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The SEO Writers’ Guide to Google Algorithm Updates

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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.

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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.
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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?

See also  Facebook extends coronavirus work from home policy until July 2021

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

Source: Heather Lloyd-Martin

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Google’s Advice For Targeting Multiple Locations With One Website

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Google's Advice For Targeting Multiple Locations With One Website


Google provides detailed advice for websites that need to target multiple locations, such as a business with offices in different states.

This topic is discussed during the Google Search Central SEO office-hours hangout recorded on January 14.

An SEO professional named Gail (last name not provided) asks Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller about an idea her client has to optimize their website for several US states.

Their idea is to create landing pages for each state they operate in, and automatically send visitors from the homepage to the appropriate landing page via dynamic geo IP redirection.

On top of that, they also plan to add a noindex tag to each of the separate landing pages.

If you hear alarm bells ringing, your instincts are correct. This is not a good strategy.

Mueller explains the SEO implications of following through with this plan, and explains various ways it can be done better.

See his advice in the sections below.

First Consideration: Google Crawls From One Location

The first thing to consider when targeting multiple cities or states with the same website is Google only crawls from one location.

That means dynamic geo IP redirects, as Gail’s client proposes, would not help Googlebot find the different landing pages.

Mueller says:

“I think there are a few things to keep in mind there. On the one hand… we generally just crawl from one location. And probably for most systems, that would map back to California.

And essentially what that would mean is that the content that we can look at would be the content for California, and we would not have access to the content for the other states, which depending on what kind of content you have there, for the other states, that might be okay but it might be problematic.

So that’s kind of the first thing to keep in mind is when you search for your company it’ll look like this is purely in California, or maybe even in San Francisco, I don’t know how the IP addresses would map there.

So I think that’s something that often throws people off, especially with geo IP redirects or dynamically swapping the content.”

While redirecting visitors based on their IP address may work in practice, it’s not optimal when it comes to Googlebot crawling.

See also  Google Adds 12 New Types of Manual Action Penalties

Second Consideration: Do Not Redirect To A Noindexed Page

The second, and more serious, consideration of the plan proposed by Gail’s client is what happens when redirecting to a noindexed page.

Mueller explains this would cause the site’s homepage to drop out of search results:

“The other thing is if you noindex the individual state landing pages, then, of course, the state landing page that someone from California would go to would also be noindexed, which would basically mean that your homepage would drop out of search results. So that would be a pretty bad thing.”

Again, this plan might’ve worked for human visitors, but would cause major problems as far as SEO is concerned.

Here’s what Mueller recommends doing instead.

Mueller’s Recommendations For Targeting Multiple Locations

Instead of redirecting visitors to pages based on where they’re located, Mueller says it’s better to offer visitors links to relevant pages with a dynamic banner.

“My general recommendation for these kinds of situations, instead of redirecting automatically to a specific location, is to make it so that the user can find that content much easier.

So something like a dynamic banner on a page when the user goes to the homepage, there’s a banner on top that says: ‘oh, it looks like you’re in Texas, and we have an office in Texas, and here’s the information, and click this link to find out more.’

And that way the user has the ability to go to these individual pages. And ideally those individual pages would also be indexable, because that way if someone looks for your company name plus the state name they would be able to find that landing page, which would be essentially ideal.”

Another way of handling this situation, Mueller says, is to dynamically swap out some of the copy on the homepage based on visitor location.

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Instead of multiple landing pages for different states, you could set the homepage to display different text for visitors that pertains to where they’re located.

Mueller explains:

“The other approach that you could take is to swap out some of the content dynamically on the homepage. So instead of having separate state landing pages, you have your general homepage and you have that state specific information dynamically swapped out.

The important part here is to make sure that overall that homepage still has enough generic content so that it doesn’t come across as like everything is for California, but rather it’s like this is lots of information about your business, and since it looks like you’re in California here’s specific information for California, or whatever state that you’re in.

So those are generally the two directions that we recommend there.”

Mueller clarifies that there’s nothing wrong with creating individual state landing pages if Gail’s client chose to go that route instead.

It’s not a great idea to create landing pages for every city in every state, but having landing pages for each state where a business is located is okay.

“With regards to the individual state landing pages for a handful of versions, we wouldn’t really see that as being problematic. If you had landing pages for every city in every state, then that would start looking a bit iffy for our web spam algorithms.

But if you’re talking about a handful of states, or maybe even all states, it’s something where you have 50 different versions of the homepage with your local address with phone numbers, opening hours, kind of that additional local information on them. From our point of view that’s generally fine.”

Hear the full discussion in the video below:

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Featured Image: Screenshot from YouTube.com/GoogleSearchCentral, January 2022.





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Searchmetrics’ CMO Talks Enterprise Volatility, SEO Careers & CWVs

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Searchmetrics' CMO Talks Enterprise Volatility, SEO Careers & CWVs


Are there upsides to the volatility inherent to SEO with all of its Google updates, changing consumer behaviors, and constantly evolving technology?

And just how important are Core Web Vitals, anyway?

I had a chance to catch up with Lillian Haase, CMO at Searchmetrics, recently to get her take on a few enterprise SEO hot topics and advice for beginners in SEO looking to grow into leadership roles.

If you’re in the market for employment with a leading search data, software, and consulting solution, you’ll want to check out her tips as to what Searchmetrics looks for in new hires, as well.

1. Core Web Vitals (CWV) has been a hot topic this past year.

What do enterprise marketers need to know about CWVs now that the dust has settled?

Lillian Haase: “For marketers in any business, focusing on reducing friction for users when they arrive at your website is the name of the game — with or without CWVs.

Before the official announcement that CWV’s page speed signals would become ranking factors, fast-loading and easy-to-navigate websites saw better results in the search engines. The CWV rollout just made it official.

I will say, too, that the dust has only settled in terms of Google talking about CWV.

The work for many brands is still colossal.

Our team sees many large companies still experiencing major problems with site speed and shifting layouts. Until domains can fix those issues, they’ll struggle to excel in competitive SERPs.

Having a decent CWV will be the price for entry onto the playing field.

If your CWV is far worse than your competitors, you’ll struggle for rankings – but CWV goes beyond SEO. The gains are much more concrete when it comes to revenue and conversions.”

Related: Analyzing 2 Million URLs: What We Learned About Core Web Vitals

2. We’ve seen you write before on volatility as an opportunity in SEO.

Can you share a few ways these volatile times may translate to opportunities for enterprise SEO?

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Lillian Haase: “At the start of the pandemic, we had major shifts going on in marketing. This necessitated a pivoting of methods to adapt to a new, uncertain environment.

When it came to SEO, we had clients with unprecedented traffic drops and increases. The world had changed and so had their web traffic.

My advice remains the same as then.

When you’ve experienced a sudden drop in traffic, analysis of where the drop occurred is the first step towards recovery – but it’s not the last.

It’s crucial to understand why it happened.

Was it a change made to your website?

A Google algorithm update?

A loss of keyword rankings for a specific page or group of pages — or something else?

Take steps to improve, or reverse an earlier change, depending on what you find.

The opposite happens, too, and you may experience a sudden influx of traffic and better rankings.

While celebrating is certainly not to be neglected (after all, teams work for years to see increases in traffic, so be sure to enjoy it when it happens!), it’s still important to ensure it’s the right kind of traffic, and that visitors are engaging with your web content.

Look at ways you can optimize your top-traffic pages to keep visitors engaged and moving through your website. Take advantage of that extra traffic with conversion rate optimization.

In addition, update your keyword research around topics that are ranking well to determine if you missed anything.

There might be something new uncovered through research that you haven’t optimized for.

Cover all your bases and see how much more extra traffic you can get on top of those already good results. Good can always get better.”

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3. What do you think is the most underrated optimization or tactic in enterprise SEO today?

Lillian Haase: “The basics, such as optimized headers and user experience, are still the same.

But the bar for great content and high-performing websites is much higher.

Your content needs to be heads and shoulders above the rest.

For example, the Google Product Reviews Update impacted many affiliate sites.

With these and other Google Updates, the days where you could write basic copy about a product and hoping to rank are gone.

Now, you make your expertise on the topic very clear by providing a truly informed opinion about the product’s performance.”

Related: 3 Ways SEO Has Changed This Year & What It Means for You with Jordan Koene

4. What advice or recommendations do you have for junior SEO professionals who might aspire to a leadership role?

“My advice would be to learn to tell the story of SEO’s impact on the business in terms of revenue.

In other words, if you can communicate the value of organic traffic framed in business terms, you will be heard by leaders in other teams who do not understand the ins and outs of SEO.

They’re looking for the value (often, in financial terms) the channel is bringing the company.

One of the most difficult things I see SEOs struggle with is that they go into unnecessary detail about search engines.

As SEOs, we’re so interested in the many moving pieces of the work, and we get overly excited with the minutiae.

But if no one understands what we’re talking about or they think it’s boring, the message is lost.

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Try to focus on business results in your presentations, reports, and in meetings with your superiors, instead.

In most organizations, organic search is undervalued when compared with other channels such as paid search.

If you can find a way to elevate the conversation to business metrics and stay out of the technical details, you’re well on your way towards future opportunities in SEO leadership.

If you can also consistently increase organic traffic, leads, and sales for your organization, you’re also setting yourself up for success.”

5. What does it take to succeed in a role at Searchmetrics?

And are you currently looking for any specific types of talent?

Lillian Haase: “We’re growing our services teams globally, so thanks for asking this and giving me a chance to share a little more.

While we have a variety of roles open, we’re actively recruiting SEO consultants and account executives.

One of the benefits of working for a company of our size is having the opportunity to have your voice heard.

We understand the next great idea can come from anyone at any level.

Successful team members adopt the mindset of builders and innovators and seek out opportunities for growth. Then they present those opportunities with a clear focus on the bottom line.

In general, we look for people that are not just looking to “do the job.”

Yes, we want people skilled in a particular area. However, we want people that are looking to push the envelope by asking, “How can we be better in our function?”

When it comes to culture, we’re looking for a culture add, not a fit.

We understand having a true diverse Searchmetrics family not only includes diversity in gender and ethnic background but also experience and thought.”

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Featured Image: Courtesy of Searchmetrics





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What To Focus On This Year

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What To Focus On This Year


As the ball dropped in Times Square at midnight on January 1, 2022, many search engine marketers were tempted to check their analytics and rankings.

It appears that Google has replaced Santa as the purveyor of the “Naughty or Nice” list in the online world.

Some sites receive the gift of better rankings before the New Year.

Others are cleaning the coal dust out of their stockings, running frantic analyses on why they were put on the naughty list.

Holiday core algorithm updates from Google are nothing new to veteran search engine marketers.

And I don’t know who needs to hear this, but next year the update will be there after Christmas.

Don’t feel guilty about taking a few days off.

Take some time to think about how you can be even better in the New Year.

That’s what I did.

Below is my list of SEO resolutions for the New Year.

1. Remember To Have Empathy

In my experience, most search engine marketers are very “left-brained.”

Sure, there’s a ton of creativity in the search engine marketing world – but most search engine marketers would rather figure out why a piece of code isn’t loading as fast as it should versus trying to understand the intricacies of a searcher’s mind.

Don’t get me wrong, the technical aspects of SEO and paid search are essential – and without technical savvy, what we do doesn’t work.

But technical fixes are not enough to show continued improvement in your search engine marketing results.

I believe that the best tool any marketer can have is empathy, the ability to understand the feelings of others.

If we as marketers can understand the feelings, motivations, intent, and actions of search engine users, we can create webpages and content that not only provides value to visitors but also increases our site’s bottom line.

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I have always prided myself on my ability to empathize with searchers.

But with every core algorithm update or IT person screwing up a site, I find it very easy to put my empathetic impulses on the back burner to chase technical fixes.

Those technical fixes are for Google, not the searchers.

I need to remember to spend as much – or more – time understanding those who make a query as I do looking at ways to improve a site’s performance.

The dividends that come from empathetic marketing practices are usually greater than those gleaned from technical fixes.

All of us in search would be wise to remember this.

2. Automate All The Things

In the last few years, many prominent SEO professionals have touted the advantages of using the Python programming language to automate rote search engine optimization tasks.

Python, in the hands of a competent programmer, is a powerful tool that can cut the amount of time required for search engine optimization significantly.

Python can help you scrape data to come up with content ideas, analyze common on-page SEO issues, track and analyze issues in your backlink profile and much more.

Those interested in some of the possibilities with Python should read this article: How To Use Python To Analyze SEO Data: A Reference Guide.

As I’ve stated in the past, by definition I am not a coder.

However, I’ve been around code for so long I know what to look for when I’m analyzing how the code will react with the search engines.

For those like me, I encourage you to dig in and learn the basics of the Python language.

No one is going to care if you master the intricacies of the code.

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In fact, I would argue that spending too much learning the language is a waste of time.

For me, the end goal of learning about any new technology is to learn its full capabilities and limitations.

If you understand what a piece of software can do, you can then plan what you need and either figure out how to program just what you need or hire someone to program it for you.

It’s almost impossible to hire someone to automate your SEO tactics if you don’t understand how Python (or any other software) can help you achieve your goal.

My goal in 2022 is to learn everything python can do.

If you are a freelance python developer, feel free to hit me up around May, as I suspect I’ll have some projects by then.

3. Get Your Tracking Right

The introduction of Google Analytics 4 has thrown a wrench in a lot of sites’ tracking codes.

Many went from somewhat high confidence that their analytics data was correct to uncertainty.

When you don’t trust your analytics numbers, you can’t make proper decisions.

You can’t plan properly.

We often have prospects that show up with poorly executed tracking.

This has become so much of an issue that we recently implemented a policy where we don’t move on to any other work until the tracking is set up.

And it needs to be set up so everyone in your organization trusts the data.

If you increase traffic by 140% but the boss doesn’t believe the numbers are accurate, no one will get credit. There is a good chance that the tactics used to achieve the increased traffic won’t be approved again in the future.

Why would anyone approve activity that, based upon their worldview, isn’t effective?

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On the other hand, if traffic falls and no one trusts the data, it will be almost impossible to accurately diagnose what is causing the traffic decrease – at least in a way where the whole team is on board with the diagnosis and action items to fix the issues.

4. Embrace The Grind

Good SEO is a grind.

In many cases, we are implementing tactics and must wait several weeks before we know if our efforts worked or not.

We’re a lot like farmers – planting our seeds in the code of our sites, watering and caring for the code while knowing that storms from Google or drought from lack of consumer interest may mean a disastrous harvest.

Successful SEO pros embrace the daily grind.

We work on content to bolster our authority.

We check the code daily to make sure nothing is broken.

And when Google announces an upcoming update, the net looks like a town that just heard a storm is coming – SEO professionals work to batten down the hatches, even if we aren’t exactly sure what to do to prepare for the storm.

All-in-all, SEO becomes a list of daily chores.

Those SEO pros that embrace this daily grind are successful.

Those that look for magic bullets and quick fixes end up chasing their tail.

Embrace the grind.

It’s how you show long-term, sustainable SEO success.

In Conclusion

If you’ve read this far, I’d love to hear your search engine marketing resolution.

Feel free to post your SEO New Year’s resolution on Twitter using the hashtag #seo2022.

I am looking forward to reading all the new year’s resolution inspiration I’m sure the readers of Search Engine Journal can provide.

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Featured image: LanaSweet/Shutterstock





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