlight key services, enhancing their interest.

By following this comprehensive guide, you have successfully set up, verified, and optimized your GMB profile. Remember to continuously maintain and update your profile to ensure maximum impact and success.

Key Takeaway: 

With more and more people turning to Google for all their needs, creating, verifying, and optimizing your Google My Business profile is a must if you want your business to be found. 

Follow this guide to Google My Business, and you’re going to see increased online presence across Google Search and Google Maps in no time.

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LinkedIn Rolls Out New Newsletter Tools

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LinkedIn Rolls Out New Newsletter Tools

LinkedIn is launching several new features for people who publish newsletters on its platform.

The professional networking site wants to make it easier for creators to grow their newsletter audiences and engage readers.

More People Publishing Newsletters On LinkedIn

The company says the number of LinkedIn members publishing newsletter articles has increased by 59% over the past year.

Engagement on these creator-hosted newsletters is also up 47%.

With this growing interest, LinkedIn is updating its newsletter tools.

A New Way To View & Comment

One of the main changes is an updated reading experience that displays comments alongside the newsletter articles.

This allows readers to view and participate in discussions more easily while consuming the content.

See an example of the new interface below.

Screenshot from: linkedin.com, June 2024.

Design Your Own Cover Images

You can now use Microsoft’s AI-powered Designer tool to create custom cover images for their newsletters.

The integration provides templates, size options, and suggestions to help design visually appealing covers.

More Subscriber Notifications

LinkedIn is improving the notifications sent to newsletter subscribers to drive more readership.

When a new issue is published, subscribers will receive email alerts and in-app messages. LinkedIn will also prompt your followers to subscribe.

Mention Other Profiles In Articles

You can now embed links to other LinkedIn profiles and pages directly into their newsletter articles.

This lets readers click through and learn more about the individuals or companies mentioned.

In the example below, you can see it’s as easy as adding a link.

1718346362 491 LinkedIn Rolls Out New Newsletter ToolsScreenshot from: linkedin.com, June 2024.

Preview Links Before Publishing

Lastly, LinkedIn allows you to access a staging link that previews the newsletter URL before hitting publish.

This can help you share and distribute their content more effectively.

Why SEJ Cares

As LinkedIn continues to lean into being a publishing platform for creators and thought leaders, updates that enhance the newsletter experience are noteworthy for digital marketers and industry professionals looking to build an audience.

The new tools are part of LinkedIn’s broader effort to court creators publishing original content on its platform amid rising demand for newsletters and knowledge-sharing.

How This Can Help You

If you publish a newsletter on LinkedIn, these new tools can help you design more visually appealing content, grow your subscriber base, interact with your audience through comments, and preview your content before going live.


Featured Image: Tada Images/Shutterstock

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