How to survive a Google core update and come out on top
Learn four tips to improve your website so it won't just survive a Google core update – but maybe even thrive.
Google updates come and go. And sometimes websites pay the price.
When this happens, it can be tough when you’ve noticed a drop in rankings and traffic, but there’s nothing wrong with your site.
Core algorithm updates are one such update where this can happen.
Google’s advice? Do nothing.
Google says if a core update has impacted your site, you “don’t have anything wrong to fix.”
“There’s nothing wrong with pages that may perform less well in a core update. They haven’t violated our webmaster guidelines nor been subjected to a manual or algorithmic action, as can happen to pages that do violate those guidelines. In fact, there’s nothing in a core update that targets specific pages or sites. Instead, the changes are about improving how our systems assess content overall. These changes may cause some pages that were previously under-rewarded to do better.”
Confused? Let’s look closer at core updates, and then I’ll share some ways to improve your site so it will not just survive an update – but maybe even thrive.
What’s really happening with core updates?
So you can’t “fix” a core update. Then why did you lose rankings and traffic?
Good question with an easy answer – your competition was the least imperfect.
What I mean by least imperfect is that we can’t know the countless signals in Google’s algorithm. So we will never be perfect in SEO.
But we do have best practices.
Those who do their best to optimize their website and are better at being least imperfect from their competition will be awarded.
And that means better rankings than the competition in the search results.
So what about these core updates – how do they work?
Assume for a moment your competition did some things well, and so did you – basically, everyone did things right and nothing wrong.
But perhaps the algorithm update grouped some variables synergistically, or maybe the weighted averages shifted or classes of sites (informational versus navigational) were rewarded with a meatier weight in the algorithm.
You still did nothing wrong.
And maybe your competition put their SEO efforts and emphasis on the rewarded variables, so they became “least imperfect” in that algorithm update.
You did everything right, but other sites did the right things “righter.”
So how do you become least imperfect and get your rankings back?
Since the issue is not a penalty, we can ignore much of the Google penalty advice (for example, bad links).
Instead, we’ll focus on the positive things you can do to improve your website.
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How to improve your site and thrive during core updates
Let's look next at four ways to improve your site, so you can better weather core updates:
Make the content better
Even though Google says there's nothing to do after a core update, they often advise to focus on website content if you want to improve a website:
Google also says this in its help file on core algorithm updates:
"… we understand those who do less well after a core update change may still feel they need to do something. We suggest focusing on ensuring you're offering the best content you can. That's what our algorithms seek to reward."
So here are some general questions to consider when reviewing your website content:
- Does the website seem trustworthy? We need "curb appeal" trust. Your site must be modern with fresh content and offer a good user experience. Add testimonials, client logos, and statistics on pages with significant bounce rates. This is not just reserved for About Us pages. A visitor needs to trust your business.
- Is the content from an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well? You should answer visitors' needs with correct information exceeding other sites' depth. Do not just tell the truth, but also explain why. Demonstrate wisdom, not just knowledge.
That's just for starters.
Take a deep dive into your webpages, and consider some of the things that make a webpage a high-quality resource, including:
- Experience, expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (E-E-A-T).
- Journalistic integrity – answering the "who, what, where, when, why and how" of a topic better than the competition, citing sources and fact-checking.
- Content optimization, including a long list of ways to make the page better and more relevant.
- Technical SEO that focuses on bettering the user experience.
- The use of original data, charts, images, research and opinionated analysis.
- Searchable keywords that hook visitors in the page title and headers.
- Clarifying ambiguous terms and meanings with definitions or schema.
- Shareable content – would you brag about it, and would your visitors voluntarily link to it?
- SEO siloing for subject relevance, authority and a better user experience.
Google provides a list of content-related questions in its help file on core updates.
Silo the site
How you organize the content on a website is almost as important as content quality.
SEO siloing is a technique I invented in 2000 that groups like-content together based on how people search.
In addition, it sets a website up to be an authority and expert on a subject matter by providing complete answers through multiple pages of quality content on a topic.
This helps to create relevance.
Relevance helps the search engine understand that a website is the best for a query.
SEO siloing also supports the navigation of a site, making it easy for both search engines and website visitors to find content.
If you're unfamiliar with the concept of siloing, let me illustrate.
The image below shows how you might group categories of topics for a power tools site that sells cordless power tools, electric power tools and gas-powered tools.
In this example, the site has one major theme (power tools), and it is supported by three major categories: cordless power tools, electric power tools and gas-powered tools. Within each category, there are subcategories.
Having rich content in each silo that's organized in this way does a couple of things:
- Creates a good user experience because the content is easy to find and browse. This can result in more time on the website.
- Helps search engines determine relevance, which better positions the site for ranking for its keywords.
Google believes this a good strategy, too:
"The navigation of a website is important in helping visitors quickly find the content they want. It can also help search engines understand what content the webmaster thinks is important. Although Google's search results are provided at a page level, Google also likes to have a sense of what role a page plays in the bigger picture of the site."– Google, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide
In short: Siloing is a tried-and-true, evergreen SEO strategy that, when implemented as part of an SEO program, can help create a quality website that can withstand core updates.
Manage internal links
Your internal link strategy can impact SEO and can:
- Help people find content on your website.
- Communicate to search engines what your website is about.
- Enable search engines to discover more pages on your website.
- Pass link equity from one webpage to another within your site.
Siloing is a form of linking together internal pages, but other types of internal links matter.
Examples of internal links include the main navigation, footer links, contextual links and related content links.
Linking from a blog is obvious, but remember that while you add pages to the site, they all need to be considered as part of the linking strategy.
Some internal linking best practices you might consider include:
- Auditing the site's link structure, looking for broken links, links that are not important, pages without links, nofollow issues, etc.
- Establishing click depth, ensuring it is easy to get to pages on the site (generally, around three clicks to get to important pages from the homepage).
- Only linking to important pages from your homepage, usually the main landing pages of the silos.
- Using breadcrumb links.
- Using anchor text strategically when linking to other pages in the site, usually the destination page's main keywords/topic as the anchor text.
- Having an HTML sitemap and an XML sitemap.
- Managing 404s.
Get an SEO audit
SEO is not just about having a great website. It's about beating the competition in the search results.
An SEO audit can help you create a strategy for doing as good or better than the competition.
Remember, though, that many SEO audits are focused only on repair.
Repair-based SEO audits are so popular because there is such a huge need for most sites to be fixed;. It is easy for an SEO agency or consultant to wander through a site and find things that need repair.
So you repair a site, and you are rewarded for it.
But suddenly, you see a shift in the reward process (like a core update), and you need to do the right things better than the others – you need to be least imperfect.
This is why you want the audit that makes you more competitive so that you can better weather core updates and other necessary repairs.
Be more confident during core updates
There are no guarantees that a core update won't shake things up for any website, but you can prepare.
Remember: Those who do their best to optimize their website and are better at being least imperfect from their competition will be awarded.
Implementing SEO strategies that are proven to improve website quality for visitors and search engines is the first line of defense.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
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