Search engines like Google roll out algorithm updates approximately every day. These tips can help you be prepared.
Here, you’ll find:
- How to keep track of core updates
- Ways to prepare for an algorithm update
- When to start panicking (spoiler: never)
- Tips to bring your rankings back up
For search engines like Google, the ultimate goal is to help users through surfacing accurate query results.
This process, which was started by matching key phrases to a search query, has turned into a plethora of complex algorithms.
Google and other search engines (like Bing, DuckDuckGo, and Yandex) are always trying to enhance the user experience — and keep the latest black-hat techniques from skewing results. As a result, major algorithm updates can roll out multiple times a year.
Minor updates happen more or less daily. Sometimes, these updates will be announced. Other times, they’ll be reported on by industry publications, but not officially confirmed.
The problem arises when a tweak in these algorithms causes your rankings to plummet out of nowhere. While it’s not possible to completely safeguard your rankings from being affected by future updates, you can prepare yourself for the changes and adjust tactics quickly.
Let’s take a closer look at how to prepare for algorithm updates, and what to do if they tank your rankings.
How to track algorithm updates
Google reportedly updates its algorithm once or twice a day. While most of these changes are minor, core updates — the bigger, more involved updates — can have a significant impact on your rankings.
Often, websites will see dramatic fluctuations as an update rolls out, and rankings will go back to “normal” once the rollout is complete.
One easy way to prepare for an update is to know about the changes in advance. Since these search engine companies don’t always offer a heads up, it’s worth taking note when they do, such as with the Core Web Vitals update.
Some ways to stay in the loop about major algorithm updates include:
- Subscribe to reputable digital marketing news resources such as Moz and Search Engine Journal.
- Set up Google alerts to monitor the key phrase “Google algorithm update” on Google Alerts and send mentions via email.
- Read Google’s Search Central blog to find out about upcoming algorithm updates. It’s also an excellent source of other important SEO-related information.
- Follow key players on Twitter such as Google Search Central, Search Advocate John Mueller, and Google’s Public Search Liaison Danny Sullivan. You can also follow hashtags such as #GoogleAlgorithm or #BingUpdate.
If you miss a warning about an algorithm update, you could end up blindsided by its effect on your website metrics. When you’re aware ahead of time, you can be better prepared for ranking fluctuations.
How to prepare for new algorithm updates
The bad(ish) news: When Google offers a heads up about an impending update, it’s probably going to be significant. The good news: Getting notice ahead of time means you can prepare.
For example, Google announced its Core Web Vitals update about six months in advance, so marketers had the chance to test and tighten up their sites before the update officially rolled out.
Another reason not to panic is that, as Search Engine Land explains, if you’re following the best SEO and content practices, your rankings probably won’t permanently suffer from updates. In fact, it may be just the opposite — these updates could improve your position on the search engine results page (SERP).
If you want to try to prevent your rankings from taking a dive, take a look at your current SEO strategy. See how well they line up with Google’s general recommendations for update preparations. These include:
- Publishing quality content that adheres to E-A-T standards
- Ensuring a positive web page user experience (on desktop and mobile)
- Reviewing search quality rater guidelines
When a major update rolls out, your website’s rankings may experience a hiccup. But resist rushing into making serious changes to your content, website structure, or linking tactics.
Most likely, your standard efforts will be sufficient to bring your rankings back to normal shortly.
Pro tip: Seeing website traffic drops that don’t appear to be algorithm related? HubSpot explains various ways to diagnose and fix traffic drops.
What to do when algorithm updates tank your rankings
OK, worse-case scenario: An algorithm update does end up hurting your rankings substantially. There are ways to bounce back as soon as possible. Here are a few tactics to keep in mind.
1. Study the update
While the common purpose of all updates is the same (to improve the accuracy of results for a better user experience), each one addresses specific problems.
If the search engine does decide to share extensive details, you can get the information from official resources. If not, you can review what other SEO experts have to say about the update.
Knowing which pain points are addressed or what types of sites have been affected can help you make targeted changes to your content. You may luck out and only need to make a few tweaks.
2. Check the patterns
If you aren’t sure what caused your rankings to plummet, look for patterns.
Did only certain content types or formats experience the decline? Single out the pages that were affected the most and figure out what they have in common.
In Google Analytics, you can navigate to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages, set the period for the time when the update went into effect, and compare the data to previous periods.
3. Review old content
While your new SEO and content marketing tactics may be in tip-top shape, your old content may be inaccurate or outdated. That’s why we recommend conducting regular content audits to pinpoint which pieces, if any, need a revamp.
Audits are a great time to check for things like duplicate articles, dead links, outdated data, and any black-hat tactics that need removing.
4. Conduct competitor analysis
If your rankings are dropping after an update, part of the reason could be that your pages are now being outdone by the competition.
If it’s been a while since your last competitor analysis, a new algorithm update is a great time to revisit it. Not only can you see how and where they’re outranking you, but it may offer helpful inspiration for new things you can try (with your own unique twist, voice, and perspective, of course).
5. Publish new content regularly
Valuable content is a key SEO pillar, and it’s a great way to work towards improving your rankings.
If you already have excellent quality and value content practices in place, see how you can amp up promotion and even repurpose your most successful pieces.
For example, a popular blog post could become a webinar, or an exclusive data point could be built out into a social media post or even an infographic.
While somewhat scary and unpredictable, algorithm updates have a noble goal in mind. What’s more, if you follow the best SEO and content practices, you shouldn’t feel their effects too drastically.
If you do see a rankings dip, hopefully you’ll feel prepared to find out what the update affected and how you can move forward to get your site back up where it belongs.