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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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15 Ecommerce SEO Experts Reveal Top Insights For 2023

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15 Ecommerce SEO Experts Reveal Top Insights For 2023

Wondering how to do SEO for ecommerce?

Looking for expert insights on ecommerce SEO?

Uncertain how to make your online store more successful?

From acknowledging that the traditional customer journey is dead, to fast pivoting due to Google’s constant updates, to reassessing benchmarks after the pandemic digital boom and the subsequent fall, experts from award-winning agencies assess what’s next in ecommerce SEO.

We wanted to go beyond unpredictability, so we interviewed 15 digital growth and SEO experts to get their insights, tips, and lessons learned as part of our Ecommerce SEO deep dive.

Ecommerce experts in this article talk about search behaviors, hands-on clients, forecasting for aligning to current trends, and more.

Let’s see what they have to say.

Implement Multi-Touchpoint Customer Journeys As Search Behaviors Change

James Finlayson, Head of SEO at the7stars: “Google’s search volumes aren’t just stagnating – in many cases, they’re reducing. Despite this, consumers are conducting more research prior to purchases than ever – on Amazon and other ‘super-retailers’, on TikTok, large publishers with loyal audiences, Pinterest, YouTube, and Reddit. We recently looked at one market where, we estimated, less than 10% of search activity was actually happening on Google.” Read Finlayson on digital and in-store buying, pushing for larger budgets, and their Sofology success story.

Sara Povoas, Content and SEO Manager at iProspect Portugal:  “We observed a huge increase in shopping, not only for younger audiences but also for older ones, which is new. I think that users are getting more demanding and more informed — if you have a lot of offers, you need to make smart decisions. So people are looking for more. The reviews, opinions, video demonstrations, and price comparisons are getting more popular as people are doing these decision-making searches in order to make a purchase.” Read Povoas on fluctuating stocks, health and cosmetics trends, and client communication.

Luke Carthy, eCommerce SEO & CRO Consultant: “What I’m seeing across my consumer-based clients is that Average Order Value is up, but the number of transactions is probably similar or falling. What I mean by that is they’re spending more per transaction. Rather than someone going to a clothing retailer, maybe once a month or once every couple of weeks, depending on what their previous shopping habits were, they will shop less frequently. And when they shop, they’ll spend more money. I think that happens for a couple of reasons: One is to mitigate the delivery fees and, secondly, to try and get to thresholds to claim rewards, whatever those might be.” Read Carthy on buy-in, shifting strategies, and B2B clients.

Jen Cornwell, Senior Director of Digital Strategy at Ignite Visibility: “The way people shop has changed, as they had converted to online and are now back to this hybrid style again. I think it’s all about expectation setting: Can we ever get back to those traffic levels or those conversion levels online again? What are some creative ways that we can go about if we think that’s the case? User behavior has taken a big shift.

For instance, we had an electronics client who sold computers, both online and brick-and-mortar. We started to see a shift at the beginning of 2022 as they had more foot traffic to their stores – which they’re happy about, but they do not see as many purchases online anymore. Even in the instances where there isn’t a brick-and-mortar component or the product is only available online, the opportunity for somebody to go and buy it in person just pulls them away from coming to the Internet as much as they used to.” Read Cornwell on video content, white goods, and creative page optimization.

Get Creative With Product Reviews, Long-Tail Keywords & Specificity, As Google Algorithm Updates Intensify

James Euinton, Account Director at The SEO Works: “Over the years, as Google improves its handling of language, it’s been more important to focus on the more specific, longer-tail phrases. Sometimes this may mean catering to specific questions and keywords that fall outside standard products and category pages. It’s important that we tailor additional content to these to target the customer at different points in the journey or funnel.” Read Euinton on moving the needle fast, Core Web Vitals, and business contexts.

Radu Marcusu, CEO at Upswing: “The biggest challenge this year was for marketing managers to explain the drops in the market and how to go about it. That’s why I would say it was more about us being proactive in communicating these shifts to our clients. They needed support in understanding the overall market trends and that it was a general change in demand – and, of course, in adapting to it. That also meant new tactics or focusing on specific actions. For instance, if Google now recommends refined searches, we make sure our clients have filters or categories targeting those searches. We also focus on having the right content to answer those searches. Or keep their Google My Business profiles optimized. In a nutshell, we were proactive in adapting strategies, budgets, and also specific actions implying Google changes.” Read Marcusu on differentiating through pitching, video searches, and developing internal tools.

Eli Schwartz, Growth Advisor and SEO Strategic Consultant: “Google and other search engines use deep learning to improve search results for their users continuously. This past year, I have noticed that local results are triggered more often when Google detects a local intent. At the same time, on results where there should not have been local intent, I have seen the local results disappear.”

Forecasts, SEO ROI & Data-Led Decisions Should Be At The Forefront For Ecommerce Businesses

Marc Swann, Director of Search at Glass Digital: “​​There’s no doubt that retailers are feeling the pinch as consumers tighten their belts, and this presents risks for most marketing agencies when it comes to justifying the value of their services. SEO is a channel that is often more at risk when times are hard, and marketing budgets are scrutinized. SEO performance can ultimately be maintained in the short and even medium term without a recurring spend associated with it, unlike something like paid search where once ad spend stops, performance disappears. So certainly, justifying expenditure in SEO is something that we have seen requested more and not seeing it as a luxury in harder times. Ultimately, those that are able to fulfill their SEO strategies through the hard times will be in much stronger positions when the economy eventually turns positive.” Read Swan on multi-lingual sites, sports retailers, and “luxury” channels.

Steve Walker, Technical Director at Journey Further: “Measuring ROI has always been important, but it’s no longer a nice-to-have. Measuring ROI is essential. This is why performance monitoring tools like SEOmonitor are critical to your agency. The amount of in-house teams has also increased dramatically over the past few months. This is a great thing for the SEO industry and a testament to SEO’s importance in digital marketing – but it fundamentally changes how agencies need to operate. We’re no longer just additional resources doing basic SEO activity. We need to act in a similar way to a business consultancy and provide strategic-level support.” Read Walker on new user journeys, measuring impact, and funnel optimization.

Rank Tracker’s Strategy view on SEOmonitor.com, December 202215 Ecommerce SEO Experts Reveal Their Top Insights For A Successful 2023

Ben Austin, Founder & CEO at Absolute Digital Media: “We utilize forecasting for both pitching and upselling to ecommerce clients to showcase our understanding of the industry they compete in and the business. By doing so, we can more effectively dictate what is required to drive continuous growth to the business whilst highlighting the ongoing value our innovative SEO strategies provide. In addition to providing a basic forecast of the brand’s current market position, we supply further insight into the wider business benefits such as returning customers, revenue, and ROI.” Read Austin on business strategies, performing verticals in ecommerce, and dynamic URLs.

Charlie Norledge, Head of SEO Performance at Impression: “The pitches are much more competitive now because there are probably fewer clients going to market as things started to slow down a bit. We’ve had to make sure that we include innovative tactics in there. Like talking about how to utilize social media trends in organic when we talk about tech SEO, not just putting a list of fixes, making sure we have priority behind things and just giving them as much detail as possible.

Forecasting is another important piece. When we go to a competitive pitch, forecasting is, I’d say, required. If we didn’t do it, we could miss out. We were in pitches against other agencies, and because we had forecasts in place, we ended up winning the work.” Read Norledge on GPT-3 efficiency, reporting, and client expectations.

Kevin Gibbons, Founder and CEO at Re:signal: “For us, it’s important to have strong communication with our clients about where the priorities are and make sure that we know not just where the search demand is, but also the supply. Knowing what clients are focusing on – both in terms of seasonality and where the priorities could be and could be shifting because of those issues – helps us re-address what we’re doing.

I think everyone’s just probably a bit more price-conscious and cautious right now in terms of what they’re doing. So, again, that’s why ecommerce is such a strong sector for us. For the reason that you can track organic revenue performance. Everyone wants to make sure they’re maximizing their ROI.” Read Gibbons on internationalization and their ASICS success story.

15 Ecommerce SEO Experts Reveal Their Top Insights For A Successful 2023SEO Forecast by SEOmonitor, December 202215 Ecommerce SEO Experts Reveal Their Top Insights For A Successful 2023

Leverage Integrated Campaigns To Build More Growth Opportunities

It’s not just about one channel or one tactic, but ecommerce digital experts are looking more and more into how they can optimize the full user experience, coordinate PR and SEO efforts, and make sense of the whole industry landscape and where the opportunity lies:

Petar Jovetic, Organic Director at Impression: “Everything we do has to show value and be targeted. We’re baking innovation more and more into our proposition. It’s been quite compelling to leverage AI to handle higher workloads and then do it more efficiently. One other thing I’m keen to explore is using our CRO department, especially at the bottom of the funnel where every user counts, to grow acquisition strategically with more A/B testing, multivariate testing, etc. We’re looking into how CRO and SEO can complement each other more. I think that is really appealing in the current economic climate. So we’re not just throwing additional users but nurturing them through the funnel to conversion.” Read Jovetic on SEO maturity frameworks and the State of Retail.

Charlie Clark, Account Director & Founder at Minty Digital: “I noticed more clients are looking to build their brand through digital PR, and we build their brand name rather than just focus on sales. Some of the bigger companies we work with used to allocate a separate budget to SEO, and that used to be the entire thing. Now they’re allocating separate budgets within their departments, one for SEO and one for PR. They’ll have their traditional PR, the standard press releases, but then they’ll also be tying in the digital aspect to that, which is something that’s been quite interesting to know.” Read Clark on entering new markets and campaign KPIs.

Heemesh Vara, Head of SEO at Semetrical: “Our keyword research process focuses on exploring the whole industry. That’s something different from other agencies. Where they might take a category-by-category approach and do it month by month, we do it the other way around. It’s a lot of work for us at the beginning, but it does provide the client and us with a complete picture of their entire industry. For example, we worked with a vintage furniture client with multiple types of products and categories, from sofas, stools, chairs, side tables, etc. So we had to research the entire industry all at once. And this is one of our unique selling propositions that we always put in the proposal as well.” Read Vara on SEO data analysis and baselines, stakeholder management, and securing budgets.

In the end, as our 15 interviews have shown, both ecommerce clients and markets continue to shift, so it’s critical to showcase sustainable results.

With all these challenges SEO experts face in mind, we continue to develop SEOmonitor so it helps you:

  • Prove the value of SEO with a forecast solution that allows you to connect desired ranking targets to non-brand organic traffic growth potential.
  • Bring session, conversions, and revenue data back into keywords with our solution to the (not provided), so you know what the performing keywords are.
  • Keep track of demand with daily ranks for desktop and mobile as standard, search volumes and year-over-year trends across the platform, and automatic seasonality alerts.
  • And so much more.

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