Being a webmaster is difficult. Each day presents a new set of issues that you must fix in a timely and effective manner. Sometimes a page isn’t responding the way you intended. Sometimes a customer will have an issue with buying a product. Sometimes a tracking code falls off, leaving you unaware of how many people are active on your website. You’re constantly juggling things like user experience, coding, shopping carts, and content creation in order to maintain a high-quality website. Most of the time, you’re on top of things. You’re quick, you’re responsive, you’re aware. You’re doing everything correctly on your end to ensure that you have a great website.
Then, Google rips the rug right out from underneath you. Google releases a Broad Core Algorithm Update, and all the hard work you’ve done to get your website to the top of the Search Engine Results Page is undone in an instant. Your keyword rankings drop, your traffic drops, and suddenly, your top-quality website isn’t getting any visitors.
Thankfully, all hope is not lost. With a bit of research and due diligence on your end, you can make sure that your website recovers.
What is a Broad Core Algorithm Update?
As a webmaster, you’re at least vaguely aware that Google is responsible for indexing your website and presenting it on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP). Let’s say that you decorate skateboard decks and sell them on an eCommerce website. Ideally, Google can tell that you sell customized skateboards, so that when someone searches for “decorated skateboard decks” or some variant of that, your website will appear.
The relevancy of your website to the search query determines what position your website has on the SERP. Google determines the relevancy using a series of factors. The exact number of factors isn’t known, but it’s estimated that Google uses at least a couple hundred different criteria in order to determine what’s displayed on a SERP. These factors make up the bulk of their core algorithm, which determines what you see when you perform a search.
Anyone who’s used a search engine before knows that the SERP is not static. If you perform the same search even a couple weeks apart, the SERP will display slightly different results. This is because Google routinely updates their ranking factors. The exact number of updates is unknown, but Google has said that they perform some type of focused update nearly daily. You can think of these as very small tweaks to one or two of the components of their search algorithm. These small updates happen once or twice day, and generally don’t cause huge drops or boosts in traffic.
But a few times a year, Google decides to make broader changes to many of their factors. Whether it’s shifting their order of importance, or changing the factors themselves, these are what Google and the SEO world calls “Broad Core Algorithm Updates.” There have been several broad core updates to Google’s algorithm over the years that have caused huge ripples across a wide variety of websites.
Google will occasionally acknowledge these larger algorithm updates after they roll out. In March 2018, after rolling out a broad core update over the course of two weeks, Google’s Search Liaison Twitter account released the following statement:
“Each day, Google usually releases one or more changes designed to improve our results. Some are focused around specific improvements. Some are broad changes. Last week, we released a broad core algorithm update. We do these routinely several times per year. As with any update, some sites may note drops or gains. There’s nothing wrong with pages that may now perform less well. Instead, it’s that changes to our systems are benefiting pages that were previously under-rewarded. There’s no “fix” for pages that may perform less well other than to remain focused on building great content. Over time, it may be that your content may rise relative to other pages.”
Google needs to keep the specifics of their algorithm and ranking factors under wraps in order to protect their intellectual property, so this is the most that they will usually say regarding their algorithm updates.
How to Prepare for a Broad Core Algorithm Update
Because Google tends to roll out updates without warning, you probably won’t notice that one happened until it affects your website. Because of this, the best defense against Broad Core Algorithm Updates is a good offense. Make it a habit to check your Google Analytics and Search Console accounts regularly. You don’t want to find out that your traffic started dropping a couple weeks ago. Your due diligence will pay off.
Another way to prepare for a Broad Core Algorithm Update is to see if anyone is talking about a possible update. Webmasters, developers, search engine gurus, and analysts will all take to social media in droves to try and identify a major algorithm update. If you see that your traffic is dropping for no reason, check Twitter; if Google pushes a Broad Core Algorithm Update, people will be talking about it. Online SEO and PPC industry journals will also publish blog posts that detail the effects of the update, which industries it’s hitting, and what Google is saying about it. Setting up an RSS feed or subscribing to major SEO blogs is a great way to get reliable, informed updates about algorithm changes.
Another step you can take to prepare for an algorithm update is to practice preventative care on your website. Ensure that your site has no technical SEO errors using a tool like Chrome’s Lighthouse. Check for issues related to site speed and mobility responsiveness. Make sure that all your pages are being crawled and getting indexed correctly. Check your robot.txt file, make sure that your pages are correctly canonicalized and your internal linking structure is sound, and switch over to HTTPS if you haven’t already. Most technical SEO issues are relatively easy fixes that, if not dealt with, can signify that your site is not high-quality. You could have the best content on the web, but a small technical SEO issue can render all your hard work useless.
The biggest thing you can do is ensure that your site is running smoothly from a user’s perspective. Google has repeatedly emphasized the importance of user satisfaction. There’s a lot of factors and variables that go into user experience, and it would be incredibly inefficient for Google to scale a static formula for “user satisfaction” across their entire index. Rather, Google uses advanced machine learning algorithms to identify what a satisfied user “looks” like. Basically, these Deep Learning algorithms use certain signals like click through rate, bounce rate, and conversions to build an ideal user experience. If your web page is producing positive signals for certain queries, Google’s algorithm recognizes that your webpage satisfies those query intentions, and will reward you with higher rankings for those types of queries.
If you run a blog about mountain bikes, and users who search for “what type of mountain bike is best for desert terrains” come to your page about desert mountain bikes and interact positively with it, Google can see that you have satisfied the user regarding that query. As a result, Google will display pages from your website when people input an informational query regarding mountain bikes.
The best thing you can do in response to a Broad Core Algorithm Update is to focus on building web pages that satisfy users’ queries in an efficient manner. If you’ve got great content, but your website is crowded with intrusive advertisements and pop-up windows, people will leave your page in order to find one that is easier to use. If your mobile pages have small fonts and inefficient touch target sizes, people will leave your site in favor of one that’s easier to use. If you’re a strict eCommerce website that’s trying to target informational queries, users will not be satisfied with what they find on your pages, and your traffic will decline as Google sees that users are leaving your site in favor of others.
Take the Proper Steps
Google is always trying to deliver the best search results possible. You’re competing against millions of other websites, so if you’re getting hit by a Broad Core Algorithm Update, you need to take a very long, objective look at your website. You should:
- Check your Google Analytics and Search Console as often as possible.
- Fix any and all technical SEO errors that you find through the Search Console.
- Look at the competition; if you’ve been leapfrogged by another website on the SERP, look at what they’re doing differently.
- Check through Google’s published Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines; these are guidelines used by Google’s site testers to evaluate different versions of their SERPs, so while not a ranking factor in itself, they’re a good starting place to see what Google values when viewing a webpage.
- Build web pages that satisfy users’ queries efficiently. Don’t try to game the system.