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Written by Sam Yadegar on Nov 4 , 2020

The algorithm changes almost constantly — but your digital marketing plans don’t have to.

Here, you’ll find:

  • How search engine algorithms work
  • Why updates are nearly impossible to predict
  • Ways to prepare for search engine algorithm changes
  • Why content marketing still reigns supreme

In a way, the search engine algorithm is like rocket science: we know it’s important, but most of us aren’t exactly sure how it works. 

Every year, Google rolls out numerous updates (often with little heads-up) that manage to change the playing field for marketers in big and small ways.

But even for pros who have been working in paid search for years, understanding the search engine algorithm can be tricky. Knowing the basics allows you to react to new changes quickly or prepare your campaign for them in advance. When you figure out how these algorithms can affect your paid advertising tactics, you can take steps to prevent them from derailing your plans.

search engine algorithms blog - puzzle

Google uses more than 200 ranking factors when determining which results to serve and in what order. (Image via Unsplash)

What is a search engine algorithm?

A search engine algorithm is a collection of formulas that determines the quality and relevance of a particular ad or web page to the user’s query. These days, Google reportedly changes its algorithms thousands of times each year. However, only major changes (or updates) affect SEM campaigns in a visible manner.

One of the biggest mistakes marketers make is focusing all their efforts on frantically adjusting the campaign to these formulas instead of looking at the bigger picture.

The overall search engine strategy

Search engines make the user experience a top priority. Google managed to become the most popular search engine on the planet by creating complex algorithms that improve the search process using sophisticated tactics that serve users the information they seek.

An algorithm works with all kinds of details for context, from obvious clues like the perceived content quality to the spam history of the website owner.

Overall, Google uses more than 200 ranking factors when determining which results to serve and in what order. However, no matter how well you adjust to them, each new update has the power to push your efforts to square one.

While updates may be mostly focused on organic search, they can have not-so-clear but oh-so-painful implications for paid search as well. For example, your ads could stop showing up as a response to a big part of your target audience’s queries simply because the landing page they lead to isn’t specific enough.

BERT update

In 2019, Google rolled out a major updated dubbed BERT. The aim of this update was to improve the search engine’s translation of natural, conversational language queries to improve its understanding of context. 

This forced marketers to pay more attention to user intent than before. Pre-BERT, if you needed to focus on separate keywords in the search phrase, full phrases became much more important after the update.

For example, the query “cooking your own vegetables” shouldn’t simply give a list of tips for cooking veggies. It should also provide tips for cooking vegetables you grew and harvested on your own. In turn, paid ads had to become much more specific targeting the intent of the audience to stay relevant to search queries.

With each new Google update, search engine algorithms are working to become more useful to the searcher. Unfortunately for digital marketers, predicting specific changes is nearly impossible. But by knowing the overall intent to improve the searcher’s experience, it’s possible to adjust your SEM strategy so it doesn’t suffer as new updates take effect.

Need more help deciphering the search engine results page? You’re in the right place.

How to prevent the negative effects of algorithm updates

Search engine updates can be as unpredictable as the weather. The only thing you can know for sure is that they will happen. When they do, many websites and ads may see a drop in rankings, even if the change is temporary. Luckily, there are ways to stay prepared and ready when updates do arise. 

1. Focus on landing page quality

Even when updates roll around, it’s hard to understand immediately how they’ll affect the connection between paid and organic search. But one thing is always clear: High-quality content on landing pages is likely to affect your conversion rate positively, regardless of algorithm changes.

Just a couple of years ago, landing pages weren’t as important for paid search because they didn’t play any role in the immediate ad-clicking process. Today, with Google’s focus aimed at search relevancy and accuracy, landing page quality is an integral factor when determining your Quality Score.

Search engines pay close attention to the landing page quality and relevance to keywords, and that isn’t likely to change. Now, Google even tracks how often a user returns to the search page after visiting the landing page in an attempt to understand whether they were satisfied with the search result.

To stay ahead of the updates, it’s imperative to maintain the quality and relevance of both landing and linked pages.

hawksem blog - search engine algorithms

Search engine algorithms are a complex system for helping users find the best answer to their queries. (Image via Unsplash)

2. Don’t rely solely on keywords

The overall tendency of Google algorithm updates is to move away from a hyper-focus on keywords to more long-tail phrases and nuance. Of course, keywords are still an integral part of SEM. But building your strategy solely around them can prevent you from seeing the big picture or creating a well-rounded program.

Rather than only focusing on your keyword, you also want to take intent and relevance into account. Look into how you can best answer the questions your audience is asking. Paying attention to when, how, and what they ask can help you design relevant ad and landing page content while satisfying changing search engine algorithms.  

3. Look for update warnings

In some cases, search engines will offer some advanced notice about an upcoming algorithm update. Back in April 2020, Google announced a 2021 algorithm change that would introduce Core Web Vitals as ranking factors.

This gave marketers almost a year to get familiar with these factors and adjust to the upcoming changes to make sure rankings don’t suffer. And since Google isn’t always forthcoming about update details, it’s wise to take notice when they are.

4. Keep calm and tweak your content

When search engines change their algorithms, it can cause chaos for marketers. It’s often a mad dash to adjust strategies and make quick changes to curb significant ranking changes or irregular reports. But sometimes these actions can hurt your campaign even further.

Remember, all you can do is implement relevant improvements and follow the latest guidelines. If you’re using Google Analytics, making note of when an algorithm update took place can explain any out-of-the-ordinary results when you pull reports or debrief clients. 

The takeaway

Search engine algorithms are a complex system for helping users find the best answer to their queries. To improve user experience, search engines change their algorithms regularly. But studying how algorithms tick isn’t as important as understanding what your target audience wants.

By improving the quality and relevance of landing page content while exploring questions your audience asks, you can work to minimize your dependence on algorithm changes and control, to some degree, how drastically they affect your initiatives.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Aug 31 , 2020

More and more searches are happening on smartphones — and Google is taking note. Here’s how to ensure your site is mobile-friendly so you don’t get left behind. 

Here, you’ll find:

  • Tips for making your website mobile-friendly
  • Why a mobile-friendly site is key
  • Basic SEO best practices for mobile
  • A breakdown of mobile site solutions

Mobile users accounted for more than half of global online traffic in 2019, a trend that’s been steadily climbing the last 5 years. But despite the popularity of mobile search, only about 70% of websites are deemed mobile-friendly. 

A mobile-friendly site used to be a convenient, competitive advantage. Now, it’s a necessity if you want to stay relevant and competitive with others in your industry. 

Google’s been talking about mobile-first indexing, meaning the search engine bots crawl the mobile version of a site first, since 2016. (Many sites are already being indexed mobile-first.) In spring 2020, they announced they’d be launching mobile-first indexing for the entire web starting in September 2020. Due to the pandemic, they’ve since extended this to March 2021

This extra bit of time is a great opportunity to make sure your mobile site is optimized and ready to go by next spring. Below, we break down how to make sure your site is mobile-friendly so you don’t get left behind.

mobile friendly site audit

Once your first audit is complete, it’s wise to plan on performing regular audits at least once a year. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Perform a comprehensive audit

An audit will help identify problems or shortcomings with the current version of your website in terms of mobile-friendliness. You can then use the results to come up with a plan for optimizing your site. An audit will also generate a broad range of important and insightful metrics, including the number of mobile users visiting your site.

You can use Google Analytics to audit your website by the following this command path: Google Analytics > Audience > Mobile > Overview/Devices. Google Search Console will notify you of Mobile Usability errors, and Google has its own Mobile-Friendly Test tool as well.

Additionally, you can opt for premium third-party tools. If you don’t have the time or bandwidth to take on an audit, you could look into partnering with an agency who can recommend customized solutions based on the audit’s results.

The steps for an audit include:

  • Review your mobile experience with a device simulator on your desktop, or just use your actual phone. Start with the homepage then move to top landing pages and follow your website’s hierarchy and structure.
  • Take screenshots and notes of broken items, and consider the user’s experience. Can they find info fast? Is the page too long? What action do you want them to take on this small screen?
  • Prioritize universal fixes, then dig into smaller errors to see what the extent of the work to be done really is.

Once your first audit is complete, it’s wise to plan on performing regular audits at least once a year to ensure everything is still optimized and operating accordingly. Regular audits will also be helpful when it comes to keeping up with Google’s dynamic updates.

Pro tip: In Google Analytics, you can also view data like bounce rate per device category and type, pages per session, and average session duration. These KPIs will let you know if users are engaging well via mobile.

2. Choose an ideal mobile-friendly solution

There are four main solutions to choose from when making your website mobile-friendly. Here’s a brief overview of each solution, including what they have to offer:

Responsive web design 

This is the most popular solution, primarily because of convenience. It entails embedding a code that automatically adjusts the site’s contents to fit individual users’ devices, such as rearranging content and resizing fonts to fit small screens. 

Nothing else changes, including the original URL, and this solution is easy to maintain. However, the site’s response may be somewhat limited compared to other solutions.

Dynamic serving 

Dynamic serving involves detecting a user agent (mobile, tablet, or desktop) and generating a customized page with HTML and CSS optimized for use with that particular device. 

This solution’s main advantage is that you can display heavy content on your mobile pages. However, the solution can be costly to implement. Additionally, accuracy in detecting the user agent depends on your solution provider’s competence and quality.

Mobile version 

This solution entails creating a separate mobile website with separate content independent on the main desktop website. Mobile users are automatically redirected to the mobile version using a separate mobile domain name.

This solution is not recommended much anymore, as a separate mobile site is a no-no for mobile-first indexing. Another shortcoming of a mobile version is its limited content. It’s difficult to incorporate all content from the main desktop website. Plus, these sites are often harder to manage compared to other solutions.

Mobile app

A mobile app offers unparalleled user engagement and has the highest measured success rate. Mobile apps are also excellent for branding, as the design is customized specifically for mobile users. Advanced algorithms also enable customization for individual users.

The downside: A mobile app is generally more expensive than other mobile solutions. It also has a low retention rate due to the increased number of mobile apps and the fact that it requires extra effort from the user compared to browsing a website. To this end, mobile apps are often used as a complementary solution for these other mobile solutions.

mobile friendly website

Making your website mobile-friendly has gone from a nice-to-have to a necessary marketing component. (Image via Unsplash)

3. Adhere to mobile SEO best practices

Your mobile site’s success depends on how well it stands out to crawlers and Google’s ranking algorithms. The most effective way to compete is to adhere to Google’s recommended search engine optimization (SEO) practices. Pay particular attention to the following mobile SEO best practices:

  • Code in HTML5
  • Minimize your site’s loading time
  • Ensure your multimedia content (images, videos, etc.) is compressed to the lowest size possible without sacrificing resolution
  • Enable image files, CSS, and JavaScript
  • Avoid using iframes
  • Highlight navigation buttons and make them easy to access
  • Ensure you use the correct minimum font size (16px)
  • Optimize the page content to fit different screen sizes
  • Ensure your content’s font is easily readable
  • Make links easier to tap by placing them far apart
  • Make jump links available and avoid irrelevant cross-links
  • Use image alt tags
  • Enable automatic login
  • Highlight call-to-action buttons, including a click-to-call tab

These are just some of the basic mobile SEO best practices. Additionally, remember to watch out for Google’s periodic mobile-friendly site updates and adopt all recommended SEO practices.

The takeaway

Making your website mobile-friendly has gone from nice-to-have to a necessary marketing component. Google’s upcoming mobile-first site index launch will penalize websites that are not mobile-friendly.

With so much searching happening via smartphones, those who provide a poor-quality user experience on mobile simply won’t see the success of sites that do. All the more reason to take the time between now and March 2021 to make sure your site is mobile-friendly. 

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

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Written by Sam Yadegar on May 21 , 2020

It’s vital to spend your hard-earned digital marketing budget on channels that bring you the best ROI. That’s why knowing the latest Google Ads updates is key.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Reasons to invest in Google Ads
  • How the paid search platform works
  • The latest Google Ads updates
  • Expert tips for leveraging the platform successfully

The best place to launch your digital marketing efforts is where your campaign attracts a massive audience — no surprise there. And, according to a 2019 report, Google led the list of the most popular search engines, commanding more than 62% of the American market share. 

Paid advertisements often come hyperlinked at the top of search engine result pages (SERPs). Sure, you can work to rank organically for a given search term through SEO strategies — and you should. But not only can Google Ads help you get higher up in search results more quickly in the form of PPC ads, but it helps you stay competitive against others in your industry. 

hawksem: google ads updates 2020

In March 2020, Google introduced more optimization score features to give marketers a better experience. (Image via Unsplash)

The benefits of Google Ads

You probably know how Google Ads works: It shows your online advertisement to prospective customers who may be interested in your business. You place bids on keywords and search terms and secure the top slots of SERPs if you win.

Being a pay-per-click (PPC) marketing strategy, you choose the maximum bid amount you wish to pay for each click on your ad. Your placement improves with your bid amount.

Since its inception in 2000 as Google Adwords, Google Ads has undergone many iterations and changes. Here are a few of the latest Google Ads updates that marketers should know about in 2020.

1.  Improved features in the mobile app

The Google Ads mobile app allows users to review their marketing campaigns in real-time, evaluate recommendations, and take prompt action to optimize performance. In March 2020, Google introduced more optimization score features to give marketers a better experience.

Optimization score allows you to prioritize recommendations so you can identify the most impactful ones and put them into motion. You can view your Google Ads account and optimization scores at a glance on the overview page. To give priority to the actions that best drive performance, campaigns with high-impact recommendations come first on the screen.

HawkSEM: Google Ads 2020

You can view your Google Ads optimization score from your mobile device. (via Google)

You can also create and edit ads right on your smartphone. Choose to receive notifications about changes in optimization scores by opting in on the Settings page. The app notifies you in real-time whenever your scores fall. Once you open the message, the system leads you to the recommendations page where you get guidance on how to raise your optimization score and improve performance.

You may have seen dark-mode options cropping up in your phone updates and your social media profiles. The new Google Ads app also has this option, which you can turn on in the settings page for more visual comfort. It’s an excellent addition when you’re working in a dark or low-light environment.

2.  Website link in call ads

Call volume management can be challenging for businesses with limited personnel. Another feature that Google has added to call ads (formerly call-only-ads) is an optional link to your website.

google call ads

How call ads look on the SERP. (via Google)

The verification URL you add to your call ads only verifies your business details and phone number. Clicking the headline on your call ads initiates calls to your business. If you want ads that allow prospects to call and open your site, you can provide a Final URL. This URL is a secondary web address on your call ad that takes your audience to the webpage you choose.

Call ads increase your online visibility by making it easier for users to open your website. If a customer doesn’t want to call your business but wants to learn more about it online, all they need to do is click the ‘Visit website’ link in your call ad.

hawksem blog: google ads updates 2020

Google Trends is a fascinating feature that allows you to view the topics people are searching online, as well trending topics, trends over time, and more. (Image via Rawpixel)

3.  The smart-bidding process

Google’s smart bidding aims to make marketing more manageable. The advertiser provides Google Ads with a budget, and Google algorithms get the best conversion value out of it. The intention is to maximize the total ROI of the campaigns.

Google algorithms find the opportunities that you might never spot, even if it’s promoting a low-priced product on your list. This approach is excellent for well-funded PPC campaigns that are already converting at a high rate.

Pro tip: Automation is great, but keep in mind that a “set it and forget it” mindset can only take you so far. The most effective paid search campaigns involve consistent analyzing, testing, and optimizing that can only come from experienced digital marketing pros.

4.  Google Trends for a dynamic environment

The digital marketing landscape changes rapidly and often, which can affect your business. Google Trends is a fascinating feature that allows you to view the topics people are searching online, as well trending topics, trends over time, and more.

For example, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an influx of millions of office workers now working from home. For some, this has made it harder to keep up with the needs of consumers.

hawksem: google trends 2020

A look at the Google Trends results for “at home yoga” in the past 90 days. (via Google Trends)

Google Trends can provide insights into what is popular with your audience so you can modify your marketing efforts to match their expectations. If they’re searching for a business that offers home delivery, for instance, you can consider adding this service or something similar, like a pickup option.

5.  Seamless interactions on YouTube

Currently, YouTube has more than two billion users, making it a priceless video platform for marketing. Google (which owns YouTube) has launched a feature that allows viewers to interact with businesses without having to exit the platform.

Here’s how it works: A potential customer views your ad and clicks on the call to action (CTA). Then, a drop-down menu with actionable items appears. It could be telling the audience more about your business, like the physical location, contact information, and so on.

hawksem article: google on mobile

Google processes about 40,000 searches per second, making it a prime marketing ground for paid ads. (Image via Rawpixel)

6.  Lead form extensions

When it comes to marketing priorities, lead generation is usually at the top of the list. As part of your Google Ads campaign, you can include a new or existing lead form to generate more leads for your business. 

Lead forms have three primary benefits — they:

  • generate leads and boost sales
  • attract and engage visitors to help you create new remarketing lists
  • direct prospects into the marketing funnel via the form, leading to more conversions

When a Google user clicks the CTA of a Google ad, a lead form that carries their Google account details pops out. They can then submit the form, bridging the gap between your business and potential customers.

The takeaway

Google processes about 40,000 searches per second, making it a prime marketing ground for paid ads. The beauty (and sometimes frustration) of Google Ads is that it keeps on evolving, giving you new and innovative ways to capture the attention of searchers. 

Considering the authority of the search engine, staying on top of the latest Google Ads updates can only mean good things for your PPC program.

Need more help with your Google Ads campaigns? That’s what we’re here for.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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