As another Google algorithm updates search results, it’s a time when website owners and bloggers start gnawing at their fingernails. The prospect of Google’s fickle finger of fate pointing in our direction sends most of us into a mild, if not severe, panic.
Google’s algorithm updates are an occupational hazard for bloggers. They’re a vital part of the online ecosystem… though a pretty big part to be sure. Designed to tweak how Google delivers search results, they ensure searchers get the most accurate and relevant results for any search they make. This can be great for blogs that deliver highly relevant, authoritative and high-quality content. But it can be equally devastating too!
Sometimes blogs that deliver excellent content get whacked by algorithm updates and there’s little we can do to stop this.
Given that Google uses these updates to make results better, we’ll call it collateral damage, if you like. Understandably it’s a bitter pill to swallow for any blogger. You work hard to create great content over many months, if not years. Then you wake up one day to see Google organic traffic halved when an algorithm update has been pushed out.
If we accept they’re a part of blogging life, we must accept at some point we will get an algorithm slap. If we accept it will happen at some point, we have to be prepared for it.
With this in mind I’m going to talk about what to do if Google algorithm updates have rocked your world… but in a bad way. By the end of this post I hope to have given you:
- An approach to properly understanding if Google algorithm updates have affected you.
- A method to analyze the effects.
- Ideas on how to work towards restoring the ground you’ve lost.
Preparing Your Approach Pre and Post Algorithm Update
Have you ever read Douglas Adam’s novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? It’s one of my favorite formative books, so I’ve you’ve never heard of it before, I highly recommend it.
I’ll not provide a detailed synopsis here, but the guide in the title is a small electronic book (like a smartphone really). It contains all the knowledge and wisdom found in the universe… useful for those undertaking inter-galactic travel!
Why bring this up in a discussion about Google algorithm updates?
Those who are familiar with the book will know the answer to that already. The guide has a plastic cover with the words decorated with the words “Don’t Panic!”.
While it’s natural to freak out if you’ve suffered a big traffic hit, the first thing to do is to try not to panic. Panic can cause us to react in a way that ends up causing further damage.
I won’t be glib about this because a severe reduction in organic traffic is disastrous for a blog that relies on it. At the same time, recovering from a substantial drop in your pages in Google’s search results requires a cool head. I know this because I’ve been there.
As I say though, it’s easier said than done… but it’s important.
Has the Google Algorithm Update Hit You?
When Google releases an algorithm update it’s important to remember that it usually takes more than a few days before the dust settles. It can actually take weeks for you to see what the new landscape really looks like. This can be a comforting thought, because it means that what you see today might change tomorrow.
Conversely though this might make you feel worse if you see a big drop in traffic and imagine things might deteriorate.
Regardless, you can’t take action until you know what that new landscape is. If you react immediately it’s possible you’ll make things worse. So what you don’t want to do at this point is panic.
Keep an eye on your stats and analytics of course. But take some time to let things stabilize before you start trying to implement fixes.
It is entirely possible that the traffic losses occurred coincidentally at the same time as an algorithm update. Although unlikely, it is possible that something else has affected your traffic… so a logical approach is to rule this out.
If a drop in traffic occurs at the same time as an update, it’s of course more likely you’ve been affected by it. However, you still need to wait to understand the long term effects. Will your traffic remain diminished over the course of a few days? Or will it to begin to stabilize as the algorithm finishes reshuffling the deck?
Before you take any action be sure your traffic decreases are directly related to the Google algorithm update.
How to Check If Your Blog Has Been Affected
The first thing you’ll need to do is to understand precisely the nature of the algorithm update. What’s the release going to do and why? You’ll need to know what the new algorithm does in order to understand how you may have been affected.
Fortunately there are several highly useful places to look for details of what Google algorithm updates include:
You might also look to any forums you belong to and head over to social media to see what people are saying.
In terms of analysis, you’ll need to use some tools to look at your blog to understand what’s happening. I’d recommend you establish:
- How much your traffic has decreased.
- The time / date you see the decreases begin.
- Which pages appear to have been affected.
- The average positions these pages enjoyed prior to the update.
- The average positions for these pages post-algorithm update.
- Keyword queries most affected.
- The average positions these keywords appeared in search prior to the update.
- The average positions for these keywords post-algorithm update.
For all of these activites you can use the following tools for snapshots of your blog’s performance:
- Google Analytics (traffic and landing pages)
- Google Search Console (traffic and average position of landing pages as well as search impressions they generate)
- SEO RankTracker* (landing page positions and keyword positions in search results)
- Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel (spreadsheets)
*SEO RankTracker is part of the SEO PowerSuite toolset and is a tool I’m currently using. There are other tools for comparing landing page and keyword positions such as SEMRush and aHrefs. You could also connect Google Search Console to Google Analytics to pull average landing page and keyword positions directly in Google Analytics.
Using the Spreadsheet Analysis
Pull all the data on traffic decreases, landing page and keyword positions into a spreadsheet so you can perform logical analysis, rather than work on a gut feel. This’ll give you a snapshot picture of where you were prior to the updates as well as after them. You’ll be able to use this spreadsheet to track the effects of any strategies you implement to rectify traffic losses going forward.
When you have a spreadsheet with all the data you require, look for landing pages and keywords that have been especially hamstrung after the update. These are the areas you’ll need to focus upon first as a priority.
Recovering from the Effects of Google Algorithm Updates
It’s a good time to reflect upon the changes Google introduced in the update to see why your most important keywords and landing pages have suffered.
Has there been a reappraisal of content quality? Can you see where your affected pages might need to be updated to fit with it? If so rework them and submit them to Google to update the index with your revised content.
Have the external pages that link to yours been reappraised and might that have affected your page positions? You might be able to carry out some research for referring domains to look for insights. You could even reach out the owners of these sites and ask if they’ve seen negative affects on any pages since the algorithm updates went live.
Have you suffered a Google manual penalty for some reason? Use Google Search Console and check the Security and Manual Actions tab. You can see if you have a penalty and the reasons why.
If you have a penalty you’ll get specific details about why and what you can do to fix it. For example, penalties might be imposed for bad links if Google believes you have an unnatural link profile. Alternatively you might receive a penalty for content Google determines to be low quality or spammy: content quality is important!
Has some other item been introduced in the algorithm update? Can you see how your affected pages might take a hit as a result? If you can figure out why a specific algorithm appears to have hit specific pages, you can reverse engineer them and update your pages accordingly.
My point here is that it’s vital to remain calm and operate upon what you know for sure. If you can see a direct relationship between what the algorithm does and your content you’ll have a good basis to apply fixes.
A Word of Advice on Making Changes to Fix Potential Problems
If you’ve researched and found potential issues post-algorithm, DO NOT implement your fixes all at once.
It’ll be difficult to hold yourself back if you’ve suffered massive traffic losses. However, you have to be methodical in the way you implement remedial fixes.
You must follow a process of step by step testing and ruling in or out. If you don’t, you might do more harm than good and never get to the bottom of why your pages took such a big hit.
Don’t Forget to Let Google Know About Blog Updates!
Remember… if you make any changes to your blog or content to fix the effects of algorithm updates, always submit your URLs to Google’s index afterwards. This will help to get your pages and posts into the index queue more quickly.
Of course it stands to reason you won’t be able to see the effects of your changes until Google reindexes the content you’ve modified.
After resubmitting your changes, wait until Google reindexes them and then check your tools to see if this has helped. If they have, that’s great! If they haven’t, move onto the next potential area that requires attention.
- Google algorithm updates can and do cause huge changes in page ranking.
- You can suffer substantial decreases in traffic if your pages drop down the search results pages.
- If your blog is affected try to remain calm and logical.
- Learn about the algorithm update and what it aims to do.
- Carry out before and after snapshot analysis of your blog to understand which keywords and landing pages are most affected.
- Work through each landing page / keyword methodically according to their priority.
- When you’ve identified potential problems, make changes and fixes one by one.
- Resubmit your pages and posts to Google for reindexing using Google Search Console. Remember though… only submit one set of changes at a time.
For further information about how Google algorithm updates work, you can find out straight from the horse’s mouth here.
To end on a positive note, Google algorithm changes can elevate your blog and increase your positions in search results. If this happens to you then good on you.
For others negatively affected, I feel your pain. However, there are things you can do to turn back the clock.
That’s it for now.
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Have you been affected by Google algorithm updates? What did you do to recover from them? Please drop a comment below to add to this discussion.