Key Takeaways From Google’s Summer & Fall Algorithm Updates

by Natalie Nygren

Oct 27, 2023

Posted in Industry

VP of Content, Natalie Nygren, is shot in black and white, seated with her arms crossed on her lap. She is surrounded by an illustrated blue box, with four more blue boxes to her right.

Google Has Been Making Summer and Fall Algorithm Updates — So What Does That Mean For You?

For the last several months, Google has been busy rolling out updates to their Search algorithm, most notably another batch of updates for the Helpful Content System, as well as a Core Update.

Before we get too far, let’s quickly cover what those two things are.

Google’s Helpful Content System “generates a signal used by Google’s automated ranking systems to better ensure people see original, helpful content created for people in search results.”

Google claims that their Helpful Content System is designed to give preference to those sites where the content creates a satisfying experience for visitors. Sites that don’t offer a satisfying experience, on the other hand, will not perform as well in search rankings.

Relatedly, Google’s most-recent Core Update — completed this month — also refers to an aim to reward sites containing quality content while demoting those not containing useful or valuable content. 

And while Formada has never claimed to be an SEO agency — nor would I call myself an SEO expert — abiding by SEO best practices lies at the center of our work. 

Furthermore, paying close attention to Google’s ever-changing guidelines informs how we approach creating the best-possible content for our clients. 

Luckily, Google’s updates continue to align with one of our core philosophies regarding content: That great content should be original, useful, and written by a person for a person in order to be truly valuable. 

I think it’s safe to say that I’m not exaggerating, either. Google is constantly tinkering with its search algorithms, all resulting in one key theme: Content written for humans and not robots is the winning strategy.

But what do these updates mean for you and your business? Let’s get into it!

What Google’s Algorithm Updates Mean For You

User-First Content Will Be Rewarded In Search Results

Google’s Helpful Content System continues to reward content that is written for users first, and penalizes content that’s written to be “SEO-first.” 

What do we mean when we say “SEO-first?” Well, in this case, we’re referring to content that has been created with the primary intention to rank well in search engines.

To be clear, this is in specific reference to content that is created using outdated practices like:

  • Keyword stuffing — Repeatedly using keywords and phrases in an effort to rank vs. inform
  • Over publishing — Similar to keyword stuffing, over publishing refers to publishing content daily or multiple times a day that is keyword-rich vs. providing users value
  • Link-stuffing — Adding useful links is an effective way to provide your readers with additional information. However, linking to more prominent sites solely for the purpose of increasing your own content’s visibility is frowned upon by Google and other search engines
  • Duplicate or plagiarized content — The issue with plagiarism is pretty clear (it’s not your content!) and the issue with duplicate content is that it already exists. Google and other search engines can detect duplicate content and will likely leave it unindexed because it isn’t offering anything of value

Google Won’t Make It Easy For You, But It’s Worth The Effort

Several of Google’s most-recent updates have continued to penalize web pages that are clearly written with the purpose of ranking well while rewarding web pages that are written with the end-user’s needs in mind.

Frustratingly, Google has made it clear that they won’t provide a list of specific actions website managers can take to improve their rankings in the current algorithm, but they have continued to refine a list of “questions” for website owners to self-evaluate their site and make moves to make it more user-friendly and user-first. 

They include:

  • Does the content provide original information, reporting, research or analysis?
  • Does the content provide a substantial, complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • Does the content provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?

While using these questions in conjunction with one’s professional expertise, website managers and content creators can avoid many of the pitfalls that those who don’t follow best practices most surely will. 

But even the most strident of rule followers can avoid being affected by these far-reaching algorithmic updates. 

Everyone’s Site Will Likely Be Affected (Yes, Even Yours)

No matter how good your website is, you’ll probably still feel the squeeze of ranking volatility as new updates roll out.

But don’t panic! This doesn’t mean that your site is destined for irrelevancy — particularly if your site is well-maintained, publishes useful content, and follows best practices. 

What it does mean for just about everyone, however, is that you’ll likely see fluctuations in your ranking results over the months of September and October.

Volatility in rankings is to be expected with algorithm updates, and that often means sites will see noticeable boosts in traffic & performance and possibly even significant declines in traffic and performance. 

As of this writing, this recent update has resulted in an average position change for all websites at about 3.22%. That might seem small, but could have a big impact on sites that rely heavily on organic search traffic to drive site visits and business. 

And unfortunately, Google doesn’t always get it right when evaluating sites for how “helpful” or “high quality” they are, so some really good websites may take a hit and some bad websites will improve as a result of algorithm changes.

However, it would be irresponsible to fully blame an algorithm update for any changes in site performance. Things like shifting demand in search volume, competitor improvements, and other external factors can all impact how well a site performs at any time without warning

Now, if you don’t see your results evening out a bit, then that’s an indication that your site is in need of an audit. There might be some elements in your content strategy that are in need of updating, or there might be other ways in which you can approach your content creation that will lead to better long-term results.

Bottom Line: Creating User-First Content Is the Most Important Thing To Focus On

While you, of course, shouldn’t completely throw SEO best practices out the window in response to these new algorithmic updates, you do need to make sure your content is actually providing value for a human that lands on your site. 

So What can businesses actually do to mitigate the impact of algorithm updates on their website? Here’s a few ideas you might want to consider:

If you haven’t already, refocus your efforts on creating user-first content. 

Answer search queries, provide useful, actionable information, develop educational content, and be open and honest about your product’s or service’s strengths and weaknesses. 

Some of the most popular content publishers out there aren’t afraid to speak about what they like about their competitors. 

While this approach isn’t for everyone, for those industries where it does make sense, it showcases a level of brand confidence that creates goodwill with audiences precisely because of their willingness to create positive comparisons to industry peers.

Keep Your Site Fresh And Updated, But Don’t Try To Cheat The System 

Changing the dates on your posts isn’t going to fool the algorithm. Nor is deleting old posts that don’t follow best practices. 

Fresh, useful, consistently published content, geared toward— you guessed it — human end-users is the very best way to keep your site fresh for people and these algorithmic updates.  

You Have a Site Map, Don’t You?

This seems like an obvious suggestion to some, but you’d be surprised how many websites don’t have sitemaps, or have sitemaps that aren’t as user friendly as they should be. 

Our advice is to make sure that your sitemap is super clean and easy to navigate, for both crawlers and for humans!

Don’t Go It Alone. Get A Partner To Support You. And Don’t Be Afraid To Get A Second Opinion. 

Personally speaking, I think that the SEO industry can be pretty weird. Or, better yet, it’s an industry that is absolutely overrun with incredibly strong opinions on how SEO strategy should be handled and how businesses should respond to the things Google does. 

What I’m talking about today is representative of Formada’s opinion, the research we’ve done, and what our clients are experiencing. 

Google is only as forthcoming as they want to be in these instances, and I’m sure that there is likely a group of SEO specialists who think all of the hullabaloo about these algorithm updates won’t have that big of an impact. 

But that’s just it — the world of SEO can be pretty nebulous, and to us, inaction is the worst possible option. 

So find resources you trust. Find a credible partner who can help you navigate the situation. And, no matter what direction you go, keep your eye on creating content that will delight your audience. 

No strategy is foolproof, but serving your customers’ needs is always a winning strategy in our book. 

And if you’re looking for a team who can help your business create top-tier, user-first blog and web content, give us a ring — the Formada team is here to help!

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