Since Friday, there has been some chatter in SEO forums about a supposedly Google algorithm update. It’s not big, and no one’s sure yet what’s really happening. However, it looks to have affected several businesses as they flock discussions on dropped rankings, irrelevant search results, and zero conversions overnight. Some have even turned to digital marketing expert Barry Schwartz for answers; to which he said that it could be Google testing out bits of an algorithm update.
It makes sense as search engines like Google have hundreds – if not thousands – of micro updates every year. Most of it is so small it’s barely detectable. But several, like the recent Phantom Update, can shake businesses. For those who have not yet recovered from its menace, it may hurt your results should Google decide to implement core updates soon. As the Phantom is focused more on overused, duplicated, or thin content, work on those first before turning your attention to other aspects of your campaign.
I believe this ‘update’ has nothing to do with Panda, as echoed by other SEO consultants like myself. It could be the beginning of a core update, but as changes are still small and there’s no significant buzz, it’s hard to tell. If your site or keywords were affected by it though, DO NOT PANIC. I’m here to help. Here are a couple of recommendations to get your site back up and converting.
Stay Focused and User-Oriented
When it comes to ranking, SEO professionals seem to be on a debate: one side says it’s not important, while the other still believes in its efficacy. I happen to be half and half. For one, rankings are still vital because it’s how your customers find you. Ask yourself: do you even bother with the second or third page results when you do a query? If the answer is no, it’s the same for your users.
In fact, a 2013 study shows that websites on the first page of search get 32.5 percent more traffic. More visitors mean more chances of getting clicks, leads, and sales. So if your website rankings suddenly went down, less people would be able to see your offers. The problem with Google nowadays is that it’s NOT announcing its updates, unlike previous years. That leaves many SEO consulting firms, webmasters, and business owners in the dark as changes are unexpected and sudden.
We now have two options: one is to remain focused on quality and providing users with fresh, original, and informative content; two is to consider Google ranking factors to enhance your site, while being search engine-friendly.
Remedy Your Rankings By Working Backwards
Several of Google’s ranking factors put an emphasis on on-site elements. Why is that? Most problems usually begin at the root. Just like losing something valuable, you are usually advised to retrace your steps to uncover bits you might have forgotten. The same could be said for losing rankings.
Here’s a short list of what to look out for when checking your SEO on-site factors:
- Make sure your permalinks or URL structure is descriptive and easy to understand. Google – and users – dislike links that look like gibberish.
- Avoid underscores in your URL. Use hyphens instead.
- Don’t forget to include semantic keywords in your Title Tags and Meta Descriptions.
- Are you using H-Tags in your content? This will create the proper hierarchy for important points on your web page.
- Sprinkle in semantic keywords into your web copy as well as blog posts to add more value to your message.
- Remember to use a variety of interesting media content to keep users engaged (i.e. images, videos, ebooks, quotes, etc.)
- Add alternative text (alt tags) to images used on your website to increase search opportunities.
- Check that you have a good number of indexed pages (do note that Google can remove pages that are deemed irrelevant because they sometimes give manual penalties).
- Don’t forget to link to (at least three pages) related content within your site. This is also known as cross-linking and is an old SEO technique to enhance page authority.
- Fix broken links (404/410 errors). Not only will this slow down your site, it gives a negative user experience for your site visitors.
- Analyze your text to HTML ratio: the ideal is 25 to 70 percent. Remove outdated and/or unnecessary codes for faster loading speeds.
- Make sure that you’re using 301 redirects or canonical URL to avoid issues with duplicate content.
- Check your Robots.txt file.
- Make sure you have an XML sitemap in your root directory so it’s easier for search engines to crawl and index your site.
- Keep your domain registration active! Don’t let it expire; otherwise, users will think your site is dead.
Do you have an onsite blog? This could help you get more views, keep online readers engaged, and establish you as an authority on a subject. So blog about your business today!
Other important factors to take note of are the following:
In general, if your website is NOT mobile-friendly, you could be losing business and revenue opportunities. People are doing more and more of their activities on mobile devices. From shopping, research, getting directions, even dating – it’s hard to ignore how significant our smartphones and tablets have become in our lives.
If your site is already mobile, here are a couple of points to ensure maximum user experience on any device:
- Mobile Rendering – Use tools like Responsivedesignchecker.com to see what your web design looks like across different screens. It’s unavoidable that some of your page elements may not show up due to device restrictions.
- Touch Screen Readiness – Make sure buttons and links are large enough for easy clicks and taps.
Mobile Compatibility – A few embedded objects could have problems when viewed on mobile. Ensure that they are working as intended.
- Font Size Legibility – Is your text readable? Standard font size should be 12 pixels for mobile devices.
Mobile Viewport – verify that your website adjusts beautifully and seamlessly on various device screens using the Viewport Meta tag.
- Site Speed – the success or failure of mobile websites today often hangs on how fast it loads. Remember: every second counts!
Do users feel like they’re playing a game of cat-and-mouse whenever they access your page? Don’t make it hard for them. The best websites are those that remove friction for visitors. While people enjoy a good mystery every now and then, that same is NOT true for online elements. Make it easy to use, navigate, as well as understand. Here’s a checklist to help you get started:
- URL Accessibility – great for URL hacking (used by certain people for easier – and often faster – navigation)
- Using Favicons – adds a special touch of quality and trust to your site
- Custom 404 Pages – help users quickly get back to important pages on your website
- Conversion Forms – optimize your forms to get more leads
- The Fold – decide where the ‘fold’ of your web page is for better user experience on every device
- Page Size – make it fluid to avoid affecting site speed
- Loading Time – how fast your page loads affects online success
- Language – declare what language your website is using to guide users all over the world
Tools and Technology
The technical aspect of your website affects everything: from your site speed to the way your content is displayed. It’s essential to regularly check on them to make sure you have updated tools and knowledge.
- Technologies – your choice of web server, programming language, and CMS (to name a few) will play a vital role in both user experience and search engine-friendliness.
- W3C Validity – use the Validator tool to ensure that the technical part of your website is free from errors.
- SSL Secure – if necessary, change to HTTPS to protect user information such as credit card details.
Do you own a small local café or convenience store? Check that data such as your store name, address, and phone number (more commonly known as NAP) are consistent on the Web. Nothing frustrates a person more than to find out that your address on Yelp is different from that on your website.
Work Your Way To Off-Site Elements
After you’re done looking at your on-site factors, it’s time to analyze your off-site elements to determine any lurking problems. But where should you begin? Here are four aspects to target first:
- Domain Authority – in general, this number determines how popular your website is on the Web. The more visits and backlinks you have (along with other factors), the greater the chances of improving your DA. Sites like Facebook and LinkedIn have a domain authority of a 100, but that’s because millions of people use their services. Don’t be disappointed if your site never gets this high up. What’s important is that you are using ethical practices and are providing your users with quality content.
- Page Authority – this number on the other hand, tries to predict how well your page will rank on search engines, like Google. Note: both Page Authority and Domain Authority are used as metrics for SEO campaigns.
- Number and Type of Backlinks – these are websites or sources that link back to your site. Instead of buying/exchanging backlinks, it’s best to gain them naturally over time through quality content and social media marketing practices.
- Number of Referring Domains – this number is naturally lower than your backlinks. However, if the difference between your backlinks and referring domains is too large, that could signal ‘spammy’ links that might damage your online reputation. If this happens, verify how many backlinks you have in one referring domain.
- Social Signals and Engagement – Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are just a few of the social media platforms to help boost not only awareness for your brand, but also your conversion. Although it won’t directly impact your rankings, social media links are still links that help spread the word about your products and/or services.
Exploring both on- and offsite factors will allow you to nail down the true cause of your decreased rankings. Don’t immediately assume that it’s due to an algorithm change. Remember: search engines like Google are making updates all the time. If your website is focused on quality and positive user experience, you should have less to worry about.
Should You Check Your Website Manually?
This is a good question. You have two options: hire a professional SEO consultant to do the website audit for you OR use the various tools online to help you do the work faster. Some of these tools are free, while the rest have premium versions that offer more features.
Google offers two great tools to start you off with: Google Search Console (previously called Webmaster Tools) and Google Analytics. Both provide awesome data to spot errors, watch for traffic, track conversion and many more. These are recommended for both pro and beginner digital marketers.
Begin your website audit with Woorank, a popular website review and SEO tool. To view comprehensive details about your backlinks (as well as do smart competitor analysis), try Ahrefs Backlink Explorer. You can use the basic features for free; but to get the most out of their services, I recommend signing up to their Pro versions to access cool stuff like downloadable reports, broad data analysis, and quick customer support.
To check your site speed, Pingdom has a free tool that’s handy for both web developers and webmasters.
Worried about your content? BuzzSumo is one of the most in-depth tools you can use to check for key Influencers in your industry, as well as their most shared content. Find what and where they are sharing their juiciest stories. If you want to improve your content by the intelligent use of keywords, nothing is better than SpyFu SEO and Keyword research tool. Know what words rank and how far ahead are your competitors when it comes to the most sought-after terms.
If your digital marketing team has a PR campaign, why not combine it with your SEO efforts? Linkbird Content Marketing is the best tool in the business. Their system makes it easy and quick to plan, implement, and evaluate your website’s progress. Plus, you can effortlessly reach out to target leads in just minutes.
These are just several of the tools our team has tried and loved. Feel free to give them test.
Search engines will always have updates – it’s all a matter of finding out WHEN and WHAT they are. Instead of panicking, breathe in deep and know that as long as you maintain ethical SEO practices, you’re good. Search engine optimization may be evolving quickly; but there are other factors in digital marketing (such as conversion) that also require attention.
Avoid dwelling too much on things you can’t control. Rather, focus your attention on things that you can. Move on from this predicament and know that whatever problems you may encounter on your website, SEO consultants like me, will always be here to help you out.